Commercialism vs. Democracy

Walter Lippmann, in his 1914 review of American democracy, denounces in sneering tones the old U.S. bias of putting business on a pedestal:

The leading thought of our world has ceased to regard commercialism either as permanent or desirable, and the only real question among intelligent people is how business methods are to be altered, not whether they are to be altered. For no one, unafflicted with invincible ignorance, desires to preserve our economic system in its existing form.

The business man has stepped down from his shrine; he is no longer an oracle whose opinion on religion, science, and education is listened to dumbly as the valuable by-product of a paying business. [Drift and Mastery, xix.]

With one candidate for President trumpeting his appetite for self-enrichment at the expense of any other value and the other kneeling before Goldman Sachs, it is clear that American democracy still falls far short of the standards “among intelligent people.” That Sanders nearly won the Democratic nomination on the strength of anti-commercialism despite little name-recognition, little “charisma,” and the underhanded opposition of both virtually the whole body of mainstream media and his the Democratic Party elite offers some hope for the second century since Lippmann made his generous assessment.

That hope, unfortunately, needs qualification. As Lippmann himself cautioned:

The modern world is brain-splitting in its complexity, and if you succeed in disentangling from it some hopeful trend there is nothing more restful than to call it the solution of the problem [64].

The problem of removing the leach of unpatriotic, anti-social commercialism from the U.S. system of government is in truth so far from being solved that Bernie’s accomplishment really amounted only to communicating the nature of the problem to the general public…and finally finding the general public truly receptive.

 

 

 

 

Trump’s Values

He sneers at women; he sneers at various ethnic groups; he admires a Russian dictator (perhaps he thinks Russia under ex-KGB official Putin is a democracy with controlled elections and would like the same in the U.S.); he sneers at his employees; he thinks cheating the 99% with a manufactured recession to enrich billionaires is “business;” and he cheats the nation by not paying taxes on his billions.

So…what makes you think he will value–or respect–the group you belong to? 

Liar, Liar…

Observer 9/26: reporting on the evolving context of the U.S. election

Lie to confuse the gullible. The harder the times, the easier it will be, for a population confused and stressed will reach out for any plausible explanation, and the liar whose ambition is power will always find a scapegoat pleasing to a gullible and stressed population. Despite its enormous power and resources, U.S. society today constitutes such a stressed population…thanks to a generation of bad governance by an elite addicted to financial corruption at home combined with military violence abroad. Hitler had his big lie of blaming all Germany’s problems on its Jews – the Germans who tried to conquer Europe were thus granted “innocence” and the “right of revenge” since it was all “the fault of the Jews.” Today, it is all the fault of Muslims or Mexicans…those who provoked a war on terror or a bailout of billionaires or just got rich using daddy’s $50 million in spare change are innocent. The mass media, typically complicit in the lies of the elite, has finally reached its limit; unable to continue swallowing the garbage any longer, the major newspapers of the land have, this very week, suddenly begun to spit it out. Alas, in this age, who reads? Those who don’t, sadly, will vote for liars…and continue to be manipulated for the amusement of various self-indulgent members of the elite. All a lying politician needs to seize power is a Reichtag fire, a Tonkin Gulf incident, a 9/ll in order to scream “I told you so” and get command of the gullible mob.

Gathering Clouds of Fascism

Observer 9/24/16

Observer perceives on the not so distant horizon what to him appear to be the gathering storm clouds of fascism starting to cast shadows over a democratic landscape. In a land uniquely favored by resources and a century of victory, how such an illogical process could possibly emerge, much less threaten life as we know it, is a sad conundrum but nonetheless one that will no doubt teach those of us who treasure liberty many valuable lessons about the weaknesses of our political system  requiring repair.

 

U.S. society has, in the rush from Cold War victory disillusionment to false war on terror to corrupt bailout of the billionaires to the realization that the war on terror is doing nothing but committing the nation to suffer an endless series of military defeats, now reached the point that it is splitting into two fundamentally hostile camps, camps that hold each other in contempt: immature and vicious proto-fascists vs. visionary reformers. This split is all the more serious because confused by an unpatriotic, elitist, corrupt political system controlled behind the scenes by a military-industrial-financial gang of private capitalists that has launched an undeclared class war against American society and bought control of both political parties to the point that real democracy—i.e., genuine electoral choice–hardly exists any more, with the Democratic Party nearly as complicit as the Republican. But their control remains incomplete, incapable of stopping the rising civil war between proto-fascists who see Trump as their champion and the disorganized and marginalized reformers represented most visibly by Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. It is the corruption of the ruling elite that is both blocking reform and aggravating a mindless protest by the uneducated, unthinking but quite justifiably angry young, hopeless white men who have nowhere to go in a political system that sneers at reform while encouraging blind, racist violence (the raw material for a fascist punishment of American arrogance).

