Sunday, September 29, 2013

Abandon hope all ye who enter here...?

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Dante's Inferno - Thieves
Dante's Inferno -  "The Thieves" - Gustavo Doré

"Many decades from now, a historian looking at where America lost its way could use This Town as a primary source."—Fareed Zakaria

And so we have arrived at the bizarre juncture where it makes more sense for Mr Obama to talk to the leader of Iran than to talk to Congress. Edward Luce - Financial Times

I mentioned in an earlier post that I had been reading Mark Leibovich's book, "This Town", which is a tragicomic, insider's trek around the astounding frivolity of Washington's wall to wall corruption. An extraordinary book: not a don't know whether to laugh or to cry kind of book, but more like a don't know whether to laugh or to vomit kind of book.
Since reading it, I have found myself facing some sort of "writer's block" when trying to comment on the day to day march of world affairs... this lack of enthusiasm is heightened daily while surveying the Tea Party led march to a budget Armageddon. This political "Dumb and Dumber" would be sad enough if it were occurring in today's Rome, for example (it is actually)  but in a place like Washington, which today wields more power than ancient Rome did, I'm reminded of Caligula making his horse a senator... actually I much more reminded of the corruption and dysfunction of the Gorbachev to Yeltsin period of  the dying USSR, where they proved out the ancient adage, "the bigger they are, the harder they fall".
In many countries, the level of political dysfunction of the American system would produce a coup d' état, something which would appear unthinkable in such a huge, complex structure as America's... I don't say it is impossible because of the USA's democratic traditions or institutions, witness the activities of the NSA, Guantanamo and drone warfare... No, it just seems too big a place to pull something like that off.
Really, the only hopeful sign I have seen lately that the USA might be able to regenerate itself has been the sudden, unexpected, spontaneous, all for one and one for all, mobilization of American public opinion, a people's revolt both on the left and on the right, over the heads of the lobbies, the heads of the gatekeepers and the heads of other managers of consensus, against any military involvement in Syria... perhaps such a wave of revulsion is building up around America's systemic political meltdown and the people will rise up as one to change it.
Someone who believes in democracy has a right to hope that Americans can reboot their country from the ground up... it certainly is never going to happen from the top down. DS

Monday, September 23, 2013

Writing opinion in turbulent times

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Hard times for a columnist with deadlines to meet. Everything is in the air, variables multiply dizzily.
Handicapping the Middle East, more than ever, is mug's game. Years on, Obama is still an enigma wrapped in a candy bar wrapper, Putin... what does he want? Who is Angie Merkel really? She has destroyed the Liberals, will she now destroy the Greens?
For me the two most significant things of the last few days, things that I think will be seen as turning points a few years from now, have been the American people's, grassroots (both the right and left's,) refusal to be stampeded into another war and the new Pope declaring that he never has been a "right-winger". DS

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Chutzpah, thy name is Putin

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Vladimir Putin 2
"We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal." Vladimir Putin

"What a crazy world we are living in when Russia sounds more sane and responsible than our own government on a serious international crisis. It's as if I have blundered into some bizarre parallel universe." NYT reader, "John C", commenting on Putin's Op-Ed

