The Reasoned Review

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The Coming Totalitarianism

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Chris Hedges in Alternet with one of the most well-written dissections of our modern politics I’ve ever read:

Democracy, a system ideally designed to challenge the status quo, has been corrupted and tamed to slavishly serve the status quo. We have undergone, as John Ralston Saul writes, a coup d’état in slow motion. And the coup is over. They won. We lost. The abject failure of activists to push corporate, industrialized states toward serious environmental reform, to thwart imperial adventurism or to build a humane policy toward the masses of the world’s poor stems from an inability to recognize the new realities of power. The paradigm of power has irrevocably altered and so must the paradigm of resistance alter.

Too many resistance movements continue to buy into the facade of electoral politics, parliaments, constitutions, bills of rights, lobbying and the appearance of a rational economy. The levers of power have become so contaminated that the needs and voices of citizens have become irrelevant. The election of Barack Obama was yet another triumph of propaganda over substance and a skillful manipulation and betrayal of the public by the mass media. We mistook style and ethnicity – an advertising tactic pioneered by the United Colors of Benetton and Calvin Klein – for progressive politics and genuine change. We confused how we were made to feel with knowledge. But the goal, as with all brands, was to make passive consumers mistake a brand for an experience. Obama, now a global celebrity, is a brand. He had almost no experience besides two years in the senate, lacked any moral core and was sold as all things to all people. The Obama campaign was named Advertising Age’s marketer of the year for 2008 and edged out runners-up Apple and Take it from the professionals. Brand Obama is a marketer’s dream. President Obama does one thing and Brand Obama gets you to believe another. This is the essence of successful advertising. You buy or do what the advertisers want because of how they can make you feel.

We can march in Copenhagen. We can join Bill McKibben’s worldwide day of climate protests. We can compost in our backyards and hang our laundry out to dry. We can write letters to our elected officials and vote for Barack Obama, but the power elite is impervious to the charade of democratic participation. Power is in the hands of moral and intellectual trolls who are ruthlessly creating a system of neo-feudalism and killing the ecosystem that sustains the human species. And appealing to their better nature, or seeking to influence the internal levers of power, will no longer work.

The absurd idea that the marketplace alone should determine economic and political constructs led industrial nations to sacrifice other areas of human importance – from working conditions, to taxation, to child labor, to hunger, to health and pollution – on the altar of free trade. It left the world’s poor worse off and the United States with the largest deficits – which can never be repaid – in human history. The massive bailouts, stimulus packages, giveaways and short-term debt, along with imperial wars we can no longer afford, will leave the United States struggling to finance nearly $5 trillion in debt this year. This will require Washington to auction off about $96 billion in debt a week. Once China and the oil-rich states walk away from our debt, which one day has to happen, the Federal Reserve will become the buyer of last resort. The Fed has printed perhaps as much as two trillion new dollars in the last two years, and buying this much new debt will see it, in effect, print trillions more. This is when inflation, and most likely hyperinflation, will turn the dollar into junk. And at that point the entire system breaks down.

All traditional standards and beliefs are shattered in a severe economic crisis. The moral order is turned upside down. The honest and industrious are wiped out while the gangsters, profiteers and speculators walk away with millions. The elite will retreat, as Naomi Klein has written in The Shock Doctrine, into gated communities where they will have access to services, food, amenities and security denied to the rest of us. We will begin a period in human history when there will be only masters and serfs. The corporate forces, which will seek to make an alliance with the radical Christian right and other extremists, will use fear, chaos, the rage at the ruling elites and the specter of left-wing dissent and terrorism to impose draconian controls to ruthlessly extinguish opposition movements. And while they do it, they will be waving the American flag, chanting patriotic slogans, promising law and order and clutching the Christian cross. Totalitarianism, George Orwell pointed out, is not so much an age of faith but an age of schizophrenia. “A society becomes totalitarian when its structure becomes flagrantly artificial,” Orwell wrote. “That is when its ruling class has lost its function but succeeds in clinging to power by force or fraud.” Our elites have used fraud. Force is all they have left.


Written by pavanvan

March 18, 2010 at 8:28 pm

Let Them Eat Cake

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Jeff Strabone waxes philosophic in 3 Quarks Daily:

It seems to me that over the past decade, in the United States, the state and a narrow circle of powerful interests—banks, energy companies, and private health insurers in particular—have simply given up trying to persuade the rest of us that their interests were our interests. Could we be moving in the twenty-first century to a state that practices domination without hegemony? Or, to put it in plain English, will the state shamelessly turn itself completely over to serving the interests of a powerful few without bothering to pretend that it’s not? And if it does, how should we respond?