In a healthy democracy, the release valve draining off society’s anger would be the rise of a reformist party, but Bernie failed because stabbed in the back by the corrupt Democratic Party management, which prevented the fair primary campaign it was duty-bound to ensure. Anger at the endless self-serving foreign and domestic policies of the administrations of both parties thus intensified, pervading the society of the 99%. The Mideast wars that destroyed the lives of so many Americans only, by smashing Mideast societies, generated follow-on wars; the bailout was handed to the guilty institutions as a blank check with the individual financial criminals carefully protected from prosecution; and the Supreme Court legalized “one dollar, one vote”…while both the liberties and the prospects of the 99% were quite intentionally whittled away.

Two months before the 2016 presidential election, the U.S. seems to be creeping mindlessly toward the worst domestic catastrophe since the Southern War to Preserve Slavery.

American Values

Making America great again means taking American values seriously, not laying waste to our middle class, our cities, and the homes of societies worldwide who also seek liberty.

 

Politicians bare their teeth and snarl incoherently about “making America great again.” They have a point, albeit unknowingly: when Mason, Madison, Jefferson, Hamilton, Adams agonized over the proper way to construct a political edifice in which to house–securely and for the long term–the values they were simultaneously defining for their harshly post-colonial “real world,” they knew whereof they spoke in conceiving of a “great” America. A “great” America would be an America guarding the people against the poor judgment of fallible rulers and of the equally fallible people themselves: majority rule with minority rights, specified powers to the central government with the rest reserved for lower levels or the people, balance among branches of government, freedom to form parties with constraints to minimize domination by any single party, no standing army unless temporarily unavoidable, no domestic use of any army that had to be stood up, and no war without the authorization of Congress. The great America they were designing was intended to be a field of dreams for the people to enjoy and on which to create as desired, with government at all levels limited to providing such services as deemed necessary.

The very opposite of the rigid war machine that now operates for its own purposes, that original vision of a great America was for a cautious, flexible, supportive peace machine. Modern thugs rant about restoring a “great” America that will free (from oversight) the big banks bailed out by the very taxpayers from whom they stole, build walls around this immigrant nation against immigrants, steal oil from helpless countries that our war machine has already bombed flat, or empower lackeys to repress inconvenient minorities demanding the very same liberties Jefferson and Adams once demanded, and, yes, these modern thugs do have a point: America’s greatness has indeed diminished.

“Free banks, not people!” “Wall out those seeking freedom!” “Bomb minorities demanding independence!” These modern thugs serving the military-industrial-financial complex with their upside-down message would have us live in a backwards world, a world designed to destroy, not restore, American values.

What solutions could be funded with such resources as have been wasted already this century by the self-indulgent U.S. elite! What secure banking system for family savings could be designed with that multi-trillion-dollar bailout! What aid to global populations seeking justice, what a marvelously effective and fair immigration service could be designed with the billions that a Great Wall of China around America would cost! What a magnificent post-hydrocarbon energy system could be designed with that three trillion dollar war! How many friendly societies around the globe might rise up to replace the lackey dictators who teach the world to hate us by imprisoning whole societies aspiring to liberty!

In time with the crescendo of the legions’ march, the melody of American values is being been drown out. America will not find greatness by copying Rome.

Fracking: Convicted, Not Yet Jailed

In what should be the biggest news of the summer, the U.S. Government (precisely, NASA) has just found the smoking gun establishing the causal link between fracking and global warming…in Four Corners. Briefly, fracking is being done so sloppily by the irresponsible corporations who are allowed by public officials to waste without penalty American resources that the amount of natural gas leaking into the atmosphere contains global warming methane just from the Four Corners region sufficient to cause an enormous methane hot spot. NASA notes of the Four Corners region that it is “primarily a natural gas production area, mostly from coal bed methane and shale formations. More than 20,000 oil and gas wells operate in the basin…” Fracking Corporations: Convicted by U.S. government scientists of causing global warming, but still not jailed.

NASA Report

Explanatory New Report (not, needless to say, from the complicit mainstream “team-player” media

Russia’s Mideast Strategy

In a smooth two-step, Putin implemented a bold military move changing the strategic situation of the whole Mideast with his third hand behind his back while warmly embracing Erdogan publicly with the other two.

