Two very different essays that, nonetheless, do sing to a common tune.
I sit here with a heavy heart. Why, you may ask?
Because I really wish I wasn’t setting the scene to a couple of disturbing essays. The first from Patrice Ayme. His essay is called Plutocracy: New World Order with the subtitle of The New World Thinking. The New World Emoting. The second essay is from Mattea Kramer and Jo Comerford under the TomDispatch umbrella. Their title is How America Became a Third World Country.
That heaviness comes from an emotional conflict. The conflict between never having been more contented in our beautiful Oregonian home and the tiny voice in my head that says that I shouldn’t throwing darts at the country that has been generous in welcoming me as a resident.
But I justify publishing these two essays in this manner. Just as Pharaoh leads the barking whenever the dogs sense something threatening their ‘territory’, then too should citizens (I use the term in the broadest sense) start barking when they sense something threatening the integrity of their country.
So today the Patrice Ayme essay and tomorrow the TomDispatch essay. I’m very grateful to both Patrice and Tom for their permission to republish their essays.
PLUTOCRACY: NEW WORLD ORDER
Obama just nominated Commerce Secretary the billionaire heiress who discovered him, and introduced him to the Rubin-Summers-Goldman-Sachs-Citigroup conspiracy. Penny Priztker was condemned to pay a 460 million dollar fine by the Federal government in 2001, for financial malfeasance. 460 million, that’s more than Mitt Romney’s fortune, that made small rank and file democrats huff and puff, in indignation, a few months ago, just like their mighty masters told them to do.
Now, if the 460 million dollars fine felon becomes chief, that’s fine, as long as the masters of the people don’t ask the People to huff and puff about the fine. The finer the fine, the finer the master, say the little People, and they bleat, satisfied. As Obama put it:”Priztker is one of the most eminent personalities of our country“. When Pluto reigns, down is up.
Plutocracy is the New World Order. The New World Thinking. The New World Emoting.
To get some perspective on this, it’s good to have a retrospective look at the greatest plutocratic realms of the past, and ponder why extremely wealthy fascism rose, increasingly, in the Orient, while clever democracy rose, occasionally, in the West. And sometimes fell, disastrously, for reasons related.
It turns out that, when Rome became fascist and plutocratic, it turned to Oriental despotism, and criminals, indeed, came to command and control.
PERSIA REIGNED WITH ALL CRAFTS; YET NOT SMART ENOUGH:
Establishing giant, metastatic empires in the Orient is nothing new: the Hittites tried it, they proceeded to invade Lebanon and the rich valleys behind, Egyptian territory. However young Pharaoh Ramses II, defeated them at Qadesh, next to present day Damascus. Through courageous combat in that battle which defined his long rule, Ramses rescued victory from the jaws of defeat, somewhat miraculously.
Ramses lost ground, though, and later made a loving peace with his enemies. Then, the Hittites having been destroyed by the mysterious coalition of the Peoples of the Sea, the Assyrians tried to impose their own giant metastatic empire, using the harshest methods. That brought them so many enemies that they got invaded from all quarters, annihilated as a nation first, and an army, later.
Then the union of Medes and Persians, thanks to three remarkable leaders, established a giant fascist empire, from Ethiopia to Central Asia, Libya to India. The third emperor, Darius, besides being excellent at sword-play in the dark, and a great general, proved capable of using a free market economy, switching to so called Keynesianism, and then a command and control economy, as needed. Darius established a giant “Royal” road network (ancestral to the one the Romans would build, four centuries later).
A Persian Pony Express, with posts every five miles, would bring news from distant corners of the empire in a week. Darius went on to invade the Scythians, land of the Amazons, present day Ukraine.
Darius’ Persia was the greatest empire, so far, larger than the present day continental USA. It became so, thanks to a great variety of methods of socio-economic governance. Some of these methods would later be used by the West, massively. Not just the communication network, the free market, the command and control, but also a crafty diplomacy of seduction, cooptation and local autonomy (that’s how the Ionian Greeks and Phoenicians became collaborators of Persia; whereas Alexander would annihilate Tyr).
However, unbelievably, tiny Athens broke the Persian empire, inaugurating the next great event, still on-going, the rise of the West. Again and again, minuscule Greek armies routed the juggernauts of professional giant armies. Again and again, small democracies proved superior to large fascist foes. I claimed that mental superiority entailed military superiority.
FREE IN THE WEST, SLAVES IN THE EAST
Herodotus explained the Greeks’ military superiority: free men are more motivated in battle, as they fight for themselves, he said. But it’s not clear that elite Persian soldiers did not feel free.
So I hold something slightly different: free men are, living in an “open society” are not just more motivated, but, simply, more intelligent. Yes, intelligent.
Yet how come that the free men tended to be in the West, and the subjugated ones, in the East? And this for 4,000 years, defining the “West” as anything west of Mount Lebanon. Why did so much of the Mediterranean turn out propitious to freedom and individual initiative? What of the enormous Celto-German forests, from Spain to the Baltics?
Two factors played a role:
1) Trade, with the big man, the leader being the ship owner-captain (Tyr, Phoenicia, Crete, Athens, Carthage, etc.). This required to excel at technology and adaptative intelligence, confronting nature.
2) Small owner-peasants. The West’s agricultural system did better thanks to small, free owner-peasants. The owner peasant was captain of his own plot of land, and found himself in a situation roughly similar to the ship captain. Such people worked hard, and thought hard about outwitting nature. All of Germany was this way, until the military encroachment of Rome in the beginning of its plutocratic phase, brought, by reaction, a militarization of German society (this is what archeology shows).
A demographic core of owner-peasants was the core of the success of the Roman republic, and its successors, the Imperium Francorum, and France, or anything working along French lines (most of Europe). When enjoying this basic culture, of free, independent peasants, the West did very well. Why so? Because thinking by oneself, for oneself, makes one more intelligent.
WHY THE ORIENT IS DUMBER:
The Orient did better when the peasants could cultivate. That meant, when they had water. That was not obvious in the increasingly parched lands, from the Maghreb to India. First, there, one needed to bring water to agricultural lands. Whereas in the West, both water and arable land were in the same place, not so in the East. In the East water was on rocky mountains, arable lands in parts of plains at the bottom of said mountains. To bring the former to the latter, one needed great hydraulic works. Underground canalizations, sometimes fifty feet deep, could extend dozens of miles.
Such extensive works meant armies of workers and maintenance people. And also standing armies to establish and protect the necessary order. Plus a field army to roam around the empire, and keep the static defenses obedient.
In other words, food on the carpet in the parched, basin and range Orient meant a large fascist system to make it possible, and everybody enslaved to it, in a military organization (Christianity and Islam, both oriental religions, kept much of this essential psychological character: fascist god on top, giving absolute, even capricious orders to its slaves below).
ALL TOGETHER NOW, DOWN THE ROMAN ROAD TO HELL?
What consequences today? Western countries do not depend upon small owner-peasants anymore, but upon giant farms, or agribusinesses, for food procurement. Even trade has become unbalanced: production on one end of the Earth, increasing unemployment, at the other end.
Giant agribusinesses, and unbalanced trade became facts of empire in Rome, and lasted centuries. It was a deliberate plot of Roman plutocracy. At some point, six senatorial families owned most of North Africa. Seneca, Nero’s tutor, the plutocratic philosopher of note, used to boast that he had no idea how many giant properties he owned on the various continents.
That delocalization and globalization made Rome, and Italy into an empty shell of its former self. As those who had the power, the senatorial families, wished. What they feared first, was a proud, potent, empowered People.
(Part of) Italy would resurrect as independent republics, more than a millennium later.
What’s the morality of the story? Men have a strong instinct for doing things right. In a plutocratic system, though, men who do things wrong get rewarded, and this goes on, until the situation exponentiates and breaks down. Thus plutocratic systems are intrinsically pathological: they reward criminals. Not just criminal according to the laws of men, but criminals according to the laws of nature.
In the Orient, life is harder, less natural, militarization exploits part of the Dark Side, because human beings, by living there, live in a less optimal situation. In the West, the rise of plutocracy did not have these excuses.
