Thursday, March 29, 2012

Conservatives or neo-fascists?

David Seaton's News Links
I would think it important to separate this new "conservatism" from the traditional variety. Remember the American vice is to use language to hide meaning. I’ll quote myself from an earlier post:
One of the most disturbing things about America is the incoherence of American language, the endless euphemism-laden double talk. American terminology is confusing and perhaps the confusion is deliberate.

Examples? There are many.

For example, everywhere but in the USA, “red” is the color of the left, but in America, the term, “red state”, means one that is right-wing and “blue”, which is a color that in most countries is associated with the right, to ultra-right, in the US is used to label what Americans call “liberal”, which in the USA means the left, but which everywhere else is used to label the economic right-wing… These examples are just the tip of a semantic iceberg.

This brings us to the word, “conservative”.
The new conservative is, in plain English, in fact, a neo-fascist and the personality traits we observe on the American right these days are those of a fascist.
What is the difference
If a person is born into a well to do, stable family, where the parents respect and perhaps even love each other and treat the child kindly and his/her exposure to traditional religion is benign. He/she is likely to accept the family’s traditions and values unquestioningly.
From that point his/her attitude will be one of prudence, of not spoiling  (for him/her and his/her family) a good thing… and his/her attitude toward the less fortunate than himself/herself may even be benevolent and paternalistic and be expressed in contributions to charity and other good works.
What we are seeing in the Republicans now, has little or nothing to do with that kind of conservatism. We are looking at exasperated, paranoiac, xenophobic, racist nastiness, in short a fascistic mentality of crippled personalities in reaction to changing mores and a failing economy. DS

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Why are the Republicans so weird?

David Seaton's News Links
This blog post, by the excellent Thomas Edsall, makes some very interesting points about the make-up of the Republican electorate. In the GOP’s South Carolina primary, 98% of those who voted were white: this in a state where nearly 28% of the population is black. Republican voters are also relatively old: 72% in South Carolina were over the age of 45. Could it be that some of the panic and anger among Republican voters is because they fear that “their” country is slipping away from them. Gideon Rachman - Financial Times
For someone who came to consciousness of the difference between Democrats and Republicans in the age of Eisenhower, the current metamorphosis of the GOP into the party of cranks and grinches and Gingriches is dismaying.
When I was a boy the Republicans that lived around me were mostly pallid, though vigorous, high church Episcopalians, solid, smug types who struggled mightily with golf and sedately clipped stock coupons. As to the younger ones, crew cuts and white bucks, energetically embalmed in stifling, Pat Booney squareness come immediately to mind.
Certainly a Mormon, no matter how enamored of money, and conventional in every other way, would have been an outlier in the extremely Republican, Chicago North Shore of my youth... Not to imagine the likes of the indescribably corrupt and lewd Newt Gingrich or a Rick Santorum that would have Joseph Ratzinger vetting the US Constitution.
I cannot think of a better bellwether of America's malaise then that of the party of the formerly priggish, self-contented, self-righteous, self-satisfied, conventional and sensible becoming the party of the paranoiac, the exasperated and the kooky. DS

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Mohammed Merah, the monster of Toulouse

David Seaton's News Links
The  question we must ask is; was Mohammed Merah really a trained terrorist or simply a nut?
We know practically nothing about Mohammed Merah. As far as we can see he acted totally alone, with only a handgun: nothing complicated like explosives was involved.
Right now, Merah's whole modus operandi is identical to that of the typical American shooting spree, only dressed up in jihadi rhetoric.
He said that he is affiliated with Al Qaeda, but, this could be the simple grandiosity of a nutcase, because, so far, Al Qaeda has not claimed him as their own. As far as we know, this entire affair could easily be only the fevered percolations of a diseased mind.
I think that all these questions should be answered before we attach any more significance to this than the tragedy of the victims themselves.
I am still waiting for some sort of communique from Al Qaeda to make this "official". Certainly killing the paratroopers of magrebi origin muddies the ordinary "antisemitic" narrative.
When I say that, I am not trying to minimize the monstrosity of murdering children in cold blood... However in this particular ongoing battle between Muslims and Jews, many children have been killed on both sides, and all of them, Arab and Jew alike were Semites and I think it would be obscene to say that one group's children's lives are more to be valued than the other group's. DS

Monday, March 19, 2012

When is a conservative not a conservative?

