A female advisor to Syria’s Bashar al-Assad speaks to Sophie Shevardnadze on RT today. The program also airedyesterday, but I had muted my TV as I wrote. Today I listened to it from start to finish, and the final words were an emphatic statement that the crux of the entire Middle East situation was the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, the specific importance of Syria being its alliance with Hezbollah. Sorry I didn’t note the woman’s name: she made a lot of sense.
Israel is not so much ‘in the eye of the Middle East storm’ as it is the eye of the storm.
The wave of terrorism that struck the world in 2001 has many causes, among them poverty and foreign exploitation of mineral wealth, which can easily be exploited by religious extremists. However, the Western media’s decades-long near silence on the Israeli occupation of land attributed by the United Nations to the Palestinians, removes from the public perception of the ‘war on terror’ a vital element that can be added to any grievance on the part of Muslim populations: the unlawful subjugation of one member of that community.
As I write this, Peter Lavelle’s ‘Crosstalk’ on RT discusses the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, and its shocking insistence on continuing to build settlements on land that was intended by the international community to be part of a Palestinian state, while accusing the Palestinians of refusing to restart negotiations.
Given its geographic position, surrounded by Muslim countries in the throes of revolt against their respective governments, the Jewish state would appear to be in existential danger, not from Iran, but from its neighbors on all sides. The fact that life goes on as usual suggests that Israel will feel invulnerable as long as it can count on unconditional American support.
Opponents of that support need to realize that the American government’s decades-long policy is not so much about saving Israel from its neighbors as it is about keeping those neighbors’ governments in the hands friendly to us for as long as possible. Israel’s prowess in IT, weaponry and spying (a word I prefer to the euphemistic ‘intelligence’) is never mentioned by the press, yet as Andrew Bacevich pointed out in a recent op-ed piece: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/how-we-became-israel/, Israel and the United States share not only know-how but fundamental attitudes toward war.
It is truly astonishing that activists continue to indict Israel’s supposed ‘hold’ on American foreign policy, when the relationship between this giant and its David is clearly one of mutual benefit, and for that reason not about to end any time soon. Washington evidently feels that the value Israel brings to its ability to destabilize, attack and occupy countries of economic interest out weights the inconvenience that Israel’s behavior toward those countries represents, certain of the ability of the two countries joint strategic resources to overcome any foe.
The European torch of discontent has passed to the island of Cyprus, where for the first time Brussels is set to confiscate part of citizen savings. To punish individual depositors for banks’ irresponsible behavior is like taking food out of the mouths of children, and ups the ante on anything done so far by a failing system. (Large sums of Russian money are also involved, and perhaps Russia’s reluctance to help is part of Putin’s announced crackdown on citizens who stash money abroad.) Cypriots are the latest victim of the German-inspired policy of austerity, and their treatment can only cause other Eurozone citizens to wonder whether they will be next.
RT’s Rory Suchet today compared the situation to the French revolution (when Marie Antoinette famously advised peasants lacking bread to eat cake). He wondered aloud whether the fate of Cypriot depositors will fan the flames of discontent across Europe, especially in Greece, Spain and Portugal, but also in France, where President Hollande appears to be struggling against Merkel’s greater Brussels clout.
What I am noticing is the difference between the European and American 99%: the former take to the streets by the thousands over the increased cost of food or education, or loss of jobs, while Americans can muster at best a few hundred on any given occasion.
The difference lies buried in history: Europe has had two major revolutions in the last two hundred years, precisely the French and the Russian. Both were about the rights of the 99% and contributed to a tradition of strong unions (everywhere but in the Soviet Union itself) that endures to this day. Quite differently, the American Revolution was not about the 99%: today it would be called a war of liberation from a foreign power, and it was instigated by the fledgling country’s 1%. To speak of an American ‘revolution’ is misleading, not only historically, but in terms of contemporary social movements.
In Europe, to march, to demonstrate, to strike, are not decisions of last resort, but workers’ tools of protest always at the ready, while in the United States marches and demonstrations are undertaken by grass-roots movements which do not have 200 years of organized protests behind them.