The Romans knew this well. The Roman republic was the product of a revolution against Tarquinus Superbus, the king of Rome, of Etruscan origin. So the founding act of five centuries of Roman republic was an anti-plutocratic revolt. Same for Athens (several times, during the same centuries).
The Romans passed a strong anti-plutocratic law. That law limited, by force the size of a family’s fortune; it fixed an upper bound on how much one could own. The Second Punic war saw the death, on the battlefield, of too many of the best leading Romans. Meanwhile the conspirators of wealth, back behind the walls of the fortified cities, as Hannibal was roaming the countryside, established a New World order of rents.
When Carthage got defeated, those men of greed kept on pushing, and tried to grab control of the state. After several wars of distraction against Macedonia, Carthage, Numantia, Corinth, etc. it became clear that was what was going on to thousands of the best Romans, led by top nobles (in mind and ancestry), the Gracchi.
The Gracchis mostly tried to impose the wealth limitation law. They also succeeded to impose a land redistribution (an unthinkable socialist measure in the post Thatcher-Reagan world!). Yet, the Gracchi and their supporters lost a civil war. All got killed, by the private armies of the plutocrats. By 100 BCE, when Caesar was born, the dice had long been thrown. Only extreme measures could address the situation (extreme measures that Caesar and Cicero, on the good side, would try).
Now what? Losing democracy, means, ultimately, that we will lose not just freedom, but intelligence itself. It is difficult to imagine how the Americans will pull out of their present death spiral into furthering the wealth of the .1%. When bandits are called “philanthropists”, all values have been inverted in a country: gangsters are in control, the mafia has got metastatic. It will go on, all inverted, until it explodes, or get trampled over. The commerce chief will be a certified felon.
The situation in Europe is not as desperate: conditions for a revolt exist. Although Goldman Sachs has its servants in place all over, the Italians threw out one of them, a Goldman Sachs partner, Mario Monti, at the first chance they got.
Some may sneer, as they notice that, once again I used “Orient” and “Occident” according to old Greco-Roman semantics. What of the true Orient, the far-out East, China and company? Well, I will hide behind my usual observation: it’s Western culture that conquered the world. Present day China’s ideology has very little that is specifically Chinese, besides what the West and China had in common, such as the more or less free market. The idea of “People” (Populus) and “Republic” (Respublica) are Roman. So the very title of China, the “People Republic of China” is, well, (Greco-)Roman.
The dangers threatening China, accordingly, like those threatening us, are those that devastated the Roman republic. For the reasons exposed above, the development in the West, of a more advanced civilization was first, thus why everybody adopted it later. Rome was first to rise as high as it did. But, the greater the rise, the greater the fall. By 700 CE, the fall of Rome had been so great, that China had risen higher, on many indicators. The West, invaded by hordes of savages for more than six hundred years (beyond even 400 CE to 1000 CE) was fighting for survival.
Plutocracy as a New World Order is not just the end of many things. In the fullness of time, plutocracy is the end of everything.
Even the Will to Power. Slave masters are not so masterful. After all, they are enslaved to their slaves.
When Rome went down, Roman plutocrats whined that the “world was getting old“. By this they meant that resources were being exhausted, and that, in its stupidity plutocratic civilization could not find a technology out.
Right now, the world is not getting old, it’s getting killed. And that’s worst.
Once again, I am indebted to Tom Engelhardt of TomDispatch fame for granting me permission to republish yet another fascinating essay.
In fact, this post was scheduled for Learning from Dogs very shortly after Tom’s essay appeared on TomDispatch some 5 months ago. For reasons that escape me now, I parked it and then forgot about it. But what is striking is that, as Tom points out in his introduction, the essay from Noam Chomsky was originally published on Tom Dispatch in April 2011, the thick end of 21 months ago. It reads as if it was off the press today. What a truly strange world we all live in.
I include a link to Noam Chomsky’s website after the essay, so now to Tom’s introduction:
In Noam Chomsky’s “Who Owns the World?” — the most popular TomDispatch post of all time (which means the last 10 years) — he wrote of one key imperial principle: “The U.S. cannot tolerate ‘any exercise of sovereignty’ that interferes with its global designs.” Hence, the under-reported but staggering U.S. build-up in the Persian Gulf.
Of late, most “build-up” publicity has gone to the Obama administration’s “pivot” to Asia (to “contain” China), including an announcement that 60% of U.S. naval power will sooner or later be deployed to Asian waters. But much of this remains a promise for the future. The real “pivot” focus of the moment, if it can even be called that after all these years, remains Iran.
That country is largely surrounded by American military bases continually being built up, including a new missile defense radar station at a secret site in Qatar, part of a developing U.S. regional anti-missile system. In addition, there is an ongoing build-up of U.S. commando forces; of the military power of U.S. regional allies, thanks to new weapons systems of all sorts regularly being put on offer by Washington; of U.S. naval forces in the Persian Gulf, already enormous and still growing, including not one but two aircraft carrier battle groups, minesweepers, a new “floating base” for possible special operations forces, and tiny drone submersibles being “rushed” to the region. And don’t forget a similarly large-scale build-up of U.S. air power, including the deployment of the most advanced U.S. fighter plane, the F-22, to a base in the United Arab Emirates.
Add this to a series of warlike acts, including ever-tightening oil sanctions against Iran, the release of cyber worms meant to infect Iranian computer systems connected to its nuclear program, and an evident Israeli campaign to assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists, and you have quite a “pivot” in what is, let’s not forget, the oil heartlands of the planet. Much of this is being covered in a scattered, almost absentminded way in the mainstream media. Yet anyone familiar with how World War I began knows that massive military build-ups or mobilizations — and a rickety Iranian regime is doing its best to respond regionally with its own mini-military build-up — can lead to war, whether either side actually intends it or not. A U.S. ship recently firing on an Indian boat — and killing one fisherman — near Iran is a reminder of where such inherently trigger-happy situations can lead.
Add to all this the fact that the planet’s former self-proclaimed “sole superpower” is visibly decaying and increasingly desperate to maintain its pretensions to global dominance, and you have a formula for future disaster. Isn’t it sad in its own way that Chomsky’s piece, first posted at this site in April 2011 (like the 2004 Chalmers Johnson piece reposted last Sunday), is in no way outmoded? It’s not faintly ready for the dustbin of history, and in fact, it remains ahead of its moment. In this sense, the United States is a Chomskyan nation, eerily following the path he’s laid out for it and so, undoubtedly, heading for something ugly indeed. Tom
Is the World Too Big to Fail?
The Contours of Global Order
By Noam Chomsky
The democracy uprising in the Arab world has been a spectacular display of courage, dedication, and commitment by popular forces — coinciding, fortuitously, with a remarkable uprising of tens of thousands in support of working people and democracy in Madison, Wisconsin, and other U.S. cities. If the trajectories of revolt in Cairo and Madison intersected, however, they were headed in opposite directions: in Cairo toward gaining elementary rights denied by the dictatorship, in Madison towards defending rights that had been won in long and hard struggles and are now under severe attack.
Each is a microcosm of tendencies in global society, following varied courses. There are sure to be far-reaching consequences of what is taking place both in the decaying industrial heartland of the richest and most powerful country in human history, and in what President Dwight Eisenhower called “the most strategically important area in the world” — “a stupendous source of strategic power” and “probably the richest economic prize in the world in the field of foreign investment,” in the words of the State Department in the 1940s, a prize that the U.S. intended to keep for itself and its allies in the unfolding New World Order of that day.
Despite all the changes since, there is every reason to suppose that today’s policy-makers basically adhere to the judgment of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s influential advisor A.A. Berle that control of the incomparable energy reserves of the Middle East would yield “substantial control of the world.” And correspondingly, that loss of control would threaten the project of global dominance that was clearly articulated during World War II, and that has been sustained in the face of major changes in world order since that day.