David Seaton's News Links
At a Tea Party rally in Troy, Michigan, the GOP presidential contender Rick Santorum said this: "President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob!" To rapturous applause, Santorum went on: "There are good, decent men and women who go out and work hard every day and put their skills to the test that aren't taught by some liberal college professor trying to indoctrinate him." And then, the kicker: "I understand why he wants you to go to college. He wants to remake you in his image." The audience, mostly older folks in working-class garb, laughed with Santorum. Rolling Stone

The decline in marriage rates has been steepest for the least educated, especially men, and smallest for college graduates, especially women. College graduates, the highest earners, are more likely today to be married than are Americans with less education — 69% for adults with a college degree versus 56% for those who are not a college graduate. Pew Research Center

Several studies suggest that while college-educated dual-earner families have high marital quality, lower-income dual-earner couples have been experiencing heightened marital distress. Infidelity, drug abuse, depression, and domestic violence can happen anywhere, but they are especially common among couples facing economic distress. More than two-thirds of the low-income mothers studied by Duke University's Linda Burton and her research team, for example, had been victims of serious domestic violence and sexual abuse.(...) Strengthening people's economic prospects and developing more living-wage jobs is essential to reducing the economic instability that exacerbates relationship problems, and doing that would probably increase marriage rates among low-income and low-education individuals. Stephanie Coontz
One of the most disturbing things about America is the incoherence of American language, the endless euphemism-laden double talk. American terminology is confusing and perhaps the confusion is deliberate. 
Examples? There are many.
For example, everywhere but in the USA, "red" is the color of the left, but in America, the term, "red state", means one that is right-wing and "blue", which is a color that in most countries is associated with the right, to ultra-right, in the US is used to label what Americans call "liberal", which in the USA means the left, but which everywhere else is used to label the economic right-wing... These examples are just the tip of a semantic iceberg.
This brings us to the word, "conservative".
Like most conservatives the world over, American conservatives are very strong in the defense of "family values": marriage, two-parent families, with mothers as care-givers, "standing by their man". For a traditional conservative the family is the core of all social relations, the keystone of individual and national life.
However, as we can see from the snippets that top this page, there is a powerful contradiction between low taxes for the rich, deregulated globalization and the possibility for people with only high school education, or less, to raise children in a stable environment... even with both parents working at two jobs... if they can find work.
To give just one small example: such measures as the deregulation of store-opening hours, where many parents, single parents or married couples, gay or straight,  have to work late into the night or on weekends, even Sundays, leaving many children alone after school or in their free time, with no one to help them with their homework, cook them a hot meal or give them a cuddle when they are sad, tuck them at bedtime and listen to their prayers or instill "values" conservative or otherwise in them. And this is not a minority we are talking about, for as Thomas Geoghegan wrote in The Nation, "only 27 percent of adults have a bachelor's degree, and there are not enough jobs for them".
So, obviously it is our ├╝ber-capitalist economy, the one American conservatives wish to further deregulate, that is literally destroying the American family, not gay marriage or abortion.
Again, this toxic mixture of social intolerance and destructive deregulation is not a universal "conservative" phenomenon. In Germany,  both the German Catholic and Protestant churches join with the labor unions to keep most businesses closed on most evenings and shut totally on Sundays. Progressives and traditional conservatives overlap harmoniously on this issue there. 
At bottom America's biggest problem is that it doesn't make sense anymore. DS

Thursday, March 15, 2012

China: capitalism, democracy and sovereignty

David Seaton's News Links
China is an authoritarian state, run in Leninist fashion by a communist party and at the same time a vital player, perhaps, alongside the United States, the key player in the international capitalist system.

We wish it were more democratic.

Perhaps we should be careful what we wish for.

Many who know China feel that the Chinese Communist Party is a moderating force on Chinese nationalism. That if China had something like a US system, they would be the plaything of fascist demagogues... It seems that reading their blog traffic etc, bears this out.