Torture, of course, is nothing new. The United States has been implicated in torture before, most famously in Central America in the 1980s. See, for instance, the article on torture in Honduras by James LeMoyne in the New York Times Magazine for June 5, 1988. But until recently, torture was always part of covert operations. The people who ordered the operations felt they had something to hide. What torture and corporate kleptocracy have in common in the twenty-first century is the lack of shame that characterizes the responsible parties.

Written by pavanvan

January 25, 2010 at 6:54 pm

Dealing with the Axis

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Iran has agreed, at least in principle, to export its proto-nuclear fuel to Russia for inspection and enrichment. The deal would have Russia “re-format” Iran’s un-enriched nuclear fuel into a form which might be used for medical purposes. Although it still has yet to be finalized, most observers are hailing this development as a “positive step” in US-Iran relations.

According to The Huffington Post:

[The deal] would commit Iran to turn over more than 2,600 pounds (1,200 kilograms) of low-enriched uranium. That would significantly ease fears about Iran’s nuclear program, since 2,205 pounds (1,000 kilograms) is the commonly accepted amount of low-enriched uranium needed to produce weapons-grade uranium.

So the deal would force Iran to export almost exactly the amount of LEU (low-enriched Uranium) required to make a bomb. Of course this would not prevent them from acquiring even more LEU at a later date, nor is it clear precisely how much LEU Iran currently has. Leaked reports of the deal suggest Iran would export almost 70% of its Low-Enriched Uranium, but this still remains to be seen.

The decision to send the Uranium to Russia also comes off as a bit strange. It is well known that Russia has been providing Iran with nuclear secrets at least since the 1990s, though they claim to have stopped.

From the Mid-East Monitor:

Russian-Iranian cooperation has been driven less by parallel aspirations or a common worldview than by reciprocal accommodation on certain issues. In the 1990s, Russia began providing Iran with arms and assistance building its nuclear program, while shielding it from the threat of multilateral sanctions. In return, Tehran largely acquiesced to heavy-handed Russian domination of the six predominantly Muslim republics of the former Soviet Union in the Caucasus and Central Asia, in spite of its strong religious ties to the region (Azerbaijan, like Iran, is majority Shiite; the rest are majority Sunni), as well as significant ethnic and linguistic links (ethnic Azeris constitute a quarter of Iran’s population, Tajikistan’s official language is a dialect of Farsi)

So it’s easy to see why Russia would still want to have its finger on Iran’s nuclear program.

Ultimately I think this deal, assuming it passes, would constitute less of a victory for the US than its cheerleaders would suggest. But it does present a welcome change from the sheer bellicosity we have heard from the US on Iran of late.

Written by pavanvan

October 21, 2009 at 8:58 pm

Hamas and The Ministry of Truth

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A Gazan family outside their destroyed home, courtesy of the Israeli "Defense" Force

A Gazan family outside their destroyed home, courtesy of the Israeli "Defense" Force

In the span of a single article The Washington Post, currently our government’s mouthpiece, is able to compile every falsehood and misconception regarding Hamas under the guise of “balanced reporting”. The article in question, entitled “What to do with Hamas? Questions Snarl Peace Bid”, is valuable for its succinct, concise collection of omissions and propaganda regarding that so-called “terror group”. To read it is to view the Israeli conflict through the lens of our policy planners, and to identify many of the assumptions under which they operate.

The article begins with a bang:

GAZA CITY — In the two years since it seized power here, the militant Hamas movement has undercut the influence of the Gaza Strip’s major clans, brought competing paramilitary groups under its control, put down an uprising by a rival Islamist group, weathered a three-week war with Israel, worked around a strict economic embargo — and through it all refused a set of international demands that could begin Gaza’s rehabilitation.

Let’s start with the so-called “uprising by a rival Islamist group”. The Post is referring here to the 2007 Fatah-Hamas war, which occurred a year and a half after Hamas won parliamentary elections in Palestine, much to the consternation of the US and Israel.  What The Post completely declines to mention is that the US and Israel were behind that that “uprising”. Yes, you read correctly. Last year, David Rose of Vanity Fair published a stunning expose of that war, concluding, beyond any doubt, that the United States secretly funded Fatah in a failed bid to overthrow Hamas.