From the outset of the war in 1939, Washington anticipated that it would end with the U.S. in a position of overwhelming power. High-level State Department officials and foreign policy specialists met through the wartime years to lay out plans for the postwar world. They delineated a “Grand Area” that the U.S. was to dominate, including the Western hemisphere, the Far East, and the former British empire, with its Middle East energy resources. As Russia began to grind down Nazi armies after Stalingrad, Grand Area goals extended to as much of Eurasia as possible, at least its economic core in Western Europe. Within the Grand Area, the U.S. would maintain “unquestioned power,” with “military and economic supremacy,” while ensuring the “limitation of any exercise of sovereignty” by states that might interfere with its global designs. The careful wartime plans were soon implemented.
It was always recognized that Europe might choose to follow an independent course. NATO was partially intended to counter this threat. As soon as the official pretext for NATO dissolved in 1989, NATO was expanded to the East in violation of verbal pledges to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. It has since become a U.S.-run intervention force, with far-ranging scope, spelled out by NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who informed a NATO conference that “NATO troops have to guard pipelines that transport oil and gas that is directed for the West,” and more generally to protect sea routes used by tankers and other “crucial infrastructure” of the energy system.
Grand Area doctrines clearly license military intervention at will. That conclusion was articulated clearly by the Clinton administration, which declared that the U.S. has the right to use military force to ensure “uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies, and strategic resources,” and must maintain huge military forces “forward deployed” in Europe and Asia “in order to shape people’s opinions about us” and “to shape events that will affect our livelihood and our security.”
The same principles governed the invasion of Iraq. As the U.S. failure to impose its will in Iraq was becoming unmistakable, the actual goals of the invasion could no longer be concealed behind pretty rhetoric. In November 2007, the White House issued a Declaration of Principles demanding that U.S. forces must remain indefinitely in Iraq and committing Iraq to privilege American investors. Two months later, President Bush informed Congress that he would reject legislation that might limit the permanent stationing of U.S. Armed Forces in Iraq or “United States control of the oil resources of Iraq” — demands that the U.S. had to abandon shortly after in the face of Iraqi resistance.
In Tunisia and Egypt, the recent popular uprisings have won impressive victories, but as the Carnegie Endowment reported, while names have changed, the regimes remain: “A change in ruling elites and system of governance is still a distant goal.” The report discusses internal barriers to democracy, but ignores the external ones, which as always are significant.
The U.S. and its Western allies are sure to do whatever they can to prevent authentic democracy in the Arab world. To understand why, it is only necessary to look at the studies of Arab opinion conducted by U.S. polling agencies. Though barely reported, they are certainly known to planners. They reveal that by overwhelming majorities, Arabs regard the U.S. and Israel as the major threats they face: the U.S. is so regarded by 90% of Egyptians, in the region generally by over 75%. Some Arabs regard Iran as a threat: 10%. Opposition to U.S. policy is so strong that a majority believes that security would be improved if Iran had nuclear weapons — in Egypt, 80%. Other figures are similar. If public opinion were to influence policy, the U.S. not only would not control the region, but would be expelled from it, along with its allies, undermining fundamental principles of global dominance.
The Invisible Hand of Power
Support for democracy is the province of ideologists and propagandists. In the real world, elite dislike of democracy is the norm. The evidence is overwhelming that democracy is supported insofar as it contributes to social and economic objectives, a conclusion reluctantly conceded by the more serious scholarship.
Elite contempt for democracy was revealed dramatically in the reaction to the WikiLeaks exposures. Those that received most attention, with euphoric commentary, were cables reporting that Arabs support the U.S. stand on Iran. The reference was to the ruling dictators. The attitudes of the public were unmentioned. The guiding principle was articulated clearly by Carnegie Endowment Middle East specialist Marwan Muasher, formerly a high official of the Jordanian government: “There is nothing wrong, everything is under control.” In short, if the dictators support us, what else could matter?
The Muasher doctrine is rational and venerable. To mention just one case that is highly relevant today, in internal discussion in 1958, president Eisenhower expressed concern about “the campaign of hatred” against us in the Arab world, not by governments, but by the people. The National Security Council (NSC) explained that there is a perception in the Arab world that the U.S. supports dictatorships and blocks democracy and development so as to ensure control over the resources of the region. Furthermore, the perception is basically accurate, the NSC concluded, and that is what we should be doing, relying on the Muasher doctrine. Pentagon studies conducted after 9/11 confirmed that the same holds today.
It is normal for the victors to consign history to the trash can, and for victims to take it seriously. Perhaps a few brief observations on this important matter may be useful. Today is not the first occasion when Egypt and the U.S. are facing similar problems, and moving in opposite directions. That was also true in the early nineteenth century.
Economic historians have argued that Egypt was well-placed to undertake rapid economic development at the same time that the U.S. was. Both had rich agriculture, including cotton, the fuel of the early industrial revolution — though unlike Egypt, the U.S. had to develop cotton production and a work force by conquest, extermination, and slavery, with consequences that are evident right now in the reservations for the survivors and the prisons that have rapidly expanded since the Reagan years to house the superfluous population left by deindustrialization.
One fundamental difference was that the U.S. had gained independence and was therefore free to ignore the prescriptions of economic theory, delivered at the time by Adam Smith in terms rather like those preached to developing societies today. Smith urged the liberated colonies to produce primary products for export and to import superior British manufactures, and certainly not to attempt to monopolize crucial goods, particularly cotton. Any other path, Smith warned, “would retard instead of accelerating the further increase in the value of their annual produce, and would obstruct instead of promoting the progress of their country towards real wealth and greatness.”
Having gained their independence, the colonies were free to ignore his advice and to follow England’s course of independent state-guided development, with high tariffs to protect industry from British exports, first textiles, later steel and others, and to adopt numerous other devices to accelerate industrial development. The independent Republic also sought to gain a monopoly of cotton so as to “place all other nations at our feet,” particularly the British enemy, as the Jacksonian presidents announced when conquering Texas and half of Mexico.
For Egypt, a comparable course was barred by British power. Lord Palmerston declared that “no ideas of fairness [toward Egypt] ought to stand in the way of such great and paramount interests” of Britain as preserving its economic and political hegemony, expressing his “hate” for the “ignorant barbarian” Muhammed Ali who dared to seek an independent course, and deploying Britain’s fleet and financial power to terminate Egypt’s quest for independence and economic development.
After World War II, when the U.S. displaced Britain as global hegemon, Washington adopted the same stand, making it clear that the U.S. would provide no aid to Egypt unless it adhered to the standard rules for the weak — which the U.S. continued to violate, imposing high tariffs to bar Egyptian cotton and causing a debilitating dollar shortage. The usual interpretation of market principles.
It is small wonder that the “campaign of hatred” against the U.S. that concerned Eisenhower was based on the recognition that the U.S. supports dictators and blocks democracy and development, as do its allies.
In Adam Smith’s defense, it should be added that he recognized what would happen if Britain followed the rules of sound economics, now called “neoliberalism.” He warned that if British manufacturers, merchants, and investors turned abroad, they might profit but England would suffer. But he felt that they would be guided by a home bias, so as if by an invisible hand England would be spared the ravages of economic rationality.
The passage is hard to miss. It is the one occurrence of the famous phrase “invisible hand” in The Wealth of Nations. The other leading founder of classical economics, David Ricardo, drew similar conclusions, hoping that home bias would lead men of property to “be satisfied with the low rate of profits in their own country, rather than seek a more advantageous employment for their wealth in foreign nations,” feelings that, he added, “I should be sorry to see weakened.” Their predictions aside, the instincts of the classical economists were sound.
The Iranian and Chinese “Threats”
The democracy uprising in the Arab world is sometimes compared to Eastern Europe in 1989, but on dubious grounds. In 1989, the democracy uprising was tolerated by the Russians, and supported by western power in accord with standard doctrine: it plainly conformed to economic and strategic objectives, and was therefore a noble achievement, greatly honored, unlike the struggles at the same time “to defend the people’s fundamental human rights” in Central America, in the words of the assassinated Archbishop of El Salvador, one of the hundreds of thousands of victims of the military forces armed and trained by Washington. There was no Gorbachev in the West throughout these horrendous years, and there is none today. And Western power remains hostile to democracy in the Arab world for good reasons.
