WHEN THE BLACK SWANS COME HOME TO ROOST

12 04 2020

Here in Nashville, our county-wide governance body has district representatives, whose main job is to be the intermediary between the citizens of their district and the city, and “At-Large” council members, whose serve more of an oversight function, kind of like deputy mayors. In 2015, I ran for  that office, largely on a platform that the city was acting like the good times were just going to keep on rolling, but that was not really the case, and we had better do everything we could to prepare for the collapse that was coming. Two of my suggestions were  that we ought to foster local food production and create co-operatively run local industries that would produce a great many of the essentials of life that now come from far away, like shoes, clothing, and tools. I’ll talk about the relevance of those planks of my platform a little later.

I confess that I didn’t campaign very hard. I showed up at the candidate forums, figuring that I was unlikely to win, but it was important for the winning candidates to hear what I had to say, and figured I would get my message out to the general public in an interview with The Nashville Scene. The Scene, unfortunately, chose to belittle my candidacy and mostly dwelt on what a peculiar guy I am, rather than on what I had to say.

I chose not to run in the most recent Metro Council election. I had thought about this a good deal in the years since the previous election, and realized that, given the genuine technical legal complexities of writing legislation, if I were going to run again, part of my platform ought to be that I would spend much of my salary to hire a lawyer to assist me in framing my proposals appropriately. But I don’t know any such lawyer, and, even if I did, it seemed to make more sense to cut out the middle man–me–and just help the lawyer run for office. So, I contented myself with expressing my concerns to all the candidates, and got fairly sympathetic responses back from several of them, as I detailed at the time. I figured it was preferable to have council members in office who are at least aware of our long-term possibilities, and was gratified that most of those who won the multi-seat election were candidates who had responded somewhat sympathetically to my concerns.

Let’s fast-forward to our current situation. Although I have mostly been staying home (which is what I usually do anyway), last Monday afternoon at around five o’clock I found myself driving on some of Nashville’s major commuting routes, which are usually jam-packed with cars at that time of day. There was hardly anybody on the road. I stopped by “The Produce Place,” a locally-owned store that specializes in selling local produce. It was closed, because the store has cut the hours it’s open due to the pandemic. I picked up a very skinny copy of “The Nashville Scene,” no longer fat from entertainment and restaurant ads, and read that the free paper is on the ropes financially and was hoping its readers would form a financial support group so it could stay in business. The Scene, which once prided itself on tweaking the sensibilities of “the bizpigs,” as the editors called the city’s elite, is now owned by one of the wealthiest people in town, and caters to “the bizpigs,” a phrase that has not appeared in The Scene since long before they dissed my Metro Council run. I’m not sure whether I should be sympathetic to their plight or not.

But, I digress….From our home, we can often hear the roar of rush hour traffic on another major thoroughfare. Not lately. We live a couple of miles from the private-plane airport in Davidson County, and are used to having frequent low-flying small planes in our soundscape. They have grown rare. Of course, another factor there is that a tornado blew through the airport a few weeks ago and did millions of dollars worth of damage, destroying hangars and the airplanes parked in them. The upshot is, private air travel, like automobile travel, is way down. I’m glad. I’ve often wondered why it’s OK for one person in a private airplane to destroy the peace and quiet of the thousands of people who have no choice but to hear the noise.

I certainly didn’t foresee that the economic shutdown of Nashville would be due to a pandemic, but here we are, right where I ‘ve been saying we’re going. Such an unforeseeable, catastrophic event, is called “a black swan.” One definition of “black swan” that I read says that “they are obvious in hindsight.” It’s true that worldwide flu epidemics have become an accepted part of modern life, although they have never been this severe before, so yes, we should have seen this coming. In fact, disaster planners in our government did see it coming, but were ignored for the same reason the concerns I raised in my Metro Council candidacy were brushed aside:  anybody who suggests that there’s anything dangerous in our future, whether it’s a pandemic, an economic collapse (which might be set off by a pandemic),nuclear war, or climate disaster, gets short shrift from those who run our society, who are engrossed with making money and exercising power nowWe are a species that is wired to deal with immediate threats and gratification, not the long-term results of our short-sighted actions. We are going to have to change that to survive as a species. In the interest of raising human consciousness, this post is going to examine the effects of this particular “black swan,” and also note a couple more that seem to be circling and getting ready to come home to roost. Read the rest of this entry »





COME YE AMATEURS OF WAR

12 01 2020

I want to start with The Green Party’s official press release about the murder of  Iranian Major General Qassim Soleimani.