Why secretly? Well, because such funding would have been expressly against international law. Hamas won the January 2006 parliamentary elections fair and square. The polls were monitored and not one side was able to come out with even a single instance of accused fraud. The US and Israel, unable to respect the Palestinians’ wishes, chose to secretly fund a coup by Fatah, the pro-west Palestinian party. The coup failed in that Hamas retained control of Gaza, but it did result in thousands of dead Palestinians, along with a split leadership (Fatah was able to gain control of the West Bank), so our policy-makers chalked it up to a half-loss.

Likewise with the three-week war with Israel that Hamas allegedly “weathered”. The action to which The Post refers occurred earlier this year and was not so much a war as a massacre in Gaza. More than 2,000 Palestinians were killed in that action, with express US permission. Israeli casualties numbered in the tens. Lurid, horrific reports later surfaced of Israeli death squads traveling door-to-door and murdering whole families, as well as the bombing of a UN-charter school by Israel, an atrocity which occured not once, but twice.

The embargo, defined by political scientists the world over as a blatant “act of war”, has prevented Gazans from access to even the most basic standards of food or medicine, and has transformed the strip, in the words of The Vatican, into “a giant concentration camp”.

Yet amid all these atrocities it is not the Israelis, but the Palestinians who are “refusing a set of international demands”. Here, The Washington Post makes one of its famous contradictions. Later in the article they write that

In the past two weeks, Mitchell has scaled back U.S. demands for Israel to freeze West Bank settlements.

The settlements, as you are surely aware, are in violation of international law and are currently condemned by every country in the world, except the United States and Israel.

From the article’s lead, we find that:

That combination of durability and unwillingness to compromise has created a deep-seated stalemate that has left top Israeli intelligence and political officials perplexed about what to do.

However on the very next page, The Post reports:

It has been long-standing Hamas policy to consider a long-term ceasefire with Israel in return for establishment of a Palestinian state on the Gaza and West Bank land occupied by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

So it’s a bit unclear as to whence this confusion arises. Hama’s position has been clear from the start, even if The Washington Post is too cowardly to admit it. And it should be noted that the land “occupied” by Israel in the 1967 war was occupied illegally, and there is currently a UN resolution (Resolution 242), which demands Israel withdraw to its pre-1967 borders, precisely as Hamas requests. The UN routinely votes 174-5 in favor of the resolution, with only the United States, Israel, and a few Pacific Islands dissenting. The Post, of course, neglects to mention any of this in its article, electing instead to highlight the “perplexion” on the part of Israeli planners. If they had even a modicum of respect for international law it would be clear “what to do”.

The lack of honest discussion of the Israel-Palestine issue is perhaps the greatest impediment we face to resolving that decades-old feud. Contrary to what we may think here in America, that volatile little strip carries huge importance for the politics of the Middle East, and world politics in general. The destabilizing effects of our inability to see “the other side” are only too plain. For the time being, however, this is a mischievous little polemic by The Washington Post.  It, and similar articles, probably do more to prolong this conflict than all the bombs and rockets combined.

Written by pavanvan

October 7, 2009 at 8:44 pm

Globalization in the East: A Cultural Perspective

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Urbanization and Pollution in India

Urbanization and Pollution in India

Very often, as you stroll down a major Indian thoroughfare, you can see spiritual tourists from the West patronizing the corner-store rishis. Wide-eyed, glowing with excitement about “enlightenment” and “finding themselves”, they dutifully perform the rites and chants as prescribed by their eastern philosophers-for-hire. And when they have finished, they leave for their homes in the West full with thoughts of their “life changing experience” in India: a land of swamijis and rickshaws, a country of mystics and philosophers, an ancient civilization of enlightenment. That such a vision corresponds very little to the actual picture of India is immaterial. Even the fact that the world of Indian spiritualism is being quickly dismantled in favor of a “market-oriented” culture bears little importance. To the cultural imperialists descending from Europe and America, India exists as a spiritual haven, a land apart, which no amount of development can truly change.

But change is occurring – apparent to those with eyes for it, and faster than any observer from the 1990s could have dreamt. Already a tourist can stay at a Sheraton, dine at Domino’s, Pizza Hut, or McDonald’s, shop in a mall, use wi-fi internet, and find themselves beset by advertisements and eager entrepreneurs, supposing of course, they should want to. Bollywood now blares open sexuality on television and film screens, and many youth in India have embraced rock music, rap, alcohol, dating, and myriad other social cues from Western youth. Belief in religion persists, but its meaning has changed beyond recognition. And the growing ranks of diaspora, already large in the 1980s, have given rise to a new class of Indians, raised in the west with only a very vague connection to the subcontinent or its people.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by pavanvan

September 27, 2009 at 6:06 pm