Let us take then, as given, that across the political spectrum, the Chinese are nationalist-chauvinist-revanchist. Then let us consider the situation they faced when the Soviet Union began to implode and it was no longer possible to play two superpowers off against each other.

China, a poor country, was left standing alone against what is commonly considered the greatest, most powerful, military, economic and cultural hegemon in the history of the world.

To use Maoist terminology the "primary contradiction" of the PCC was to maintain China's sovereignty at all costs: other priorities such as "building socialism" (whatever that might be) would have to be postponed in the greatest national emergency since the Japanese invasion, but facing the USA, open war would be suicidal.

What has happened in the past twenty years?

The best battle, Sun Tzu says, is the battle that is won without being fought.

After only two decades the United States economy and her currency are entirely dependent on China, that is to say, in many ways firmly in the grasp of the Chinese Communist Party. And now it seems entirely possible the Chinese People's Army's cyber-warfare capabilities could paralyze American infrastructure, again without firing a shot.

Let us assume that China's situation is that of a nation at war for its survival as a sovereign state... again, Sun Tzu:
"For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill."
People with a deep understanding of China have said that is a very fruitful exercise to study how Taoist thought (Sun Tzu is the greatest "applied" Taoist) found the dialectical thought of Hegel (as against Kant or Plato) the most congenial and useful of western philosophies and that Hegel led them directly to Marx.

If you take Marx as lucid analyst of the weaknesses of the capitalist system, especially the system's bottomless greed, and then knowing those weaknesses you take advantage of them in the manner of Sun Tzu, you might have a workmanlike description of what the Chinese have done.

If this is seen as a war, as a "national liberation struggle", which the Chinese are winning without firing a shot, then the sacrifices of the Chinese people in today's struggle are nothing compared to what they suffered to rid themselves of the Japanese, and instead of the smoking ruins that battle left behind it, today they have high speed trains.

And as for us, who think that by "converting" the Chinese to capitalism, we have won a famous victory. The famous Spanish mystic, Saint Teresa of Avila, said that there are more tears shed over answered prayers than over unanswered prayers.

Again, perhaps we should be more careful what we wish for. DS

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Netanyahu's target is Obama, not Iran