Grand Area doctrines continue to apply to contemporary crises and confrontations. In Western policy-making circles and political commentary the Iranian threat is considered to pose the greatest danger to world order and hence must be the primary focus of U.S. foreign policy, with Europe trailing along politely.
What exactly is the Iranian threat? An authoritative answer is provided by the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence. Reporting on global security last year, they make it clear that the threat is not military. Iran’s military spending is “relatively low compared to the rest of the region,” they conclude. Its military doctrine is strictly “defensive, designed to slow an invasion and force a diplomatic solution to hostilities.” Iran has only “a limited capability to project force beyond its borders.” With regard to the nuclear option, “Iran’s nuclear program and its willingness to keep open the possibility of developing nuclear weapons is a central part of its deterrent strategy.” All quotes.
The brutal clerical regime is doubtless a threat to its own people, though it hardly outranks U.S. allies in that regard. But the threat lies elsewhere, and is ominous indeed. One element is Iran’s potential deterrent capacity, an illegitimate exercise of sovereignty that might interfere with U.S. freedom of action in the region. It is glaringly obvious why Iran would seek a deterrent capacity; a look at the military bases and nuclear forces in the region suffices to explain.
Seven years ago, Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld wrote that “The world has witnessed how the United States attacked Iraq for, as it turned out, no reason at all. Had the Iranians not tried to build nuclear weapons, they would be crazy,” particularly when they are under constant threat of attack in violation of the UN Charter. Whether they are doing so remains an open question, but perhaps so.
But Iran’s threat goes beyond deterrence. It is also seeking to expand its influence in neighboring countries, the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence emphasize, and in this way to “destabilize” the region (in the technical terms of foreign policy discourse). The U.S. invasion and military occupation of Iran’s neighbors is “stabilization.” Iran’s efforts to extend its influence to them are “destabilization,” hence plainly illegitimate.
Such usage is routine. Thus the prominent foreign policy analyst James Chace was properly using the term “stability” in its technical sense when he explained that in order to achieve “stability” in Chile it was necessary to “destabilize” the country (by overthrowing the elected government of Salvador Allende and installing the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet). Other concerns about Iran are equally interesting to explore, but perhaps this is enough to reveal the guiding principles and their status in imperial culture. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s planners emphasized at the dawn of the contemporary world system, the U.S. cannot tolerate “any exercise of sovereignty” that interferes with its global designs.
The U.S. and Europe are united in punishing Iran for its threat to stability, but it is useful to recall how isolated they are. The nonaligned countries have vigorously supported Iran’s right to enrich uranium. In the region, Arab public opinion even strongly favors Iranian nuclear weapons. The major regional power, Turkey, voted against the latest U.S.-initiated sanctions motion in the Security Council, along with Brazil, the most admired country of the South. Their disobedience led to sharp censure, not for the first time: Turkey had been bitterly condemned in 2003 when the government followed the will of 95% of the population and refused to participate in the invasion of Iraq, thus demonstrating its weak grasp of democracy, western-style.
After its Security Council misdeed last year, Turkey was warned by Obama’s top diplomat on European affairs, Philip Gordon, that it must “demonstrate its commitment to partnership with the West.” A scholar with the Council on Foreign Relations asked, “How do we keep the Turks in their lane?” — following orders like good democrats. Brazil’s Lula was admonished in a New York Times headline that his effort with Turkey to provide a solution to the uranium enrichment issue outside of the framework of U.S. power was a “Spot on Brazilian Leader’s Legacy.” In brief, do what we say, or else.
An interesting sidelight, effectively suppressed, is that the Iran-Turkey-Brazil deal was approved in advance by Obama, presumably on the assumption that it would fail, providing an ideological weapon against Iran. When it succeeded, the approval turned to censure, and Washington rammed through a Security Council resolution so weak that China readily signed — and is now chastised for living up to the letter of the resolution but not Washington’s unilateral directives — in the current issue ofForeign Affairs, for example.
While the U.S. can tolerate Turkish disobedience, though with dismay, China is harder to ignore. The press warns that “China’s investors and traders are now filling a vacuum in Iran as businesses from many other nations, especially in Europe, pull out,” and in particular, is expanding its dominant role in Iran’s energy industries. Washington is reacting with a touch of desperation. The State Department warned China that if it wants to be accepted in the international community — a technical term referring to the U.S. and whoever happens to agree with it — then it must not “skirt and evade international responsibilities, [which] are clear”: namely, follow U.S. orders. China is unlikely to be impressed.
There is also much concern about the growing Chinese military threat. A recent Pentagon study warned that China’s military budget is approaching “one-fifth of what the Pentagon spent to operate and carry out the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” a fraction of the U.S. military budget, of course. China’s expansion of military forces might “deny the ability of American warships to operate in international waters off its coast,” the New York Times added.
Off the coast of China, that is; it has yet to be proposed that the U.S. should eliminate military forces that deny the Caribbean to Chinese warships. China’s lack of understanding of rules of international civility is illustrated further by its objections to plans for the advanced nuclear-powered aircraft carrier George Washington to join naval exercises a few miles off China’s coast, with alleged capacity to strike Beijing.
In contrast, the West understands that such U.S. operations are all undertaken to defend stability and its own security. The liberal New Republic expresses its concern that “China sent ten warships through international waters just off the Japanese island of Okinawa.” That is indeed a provocation — unlike the fact, unmentioned, that Washington has converted the island into a major military base in defiance of vehement protests by the people of Okinawa. That is not a provocation, on the standard principle that we own the world.
Deep-seated imperial doctrine aside, there is good reason for China’s neighbors to be concerned about its growing military and commercial power. And though Arab opinion supports an Iranian nuclear weapons program, we certainly should not do so. The foreign policy literature is full of proposals as to how to counter the threat. One obvious way is rarely discussed: work to establish a nuclear-weapons-free zone (NWFZ) in the region. The issue arose (again) at the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) conference at United Nations headquarters last May. Egypt, as chair of the 118 nations of the Non-Aligned Movement, called for negotiations on a Middle East NWFZ, as had been agreed by the West, including the U.S., at the 1995 review conference on the NPT.
International support is so overwhelming that Obama formally agreed. It is a fine idea, Washington informed the conference, but not now. Furthermore, the U.S. made clear that Israel must be exempted: no proposal can call for Israel’s nuclear program to be placed under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency or for the release of information about “Israeli nuclear facilities and activities.” So much for this method of dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat.
Privatizing the Planet
While Grand Area doctrine still prevails, the capacity to implement it has declined. The peak of U.S. power was after World War II, when it had literally half the world’s wealth. But that naturally declined, as other industrial economies recovered from the devastation of the war and decolonization took its agonizing course. By the early 1970s, the U.S. share of global wealth had declined to about 25%, and the industrial world had become tripolar: North America, Europe, and East Asia (then Japan-based).
There was also a sharp change in the U.S. economy in the 1970s, towards financialization and export of production. A variety of factors converged to create a vicious cycle of radical concentration of wealth, primarily in the top fraction of 1% of the population — mostly CEOs, hedge-fund managers, and the like. That leads to the concentration of political power, hence state policies to increase economic concentration: fiscal policies, rules of corporate governance, deregulation, and much more. Meanwhile the costs of electoral campaigns skyrocketed, driving the parties into the pockets of concentrated capital, increasingly financial: the Republicans reflexively, the Democrats — by now what used to be moderate Republicans — not far behind.
Elections have become a charade, run by the public relations industry. After his 2008 victory, Obama won an award from the industry for the best marketing campaign of the year. Executives were euphoric. In the business press they explained that they had been marketing candidates like other commodities since Ronald Reagan, but 2008 was their greatest achievement and would change the style in corporate boardrooms. The 2012 election is expected to cost $2 billion, mostly in corporate funding. Small wonder that Obama is selecting business leaders for top positions. The public is angry and frustrated, but as long as the Muasher principle prevails, that doesn’t matter.
While wealth and power have narrowly concentrated, for most of the population real incomes have stagnated and people have been getting by with increased work hours, debt, and asset inflation, regularly destroyed by the financial crises that began as the regulatory apparatus was dismantled starting in the 1980s.