The sad thing is that because mass action is not part of daily life in the seat of corporate/financial/military power, the European Union may not survive. If that is the goal, however, the result may be as unintended as those of the Iraq, Afghanistan and Libyan wars.
Since I began watching Russia Today – referred to by American politicians as ‘Putin’s Channel’ – I’ve been trying to figure out what the Russian President’s message is.
A recent guest of Thom Hartmann’s confirmed what I have been writing here: although Russia’s switch to capitalism began with a free-for-all, with its industries auctioned off to a clique of oligarchs, twenty-some years later, ‘Putin’s channel’ promotes a healthy mix of cooperation and competition. Steve Keen, author of ‘Debunking Economics” says the U.S. needs to return to making stuff rather than playing with financial bubbles. Another recent TV guest, economist Peter Brian Henry Dean of New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business, and author of the new book ‘Turnaround: Third World Lessons for First World Growth” noted that cooperation was indispensable to early American success, and points out that during the Cold War the Soviet Union promoted cooperation but failed to provide a framework for competition, while the U.S. did the opposite. Noting that both countries had to add their respective missing element, he added that Russia has embraced economic competition while maintaining the socialist inspired commitment to political cooperation embodied by the United Nations. The United States however continues to condemn social spending at both the domestic level and in its choice of foreign governments to back.
RT Documentaries on both foreign and domestic subjects suggest that Putin’s vision is a capitalism that harks back to FDR, where the 99% were protected from the excesses of the 1%. However, he’s not only concerned about politics and economics: the Russian leader appears to also hanker after an era when ‘fun’ was ‘clean’ and families were intact. (The Pussy Riot trial is less a defense of religion than the belief that all freedoms have limits, in contradiction to Washington’s unqualified commitment to the First Amendment.)
I can’t conclude this article without mentioning the fact that the state of modern society, characterized by unlimited freedom, is what most troubles Muslims, hardening retrograde attitudes among Muslim clerics, delaying both women’s emancipation and democratization.
Egyptian President Morsi’s recent troubles over death sentences meted out to football fans who caused the deaths of seventy people exemplifies the Muslim Brotherhood’s determination to preserve the respect for the lives of others that characterizes all religions, as opposed to Western acquiescence to ‘anything goes’.
Capitalism provides the practical conditions for innovation, but the world as a whole only benefits when it is practiced within a framework of cooperation, and the same is true of societies.
P.S. Over the weekend, the new Chinese Premier Li Keqiang made the following statement at a press conference: “Our government will work with the Obama administration to build a new type of relationship between great countries.” He also condemned confrontation, particularly in cyberspace: “I think we should not make groundless accusations against each other, and spend more time doing practical things that will contribute to cyber-security,”
> A Palestinian leader being warmly received in Moscow.
> China deciding to provide better social services.
> Latin American guerrillas educating peasants.
These are three stories that are in the news today. The first and third are covered by RT, and I came across the second on a CNN web page devoted to China.
Predictably, the CNN story has a business focus; however unlike the attitude of American business toward health benefits, which it tacitly approves (“The country can’t afford them”), the story on China emphasizes the benefit better health coverage will bring to the Chinese economy: people will spend more on consumer goods instead of saving for health needs. True to the basic tenet of American journalism, which often enables subliminal messages, CNN does not comment on the difference between the American and Chinese views on the economic advantages of subsidized health care.
The third story, featured on RT, is about the complex relations between independent gold miners in Columbia, the FARC guerrillas, and foreign mineral companies. With the price of gold soaring, the long-standing tradition of small-scale mining – now carried out with the help of cell phones – has entered into conflict with large companies. The documentary moves from detailed coverage of the mining process and its health hazards, to political education and adjudication of village squabbles by modern day versions of Cuba’s guerrilla fighters, assisted by laptops.