One might wonder if Erdogan feels used. While the world watched Putin smoothly entice NATO’s only Muslim member into a backroom deal, Putin was setting up a new Russian military base in Iran. The sequence of events is stunning:

  • August 9 – Erdogan meets Putin, supposedly resetting bilateral ties

  • August 16 – Russian bombers depart from Iran and bomb Syrian rebels.

Where exactly does this leave Turkey?

Whatever the long-term role for Turkey planned by Putin, for the moment, Turkey appears sidelined: Ankara’s new Russian friend is slaughtering Turkey’s allies in Syria and consolidating a network of military bases across the center of the Mideast, with the very significant features of being done with the permission of the official regimes involved and without any military opposition. Low cost/big impact.

The facts so far are consistent with a variety of possible Russian strategies including an intent to displace Washington region-wide and the simple desire to establish a strong, short-term negotiating position, but the most likely appears to be a low-risk effort to establish a permanent Mideast position that will put Moscow at the center of any international decision-making process. In a year of tactical prowess, Putin has assembled an impressive series of bargaining chips. Certainly as their value mounts, the temptation to view them as “essential” will also increase, but by his quick pseudo-withdrawal (fly in/fly out) from Syria earlier in 2016, Putin has already demonstrated that he is capable of changing course without warning and treating it as something to brag about. At the moment, Putin appears to have assembled at very low cost to Russia chips of significant value for the purpose of making Moscow the new co-decision-maker about Mideast affairs hand-in-hand with Washington, whether Washington likes it or not.

Moscow: Co-Mideast Decisionmaker with Washington.

Perhaps Putin will stop supporting the Kurds and turn his back on Turkish military moves against them in a hard-ball effort to undermine the U.S. How well Turkey would fare as the only Sunni member of a Shi’i-Russian coalition is something for Erdogan to ponder. The initiative at the moment is clearly with Tehran and is likely to stay there: Tehran and Moscow have a wide range of strategic interests in common, while Moscow’s intent regarding Ankara is probably more to weaken Turkish ties with the West and minimize Turkish support for anti-Assad rebels than to pull Turkey into an alliance. This is a negative mission that Putin can abandon at any time at little cost as part of an overarching effort to establish a permanent position making Russia a key Mideast decision-maker. Given the inability of Washington to find a winning strategy in the Mideast despite incredible commitment of resources over the last half century, such a strategic plan seems quite within the realm of possibility for Moscow.

 

 

A pointed comment in an RT article about the Russian bombing campaign from Iran lays out a rather clear picture of Moscow’s mid-term plans:

As for Khmeimim Airbase in Syria’s Latakia province, used by Russian task force since September 2015 to deliver airstrikes against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) – its airstrip is not suitable for the heavy Tu-22M3. But that is subject to change, as Damascus granted Moscow permission to station a permanent military airbase at Khmeimim, and the Russian Air Force is preparing to thoroughly refurbish and modernize the airfield, so it will be able to accommodate all types of military aircraft in the near future. [RT.]

As for Turkey, it is starting to look like one of Moscow’s new chips.

Iran’s Strategy

A review of recent history sheds light on the highly contentious issue (both in the minds of Iranian security officials and Western observers): the nature of Iran’s strategy.

Marginalized by Washington for decades, Tehran cooperated with the U.S. after its invasion of Afghanistan to set up a new regime, maneuvered carefully to expand its influence in Iraq during and after the U.S. occupation of that country, and delicately practiced nuclear ambiguity to persuade the U.S. to negotiate. These three complicated sets of tactics gained Iran a minimal degree of security and opened the door to Iran’s return to the global diplomatic stage.

Now, with a no doubt disappointing year having elapsed since the nuclear accord and thus perhaps feeling that it is not going to get the economic or diplomatic benefits it had anticipated, Tehran has firmly and quietly eliminated America’s monopoly of military power over the Mideast, sending a loud message that it will not be marginalized any longer and, surely, acquiring promises of new weapons from Russia in return for the valuable landing rights at Hamadan.

Iran now finds itself, at little clear cost, significantly more secure from aerial attack by either Israel or Saudi Arabia. It may have to accept the removal of Assad but will at least have Russia on its side of the negotiating table for any grand Syrian solution. Russia could of course walk away from Iran but only at the cost of relinquishing its new air force facility which it will no doubt increasingly value as balancing U.S. bases in Bahrain and Turkey. Tehran will have to follow Russia’s lead regarding Assad–at least until it gets whatever weapons Putin promised, but surely the feeling must be spreading in Tehran that Assad has made himself something of a dead weight. Perhaps, indeed, Tehran is looking for a way to cast him aside. Hamadan has just become a bargaining chip of great value to both Tehran and Moscow.

