Saturday, June 21, 2014

Noam Chomsky on the Crimea

Chomsky uses T. Cambanis' idea of "red lines" to analyze the Crimean situation and US behavior.  He simply condemns Putin Russia's invasion in terms of its illegality, but emphasizes the illegalities in international context brilliantly, especially Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  Comments were made that helped me understand the ethnic context better.
     One comment refers to the commenters WISH that the US could be a moral force, and that US Leaders need to learn THEIR lesson.  It is clear to me that no leader who can create a democratic economy can get elected until social movements in the US do so first.  Chavez in Venezuela acted brilliantly and almost with incomprehensible tact to implement significant advances in economic democracy there.  Would it take a similar enlightened military man in the US?  Philip Agee, for example, ex-CIA, might have been a kind of character up to the challenge in his heyday.  

The Politics of Red Lines: Putin's takeover of Crimea scares U.S. leaders because it challenges America's global dominance
Noam Chomsky
In These Times, May 1, 2014
The current Ukraine crisis is serious and threatening, so much so that some commentators even compare it to the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.
Columnist Thanassis Cambanis summarizes the core issue succinctly in The Boston Globe: "[President Vladimir V.] Putin's annexation of the Crimea is a break in the order that America and its allies have come to rely on since the end of the Cold War -- namely, one in which major powers only intervene militarily when they have an international consensus on their side, or failing that, when they're not crossing a rival power's red lines."
This era's most extreme international crime, the United States-United Kingdom invasion of Iraq, was therefore not a break in world order -- because, after failing to gain international support, the aggressors didn't cross Russian or Chinese red lines.
In contrast, Putin's takeover of the Crimea and his ambitions in Ukraine cross American red lines.
Therefore "Obama is focused on isolating Putin's Russia by cutting off its economic and political ties to the outside world, limiting its expansionist ambitions in its own neighborhood and effectively making it a pariah state," Peter Baker reports in The New York Times.
American red lines, in short, are firmly placed at Russia's borders. Therefore Russian ambitions "in its own neighborhood" violate world order and create crises.
The point generalizes. Other countries are sometimes allowed to have red lines -- at their borders (where the United States' red lines are also located). But not Iraq, for example. Or Iran, which the U.S. continually threatens with attack ("no options are off the table").
Such threats violate not only the United Nations Charter but also the General Assembly resolution condemning Russia that the United States just signed. The resolution opened by stressing the U.N. Charter ban on "the threat or use of force" in international affairs.
The Cuban missile crisis also sharply revealed the great powers' red lines. The world came perilously close to nuclear war when President Kennedy rejected Premier Khrushchev's offer to end the crisis by simultaneous public withdrawal of Soviet missiles from Cuba and American missiles from Turkey. (The U.S. missiles were already scheduled to be replaced by far more lethal Polaris submarines, part of the massive system threatening Russia's destruction.)
In this case too, the United States' red lines were at Russia's borders, and that was accepted on all sides.
The U.S. invasion of Indochina, like the invasion of Iraq, crossed no red lines, nor have many other U.S. depredations worldwide. To repeat the crucial point: Adversaries are sometimes permitted to have red lines, but at their borders, where America's red lines are also located. If an adversary has "expansionist ambitions in its own neighborhood," crossing U.S. red lines, the world faces a crisis.
In the current issue of the Harvard-MIT journal International Security, Oxford University professor Yuen Foong Khong explains that there is a "long (and bipartisan) tradition in American strategic thinking: Successive administrations have emphasized that a vital interest of the United States is to prevent a hostile hegemon from dominating any of the major regions of the world."
Furthermore, it is generally agreed that the United States must "maintain its predominance," because "it is U.S. hegemony that has upheld regional peace and stability" -- the latter a term of art referring to subordination to U.S. demands.
As it happens, the world thinks differently and regards the United States as a "pariah state" and "the greatest threat to world peace," with no competitor even close in the polls. But what does the world know?
Khong's article concerns the crisis in Asia, caused by the rise of China, which is moving toward "economic primacy in Asia" and, like Russia, has "expansionist ambitions in its own neighborhood," thus crossing American red lines.
President Obama's recent Asia trip was to affirm the "long (and bipartisan) tradition," in diplomatic language.
The near-universal Western condemnation of Putin includes citing the "emotional address" in which he complained bitterly that the U.S. and its allies had "cheated us again and again, made decisions behind our back, presenting us with completed facts with the expansion of NATO in the East, with the deployment of military infrastructure at our borders. They always told us the same thing: 'Well, this doesn't involve you.' "
Putin's complaints are factually accurate. When President Gorbachev accepted the unification of Germany as part of NATO -- an astonishing concession in the light of history -- there was a quid pro quo. Washington agreed that NATO would not move "one inch eastward," referring to East Germany.
The promise was immediately broken, and when Gorbachev complained, he was instructed that it was only a verbal promise, so without force.
President Clinton proceeded to expand NATO much farther to the east, to Russia's borders. Today there are calls to extend NATO even to Ukraine, deep into the historic Russian "neighborhood." But it "doesn't involve" the Russians, because its responsibility to "uphold peace and stability" requires that American red lines are at Russia's borders.
Russia's annexation of Crimea was an illegal act, in violation of international law and specific treaties. It's not easy to find anything comparable in recent years -- the Iraq invasion is a vastly greater crime.
But one comparable example comes to mind: U.S. control of Guantanamo Bay in southeastern Cuba. Guantanamo was wrested from Cuba at gunpoint in 1903 and not relinquished despite Cuba's demands ever since it attained independence in 1959.
To be sure, Russia has a far stronger case. Even apart from strong internal support for the annexation, Crimea is historically Russian; it has Russia's only warm-water port, the home of Russia's fleet; and has enormous strategic significance. The United States has no claim at all to Guantanamo, other than its monopoly of force.
One reason why the United States refuses to return Guantanamo to Cuba, presumably, is that this is a major harbor and American control of the region severely hampers Cuban development. That has been a major U.S. policy goal for 50 years, including large-scale terror and economic warfare.
The United States claims that it is shocked by Cuban human rights violations, overlooking the fact that the worst such violations are in Guantanamo; that valid charges against Cuba do not begin to compare with regular practices among Washington's Latin American clients; and that Cuba has been under severe, unremitting U.S. attack since its independence.
But none of this crosses anyone's red lines or causes a crisis. It falls into the category of the U.S. invasions of Indochina and Iraq, the regular overthrow of parliamentary regimes and installation of vicious dictatorships, and our hideous record of other exercises of "upholding peace and stability."

