Saturday, March 30, 2013

North Korea puts its armed forces on a war footing

David Seaton's News Links
"As we have learnt again and again in this long period of turmoil, the impossible can become inevitable without even passing through improbable." Anatole Kaletsky - The Times
We seem to be immersed in a period of cumulative disasters, rather similar to the astrological idea of the inauspicious conjunction of certain planets.
This is not how the "age of Aquarius" was supposed to turn out!
This feeling that everything is happening at once colors my reading of the Korean story. Certainly the world's tinder is very dry and any spark could set the whole thing alight. Sarajevo was such an unlikely place to start the Great War, wasn't it? Sometimes, events do pile up in a sinisterly random way, which is where the astrological metaphor of the inauspicious alignment of the planets has at least a poetically descriptive value.
There is this wonderful Spanish saying to describe such a situation, "there already were too many of us and then grandmother had a baby". As if we didn't have enough to worry about, suddenly North Korea looks like starting a war.
The first thing you notice when looking at this unexpected affair is that it couldn't have come at a worse time.
Perhaps that is the key to it all.
I really don't think anybody, not even the Chinese, has much of an idea of what North Korea is up to. The whole "selling point" of North Korea is its mystery. That is their major card in any conflict: nobody understands them.
The USA is bogged down in Afghanistan and AIPAC and Israel are pressuring them to start another one with Iran. The world economy seems to be entering into multiple organ dysfunction syndrome, as Angela Merkel becomes the "incredible shrinking German chancellor" bent on destroying the European Union ...a war with North Korea right now could have sensational knock-on effects.
Although we assume they would be defeated in short order, I understand that North Korea has enough concentrated artillery to destroy Seoul and decimate the token American forces in South Korea. Probably the American ground forces are too overstretched in Afghanistan to react effectively with conventional means and this might lead to the use of atomic weapons. Certainly even a minor war ending in a mushroom cloud could be enough to sink the world's leaking economy.
This knowledge that they hold the world's economy in their hands is probably what is causing North Korea to take these chances.
No country is more precarious than North Korea and if it collapsed, China would have huge problems with refugees, South Korea would have to somehow absorb the dysfunctional north like West Germany did with the East... and the German Democratic Republic was Switzerland compared to North Korea. it would suck all the life out of the south's vibrant economy. Asia would be in turmoil for quite some time.
Just as a sailor uses the wind to navigate, but doesn't create the wind, anybody, who has grown up reading Sun Tzu and Lenin, might see opportunities in the chaotic world situation. I think that we live in a world which is overly exposed to random events, that nobody is really "in charge" and to quote another wonderful Spanish saying, "troubled waters make for good fishing". Perhaps, the fact that so many disasters are happening at once and leaders are so distracted by the specter of financial collapse has led the the North Koreans to think they may be able to win something in this confusion.
So my guess is that the North Koreans want money, food, relaxation of sanctions, you name it. However they might miscalculate, or any of the other players could too.
Of course all these calculations of mine could be way off. There is always a chance that the North Korean leaders are simply bat-guano crazy. That doubt is their secret weapon.

PS: The Dennis Rodman, "I don't want to do war, Dennis" interview after visiting Kim Jong Un, is one of the most frightening things I’ve ever encountered…
North Korean insanity meets American insanity… Since all of this has found me reading “Going Clear” about Scientology, I have no illusions about how crazy Americans can get… Lord preserve us. DS

PPS: I imagine that many strange things are going on in the North Korean capital today… if you can imagine a film of the Cuban Missile Crisis with the key roles played by the Three Stooges, you could get some idea of the climate there. Kim Jong Un must be nuts or trying to convince the entire world that he is nuts, to use Rodman as his messenger.

