Russia the Greatest Threat?

General Mattis has just paid Putin a completely egregious compliment, not to mention one Putin surely relished hearing: he, after the long generation of Russian global decline, is once again Our Greatest Fear. This, more than anything, was surely Putin’s goal in taking control in Syria. Putin likes to be noticed.

Exactly why General Mattis thinks Russia is the West’s greatest threat is hard to say. Is it perhaps because Putin sometimes seems as irresponsible about the use of nukes as, say, Netanyahu…or President-Elect Trump? That would be a persuasive reason but does not seem to be what the general had in mind. Is he just, still, having trouble leaving the Cold War behind?

After a disastrous generation of war against Sunni jihadis and in light of 1) the continuing Saudi war in Yemen, 2) the tenacious grip of ISIS, and 3) the resurgence of both the Afghan and the Pakistani Taliban, Mattis might well have cited the continued Riyadh-Islamabad team effort to promote global Salafi jihad as the main immediate foreign policy threat facing the West. The current destabilizing cycle of Islamabad promoting jihadis in Afghanistan, which in turn is prompting Kabul to respond in kind, creating a reinforcing feedback loop of state stimulation of private Salafi extremism, all encouraged by an endless flow of Saudi funds, is no less dangerous simply because neither Washington officials nor mainstream media care to discuss it in public.

Given the terrorist whirlwind being promoted by various capitals seeking to manipulate private extremism for short-term regime benefit, General Mattis might care to concern himself a little more with the Islamic Bomb in crumbling Pakistan rather than Russian nukes. A professional combination of careful decision-making plus a willingness, already evidently in Trump’s mind, to work together should keep Washington and Moscow from coming to blows. How to deal with the complexities of virtually ungovernable Central Asia is a problem of a sort far more difficult for Americans to comprehend, as history has already demonstrated.


Only the most utterly extraordinary circumstances justify a state’s defiance of a unanimous U.N. Security Council vote opposing its behavior.

Israel’s rogue status is now–by its defiance of a unanimous U.N. Security Council condemnation of its illegal policy of stealing Palestinian land, i.e., its creeping colonization policy–is now exposed about as clearly as it could be. Nothing is new in the details on the ground, but a clear red-line has been defined, leaving Israel isolated and on the wrong side.

Why does Israel, home to one of several cultural groups that should understand the long-term harm that comes from abusing a society, insist upon being the last European colonial power? How can the contradiction between their oppression of Muslim neighbors and their position in the center of the Muslim world be so utterly invisible to these European immigrants?

Someday, in the future, this U.N. legal precedent will be cited to justify action; for now, no doubt, it will simply constitute a diplomatic footnote. The politicians of both major U.S. parties remain far too blinded by short-term prejudices to see the harm that they cause the American people and the rest of the world by insisting on maintaining their support for right-wing, expansionist Israeli politicians who insist on alienating their infinitely more numerous neighbors. As a number of thoughtful Israelis are beginning to fear, this knee-jerk support for outdated colonialism is likely to harm the Israeli people most of all…but perhaps not until current actors have escaped responsibility. The issue, however, concerns not the guilty individuals so much as the long-term consequences for the societies condemned to live under the swirling clouds of oppression, racism, and reliance on force. When the inevitable denouement arrives, this U.N. legal precedent will have its day.

Inviting ISIS into Yemen

Invasion creates chaos, inviting the rise of extremism.

With the West continuing its barbaric campaign to control the Yemeni civil war, Yemen moves inevitably towards the predicted outcome: destruction of Yemeni society, chaos, and the rise of extremism. ISIS, under attack in Syria, Libya, and Iraq, is accepting the clear Western-Saudi invitation for it to move to Yemen, as its most recent “counter-terrorist” attack shows. In the Mideast, it seems, terrorism is not countered by what Americans call “counter-terrorism,” i.e., actions to eliminate terrorists, but by literal “counter-terrorism,” i.e., a wave of terrorism by Side B that copies (“counters”) the terrorism of Side A…and thus spreads the virus of extremism. ISIS is the canary in the mine of Mideast politics: where justice does not exist, the virus of extremism spreads.

The enemy is not ISIS; ISIS is the symptom. The enemy is extremism: the extremism of Western or Russian military interference in a domestic Mideastern political conflict, the extremism of regional powers building empire, the extremism of global oil corporations putting pipelines ahead of people, the extremism of all actors relying on violence to get their way.