David Seaton's News Links
It cannot be denied that the Holocaust theme has served Netanyahu well politically. As many commentators have pointed out, Netanyahu has succeeded in reframing political discourse on the Middle East: this visit to the U.S. was the first in a long time in which the Palestinian issue was completely off the table. Nobody even raised the question of settlement construction or the old question how to bring Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiation table. Instead of being on the defensive on the Palestinian issue, Netanyahu is now on the offensive on Iran. By invoking the allied power’s failure to disrupt the Nazis sending millions to concentration camps in 1944, he is reminding the Free World of a horrible mistake, and demanding that this mistake not be repeated. Carlo Strenger - Haaretz
Observing Netanyahu's continuous invocation of the Holocaust and the imminent threat of Iran annihilating the Jewish people, it is passing curious to note that much of the most qualified Israeli military and intelligence community is openly against attacking Iran and neither are most Israelis.
Most Israelis believe that if the United States does not attack Iran's nuclear facilities, Israel must no try to do so alone, according to a Haaretz poll.
This lack of enthusiasm by informed Israelis and the Israeli street at such a moment of declared existential threat,  makes me suspect that Iran is not really Bibi's true objective, that is to say, this hysterical lead up to war is merely a tactical "feint" to distract world attention from his true strategic objective.
I believe that the prime strategic objective of Netanyahu, and the hard Israeli right wing that he represents, is to prevent, at any cost, the  final delimitation of Israel's borders. Because any "two state" solution of the Palestinian problem, however modest and fudged it might be, would create a Palestinian state in "Judea" and "Samaria", whose boundaries would be sanctioned by the United Nations. This would mean kissing goodbye, or putting on ice, any hope of finally creating the ultra-right dream of "Greater Israel".
What is Greater Israel? Lets look at this map from Wikipedia Commons:
"Greater Israel" - Wikipedia Commons
As you can see from the map or from the Wikipedia article, we are talking here about "Biblical" Israel.
The Bible contains three geographical definitions of the Land of Israel. The first, found in Genesis 15:18-21, is vague. It describes a large territory, "from the brook of Egypt to the Euphrates", comprising all of modern-day Israel, the Palestinian Territories, and Lebanon, as well as large parts of Syria, Jordan, and Egypt. The proportion of current Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey included in this territory is debatable. The other two definitions are found in Numbers 34:1-15 and Ezekiel 47:13-20 and describe a smaller territory
Now, polls usually show that most Israelis would accept, perhaps welcome, a two state solution, based on the 1967 frontiers, with "minor adjustments"(the devil being in the details). That being so, it isn't difficult to see that a lot of the pressure to keep a settlement of the Palestinian problem from being solved is coming from outside Israel. In fact, much of the sound and fury is coming from right wing, American, Jewish people, who are doubly adamant supporters, having, as many Israelis note, no actual skin in the game. This reminds me of how rich Irish-Americans used to raise money to finance and arm the IRA.
A prime example of this group of "more Zionist than thou" Americans would be casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who someone no less than George W. Bush, described as a "crazy Jewish billionaire". Adelson, the third richest man in the USA, who according to The New Yorker, "is fiercely opposed to a two-state solution", is bankrolling the campaign of Newt Gingrich to the tune of millions upon millions of dollars, in order to have him describe the Palestinians as an "invented people". Gingrich is not going to be the Republican candidate, but he is setting the tone: no Republican would like to appear less pro-Israel than Newt Gingrich in an election year, all of them are accusing Obama of selling out Israel. With Netanyahu feeding the hysteria these attacks and calls for war with Iran, will become even more shrill.
Well, obviously the President of the United States, today Barack Obama, is going to come into any issue touching foreign affairs, but why would the Israel Lobby and Netanyahu have any beef with such a malleable pragmatist as Barack Obama, someone who is easily as adept as any other American politician in swearing eternal fealty to Israel?
The first reason is that he is on track to win a second and final term as president.
The first two years of any US president's second term of office is famously/notoriously the only time when he is free to lead, or get anything important done. In his first term, he spends four years running for reelection and during the last two years of a hypothetical second term he is considered a "lame duck" who becomes daily more irrelevant as the excruciatingly, interminable American presidential cycle kicks in once more and begins to dilute and drain out his power and relevance. The sixth and seventh year of a US presidency are the dangerous years, this is when a president might actually do something in the genuine public interest. Some of these people even begin to think about their "legacy", like an aging lady of the evening who begins going to church, presidents suddenly aspire to virtue... Very dangerous that legacy stuff.
So from the point of anyone who influences politics by funding politician's election campaigns, first term presidents are to be greatly preferred to second term presidents. Obvious, right? So Obama, despite all his professed love for Israel, has that against him from get-go this year.
This takes us back to the Middle East and the second reason for trying to derail Obama.
As you may have noticed the Middle East is on the boil, and how to stabilize the most important oil and gas producing region on earth is a  priority for everybody, everywhere, now, with the world economy teetering on the brink of a great depression. 
After, supporting tyrannical Arab regimes for decades, invading Iraq and botching up the occupation and never missing a chance to kowtow to the Israelis, America's credibility at present is as low as a snake's abdomen. Except for killing people and blowing things up, nobody is expecting much from the USA these days in the Middle East.
There is one thing that has worldwide support and universal approval,  something, which would at least give the USA a minimum of credibility and that something would be to finally "solve" the Palestinian problem and give them a state of their own... and the six and seventh year of a second term American president would make that something look doable
Now cynics among you will point out that all the versions of that proposed state that the USA has ever put forward added up to miserable little unarmed bantustans cut up by Israeli security roads, without control over the water under them and without sovereignty over the airspace above them... And I doubt if even the most "liberated" version of Barack Obama would ask for much more than that. And even something that mild and decaffeinated would probably justify his heretofore absurd Nobel Peace Prize and refurbish his tattered image as "The One".
Why should this be such a huge problem?
Because, even such a pitiful, Swiss cheese, scrap of a state would finally and unambiguously establish the frontiers of Israel and put paid to the dream of Eretz Yisrael Ha-Shlema  (greater Israel).
And in my humble opinion, it is the fear of that, and not the fear of a nuclear Holocaust that is behind Netanyahu's hysterical push toward war. He is trying to create a damned if you do and damned if you don't scenario for Barack Obama to see if he can derail his reelection and get himself another first term president to manipulate at will. DS