Friday, June 20, 2014

Noam Chomsky: Will Capitalism Kill Us?

I've just watched the Howard Zinn doc "...Moving Train" and am in the middle of watching the Noam Chomsky doc "Manufacturing Consent" (both again), and revived my realization that Zinn had been and Chomsky has been amazing activists.  I found this 2013 piece by Chomsky at, and think it is 
superb.  He refers to Mondragon, Ohio, and Alperovitz, and his own bright light, Dewey.  I wasn't familiar with Dewey's powerful relevance.  I guess one thing he doesn't seem to acknowledge is the existence of Federal laws like Germany's Worker Co-Determination law with some other European Work Councils.  The original Danish approach from protests to mechanics to associations to co-ops was followed by Germany to its larger scale, with an interesting version injected into the UK.  Ohio has an example applying this, I understand.  An example I like in the US is that of the food co-operatives and credit unions.  There are plenty of both.  Nevertheless, it is the industrial strength ones that need to inspire most of us, and so I am honored again to mention Michael Moore's last film, Capitalism, with his visits to Wisconsin and San Francisco industrial co-ops.

Can Civilization Survive Capitalism?
Noam Chomsky
Alternet, March 5, 2013
The term "capitalism" is commonly used to refer to the U.S. economic system, with substantial state intervention ranging from subsidies for creative innovation to the "too-big-to-fail" government insurance policy for banks.
The system is highly monopolized, further limiting reliance on the market, and increasingly so: In the past 20 years the share of profits of the 200 largest enterprises has risen sharply, reports scholar Robert W. McChesney in his new book "Digital Disconnect."
"Capitalism" is a term now commonly used to describe systems in which there are no capitalists: for example, the worker-owned Mondragon conglomerate in the Basque region of Spain, or the worker-owned enterprises expanding in northern Ohio, often with conservative support -- both are discussed in important work by the scholar Gar Alperovitz.
Some might even use the term "capitalism" to refer to the industrial democracy advocated by John Dewey, America's leading social philosopher, in the late 19th century and early 20th century.
Dewey called for workers to be "masters of their own industrial fate" and for all institutions to be brought under public control, including the means of production, exchange, publicity, transportation and communication. Short of this, Dewey argued, politics will remain "the shadow cast on society by big business."
The truncated democracy that Dewey condemned has been left in tatters in recent years. Now control of government is narrowly concentrated at the peak of the income scale, while the large majority "down below" has been virtually disenfranchised. The current political-economic system is a form of plutocracy, diverging sharply from democracy, if by that concept we mean political arrangements in which policy is significantly influenced by the public will.
There have been serious debates over the years about whether capitalism is compatible with democracy. If we keep to really existing capitalist democracy -- RECD for short -- the question is effectively answered: They are radically incompatible.
It seems to me unlikely that civilization can survive RECD and the sharply attenuated democracy that goes along with it. But could functioning democracy make a difference?
Let's keep to the most critical immediate problem that civilization faces: environmental catastrophe. Policies and public attitudes diverge sharply, as is often the case under RECD. The nature of the gap is examined in several articles in the current issue of Daedalus, the journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Researcher Kelly Sims Gallagher finds that "One hundred and nine countries have enacted some form of policy regarding renewable power, and 118 countries have set targets for renewable energy. In contrast, the United States has not adopted any consistent and stable set of policies at the national level to foster the use of renewable energy."
It is not public opinion that drives American policy off the international spectrum. Quite the opposite. Opinion is much closer to the global norm than the U.S. government's policies reflect, and much more supportive of actions needed to confront the likely environmental disaster predicted by an overwhelming scientific consensus -- and one that's not too far off; affecting the lives of our grandchildren, very likely.
As Jon A. Krosnick and Bo MacInnis report in Daedalus: "Huge majorities have favored steps by the federal government to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions generated when utilities produce electricity. In 2006, 86 percent of respondents favored requiring utilities, or encouraging them with tax breaks, to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases they emit. Also in that year, 87 percent favored tax breaks for utilities that produce more electricity from water, wind or sunlight [ These majorities were maintained between 2006 and 2010 and shrank somewhat after that.
The fact that the public is influenced by science is deeply troubling to those who dominate the economy and state policy.
One current illustration of their concern is the "Environmental Literacy Improvement Act" proposed to state legislatures by ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-funded lobby that designs legislation to serve the needs of the corporate sector and extreme wealth.