Trying to choose among conservative Saudi petro-billionaires building empire, the extremism of Israeli military domination of its neighbors, Iranian military expansion, and Turkish military expansion is a fool’s game. The alternatives lie not between one form of repression and another; the alternative lies between politics based on force and politics based on justice. When global leaders choose to reward those working to improve local conditions, those willing to implement the rule of just* law, the resulting social empowerment will inoculate against the virus of extremism.

The sneering response of self-styled “realists” that the above is naive leads directly and immediately to the downward cycle of chaos, the political hurricane that has been tearing apart the Mideast. Yes, making deals with the Devil is “realistic;” so is living in caves. Yet humans have, over these past million years, managed to develop better housing and so can we, if we try, develop a better method of governance.


*Most leaders welcome the rule of law, as long as the first law is “obey me.” The American usage of “the rule of law” in principle implies that such law should be “just.” An oppressive law–e.g., a law permitting the police to brutalize Native Americans protesting violation of their treaty rights or a law permitting billionaire financial criminals to escape trial by allowing “the corporation” to take the blame for their personal behavior—would violate the assumption of justice underlying the notion that liberty is protected by “the rule of law.” A dictator’s law is no law.

Trapping the Workers

White workers, understandably disillusioned with the present, have voted to return to one of two different and now confused pasts, neither of which offered much to the working class. This time may be different, but it looks as though the workers have trapped themselves.

As the liberal elite sold its soul to Big Finance, it naturally lost the loyalty of a disillusioned working class that had never viewed liberty as half so important as middle-class comfort. Blaming the favored minorities and the corrupted liberal elite, workers marginalized by a generation of war against the middle class–in which the pro-Wall St. center of the Democratic Party elite was complicit–turned like puppets—unimaginative and naive—to the right. This right wing was itself composed of two very distinct and competitive factions with different goals but a shared amoral willingness jointly to manipulate the workers in order to get power.

None of this was preordained. Warren’s election as the leader of a post-recession movement to reform the American financial system and Sander’s near upset of Clinton in the primaries underscored the vote-gathering potential of genuine liberalism and opened the door to real progress in the arduous process of designing democracy, but the Democratic Party elite choked, articulated a breathtaking silence that served only to repel their supporters, and backed away from victory. That Clinton nonetheless outpolled Trump by, according to the current count, a couple million votes only underscores how popular a thoughtful, sympathetic, and progressive  stance would have been. But that was not to be. Psychology analysts could have a field day figuring out why, in light of the many obvious problems facing American society, the Democratic Elite felt so smug, but smug they were, leaving many millions of irritated voters wandering in circles looking for a leader and a power vacuum into which others quickly stepped.

Neither racists nor corporate moguls had the slightest intention of inviting workers into the ruling class, the one wanting an angry mob they could ride to power, the other a desperate, uneducated, sullen mass of workers too poor to resist whatever pittance they might be offered in return for the pleasure of following orders eight hours a day. And so the workers discarded a democracy their ancestors had struggled to build through a post-Civil War century and a half of rising multi-cultural class consciousness, female suffrage, union organization, anti-colonialism, and two world wars against imperial and fascist authoritarianism…and voted to replace that admittedly tarnished democracy not with reform but with a return to the dual past of racist and corporate authoritarianism. Since each promised that this time, they would care for the workers, the workers decided to give the authoritarians another chance.

The question now remains, “Who will win: white power neo-Nazis lusting for a regime of scapegoating and violence or the new Robber Barons?”

Tarnishing One’s Own Victory

Honest elections do not necessarily give power to the best candidate, but they accord that invaluable legitimacy that persuades the minority (or, in the particular case of the U.S. in 2016, the majority) peacefully to accept the outcome and offers the winner the chance to win without a measure of violence that would burn down the house in which we all reside.

When Trump was campaigning, he claimed that the U.S. electoral system was dishonest, thereby laying the groundwork for post-election challenges even before finding out the result. Trump thus created an atmosphere of suspicion and, indeed, so effectively accomplished his task that he apparently convinced not only the winner of the popular vote but also a third party candidate that Mr. Minority’s surprising “electoral vote” majority might not be believable after all. Given the Diebold electronic voting scandal when Bush was granted victory and the blatant efforts of the GOP in 2016 to discourage voters viewed as likely to vote Democrat, neutral observers who cared about the quality of U.S. democracy thought Candidate Trump might have had a point.

But now the candidate being offered victory despite coming in second suddenly no longer seems to care about the honesty of the election, instead preferring to get it all over with as fast as possible. Instead of demanding honest recounts, he denounces the established legal process as “ridiculous” and a “scam.” Trump not only criticized his opponents for the recount but took the opportunity once again to call the electoral process dishonest, thus underscoring the need for recounts…indeed implying that the whole nationwide election should be reviewed, recounted, or dismissed and reheld.