As for the first story, you have to be old enough to remember the Cold War to appreciate its irony: During that period, Moscow and Washington vied for influence in the Third World, and each had its client states and allies. Since then, most third world countries have come to see Washington as an adversary that is either out for its resources or raining bombs. These countries are once again looking to Moscow, no longer to emulate its centralized economic system, but because Russia opposes Washington’s aggressive stance. The presence of Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian head of the Israeli occupied West Bank reflects Russia’s support for the Palestinians, in direct opposition to America’s support for Israel, even as it relentlessly pursues its goal of ridding Palestine of its historical inhabitants in defiance of international law.
Broadly speaking, unlike the Cold War period, when Peking’s Communist party looked to Moscow as a Big Brother, the twenty-first century finds the two countries allied against Washington – even though one is still under Communist rule, while the other seeks to tame capitalism. Neither ideological nor cultural differences now prevent Peking and Moscow from forming a common front against Washington and backing the demands of the 120 Third World countries newly organized under the banner of the fifty year old Non-Aligned Movement.
The deja vu is stunning – but not nearly as much so as the planetary transformation it reflects and its implications for an American foreign policy focused on domination rather than cooperation.
What’s this? The New York Times today ran an extensive story about the new group on the protest scene in Egypt called The Black Bloc, (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/31/world/middleeast/egypt-protests.html?pagewanted=2&_r=0&partner=rss&emc=rss&src=ig) while RT and France 24 both ignore the anarchist group that claims to have 20,000 members and is causing the military to warn that the country risks disintegrating.
Digging into on-line news outlets, I found that the BBC did a lengthy story on the Black Bloc last Sunday January 28, (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-21228852), but appears to have dropped the story since.
Cautious observers will claim that it is too soon to pronounce this an important development, but my sense of ‘the gist’ tells me that the appearance of a Muslim anarchist group marks a watershed. It is one more indication that we are witnessing a worldwide cultural conflict between vulgar consu-merism on one hand and aspirations for a better life that includes a higher moral plane. In Egypt that moral plane is embodied by Islam, but its foundation is the same as that espoused by Black Bloc movements worldwide, whose public face, by the way, is called Anonymous.
In a few days the reason for the news blackout that does not follow the usual international dichotomy should become clear. My first guess is that the U.S. is probably pulling many strings in the largest Muslim country in the Middle East which is also Israel’s neighbor.
The bad news today on RT is of renewed chaos in Egypt, of Syrian rebels threatening to use chemical weapons, as an 8,000 man US troop carrier heads for the Syrian coast. The good news is that privately-owned U.S. prisons are the perfect answer to outsourcing. People the free market doesn’t have jobs for are locked up on the slightest charge, where, in privately-owned prisons they complete with third world factories making clothes and other items for big box stores and designers, raking in billions for their keepers.
For MSNBC and its sisters, the world is limited to the debate over the ‘fiscal cliff’. Maybe that’s because even as Mitch McConnell clings to the Republican hard line, stocks rise. The bad news is that Obama’s quest for middle class tax breaks is as elusive as King Arthur’s quest for the Holy Grail. The good news is that England’s future queen Kate got her morning sickness under control, and can be seen leaning weakly on William’s arm.
No less importantly, talks jointly sponsored with Norway between the FARC rebels and the Columbian government entered their second round in Havana, as North Korea prepares to launch a long-range rocket.
Luckily, NASA issued a statement affirming that contrary to Mayan predictions, the world is not going to end on December 21st ‘or any time this year”. So what’s not to like? After all, Pearl Harbor was seventy-one years ago!
In 2008 I still felt the American elections were crucial to the entire world because of the aura of the United States and its sheer military might.
Difficult as it will be for most Americans to admit, and notwithstanding our thousand bases around the world, that is no longer true.
The hopeless wars we are fighting are only one piece of evidence. Every week brings new events that usually however do not make it into the mainstream media. Last week if you happen to be an RT viewer you would have learned that China and Nicaragua are planning to cut a new canal through Central America – right in our own back yard. (Yet we still do not recognize the government of Cuba….)
There’s no point in reiterating how low our reputation has fallen abroad, especially in the Arab world, but let me just say here that I’m getting pretty tired of hearing the media imply, as MSNBC just did, that the 100 point drop in the Dow at opening was due to the financial situation in Europe. One of the best kept secrets these days is that the Euro crisis is a direct consequence of the irresponsible behavior of Wall Street that brought on the 2008 crash.