Many decades from now, a historian looking at where America lost its way could use This Town as a primary source. Fareed Zakaria - CNN
The Syrian poison gas affair has been running its course while I have been reading Mark Leibovich's bestseller on how today's Washington works, "This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral-Plus, Plenty of Valet Parking!-in America's Gilded Capital", which I still haven't finished yet, because I have to put it down every few pages to keep from throwing up. However Leibovich's portrayal (undressing really) of today's Washington was a great help in understanding what Russia's Vladimir Putin has just pulled off.
Even more than Leibovich, what Putin has done, cynical cad that he is, is to have undressed Washington and after having undressed the poor lady, has "had his way with her", and then has run straight off to tell all his drinking buddies all about it and they all have had a big hairy chested laugh at Washington's expense. Vlad, "the impaler"!
What has really given me the key to where Putin is taking all of this is the closing line of his New York Times Op-Ed, "We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.". Not only does he quote Thomas Jefferson, he talks about "the Lord’s blessings", all in one phrase.
Younger readers or those with a very short memories, may not know, or may have forgotten, that during the ideological struggles of the Cold War, the United States not only defended the capitalist system, it also portrayed itself as the staunchest of defenders of religion and traditional values in the face of "godless communism". This was a smart move since, although very few people in the world have any capital, much, perhaps most, of the world's population, especially in those traditional societies, rich in natural resources, are "believers" and socially conservative. And not only in "backward" countries: this was even true in the Soviet Union itself!
During the years of glasnost, before the collapse of the USSR, I was much surprised to learn from Spanish friends who were dealing on a daily basis with Soviet officials that all these loyal Communist apparatchiks confessed that they had been baptized and indoctrinated in the forbidden Christian practices by their grandmothers from childhood. The babushkas had kept religion alive in Russia. I think that was when I first realized that the Soviet system's goose was really cooked.
What Putin is doing is to turn the entire Cold War paradigm inside out like a glove and make Russia the world's defender of social conservatism and the USA as the center of newfangled depravity.
Americans may not realize, or rightly may not care, that with reforms such as gay marriage, we have left much of the developing world behind us, scandalized, offended, or simply scratching their heads. And not just the developing world, even in Paris, a city celebrated over centuries for its sexual tolerance...
Tens of thousands of people have rallied in Paris against a new French law allowing same-sex marriage. Police estimate that up to 150,000 people joined marches that converged on the city centre, but organisers put the figure close to one million. Clashes erupted after the rally finished between far-right activists and riot police. The authorities said nearly 100 people were arrested. On Saturday 50 people were detained for blocking the Champs-Elysees. The same-sex marriage bill, which also legalises gay adoption, was signed into law by President Francois Hollande last week, after months of heated debate. French people have been bitterly divided over the issue. On Tuesday, a far-right historian shot himself dead in Notre Dame cathedral, leaving messages in which he denounced gay marriage. BBC
This is not to suggest we should change or that we don't have a right to do and think as we wish, but at the same time we should realize that this principled stand may offer openings for opportunist adversaries to exploit. This is precisely what Putin is doing:
On July 3, Mr. Putin signed a law banning the adoption of Russian-born children not only to gay couples but also to any couple or single parent living in any country where marriage equality exists in any form. A few days earlier, just six months before Russia hosts the 2014 Winter Games, Mr. Putin signed a law allowing police officers to arrest tourists and foreign nationals they suspect of being homosexual, lesbian or “pro-gay” and detain them for up to 14 days.(...) Earlier in June, Mr. Putin signed yet another antigay bill, classifying “homosexual propaganda” as pornography. The law is broad and vague, so that any teacher who tells students that homosexuality is not evil, any parents who tell their child that homosexuality is normal, or anyone who makes pro-gay statements deemed accessible to someone underage is now subject to arrest and fines. Even a judge, lawyer or lawmaker cannot publicly argue for tolerance without the threat of punishment. New York Times
As deeply shocking and offensive as we may find the above, you can believe that it plays very well in Africa, the Middle East, India, most of Asia... and perhaps in places much, much nearer home than that.
To me the sequence of events all falls together neatly: the reactionary anti-gay laws, the Snowden revelations, the Syrian ballet... the objective is to degrade the image and the narrative that USA has created for itself and for the world. If this is all coincidence and not part of a plan and he has just cleverly taken advantage of these random events, then Putin is the greatest improvisor since Charlie Parker died.
Why is he doing this?
Simply because he is a Russian nationalist and he wants Russia to again be the great power it was less than a generation ago and not have rules dictated to it from Leibovich's Washington ... and all is fair in love and war. DS

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Obama's war - II: Putin toys with Obama

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Vladimir PutinWhat I think distinguishes Obama from all the presidents in my lifetime, (I’m 69) is his lack of any previous experience of leadership.
Even lackluster performers such as Bush II and Carter had been governors of important states. Ronald Reagan had been two term governor of America’s most complex and important state. Even JFK, who time has proved to have been quite mediocre, had been in the Senate much longer than Obama… And Eisenhower? And Nixon And Johnson? Massive experience.
Obama had never even led a boyscout troop before entering the White House.
I think Putin, who, as to experience, is an ex-colonel of the KGB, f’crissake, is playing him like a fish. I think that this is the key to the story…

I believe that there is a direct connection between the timing of Snowden’s revelations, (which are alienating allied public opinion) and the Syrian crisis and the object of all of it is to hamstring and degrade American influence for the next two years at least.
Why? Because the Russians won’t tolerate being ruled from Washington. That simple. DS

Monday, September 09, 2013

Obama's War

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Everything about "Obama's War" is like a bad dream after a heavy meal or some sort of zombie film. It all reeks of decadence and idiocy. So stupid that I have problems writing about it.
They say that history repeats itself. I said that this was all like "a bad dream after a heavy meal", but I think it would be more accurate to have compared "Obama's war" to an endless series of belches after said meal. Forget the Cruise missiles, bring on the Eno's Fruit Salts! DS