None of this is problematic for the very wealthy, who benefit from a government insurance policy called “too big to fail.” The banks and investment firms can make risky transactions, with rich rewards, and when the system inevitably crashes, they can run to the nanny state for a taxpayer bailout, clutching their copies of Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman.
That has been the regular process since the Reagan years, each crisis more extreme than the last — for the public population, that is. Right now, real unemployment is at Depression levels for much of the population, while Goldman Sachs, one of the main architects of the current crisis, is richer than ever. It has just quietly announced $17.5 billion in compensation for last year, with CEO Lloyd Blankfein receiving a $12.6 million bonus while his base salary more than triples.
It wouldn’t do to focus attention on such facts as these. Accordingly, propaganda must seek to blame others, in the past few months, public sector workers, their fat salaries, exorbitant pensions, and so on: all fantasy, on the model of Reaganite imagery of black mothers being driven in their limousines to pick up welfare checks — and other models that need not be mentioned. We all must tighten our belts; almost all, that is.
Teachers are a particularly good target, as part of the deliberate effort to destroy the public education system from kindergarten through the universities by privatization — again, good for the wealthy, but a disaster for the population, as well as the long-term health of the economy, but that is one of the externalities that is put to the side insofar as market principles prevail.
Another fine target, always, is immigrants. That has been true throughout U.S. history, even more so at times of economic crisis, exacerbated now by a sense that our country is being taken away from us: the white population will soon become a minority. One can understand the anger of aggrieved individuals, but the cruelty of the policy is shocking.
Who are the immigrants targeted? In Eastern Massachusetts, where I live, many are Mayans fleeing genocide in the Guatemalan highlands carried out by Reagan’s favorite killers. Others are Mexican victims of Clinton’s NAFTA, one of those rare government agreements that managed to harm working people in all three of the participating countries. As NAFTA was rammed through Congress over popular objection in 1994, Clinton also initiated the militarization of the U.S.-Mexican border, previously fairly open. It was understood that Mexican campesinos cannot compete with highly subsidized U.S. agribusiness, and that Mexican businesses would not survive competition with U.S. multinationals, which must be granted “national treatment” under the mislabeled free trade agreements, a privilege granted only to corporate persons, not those of flesh and blood. Not surprisingly, these measures led to a flood of desperate refugees, and to rising anti-immigrant hysteria by the victims of state-corporate policies at home.
Much the same appears to be happening in Europe, where racism is probably more rampant than in the U.S. One can only watch with wonder as Italy complains about the flow of refugees from Libya, the scene of the first post-World War I genocide, in the now-liberated East, at the hands of Italy’s Fascist government. Or when France, still today the main protector of the brutal dictatorships in its former colonies, manages to overlook its hideous atrocities in Africa, while French President Nicolas Sarkozy warns grimly of the “flood of immigrants” and Marine Le Pen objects that he is doing nothing to prevent it. I need not mention Belgium, which may win the prize for what Adam Smith called “the savage injustice of the Europeans.”
The rise of neo-fascist parties in much of Europe would be a frightening phenomenon even if we were not to recall what happened on the continent in the recent past. Just imagine the reaction if Jews were being expelled from France to misery and oppression, and then witness the non-reaction when that is happening to Roma, also victims of the Holocaust and Europe’s most brutalized population.
In Hungary, the neo-fascist party Jobbik gained 17% of the vote in national elections, perhaps unsurprising when three-quarters of the population feels that they are worse off than under Communist rule. We might be relieved that in Austria the ultra-right Jörg Haider won only 10% of the vote in 2008 — were it not for the fact that the new Freedom Party, outflanking him from the far right, won more than 17%. It is chilling to recall that, in 1928, the Nazis won less than 3% of the vote in Germany.
In England the British National Party and the English Defence League, on the ultra-racist right, are major forces. (What is happening in Holland you know all too well.) In Germany, Thilo Sarrazin’s lament that immigrants are destroying the country was a runaway best-seller, while Chancellor Angela Merkel, though condemning the book, declared that multiculturalism had “utterly failed”: the Turks imported to do the dirty work in Germany are failing to become blond and blue-eyed, true Aryans.
Those with a sense of irony may recall that Benjamin Franklin, one of the leading figures of the Enlightenment, warned that the newly liberated colonies should be wary of allowing Germans to immigrate, because they were too swarthy; Swedes as well. Into the twentieth century, ludicrous myths of Anglo-Saxon purity were common in the U.S., including among presidents and other leading figures. Racism in the literary culture has been a rank obscenity; far worse in practice, needless to say. It is much easier to eradicate polio than this horrifying plague, which regularly becomes more virulent in times of economic distress.
I do not want to end without mentioning another externality that is dismissed in market systems: the fate of the species. Systemic risk in the financial system can be remedied by the taxpayer, but no one will come to the rescue if the environment is destroyed. That it must be destroyed is close to an institutional imperative. Business leaders who are conducting propaganda campaigns to convince the population that anthropogenic global warming is a liberal hoax understand full well how grave is the threat, but they must maximize short-term profit and market share. If they don’t, someone else will.
This vicious cycle could well turn out to be lethal. To see how grave the danger is, simply have a look at the new Congress in the U.S., propelled into power by business funding and propaganda. Almost all are climate deniers. They have already begun to cut funding for measures that might mitigate environmental catastrophe. Worse, some are true believers; for example, the new head of a subcommittee on the environment who explained that global warming cannot be a problem because God promised Noah that there will not be another flood.
If such things were happening in some small and remote country, we might laugh. Not when they are happening in the richest and most powerful country in the world. And before we laugh, we might also bear in mind that the current economic crisis is traceable in no small measure to the fanatic faith in such dogmas as the efficient market hypothesis, and in general to what Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, 15 years ago, called the “religion” that markets know best — which prevented the central bank and the economics profession from taking notice of an $8 trillion housing bubble that had no basis at all in economic fundamentals, and that devastated the economy when it burst.
All of this, and much more, can proceed as long as the Muashar doctrine prevails. As long as the general population is passive, apathetic, diverted to consumerism or hatred of the vulnerable, then the powerful can do as they please, and those who survive will be left to contemplate the outcome.
Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor emeritus in the MIT Department of Linguistics and Philosophy. He is the author of numerous best-selling political works. Recent books include a new edition of Power and Terror, The Essential Chomsky(edited by Anthony Arnove), a collection of his writings on politics and on language from the 1950s to the present, and Hopes and Prospects, also available as an audiobook. His web site is http://www.chomsky.info. To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Chomsky discusses the recent shredding of the principles of the Magna Carta, click here or download it to your iPod here. This piece is adapted from a talk given in Amsterdam in March 2011.
Copyright 2011 Noam Chomsky
As I indicated in my introduction, Noam’s website is here. Hope you can call back tomorrow as I continue with a look at the world we now live in.
A powerful guest post from Patrice Ayme on where next for American energy.
I must have spent an age musing over what to call this Post. Patrice called it simply ‘Energy Question For The USA’ and it’s a highly appropriate question. But in the end I chose the title ‘Questions are never stupid’ because I was mindful of the well-known saying, “There is no such thing as a stupid question, only a stupid answer!”
So the smart question raised by Patrice is not only very highly appropriate for 2012, it’s also a question that just has to have a smart answer. Because we are on the brink of it being too late to be flirting with stupid answers. What many scientists are saying, in one form or another, is that if we don’t embrace the journey of moving away from carbon-based sources of energy for society now and find those alternate sustainable sources by the end of this decade then the laws of unintended consequences will kick in with a vengeance. The end of the decade is eight years away!
Here’s a picture of my grandson who was one-year-old just a week ago.
That picture reminds me of the comment early on in James Hansen’s book, Storms of my Grandchildren, where he writes ‘I did not want my grandchildren, someday in the future, to look back and say, “Opa understood what was happening, but he did not make it clear.”
So on to the Guest post from Patrice. It’s not an easy, quick read but I’ll tell you what it is! It’s the sort of ‘wake-up’ call this fine Nation and this even finer Planet should be getting from countless politicians and leaders. So do read it and, even better, add your comments, and wonder why we seem so content on fiddling while Rome burns!