Greens joined demonstrations in at least 80 cities in 38 states over the weekend in response to the assassination of Iranian Major General Qassim Suleimani on Iraqi soil, which the Green Party has called an act of war and an unconscionable escalation of hostilities in a region where the U.S. has already wreaked immense devastation over decades.

Lisa Savage, seeking the U S Senate seat from Maine and Bruce Gagnon, Coordinator Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space, spoke at a demonstration on Saturday in Portland, ME.

“U.S. military aggression serves war profiteers, not the people,” said Savage in a recent statement. “We cannot bomb our way to a peaceful resolution of the conflict zone our nation has created in Iraq, nor is deliberately provoking Iran in our best interests as a nation. Diplomacy and the restoration of congressional authority over the president’s use of the U.S. military are urgently needed. We need senators and congresspeople willing to stand up to the Pentagon and the executive branch of government to say no to more warmongering.”

Suspicion among peace advocates that the drone attack was designed to move Iran, Iraq and the U.S. even further to the brink of all-out war has since been borne out by President Trump’s abhorrent threat to destroy Iranian sites that are “important to Iranian culture.”

Greens are also alarmed by reports that the Department of Homeland Security has ordered Customs and Border Protection to “’report’ and detain anyone with Iranian heritage entering the country who is deemed potentially suspicious or ‘adversarial,’ regardless of citizenship status” (source: Council on American-Islamic Relations).

Several state Green Parties also issued statements and calls to action.

The Green Party categorically opposes measures ‘authorizing’ preemptive or illegal military actions, or delegating to the president sole power to commit acts of war. Greens have called for the repeal of the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) 2001 to restrict the president’s ability to direct more attacks.

A great deal has already been written about this, much of it pure dissembling. The Democrats are outraged, not so much about the murder and the effects it is likely to have, as about the fact that they weren’t consulted first. Only few deeply principled Dems have denounced it wholeheartedly–Bernie Sanders and his deputy Ro Khanna, Tulsi Gabbard, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Ilhan Omar, mostly. Some of the more libertarian Republican–Mike Lee and Rand Paul, f’rinstance–are also not pleased.

Corporate media have mostly framed Soleimani as a “terrorist with blood on his hands,” conveniently ignoring the fact that part of the job description for “general” is “being wiling to get ‘blood on your hands’ by ordering the soldiers under your command to risk their deaths in order to kill other people.” Every general in the world–Iranian, American, wherever, has blood on his, or, these days, her hands, or at least has indicated a willingness to do so. Disparaging a general for having “blood on his hands” is like criticizing a farmer for having dirt under hir fingernails. It comes with the territory.

Generals are willing to “get blood on their hands,” but generally recognize that it’s better not to–it’s better to outmanoeuvre your  opponent, and better still to find a way to make peace. That, in fact, is what Soleimani was doing in Iraq on the day he was murdered. According to the Prime Minister of Iraq, Soleimani was on his way to meet with him about getting together with the Saudis and de-escalating tensions in the region, and the US government knew it–in other words, all those top US government officials who are braying that Soleimani was “planning the deaths of more Americans” are either lying, or haven’t done their homework. The US has given the rest of the world yet another in the long list of reasons not to trust Uncle Sam.

Read the rest of this entry »





MR. MUELLER’S MARCH SURPRISE

14 04 2019

just imagine that long-eared critter is a Democratic donkey instead of a Wiley Coyote…..