My reading is that the grandfather fought the Japanese and created North Korea and started the Korean war, Kim Jong Un’s father lived all that and the consolidation of the regime as a young man. Kim Jong Un is probably a spoiled brat with no idea of anything, living in a dream world… Maybe if Obama invited him to Disneyland and ate a hamburger with him in the company of Kobe Bryant we could solve the whole business.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Obama's triumphal entry into Jerusalem... yada yada yada

David Seaton's News Links
The US is hoping that Obama's positive first trip will reinvigorate peace efforts, though most settlers are not worried. They see the composition of the new Israeli cabinet as a reassurance that Israeli policy will move away from peace negotiations. Christian Science Monitor
Obama's visit to Israel was strictly for domestic American consumption, because unless the president and Netanyahu took a decision on when to attack or not attack Iran or intervene in Syria's civil war, which they could have done by telephone, his trip was strictly a public relations exercise, certainly it wont affect the "Peace Process" or lead to Palestinian statehood.
The much talked about "Two State Solution" is not stalled or even dead, it never existed: it and the "Peace Process" said to be leading to the founding of a "viable, contiguous, Palestinian state",  or even a Bantustan, was never more than a way of stalling, killing time, running out the clock. Israel has been waiting for a moment that now appears to be fast approaching: the disintegration of the Middle East as the west has known it since the end of World War One. In a short time all of the borders that were designed during the First World War by Britain and France  to suit western interests, will now probably become undefined, fluid if not gaseous... just as Israel's own borders are.
You may not have noticed, but Israel's frontiers have been undefined since 1967. The objective of the Israelis in avoiding the "Two State Solution" is  to not define them "prematurely", before all the pieces on board start to move.  In times like these, the last thing the Israelis want is to be the only ones with firmly drawn frontiers when all other borders in the Middle East are going to be negotiable. The settlers are not an "obstacle to peace", they are merely an excuse for Israel not to define those frontiers.
This Middle Eastern disintegration has been a long time coming and perfectly foreseeable by anyone as cool headed and long headed as the Israelis. The neocon led invasion of Iraq with its "real men go to Tehran" leitmotif, was itself a desperate, Hail Mary pass, attempt to control the events that are now taking place with that certain spontaneity of what looks like a historically driven process.
"What we're seeing here is, in a sense, the growing—the birth pangs of a new Middle East, and whatever we do, we have to be certain that we're pushing forward to the new Middle East, not going back to the old Middle East". Condoleezza Rice - 2006
Just in case you don't know what the "old Middle East" looked like, check this map... As you can see, it's mostly about Turkey and Iran... Not many borders visible except theirs and Britain's protectorates and today the British, who used to control Egypt, are no longer players... and as you may have noticed lately, America's once smothering grip on the area is fading fast.
Map-ME-1914
At this moment Syria is literally disintegrating, spewing nearly half a million refugees into tiny, neighboring  Jordan, where the Palestinian majority is permanently restless and the influence of the Muslim brotherhood is growing. The Muslim Brotherhood controls Egypt and Hamas in Gaza is an offshoot of the Brotherhood; and then there is always Al Qaeda which is growing exponentially in the Syrian conflict. So much for the Sunnis
As to the Shiites: Iran besides working diligently on developing atomic capabilities is fighting a proxy war alongside Assad in Syria, is the major power influence in Iraq and is heavily arming  Shiite Hezbollah on Israel's Lebanese border...
What could the Israelis expect to achieve as all this comes unraveled and the shooting starts?
Simple: they could ethnically cleanse Judea, Samaria, Gaza (and maybe Israel itself too while they are at it) all in the midst of the confusion of a military free for all.  Chaos with thousands of refugees simultaneously in movement everywhere... and when the dust settles, let the Palestinians establish their "viable and contiguous state" on the ruins of the Jordanian monarchy as a Sunni buffer between Israel and Shiite Iraq... if they so desire.
Who thought all this up? Ariel Sharon, I should imagine, who else? DS