Energy Question For The USA
THE AGE OF OIL PRODUCED THE AMERICAN CENTURY. NOW WHAT?
No Vision, No Mission, No Energy
Another editorial of Paul Krugman firing volleys at republican “paranoia” for accusing Obama of driving up oil prices. As he observes in “Paranoia Strikes Deeper“: …“the president of the United States doesn’t control gasoline prices, or even have much influence over those prices. Oil prices are set in a world market, and America, which accounts for only about a tenth of world production, can’t move those prices much. Indeed, the recent rise in gas prices has taken place despite rising U.S. oil production and falling imports.”
American households tend to borrow as much as they can. Thus, when oil prices increase markedly, Americans have to cut in crucial budgets, such as house payments. I said at the time that it would lead to a peak in housing prices, and it did.
Why such a drastic influence of oil prices on the economy of the USA? Because Americans, except in a few places such as New York, commute by private car to work. So Americans have to feed the car, if they want to feed themselves.
It was not this way a century ago, or so. At the time public transportation systems using electric tramways and trains were found all over, even in Los Angeles. Car companies put an end to that outrage in the late fifties by buying, and then destroying, all the public transportation system they could put their greedy hands on. Fossil fuel plutocrats were delighted.
But let’s set aside Krugman’s fake indignation. He is smart enough to know that Romney will do what Romney needs to do to win the Obama, I mean, the election. Waxing lyrical about Romney doing as Obama, does not beat going lyrical about sunrise.
Gasoline prices in the USA are way down in real dollars to what they used to be, decades ago. And so is the gas tax. This means that, far from adapting to the gathering multiply-pronged world ecological and energy crisis, the USA has gone the other way, denying there is any crisis. “What? Me worry?” That’s got to be anti-American indeed. No, real blooded Americans are all into strip searches and the death panel at the White House.
In Europe, gas prices are more than twice that of the USA, thanks to heavy taxes (stations in France have sported two euros a liter, that is 8 euros per gallon, or more than $10.50). [UK unleaded petrol price, as of today, is the equivalent of $8.70 per gallon, Ed.]
This means that far from being down and out, Europe is efficient enough to operate at that high price level. It also means that Europe is much more motivated than the USA to get much more efficient. In other words, high gasoline prices in Europe are a safety margin. The high prices force the European free market to adapt to a situation that the free market of the USA will encounter someday. Adaptation takes decades: new energies take on the average, historically speaking, 50 years to become dominant. Same, one would guess, for energy efficiencies.
Basically, if oil prices doubled from here, gasoline prices would double in the USA. Whereas, even if the Europeans decided to keep the same high taxes, gasoline prices would only augment by 50%. And, in the much more efficient European economy, with plenty of public electric transportation available, the noxious effects on the European economy would be much less than one would expect from a 50% oil price rise.
The world gets 55 × 1018 joules of useful energy from 475 × 1018 joules of primary energy produced by fossil fuels, biomass and nuclear power plants. That tremendous inefficiency (less than 13%!) needs to be corrected. It will be, if, and only if, prices are kept high. Thus energy taxes are necessary to adapt to the looming penury.
Why looming penury? Because the reserves of other fossil fuels may have been vastly overestimated (by a factor of 5 in the case of coal). Various fossil fuel lobbies have an interest to over-estimate the reserves (because it keeps the world addicted, as they present their industry as a long range solution, which it is not).
Looking at the raw production numbers, as exhibited below in the graphs, paints a completely different story: production from existing fields is going down dramatically (at 5% rate, per year). In other words we are in the treachorous waters between the catastrophe of CO2 poisoning and the disaster of running out of energy to burn.
The unavoidable rise of fuel prices will be less grave in Europe than in the USA, because many Europeans would opt for the available electric-based public transportation system (the combination of much more efficient electric motors and central generation is much more efficient than distributing oil to put in SUVs all over, as done in the USA; SUVs, because there are too many holes in the asphalt. A problem partly related to high oil prices!).
Yet, the increase of the cost of imported oil corresponds exactly to the Italian deficit ($55 billion). Although that deficit increase had many causes, oil price increase was by far the most important. And the same for other Southern European countries. So the rise of oil prices was the barrel that broke the back of European debt.
In the USA, ten out of 11 post WWII recessions were followed by oil price spikes. Why are American minds so closed up to the looming strangulation of their economy by oil? Because the fossil fuel plutocracy is on a rampage in the USA. It uses a red hot propaganda to persuade the vast American public of undifferentiated sheep that there is no CO2 ecological crisis, and no energy crisis. (Although the latest polls indicate that two thirds of the public, in a splendid turn-around, believe that there is indeed a man-made climate change crisis; never mind that the New York Times had the latest tornado rampage, with 40 dead, presented as discreetly as possible.)
Why are the fossil plutocrats hysterical? Well we are past Peak Cheap Oil. Moreover, the “majors“, the world’s largest oil companies, have been pushed out of more and more countries, and replaced by national oil companies. Desperate, the majors have gone for riskier and riskier drilling in the deep ocean. Now Chevron, and Transocean, after a 4-day leak off Brazil, see prosecutors asking for lengthy prison sentences and enormous fines.
Most of these oil companies are American, so they have pushed forfracking (destroying the underground with poisons to extract fossil fuels). Superficially, it works: USA imports of fossil fuels went quickly from 60% down to 40%.
However, that did not make a dent in the world price situation, because the demand keeps rising, but the world, overall, is PAST PEAK OIL (as I have long argued and the Nature article alluded to below confirmed, using the obvious argument found in the graphs).
So, basically, American fracking finances Chinese oil consumption. Here are some graphs extracted from Nature and the USA government:
When the horrid sun of diminishing resources rises over the parched American oil desert, while fracking reveals itself to be an unfathomable catastrophe, the howling is going to be very great, and one more reason for a depression will blossom.
Much of the USA’s superiority, in the last 150 years, has come from abundant and cheap oil. First in the North-East, then down to Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, California. Compare with Western Europe, which had basically no oil.
Oil was not just a question of cheap, convenient energy. Oil has, short of nuclear energy, the highest energy density of any material (OK, nuclear energy is millions of time more energy dense).
Oil gave the USA enormous diplomatic and conspiratorial leverage. American oil plutocrats helped Lenin and Stalin develop their colossal fields in the Caucasus and Caspian. One of those plutocrats, Harriman, son of a railroad magnate, and brother of another Harriman, was one of the main operators of the democratic party. Let alone banker to Hitler. He was decorated both by Stalin, and by Hitler. He then went on as U.S. ambassador to major European capitals, and stayed one the main operators of the government of the USA for decades. “Democrats” have long been impure.
Interestingly, I searched the Internet for a document mentioning Harriman’s Stalino-Hitlerian decorations, but could not find it (I have seen the pictures in the past). All I could read is how much Harriman resisted Stalin each time they met, and that was all the time (a total lie that Harriman resisted Hitler, or Stalin: Harriman was an accomplice of Stalin, and helped give him half of Europe, in exchange for manganese and other stuff. But now Internet agents are obviously paid to reconstruct a truth where American plutocrats look good, knights in shining armor, fighting Stalin or Hitler, each time they met for tea, dinner, lunch, breakfast, and interminable conferences, for years on end, decade after decade).
A famous example of the clout oil provided the USA with: Texaco fueled Hitler’s conquest of the Spanish republic (this one is hard to hide, because the U.S. Congress slapped Texaco with a symbolic fine, well after the deed was done). That used to amuse Hitler a lot (Hitler gave elaborated reasons to his worried supporters for being in bed with American plutocrats; as the Nazi Party was officially socialist, and anti-plutocratic, that awkward situation may have led him to declare war to the USA on December 11, 1941, to ward off the German generals’ argument that he was just a little corporal in above his head).
Another example: Mussolini was hanged from an American gas station in Milan. Italian communists hanged him from his sponsors’ works.
The fueling of the fascists by American fossil fuel companies helped bring the American Century to the world in general, and Europe in particular. Without Stalin and American plutocratic oil, Hitler’s Panzers could not have moved in 1939 or 1940.