I’ll be writing more often once I finish proofing the paperback edition of my memoir: ‘Lunch with Fellini, Dinner with Fidel: A Journey from the Cold War to the Arab Spring’.
I’ve been vindicated, thinking for some time now that there is a reason why the 1% doesn’t give a hoot about the 99% and that is that they plan to desert the earth for another planet, understanding full well that it is likely to become inhospitable to humans in the near future.
Well today on RT, an entrepreneur who specializes in space exploration for minerals, Dr. Scott Page, justified his business by quoting Stephan Hawking. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7wxo7ZHge0&list=UUczrL-2b-gYK3l4yDld4XlQ&index=2&feature=plcp
According to famed theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking,http://bigthink.com/dangerous-ideas/5-stephen-hawkings-warning-abandon-earth-or-face-extinction it’s time to free ourselves from Mother Earth. “I believe that the long-term future of the human race must be in space,” Hawking tells Big Think. “It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster on planet Earth in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand, or million. The human race shouldn’t have all its eggs in one basket, or on one planet. Let’s hope we can avoid dropping the basket until we have spread the load.”
“Even if humans manage to avoid a nuclear stand-off over the next thousand years, our fate on this planet is still pretty much certain. University of Sussex astrophysicist Dr. Robert Smith says eventually the aging Sun will accelerate global warming to a point where all of Earth’s water will simply evaporate.”
Another website makes the case that space travel is going to be very expensive, especially building an adequate ‘vehicle’. Probably one of the major reasons for banksters to be stashing it away. Can’t you just see these guys used to the ultimate luxuries as space colonizers?
RT this morning interviewed half a dozen people about the astonishing developments in the case of Julian Assange. After weeks of reflection, the President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, granted him asylum. In response, the government of her Majesty Queen Elizabeth vowed to storm the Ecuadoran Embassy in London where Assange has been holed up for weeks awaiting the decision.
As all the commentators pointed out, this is unprecedented in the annals of diplomatic history and contravenes every law on the subject EXCEPT A BRITISH LAW would allow the government to remove a foreign embassy’s diplomatic status! I have neither the time nor the inclination to research this ridiculous law, but I am certain it will be discussed on RT if it has not already. (Busy with a tech support issue I have not been watching for the last hour or so.) What interests me as always is the big picture, and what this development signifies in terms of the overall situation of the world
. I believe this is a watershed moment for what is commonly referred to as ‘the international community’, which I would designate in broader terms as ‘humankind’. Perhaps a bit over the top, but not when you consider that virtually all peoples, from the Amazonian jungle to Myanmar to sinking islands, are affected by the decisions of a few thousand actors on the world stage. Not only is the fate of the world controlled by the 1%, the means at their disposal are ever more frightening: digital technology, like every other ‘advance’ in civilization, has enabled the 99% to weigh more heavily in the balance, but it is also providing ever more frightening means for the 1% to lash back. Julian Assange’s safety is paramount, and the 99% will rally to his defense. But the 99% also wants climate control, an end to nuclear weapons, and equity, and it is now becoming clear that the chances of these goals being realized is very slim indeed.
At the same time, however, and although the Cold War has been over for almost twenty years, the world is again dividing into camps: on one side those whom Richard Falk refers to (see my yesterday’s blog) as the Maximalist proponents of a New Geopolitics, and on the other the Old Geopolitics, with the Minimalist New Geopolitics floundering in the middle. Assange’s defenders represent the first category, those seeking a new, participatory democracy, the U.S. and its allies represent the second, while the rest of the world represents the last desperate attempts to prolong the life of parliamentary democracy which has resulted in the Old Geopolitics resorting to ever increasing lethal force and surveillance.
And as in any conflict, the party with the most apparent strength is digging in, choosing to ignore the implications for the civilization it purports to defend. The Julian Assange asylum case constitutes the opening round in a knock down drag out battle between the forces of light and darkness.