Saturday, March 23, 2013

America's central question

David Seaton's News Links
I remember once reading an Indian guru, who said that if the water buffalo had a god, it would probably look like a very large water buffalo. He believed that there is only one god, formless and all pervading, but that he/she/it responds to intense worship by taking on the form that most pleases his/her/its devotees depending on their temperament and station in life.
I am beginning to think that the goddess of paranoia pursues a similar strategy: she appears to the crunchy granola/ruccola crowd as global warming and to the deep fried Mars Bar set as black helicopters.
To each of her myriad of devotees she appears in the form most guaranteed to seduce and charm them, but at bottom, there is no paranoia but paranoia and the media is her witness.
I was reminded of an incident from the darkest days of the Second World War, a time with millions of human beings freshly dead, or about to die, with European civilization ground to dust or burned to ashes, when there, deep in his bomb poof bunker, Winston Churchill sent a pudding back to the kitchen, complaining that it had "no theme".
That, I think is problem with America's free floating paranoia: like Winnie's dessert, the paranoia pudding that Americans are collectively pulling, has no "theme".
Once president Obama did touch briefly on what I do believe is the goddess's true form.
We are part of the American family. We believe that in a country where every race and faith and point of view can be found, we are still bound together as one people; that we share common hopes and a common creed; that the dreams of a little girl in Tucson are not so different than those of our own children, and that they all deserve the chance to be fulfilled. That, too, is what sets us apart as a nation. - President Barack Obama
I disagree, I think the opposite is precisely the truth and that is what "sets us apart as a nation".... And I can prove it with a few simple graphs:

income share cocktail

Actually this is exactly what doesn't set us apart, here is the entire world's estimated distribution of wealth:

conley_champagne_distribution
So as you can see, if anything sets us apart it is that the distribution of wealth in the USA is much more unequal than the world average.

The previous illustrations are examples of what is called the "Champagne Glass Graph", let's look at this simple pie-chart to get a clearer idea of what is going on:

Friday, March 15, 2013

What is the new Pope about?

David Seaton's News Links
Jorge Mario Bergoglio en El Vaticano
His Holiness Pope Francis
Francis is no liberal. He had no truck with liberation theology, the popular movement in Latin America and elsewhere which links the church’s work to radical social change, even though many of its supporters have been Jesuits. Not Francis: he is close to the conservative Communion and Liberation movement. The Economist
Latin America is the breadbasket and center of gravity of the Roman Catholic Church today, both in number of faithful and number of vocations. But there are storm clouds on the horizon;  two movements have the Church worried in Latin America and the problems they cause are interconnected: on one hand the revolutionary movements of the Bolivarian variety, which threaten the position of the propertied classes and on the other the growing, US financed, Evangelical Protestant penetration in the continent.
Though as socially conservative as the Catholics, the Evangelicals are ultra-conservatives on economic issues following the US model and very much part of the reactionary culture of the American south. The problem for the Catholic Church is that if they cannot stop the left wing revolutionaries from making inroads in the Catholic population, the rich criollo's money in South America will begin to flow toward the Evangelicals to see if they can do the job, thus leaving the Church without cash and vocations.
Don't expect any loosening of Church doctrine under the new pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Karol Wojtyla and his enforcer Josef Ratzinger, systematically carried out  a 35 year long purge of all "green shoots" of John XXIII, Paul VI and Vatican II. This has been deep and thorough and every trace of progressive thought has been exhaustively eradicated from the Church aparat. Bergoglio is a product of that purge and a collaborator in carrying it out. The Jesuit order was once a hotbed of left wing liberation theology, Bergoglio made his bones helping to stamp that out.
There is a lot of disturbing news about the new pope coming out of Argentina.  He is accused of operating hand in glove with the Videla regime... it might be a good idea to moderate our enthusiasm for this "Franciscan" simplicity of his till all that is cleared up. DS

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Whither post-Chávez Venezuela