The dignified Elie Wiesel, instead of crying crocodiles tears, wondering how such a thing as Auschwitz was possible, should ask how and why the Nazi extermination machine was fuelled by American plutocrats, and how come he, himself, never talks about that.
Wiesel got the Nobel Peace Prize, just as Jimmy Carter (who launched the American attack on Afghanistan). Was it for disinformation? (And how come waging war in Afghanistan is a big plus for the Peace Prize? Is it related to the same mood which made Sweden help Hitler before and during WWII, and never having a serious look at that, ever since? I know the prize is ostensibly given by Norwegians.)
Wikipedia is big on the notion of “weasel words“, and rightly so. Deeper than that is what I would call weasel logic. And ever deeper, weasel worlds. To talk about Hitler without ever wondering who his sponsors were, and what they were after, is to live in a weasel world.
I like Elie Wiesel personally. Yet, just as I like Krugman, Obama, and countless others, such as the infamous Jean-Paul Sartre, he likes power even more than truth. OK, It is unfair to put Sartre, who really espoused the most abject terrorism, with the others… As long as individuals prefer power to truth, the spontaneous generation of infamy is insured.
Total oil sales, per day are about 100 million barrels (in truth the cap is lower, see graph above), at, say $100, so ten billion dollars a day, 3.6 trillion a year. The USA uses about 25% of that. Some have incorporated the price of the part of the gigantic American war machine and (what are truly) bribes to feudal warlords insuring Western access to the oil fields, and found a much higher cost up to $11 a gallon.
Ultimately, and pretty soon, in 2016, specialists expect oil prices to explode up, from the exhaustion of the existing oil fields. Then what?
Moreover, in 2016, the dependence upon OPEC, or, more exactly Arab regimes, is going to become much greater than now. What’s the plan of the USA? Extend ever more the security state, and go occupy the Middle East with a one million men army? To occupy, or not to occupy, that is the question.
Is it time for a better plan? And yes, any better plan will require consumers to pay higher energy prices. As consumers apparently want the army to procure the oil, they ought to pay for it.
Note 1: Flying cost at least ten times more in CO2 creation than taking a train. And jet fuel is not taxed, at least until the carbon plan of the European Union starts charging next year, in 2013. In spite of the screaming from the USA and its proxies: it’s funny how attached to subsidies American society can be.
Note 2: Refusing to pay for necessary military expenses through taxation and mobilization, was a big factor in the downfall of the Roman Principate.
The Principate then tried to accomplish defense on the cheap, by using more and more mercenaries. Many of these mercenaries or their children and descendants were poorly integrated in Roman republican culture (say emperors Diocletian or Constantine, let alone Stilicho the Vandal, a century later), so they established theDominate, itself a negation of the Roman republic. Amusingly the Western Franks, those salt water (“Salian“) Franks remembered the Roman republic better than all these imports from the savage East… who could not remember it, they, and their ancestors, having never known it.
Guess what? The USA’s army presently employs 300,000 “private contractors” (aka, mercenaries). Curiously, in that case, it’s not so much to save money, than to extract more money from the system (but that’s another story). Still, it will have the same effect.
Thugs from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and Chicago’s National Political Action trespassed on a Bank of America Executive’s front lawn in a so-called “protest” over mortgage defaults.
This same group went after AIG executives in March of last year (see video). I commented on local television and to anyone who would listen then how misdirected their anger was, and I repeat that sentiment now.
Where is the President’s outrage at these mob tactics against a private U.S. citizen? I can only assume his silence is tacit approval. The recently-resigned President of SEIU, Andy Stern, is reportedly Obama’s most frequent visitor at the White House, after all. And Obama has made it abundantly clear that he has no respect for private industry and free enterprise.
First General Motors, then Student Loans. What’s next, Mr. President?
In a Bloomberg BusinessWeek article, the most recent seizure of private industry in Venezuela was reported, with as much calm and lack of alarm as one may report on the the weather or a walk in the park.
I fear that this is where the U.S. is headed in the all too near future, given the takeover of the auto and student loan industries, and President Obama’s apparent admiration of President Chavez and all he does.
To quote from the article, which speaks for itself:
President Hugo Chavez announced Saturday the expropriation of a group of iron, aluminum and transportation companies in Venezuela’s mining region.
Among the expropriated companies is Materiales Siderurgicos, or Matesi, which is the Venezuelan subsidiary of Luxembourg-based steel maker Tenaris SA.
Venezuela’s socialist president said in a televised that his government was going to take over Matesi because “we couldn’t reach an amicable and reasonable settlement with the owners.”
Chavez said production at the company has been paralyzed since midway through last year, when Venezuela’s president announced plans to nationalize it.
Chavez said he was also going to expropriate Venezuelan-owned Orinoco Iron and aluminum-maker Norpro de Venezuela C.A., which is an affiliate of the U.S. company Norpro in association with France’s Saint Gobain, among other companies.
As well, Venezuela will take over transport companies that ship raw materials in areas southeast of Caracas. He did not name the companies.
Since coming to power more than a decade ago, Chavez has nationalized major companies in the electricity, oil, steel and coffee sectors, as well as other private businesses.
One of the fascinating aspects of my new American life is seeing how loud the volume of dissent is from the American
people about the shenanigans on Wall Street and the Too Big To Fail banks. There is an intensity and passion that I can’t see happening on the other side of the Pond. Maybe this is the cultural legacy of a people that just a short time ago, relatively speaking, were opening up this giant country seeking a better way of life than the ‘old countries’.
This intensity and passion is why, in the end, I believe that the solution to the huge crisis that still awaits us will start from this side of the Atlantic. But it will get a whole lot worse before it gets better, such is the complexity and depth of the fraud that is being visited on decent, ordinary folks in this and many other fine countries.
Bill Moyers of the Bill Moyers Journal on PBS is retiring. He’s approaching 76 and that’s a grand age to be dealing with the workload and stress of a weekly television presentation. His last Journal was broadcast on the 23rd April, a week ago today airing two really important topics. My only regret is that I haven’t been here sufficiently long to view many more of his Journals.
In that last broadcast on the 23rd, Bill had two key interviews. In this Post, I want to bring to your attention his first report, which was an interview with William K Black, now an academic but, just as importantly, a former bank regulator. William Black really understands what is going on in banking.
The interview is both fascinating and captivating because, well to me anyway, it explains in terms that us laymen can understand, exactly what is going on and why it is so terribly important that legislation and regulations are brought into force to stop this fraud ever happening again.
This interview has not yet made it’s way onto YouTube so I can only post the link to the Bill Moyers website.
But, please, if you care about what is happening to us in whatever country you live in, click on this link and watch the interview.
And if you want to watch the earlier interview that Bill Moyers had with William Black then here it is.
Dr Sherry Jarrell commented recently on her disappointment with President Obama, with two specific criticisms:
A) the way he speaks to the people, or perhaps to some of the people
B) his handling of the economy
With this in mind and given that the President has now been in office for long enough for a judgement to be made, here is a view from this side of the water.
How he speaks to the people. I can’t judge this; I don’t currently have a television, let alone one with access to all the US media; And “yes”, I know this is a bit bizarre, but there you go …
What does surprise me is that during the election he showed himself to be an orator of considerable talent. Indeed, without this talent to inspire people it seems unlikely that he could have got elected in the first place. So what has gone wrong? Do the people he is speaking badly to perhaps deserve it?
The economy? Dr Jarrell is the expert. However, I just caught sight of a headline about US growth, which seems to be picking up surprisingly well.
Surely it is not all gloom, even if unemployment is high at nearly 10%. However, if you think this is bad you should visit Spain.
Health? As a European, one struggles to understand why he has been criticized by some on this issue. The US can’t afford it? Well, perhaps the bankers should be giving up some of their vast salaries and bonuses to help pay for it.
Priorities? How can the USA possibly NOT have a universal health system, when poor little Cuba has one? As I understand it, health consumes about 17% of US GDP, which is WAY above other comparable nations.
Something is wrong here. Have the medical profession and pharmaceutical companies got Americans by the short and curlies? And even this 17% didn’t until now include tens of millions of people. I would really like to have someone’s take on this.