Does he know something we do not know about the odd shift in Wisconsin political attitudes? Is power simply more important than the integrity of the electoral system that so profoundly concerned Mr. Trump only a couple months ago?

It is indisputable that it is Hillary, who by the latest count got two million more vote, is the candidate with the “mandate”–weak as it may be, but Trump is nonetheless the one headed for power: does he not want his march into the White House to be unsullied by suspicion? A wise winner might offer to pay for whatever recounts may be requested, the better to pave the way for his coming triumph.

Why rush to condemn the legal process of ensuring that his victory be seen as legitimate?

Historic American Transition in the Making

The nationwide movement for an inclusive, non-racist, non-sexist President goes far beyond the typical mainstream media pretense that it is a “big city” phenomenon and suggests the politicization of both young voters and pre-voting-age youths. After a week of protests, met by sneers and insults from Trump spokesmen, an awareness among the protesters of the linkages among all of their disparate issues seemed to be dawning on them, raising the possibility of a single, broader progressive movement in the making.

After an initial week of nationwide protests, this self-organizing popular reaction to a divisive candidate on the road to a legal victory despite losing the popular vote now appears to be creating links with other popular protests over civil rights for particular minorities for which White America has had little sympathy. Can the electoral protest integrate with Black Lives Matter and the Sioux defense of water rights against Big Oil? Will this popular movement be able to retain vigor long enough to establish contacts with officials at the state level concerned about civil liberties? The participation of two elected Oregon local officials in a Nov 13 protest march suggest one avenue for such a linkage. It is difficult to recall a U.S. Presidential transition period of more fundamental significance to the future course of American society.

To Defend Democracy, Obey Its Rules

Democracy is a compromise that attempts to maximize the personal freedom of everyone by creating a common set of rules – first, laws; second, courtesy. Democracy is most effectively defended, logically, by acting in accordance with democratic procedures. Beware the fascist trap of trying to use fascist tactics to defeat fascism.

Fascists feed off violence; violence is after all at the core of their political approach. A tiny minority of violence-seeking individuals is likely to exist in any society. A larger minority of superficially legitimate politicians will find the temptation to exploit violence irresistible if given any indication that they can get away with it. Thus, it is critically important for defenders of democracy to avoid provoking violence; once fascists gain ground, defenders of democracy will have all the violence they can possibly handle…and more.

Young defender of democracy, study the negative example of Hitler’s rise; study the positive examples of William Lloyd Garrison, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King. The solid ground for defenders of democracy is democratic methods, i.e., the rule of law plus courtesy toward others.

The irresponsibility of many politicians is politicizing the younger generation, not just young adults but youths who are suddenly filling the vacuum by acting like adults and reminding the rest of us about the real meaning of American values. This politicization of the young, so long tuned out and at the mall, represents incredibly good news for American liberties. But they will fall into the trap that the fascist extremists have set for them if they copy fascist tactics. The youth who are now so admirably taking to the streets in protest against the racist, sexist, exclusionist tendencies of a certain set of irresponsible politicians need to stay on the high ground: if their point is to defend liberty and equality, then they can only convince others if they behave as they preach.

The point of protesting is not to convince extremists; it is to convince the apolitical, the tuned-out that democracy is in their best interests and that it can only be enjoyed if actively defended. At the moment, this group of people failing to defend democracy sadly includes most of the politicians in the Democratic Party and most of those who voted for Clinton, as well as millions who understandably voted for Trump in order to make their own protest against the failures of the Democratic elite. This is your audience, Democracy Advocate: address the audience with respect. Organize, march, speak, write, propose solutions; blocking traffic and throwing things only irritates the vast ranks of the uncommitted while offering excuses for a regime crackdown.

Media Complicity

Five long days after the end of a race-baiting campaign that has shamed America before the world, Mr. Minority (according to the vote total so far) has stated in an interview that “if” racist attacks are occurring, it is “horrible” and that the guilty should “stop it.” Exactly how I might discipline one of my beloved grandkids if they used dirty language to their parents.

Mr. Minority went on to focus not on the criminality of the racist thugs emboldened by an election that has split the country but on the media, which he blamed. The President-Elect has a point: was it indeed not precisely the media that made him a candidate in the first place by quoting his every tasteless or misleading wisecrack while ignoring and thus effectively preventing an informed, adult discussion of the challenges facing the country?

Where would America be today if the media had focused on the financial reform ideas of Senator Warren or the social reform ideas of Senator Sanders?