In comparison with Ankara’s rhetoric and missteps or Riyadh’s bleeding war in Yemen, Tehran’s chessboard maneuvering for position is looking increasingly impressive.

Again, Putin Proudly Strides in American Footsteps

One may look with incredulity at Putin’s determination to copy the failed tactics of Washington, but who cares about the lessons of history? So, in yet another tactical coup, the world is now presented with a surprise new Russian air base…this time in Iran. Will Tehran, now reassured about its national security, be more willing to compromise, or will it waste its opportunity? Will a chastened Washington and a newly prominent Moscow now find grounds for cooperation?

Once again, Putin has seized the tactical initiative by copying US behavior to expand its military base network in the Mideast, bomb alleged terrorists, make the Mideast a more disturbed place but doing it all roughly in concert with Washington’s goals (“Gee, I’m only trying to lend a hand!”) Well, the last generation of U.S.-led military intervention in the Mideast has led to…where we now find ourselves, so it is quite possible that bipolar intervention might somehow lead to something better…if Moscow and Washington can quickly work out some rational compromise based on, for a change, non-military means. That compromise, however, will no doubt start with Moscow having bases in both Syria and Iran.

The good news is that this offers Tehran an opening to a more moderate stance on the grounds that it now has greater national security. A cornered state will take risks, while a secure state can afford to plan for the long term. Moreover, a state with a patron needs to consider the patron’s interests.Of course, Iran could interpret things differently, an outcome that will be impacted by A) the sincerity of Washington’s fulfillment of the spirit of the US-Iranian nuclear agreement and B) by the speed with which Washington and Moscow work out some arrangement to avoid a needless and dangerous regional rivalry.

Any rivalry between Moscow and Washington at this delicate point only opens the door for regional extremists (not all of them Muslim) to exploit the situation, leaving the rest of the world to clean up the mess. With Washington ineptly entangled, after all its hard-earned lessons, Putin seems determined to tread exactly where forewarned that quicksand lies. Do his repeated tactical surprises add up to a rational strategy?

 

Guilt in the Western-Islamic Confrontation

“It’s all my opponent’s fault,” say the glib politicians. The only value of such remarks is to help people realize that, yes, it is important to determine who is guilty. Voters do not need doctorates in history to understand thousand-year-long historical processes, however. They just need to know the context, the sequence of key events and processes.

Historical hostility among Muslim schools of though has existed across the centuries, but to attribute contemporary Islamic violence to historical roots is only correct to the degree that the calls of some U.S. Protestant extremists for the murder of disliked foreign leaders can be traced back to the Christian civil war of 16th century France. Historical roots exist but explain little of the explosion of violence within politically active Islam over the last half century.

A perhaps slightly more significant long-term historical process is the response of a classical culture set deeply in a conservative religious milieu to the cultural challenge of modernization. The collision between Medieval Christianity and modernization reached its climax between that 16th century French civil war and the French Revolution. The analogous Islamic collision with modernity hardly began more than a century ago and appears still well short of its climax today. To understand the frustration and anger of Muslims today, one might start by recalling the attitudes of Christians in La Rochelle in the 16th century or Germans during the Thirty Years and the English during the time of Cromwell in the 17th century.

The key contextual factor in understanding the contemporary Western-Islamic confrontation, however, is not some long-term historical process, but the medium term Western intrusion into the Muslim world that began a century ago as the leading industrial states started converting from coal-based to petroleum-based economies. Quickly realizing that outright military invasion and colonization was unnecessarily inefficient, the West settled on a century-long policy of economic invasion, buying regional lackeys and transforming them with an addictive flow of weapons into repressive autocrats to manage the cheap delivery to the West of Muslim hydrocarbons.

No short-term process such as the pathetically hypocritical “war on terror” or the even shorter-termed rise of the Islamic State* can be understood, nor can the blame for such processes be accurately assigned, without putting today’s events in the context of the Western economic war of the last century against Muslims living in oil-rich states, a campaign of exploitative contracts of course backed up as needed by the state terror of military campaigns.

A sustained policy of crooked contracts enforced by military terror does not teach respect for democracy or human rights or middle class moderation.

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  • The rise of the Islamic State must itself be understood in the context of the last two decades (i.e., the context of provoking the rise of the jihadi movement as a convenient tool for kicking the USSR out of Afghanistan, the more recent context of the US occupation of Iraq, and the short-term context of once again aiding jihadis as a convenient tool for getting rid of Assad). Thus, even the contemporary context for understanding the Islamic State needs to be broken into three sequential periods. An overview of the contemporary context of the Islamic State is given in “Empowering Extremists.”