First off, I have to confess that I did not expect what seems to be Robert Mueller’s core assessment: that he could find no evidence of collusion between the Russian government and the Turnip campaign. From my understanding of Mueller’s record, he has always been a “good soldier,” willing to do whatever The Empire needed him to do, even if it involved shady behavior. Much of it even looks like misbehavior, except that Mueller was promoted, not fired or prosecuted, after doing what he did.  That seems to indicate that somebody upstairs approved, and when I say “somebody upstairs,” no, I don’t mean God.

Mueller let Boston mobster Whitey Bulger get away with murder, and then get away completely. Bulger became a fugitive, and lived under an assumed name for a decade before finally being discovered. Mueller was willing to round up and imprison about a thousand Muslim men in New York City right after 9-11, some for as long as a year, without charging any of them with any crime, in what has been described as “an American Abu Ghraib.” Our court system decreed that his victims could not sue him or the US government for their mistreatment and disrupted lives. As FBI director, Mueller had no problem with torture of “terror suspects,” mass surveillance of US citizens, or with infiltrating anti-war groups looking for terrorists. He was willing to lie under oath and tell Congress there was no question about the Iraqis having “weapons of mass destruction.”

There’s lots more where those highlights came from, but the upshot is that I expected that Mueller, sent in to find Turnip guilty of colluding with the Russians, would find a way to charge Turnip with collusion, even though it was fairly clear to me from the outset that the whole thing was a sham. So, when Mueller’s “no collusion” assessment came out, I was as flabbergasted as any Democrat. Unlike a great many Democrats, i did not roar back with anger and denial. Instead, I did my best to find a perspective from which this turn of events makes sense. That turned out to be not so difficult. All I had to do was determine what has changed as a result of the Mueller investigation and the Russian collusion/interference publicity blitzkrieg that accompanied it, and look at what Mueller did or did not investigate, who he indicted, and what happened as a result of those indictments, and it all made sense. Read the rest of this entry »





“MAKING THE ECONOMY SCREAM” IN VENEZUELA

10 02 2019

“We’re going to make their economy scream.”

Richard Nixon, on US plans to overthrow the government of Chilean President Salvador Allende in the early  1970’s

I am outraged about the way the US is treating Venezuela, a country whose worst crime seems to be spending its oil revenue to elevate the living standards of its poorest people, instead of feeding an oligarchy like The Great God Mammon intended.

Nicolas Maduro, and “the Bolivarian Revolution,” are just a few steps to the left of Bernie Sanders, and yet we have a bipartisan effort to overthrow them. Sanderistas, and all you other “Democratic Socialists,” please note: this is what Schumer and Pelosi really think of you.

Democrats who have fulminated for two years about “covert Russian meddling” in the US and styled themselves “the Resistance” to Pres. Turnip’s hard right agenda for the US have no problem openly colluding with a radical right politician in Venezuela, overtly sending him millions of dollars, confiscating Venezuelan state assets in the US and turning them over to this self-proclaimed, not particularly popular, “President” and US puppet, and coordinating a de-legitimization campaign against the legally, and honestly, elected government of a sovereign nation that, oh horrors, has been forthright in its criticism of US foreign policy, and, in the face of US sanctions, started selling its oil for Chinese yuan instead of American petrodollars.

Gee, I seem to remember, back during the Democratic primary debates, that Ms. Clinton accused Bernie Sanders of “supporting the overthrow of the legally constituted governments of Cuba and Nicaragua.” Apparently, she and the rest of her wing of the Democratic Party think it’s not OK to do that to legally constituted, highly oligarchic, US boot-licking dictatorships, like the Batista and Somoza regimes that once ruled over Cuba and Nicaragua. But hey, if it’s a legitimately elected, broadly popular socialist government, as in Venezuela or modern Nicaragua, or even faintly populist, like the unfortunate Mr. Zelaya in Honduras, why, go right ahead and kill it before it spreads. “Kill” is not a metaphor here. I’m assuming that’s why Elliot Abrams has been made the US government’s point man on Venezuela. He has shown no hesitation in his willingness to kill the poor in order to save the rich.