Democracy is caught in a vise between increasingly authoritarian governments beholden to the corporatocracy, and baton-wielding populist parties beholden to no one.
The foreign television channels broadcasting in the U.S. report on a daily basis from Greece, where the dire economic situation has driven the suicide rate up sharply, and where a nationalist party, mockingly called the Golden Dawn, takes African and Asian immigrants as scapegoats, as if turning them out of their hospital beds could make up for the economic austerity imposed by the European Union.
After being targeted by Voice of America during the Cold War, Russia’s RT delights in drawing attention to everything that isn’t right in the United States, zeroing in on stories the mainstream media ‘misses’. RT may have reported on President Obama’s latest executive order before the American press did, following a calculated Friday afternoon signing. The order gives the President full control over all communications in emergencies, and spells out the steps to be taken under tight deadlines in order for the plan to become operational. You can see the story here: rt.com/usa/news/obama-president-order-communications-770/ and a follow-up here: rt.com/usa/news/white-house-systems-order-142/.
And then there is TomDispatch’s latest guest writer, David Vine www.tomdispatch.com/post/175568/tomgram%3A_david_vine%2C_u.s._empire_of_bases_grows/?utm_source=TomDispatch detailing the new strategy behind our more than one thousand foreign bases: fewer gigantic ones, many small ones known euphemistically as ‘lily pads’. Often located in out-of-the-way places, they enable special ops forces and such to turn up anywhere on short notice.
Not to mention the New York Times’ July 15th story revealing that our cell phones let the government know where we are at any given moment – and even, supposedly, where we will shortly be. Or the covert airport scanners disguised as pillars that can tell what you ate for breakfast as you walk by.
To take democracy for a reality in a world where the ‘choice’ is between being tracked and spied upon by those in power or beaten up by those imitating power is a mistake that I fear we will come to regret – when it is too late.
There is no doubt in my mind that the news is the best show in town. And on condition that you are watching the right channels, it is ever new.
While American TV continues to belabor a Presidential election that is four months away, you can learn from France 24 that there are more than a hundred thousand Chinese living in Spain and moreover, that with the backing of the Peking government, they are making money hand over fist in a country more than twenty percent of whose workers are out of a job. One star entrepreneur says Spaniards have not been properly educated. In the face of the Spanish economic downturn he tells an assembled group of countrymen that they must stick together.
Not compete, but stick together! Could it be that a Communist education is the best preparation for making it in the capitalist world?
A related story is Cuban President Raul Castro’s trip to Peking, first, and then to Moscow. The purpose of this pilgrimage to the high seats of Cuba’s formerly Communist allies is undoubtedly to get some advice for Cuba’s turn from strict communism to an as yet unacknowledged form of social democracy. Meanwhile we learn from RT that the President of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo, allowed himself to be removed from power on June 22 after a flimsy two-hour impeachment debate in order to avoid bloodshed promised by his opponents. Lugo is a leftist and the U.S. has been trying to establish a base in Paraguay for several years.
France 24 devotes considerable air time to events in the Maghreb, that is Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria. Today it covers the first legal congress of the moderate Islamic Party Ennhada, which holds the largest number of seats in Parliament and governs in coalition with a center-left and leftist party. Echoing last week’s interview with Tunisia’s foreign minister mentioned in my previous blog, the report emphasized Tunisia’s persistent drive toward a moderate /socialist/Islamic form of governance.
Meanwhile, Egypt’s new Islamist President Mohammed Morsi chose Saudi Arabia as the destination of his first official visit abroad. This looks like a typical Middle Eastern power play, since the Saudi monarchy is Israel and America’s staunchest ally in the region, while practicing Wahabism, the most conservative form of Sunni Islam, which inspired Al-Qaeda, while Morsi has to reassure the Egyptian revolutionaries of his moderate bone fides.
Finally, in a detailed analysis of the falling ratings of MSN, progressive Americans’ last best hope among the major channels, RT’s Liz Whal interviews Cenk Uyghur, who epitomizes its failure, while announcing that RT has risen to first place among foreign news channels in Canada.