The Republicans? Well, are we seeing a great party beginning to implode? The hysteria over the health reforms is astonishing. The “Tea Party” group has issued all kinds of threats and complaints that even senior members of the Republican party have not criticized. What is going on here?
Do they have no understanding of how modern, civilised societies work? As a friend of mine put it (as it happens a strong supporter of the Cuban regime, which I certainly am NOT) “You judge a society by the way it treats its poorest and weakest members.” On this score, the Republicans are living on another planet.
I read a fascinating take on this the other day in the New York Times. In essence, Frank Rich claims that the Tea Party hysteria is nothing to do with the health system, but concerns the fact that WASPs feel threatened as they will soon be in a minority in the USA.
Yup – hard to believe for a British kid brought up on John Wayne, the Pilgrim Fathers, New England and all that … but true. Even so, if the Republicans are not to become a laughing-stock they need to find some more statesmanlike leaders. Sarah Palin just doesn’t cut the mustard I’m afraid.
Oil & Energy? Well, he is cracking down on gas-guzzlers. He has to have points there, surely? It is both essential and long overdue. On the other hand, he has sanctioned oil exploration in hitherto off-limits areas, the idea being to reduce dependency on imported oil. Very commendable, but the aim of all nations is to reduce consumption, isn’t it?
As a European, whatever impression one has of the USA has to be tempered by remembering that one does not live there. One simply cannot pick up the real mood of the country unless one has feet on the ground, and so all the above comments are impressions, possibly misplaced.
But on INTERNATIONAL affairs one is on slightly firmer ground, and of course what the US does internationally also concerns us more directly. When he took office, I decided I would judge him on one thing in particular ……
Palestine: There has been precious little movement since 9/11. Lots of “talks”, “negotiations” and proposals of course, but underlying it all the feeling that the Israelis are not going to give up anything at all.
The present government in particular seems like an immovable object on many key issues that must – frankly – be resolved by compromise on all sides. This is where an irresistible force comes in, and this can only be Obama.
Well, there have been positive signs, but I have yet to see evidence that pressure on Israel will be both real and sustained. Sometimes “negotiations” and “frank-talking” are just NOT enough, and this is one of them. The jury has retired with some recent positive feelings, but it is still out, and very sceptical.
Iran/China?: Obama has tried to be nice to these people, but – as with Israel – being nice sometimes doesn’t do it. There is I feel serious trouble ahead with China, one way or the other. Will Obama be tough enough to deal with it? The jury is still out on that one, too.
SUMMARY: Humans tend to be optimistic folk: we believe there is a solution out there somewhere. We believed Obama might be it.
We were as ever hopelessly-idealistic. Nevertheless, I am mindful that this is an extremely inexperienced President, chosen by Americans for his youth, optimism and charisma more than his long experience as a statesman.
He will need time. Unlike some Americans – who already think he is the anti-Christ (those strange Republicans again) – I am prepared to wait a bit longer to make a final judgement.
The official unemployment rate of the U.S. economy remains at 9.7%, and the underemployment rate increased to 16.9%. These numbers represent a real tragedy for many Americans.
While the White House tries to celebrate the creation of 162,000 new jobs last month, at least 48,000 of these new jobs are government jobs, specifically temporary census workers, who are doing unproductive work and are being paid with taxes collected from the rest of the private economy.
Employment also increased in temporary help services and healthcare, but continued to decline in financial activities and in information, which is interesting given the recent comments by President Obama that the government takeover of the student loan program tucked into the health care bill “took $68 billion from banks and financial institutions.”(Obama’s April 1 remarks) That’s a lot of jobs, Mr. President.
Seems like there is more concrete evidence that, rather than creating jobs, the President’s policies are costing the economy jobs.
It is a sad and lonely vigil that we who long for good news sometimes keep. But now and again, like London buses, it does arrive in welcome batches, and so it has proved this week.
US Health Care
First of all, our faith in Obama has been somewhat resurrected from what had become – in my case at least – a depressingly-comatose condition. For he has managed to squeeze his
health bill through Congress, which is more than the glamorous Clinton duo managed the last time it was tried.
Now I am sure Learning from Dogs has many American friends – at least, I hope so. And they are surely better-qualified to give an objective view of exactly what has been achieved. To listen to the Republicans, you’d think the end of the world had arrived, yet it is surely surreal that “the greatest country in the world” should NOT have universal health care, isn’t it?
As far as I understand, another 32 million Americans will now have health cover, even if that still – apparently – leaves some outside the fold. Well, let’s not quibble; it’s a major step forward. How even the reddest-necked Republicans could accept poor Cuba having better overall health care for their poorest citizens than the mighty USA was always a mystery to me. So, let’s chalk it up and celebrate.
Secondly, the Obama-Clinton team is AT LAST standing up to Israel. Now this is a major topic, and beyond the scope of one post, but if you empathize – as I feel one should – then from a Palestinian’s point of view, the Israelis are occupying their territory by force. And they are not alone in this belief; the international community has long considered the Israeli presence in the West Bank and Jerusalem to be illegal. Yes, Israeli supporters may find ways of rationalizing their presence there, but the facts speak for themselves.
“Whom the Gods seek to destroy, they first make mad.” Well, Netanyahu may not quite be mad, but he was certainly very silly – in my opinion – to so impudently announce more building in Jerusalem just as efforts to restart serious negotiations were under way. How he could imagine this would not be a major slap in the face to the US is a mystery. Perhaps he was just seeing how much he could get away with? Well, he seems to have found out, and for once – after nearly a year of pussy-footing about with Israel – the USA is moving closer to the international community’s position.
The world – let alone the Palestinians – needs a permanent solution to the problem, and that will not be achieved by Netanyahu prattling on about Jerusalem “belonging to Israel”. It is obvious to any outsider that the city has to be shared. As with Berlin, what will no doubt be a divided city for some time will eventually – through the force of position and logic – become a united one. WITHOUT goodwill (and there has been precious little in recent years from victorious Israel) this running sore will only come back to bite the Israelis time and time again. Friends of Israel – as I count myself in fact – should make this point more strongly.
However, the only friend that really counts is the USA, and we need them to keep up the pressure. Can and will Obama tough this one out in the face of the very powerful Israeli lobby? I believe Obama has said that he would prefer to be a one-term President if it meant he could get some real reforms through, and this is a welcome change from the “I’ll do anything to stay in office” syndrome that we seem to be seeing in Britain right now. Let’s hope he can live up to this promise. It is after all now nearly a decade since 9/11, after which there was so much talk about “finding a solution” that has – so far – come to little.
Google & China
Finally, we hear from Asia that China is cross with Google for removing filters from its search engines. Now we have got used to cosying up to China, to the point where the west imports a VAST quantity of cheap goods that have helped China’s economy to make a real leap forward, and of course pay for a vast increase in their military spending.
Yet the truth remains the truth, no matter how you dress it up. It remains a Communist dictatorship.
That Google even tolerated acquiescence in the fascist suppression of free speech in the first place was a disgrace, but they seem now to be moving to a more defensible position. What was sad about their original move into China was that they are big and powerful enough to have made a stand before. All over that vast country, individuals are trying to stand up to a fascist state, so how must they have felt when a vast, rich and powerful organisation from the west (Statue of Liberty and all that) got into bed with their oppressors?
Well, perhaps those little people will feel a bit better now. Predictably, the Chinese are now making threats against other “partners” of Google, saying that they “must obey its laws”. Well, we’ll see how this plays, but united we stand, divided we fall, and is it moral to respect immoral laws?
Yes, it will irritate the Chinese Communist Party leaders (I won’t be losing any sleep there …) and No, it won’t make a vast practical difference in the short-term; the Chinese have their OWN search engines, but it is a symbol, and symbols count. Sooner or later, the Chinese will join the modern world; but every now and then the free world needs to give it a prod in the right direction.
By Chris Snuggs
[Explanation of title to our non-UK readers. Londoners are so used to waiting in the cold for a bus to arrive and then having three arrive at once, that the phrase has become a little bit of English folklaw! Ed.]