VENEZUELA-INDEPENDENCE DAY-PARADETo put the entire subject of Venezuela into perspective from a yanqui point of view, I suggest reading the following snippet by Matthew Yglesias.
The late Hugo Chavez is controversial because of American aspirations to global military hegemony. People who vocally oppose those aspirations find themselves subjected to a massive amount of scrutiny of their human rights record that leaders who support it manage to completely avoid. Thus Chavez is an authoritarian strongman while King Abdullah II of Jordan does cameos on Star Trek Voyager. And since American aspirations to global military hegemony are uncontroversial inside the United States, critics of said aspirations develop an outsized level of emotional affiliation with foreign leaders who are subjected to this kind of hypocritical scrutiny. Matthew Yglesias - Slate
That quote more or less gives us the parameters of an American discussion of Hugo Chávez and the future of his movement, revolution or regime, whichever you prefer.
Cutting to the chase: in my opinion, if the Venezuelan army and Venezuela's poor hang together and the bottom doesn't totally drop out of oil market, Chavismo will survive, either as a potent force for change in Venezuela, Latin America and the Third World in general or in a degenerate form like Argentinian Peronism, with Chávez in the role of Evita. Whatever happens, the poor people of Venezuela will never forget him and will always worship his memory, in some ways he is more powerful dead than alive.
First the army. To really have any idea of Venezuela's future you would have to be a fly on the wall in a Venezuelan army junior officer's mess. One of the USA's problems south of the border nowadays is that they no longer train and network most of Latin America's army officers like they used to in Cold War days, and neither are they the exclusive suppliers of those country's weapon systems anymore. That is why the US backed coup against Hugo Chavez failed: only the older, Yankee trained officers were behind it, the young officers, the ones who make successful coups, backed Chávez.
As to oil, I would imagine that Russia, China, Iran would be quite willing to supply the necessary expertise to help restructure Venezuela's limping oil industry in order to dilute American influence.
For me the question is whether what follows Chávez will be a serious revolution or simply a demagogic fraud like Peronism has become. A revolution means a total change in the social and economic relations of a country. Many observers, who don't sympathize with Chávez's goals predict that his regime will quickly disintegrate without his hand on the helm. I'm not at all sure they are right.
We should take into account that Chavez didn't just suddenly drop dead of a heart attack.... the regime has had plenty of time to prepare... also we should take into account that the revolutionary infrastructure and revolutionary "consulting" services available to Venezuela come from the Castro brothers, who are the world's most successful revolutionaries, and if nothing else, certainly brilliant survivors.
An example of the brothers' ingenious handiwork is using the Cuban model of turning the ranchito (favela) "comadres" (gossipy, neighborhood, old wives and general busybodies) into the eyes and ears of the regime with cost-effective neighborhood "committees". The Cubans are supplying the type of know how that the CIA, the State Department and the USIA used to supply to South America's right wing dictators. The survival of the Castro brother's life's work may depend on Venezuelan oil and I wouldn't want to be standing between the Castro brothers and survival, it could be hazardous to ones health
Certainly the regimes of Cuba and Venezuela are mutually dependent and the Castros are very hard, intelligent and experienced men and will not let everything they have built up over decades just slip through their fingers only because Chavez has died.
So those are the elements: the army, the oil and the Cubans and most of all, the poor people of Venezuela, who for the first time in their history are playing a leading role in the drama of their lives. DS

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

On the death of Hugo Chávez


Crying for Hugo

A little old lady interviewed by El País in a mourning crowd of Venezuelans gave the most insightful analysis of Hugo Chávez and his probable legacy: "He gave us an identity!". 
Latin America is filled with people like that old lady, they are the overwhelming majority: poor, brown, left out and despised by the white, Criollo minority that has ruled the continent since colonial times. Chávez has given them an identity, an icon and marked a path. How attractive that identity, that Icon and that path are in South America can be judged by the reaction of Brazil's moderate president, Dilma Roussef, quoted in The Guardian, "The loss is irreparable. He was a great leader and friend of Brazil. President Chávez will live on in the empty space that he filled in the heart of history and the struggle of Latin America."
Paradoxically the conditions that brought forth Hugo Chávez in South America, obscene wealth and inequality in the midst of poverty, squalor and injustice, are being replicated right now in the developed world. Chávez's death coincides with the Dow Jones index hitting "all time highs", while, as John Gapper writes in the Financial Times, with unemployment hanging over their heads, the working poor and even university educated, middle class Americans are being encouraged to work longer hours at lower pay.... and in Europe? Much of its south is busy looking for their Hugo Chávez.
Hugo Chávez is/was not a freak accident, he is a leading indicator of the United State's loosening grip in the midst of the most important systemic crisis since the Great Depression. DS