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

What has the Republican Party come to? - III

David Seaton's News Links
Observing the pantagruelian expense and listening to and reading about the nauseating, sociopathic babble of the seemingly endless Republican primaries in the United States; people all over the world are questioning the democratic process and wondering if China's authoritarian system might be superior.
In my opinion, this is not a problem of systems, democracy is not an end in itself, it is simply a means to an end. The object in democracy is the same as in any system, be it an authoritarian or even a totalitarian, tyrannical regime: governance.
Democracy, by allowing a fuller expression of the people who practice it, logically expresses more faithfully the nature of that people then any other system possibly could. If the society practicing democracy is decadent and corrupt, so their democratic expression will reflect that decadence and corruption.
In the United States, quoting today's The Guardian
"Almost one third of Americans, according to a recent poll, have read Atlas Shrugged, and it now sells hundreds of thousands of copies every year."
The financial crisis we are suffering now, worldwide, is simply the result of a faithful following over decades of the psychopathic philosophy of Ayn Rand by the United States of America, which happens to be the world's most powerful country... The disaster that follows cannot be laid at the feet of democracy... just like with computers, in democracy GIGO applies: "garbage in, garbage out".
It is the United States and its values that have been hollowed out and debased, not democracy. DS

Monday, March 05, 2012

What has the Republican Party come to? - II

David Seaton's News Links
Domenico Feti

We are living in quite special times. The crisis in the system hasn’t been this evident to “everyman” since the 1930s. The United States is rather special in one respect in facing the crisis. The idea of personal responsibility for everything that happens to us, that you have cancer because you are not thinking “positively” and not because some corporation has poisoned the air or the water.
This means that instead of wanting to face the stagnant economy collectively and solve it by all pulling together… our culture wants everybody to “just suck it up” individually. This in turn means that we have millions of people who are angry (at themselves) and disappointed (with themselves). They have to unload this misery somewhere,  and this makes them a perfect target for the passing demagogue. We have seen a nearly endless stream of nut jobs auditioning for the role of commander of the miserable.
The Republicans, in search of some sort of non-country club majority, from which to protect their interests, have chosen to pander to this unhappiness… and many of the clearer heads among them already regret it. I doubt if even a major defeat would change this trend... only curing the unhappiness would and I wonder if any political party has it in its power to do that. DS

Sunday, March 04, 2012

What has the Republican Party come to?

David Seaton's News Links
If Mitt Romney takes the nomination and then loses to Obama, the extremists who’ve taken over the party will surely say the problem was Romney’s lack of ideological purity.  Joe Nocera - New York Times

Here’s what I think may happen. Romney gets the nomination and is defeated. Republicans decide they are sick of nominating “moderates” and next time they go haywire. Then the party gets really crushed and sanity returns. David Brooks - New York Times
I think people are making a mistake if they treat the Republican primaries as serious politics. They obviously aren't, but at the same time it seems to me that they are a more than serious symptom of levels of unhappiness, frustration and confusion among the citizenry that border and frequently cross the border of collective insanity.
All the unhappiness and frustration are searching for moral absolutes. Moral absolutes are what allow people to kill each other... if only in their imagination. All this hateful speech and dippy ideas are pregnant with death, they could give birth to a monster, but the Republicans would only be the midwives... They are helpless in the face of the spirits they have invoked from the country's inner darkness. It is that darkness that should worry us, something very, very nasty is cooking in it. DS

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Are we looking at a possible intellectual and economic "ecological" disaster?

Bank concentration: Graph - Mother Jones, (click though to view)
Low genetic variation can make a species less resilient to changes in its environment, and place it at increased risk of extinction. BBC News
Ecologists say that when the gene-pool of a species is reduced beyond a certain point that species is in danger of extinction because it may not have enough alternative genes to recover from a negative event such as a plague etc.

