Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Why are the Republicans at war with reality?

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

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

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

Let us begin with "liberal".

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does that mean?

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Iran agreement and the Middle East

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

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

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

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