The ALEC Act mandates "balanced teaching" of climate science in K-12 classrooms. "Balanced teaching" is a code phrase that refers to teaching climate-change denial, to "balance" mainstream climate science. It is analogous to the "balanced teaching" advocated by creationists to enable the teaching of "creation science" in public schools. Legislation based on ALEC models has already been introduced in several states.
Of course, all of this is dressed up in rhetoric about teaching critical thinking -- a fine idea, no doubt, but it's easy to think up far better examples than an issue that threatens our survival and has been selected because of its importance in terms of corporate profits.
Media reports commonly present a controversy between two sides on climate change.
One side consists of the overwhelming majority of scientists, the world's major national academies of science, the professional science journals and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
They agree that global warming is taking place, that there is a substantial human component, that the situation is serious and perhaps dire, and that very soon, maybe within decades, the world might reach a tipping point where the process will escalate sharply and will be irreversible, with severe social and economic effects. It is rare to find such consensus on complex scientific issues.
The other side consists of skeptics, including a few respected scientists who caution that much is unknown -- which means that things might not be as bad as thought, or they might be worse.
Omitted from the contrived debate is a much larger group of skeptics: highly regarded climate scientists who see the IPCC's regular reports as much too conservative. And these scientists have repeatedly been proven correct, unfortunately.
The propaganda campaign has apparently had some effect on U.S. public opinion, which is more skeptical than the global norm. But the effect is not significant enough to satisfy the masters. That is presumably why sectors of the corporate world are launching their attack on the educational system, in an effort to counter the public's dangerous tendency to pay attention to the conclusions of scientific research.
At the Republican National Committee's Winter Meeting a few weeks ago, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal warned the leadership that "We must stop being the stupid party ... We must stop insulting the intelligence of voters."
Within the RECD system it is of extreme importance that we become the stupid nation, not misled by science and rationality, in the interests of the short-term gains of the masters of the economy and political system, and damn the consequences.
These commitments are deeply rooted in the fundamentalist market doctrines that are preached within RECD, though observed in a highly selective manner, so as to sustain a powerful state that serves wealth and power.
The official doctrines suffer from a number of familiar "market inefficiencies," among them the failure to take into account the effects on others in market transactions. The consequences of these "externalities" can be substantial. The current financial crisis is an illustration. It is partly traceable to the major banks and investment firms' ignoring "systemic risk" -- the possibility that the whole system would collapse -- when they undertook risky transactions.
Environmental catastrophe is far more serious: The externality that is being ignored is the fate of the species. And there is nowhere to run, cap in hand, for a bailout.
In future, historians (if there are any) will look back on this curious spectacle taking shape in the early 21st century. For the first time in human history, humans are facing the significant prospect of severe calamity as a result of their actions -- actions that are battering our prospects of decent survival.
Those historians will observe that the richest and most powerful country in history, which enjoys incomparable advantages, is leading the effort to intensify the likely disaster. Leading the effort to preserve conditions in which our immediate descendants might have a decent life are the so-called "primitive" societies: First Nations, tribal, indigenous, aboriginal.
The countries with large and influential indigenous populations are well in the lead in seeking to preserve the planet. The countries that have driven indigenous populations to extinction or extreme marginalization are racing toward destruction.
Thus Ecuador, with its large indigenous population, is seeking aid from the rich countries to allow it to keep its substantial oil reserves underground, where they should be.
Meanwhile the U.S. and Canada are seeking to burn fossil fuels, including the extremely dangerous Canadian tar sands, and to do so as quickly and fully as possible, while they hail the wonders of a century of (largely meaningless) energy independence without a side glance at what the world might look like after this extravagant commitment to self-destruction.
This observation generalizes: Throughout the world, indigenous societies are struggling to protect what they sometimes call "the rights of nature," while the civilized and sophisticated scoff at this silliness.
This is all exactly the opposite of what rationality would predict -- unless it is the skewed form of reason that passes through the filter of RECD.