Could this concept be applied to our new globalized economy and even to our educational resources?

When I saw the documentary "Food Inc", I was surprised to learn that less than half a dozen corporations control almost all of American agriculture and food production.

I was talking to someone on the far left the other day who said that economic power has become so concentrated in the USA that if you nationalized some 20 corporations, then, in one blow, you would have created a de facto, ad hoc, "real existent socialism". He gave Walmart as an example of a perfect "planned economy".  Maybe he is on to something.
Most economists today don’t ask who rules the global economy, visualizing it as a decentralized competitive market that cannot be ruled. Yet new evidence suggests that global economic clout is highly concentrated among large interlocking transnational companies. Three Swiss experts on complex network analysis have recently examined the architecture of international ownership, analyzing a large database of transnational corporations. They concluded that a large portion of control resides with a relatively small core of financial institutions, with about 147 tightly knit companies controlling about 40 percent of the total wealth in the network. Their analysis draws heavily on network topology, a methodology that biologists use to good effect. An article in the British magazine New Scientist describes the research as evidence of a global financial oligarchy. The technical details of economic network analysis are daunting, but the metaphors evoke a “Star Trek” episode: the network is described as a bow-tie shaped “super entity” of concentrated corporate ownership. One cannot help but worry about threats to the safety of the starship Enterprise. In recent years, research on industrial organization has focused more on corporate strategy than on social consequences. A recent article in the socialist journal Monthly Review, by John Bellamy Foster, Robert W. McChesney and R. Jamil Janna, criticizes both mainstream and left-wing economists for their lack of attention to monopoly power. Focusing on the United States, they note that the percentage of manufacturing industries in which the largest four companies account for at least 50 percent of shipping value has increased to almost 40 percent, up from about 25 percent in 1987. Nancy Folbre- New York Times
Increasingly top management has been educated worldwide in practically identical MBA programs so that their responses to any new problems tend to be identical. This too responds to the metaphor of gene-pool depletion.

Universities themselves instead of being citadels of intellectual integrity, are increasingly becoming mere training camps for this corporate concentration:
Most universities before 1945, and even before 1970, were state institutions. The one significant exception was the United States, which had a large number of non-state institutions, most of which had evolved from religiously-based institutions. But even in these U.S. private institutions, the universities were run as non-profit structures.  What privatization began to mean throughout the world was several things: One, there began to be institutions of higher education that were established as businesses for profit. Two, public institutions began to seek and obtain money from corporate donors, which began to intrude in the internal governance of the universities. And three, universities began to seek patents for work that researchers at the university had discovered or invented, and thereupon entered as operators in the economy, that is, as businesses.  In a situation in which money was scarce, or at least seemed scarce, universities began to transform themselves into more business-like institutions. This could be seen in two major ways. The top administrative positions of universities and their faculties, which had traditionally been occupied by academics, now began to be occupied by persons whose background was in business and not university life. They raised the money, but they also began to set the criteria of allocation of the money.  There began to be evaluations of whole universities and of departments within universities in terms of their output for the money invested. This might be measured by how many students wished to pursue particular studies, or how esteemed was the research output of given universities or departments. Intellectual life was being judged by pseudo-market criteria. Even student recruitment was being measured by how much money was brought in via alternative methods of recruitment. Immanuel Wallerstein
Maybe we are fooling ourselves and the rest of the world when we think we live in a democratic, free market economy. In reality we may be immersed in some sort of Mussolini cum Disney corporate statism.

Or maybe the world economic power has conveniently gathered itself together in a sort of virtual "Winter Palace" that could be taken over in one bold revolutionary movement.

Or both.

Whether seen from the point of view of someone who believes in the connection between democracy and the free market or a disciple of Lenin who sees a world of unlimited future opportunities to make a revolution... Whatever it might be, such a power concentration, with its attendant group-think and its economic and intellectual "gene depletion" carries with it very special dangers, dangers which we will all face together, rich and poor alike. DS