 

And saving the rich is definitely what is happening in Venezuela. The
“anti-government uprising” is largely a revolt of the middle- and upper classes, who have seen their standard of living slip as Chavez, and now Maduro,  do what they can to help the poorest members of Venezuelan society. And make no mistake about it–the upper classes in Venezuela are more European, i.e., whiter, than the lower classes, and despise Maduro and his predecessor Hugo Chavez as “black Indians,” whose rule they resent the same way some white Americans couldn’t abide having even a lackey of the corporate system like Barack Obama as US President, because he was black. The reaction against Maduro is flat-out racist.

We Greens get a certain amount of pushback from people who think we ought to work within the Democratic Party. The Democrats’ hypocrisy around this Venezuela caper is a prime example of the kind of conduct we Greens are unwilling to tolerate. The Green Party rejects the Democrats’ hypocrisy of claiming to be opposed to racism at home, while supporting what amounts to white supremacy in Venezuela (and Palestine, too–but that’s a whole other subject.) We are an anti-imperialist party as well as an anti-capitalist party, and the Democrats’ willingness to join with the Republicans in bullying Venezuela is imperialism pure and simple–not to mention that the US government is clearly stating its intention to turn Venezuelan oil production, now managed by a mostly state owned company, over to multinational, um, “oiligarchs.” The Green Party is about freeing this country from oil addiction, while the Democrats are happy to mug one of our neighbors to make sure our oil fixes keep on coming.

I want to include a few caveats here. The first is that I, and most other supporters of Venezuela, don’t necessarily agree with every detail of their overall plan, and also can see ways in which the country’s rulers have not done a good job, even by their own standards. Nevertheless, I am broadly supportive of their intentions, which are, to quote Professor Greg Albo,

(to) deepen.. democratic proceduralism, indigenous and human rights and citizen initiatives. But it also embraced an alternate economic model in linking participatory democracy with cooperatives and worker self-management.

That’s exactly what The Green Party is about, and it’s also the program on which Bernie Sanders rose to prominence. So, when I said that those in control of the Democratic Party are willing to kill to stop democratic socialism, I think my concern is well-founded. I hope that adds to your understanding of why Greens cannot be Democrats.

The second caveat is that, of course there is corruption in Venezuela. The Bolivarian Revolution was, and remains, a political movement which pays little attention to psychological transformation. When you try to make change happen merely by passing laws, anyone who is more or less governed by the flaws in their personality–greed, jealousy, desire, selfishness, for example–will continue to do whatever they can to work the system for their personal advantage, especially when it is clear that the system is being stressed by outside parties, like the US, who want to destroy it, and that makes peoples’ lives difficult and uncertain.

The third caveat is that, from my point of view, the worst crime Venezuela has committed has been to extract all that oil….the same crime that the US, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and a whole lot of other countries are committing….but who’s gonna bell that cat? You can be sure our government has no intention of shutting down Venezuelan oil production for good. The administration has said outright that it intends to turn Venezuelan oil production over to US oil companies.

But of course, it’s not entirely about oil. Our government has also announced that Venezuela is just the first domino–they plan to go after largely oil-free Nicaragua and Cuba next–can Bolivia, Mexico, Uruguay, and any other non-submissive Western Hemisphere governments that remain be far behind? If a New Democrat-Green coalition takes over the government of Canada, will the US invade? Will British Prime Minister Theresa May negotiate the surrender of the Maduro government, and, on her return to England, tell the press that she believes her actions have brought “peace in our time”?

Read the rest of this entry »





STARTING THE REVOLUTION WITH….GOURMET HOT CHICKEN?

12 08 2018

My attention was attracted by a headline in a recent Nashville Scene:

H*t Chicken Sh**t Addresses Gentrification in North Nashville

The event, which I’m not sure how to pronounce—“Hot Chicken Shoot”? “Hit Chicken Shi..”….well, never mind–was an effort by Nigerian-American gourmet chef Tunde Wey to call together some movers and shakers to not merely discuss gentrification over a “gentrification priced” $55 dinner, but to actually start funding a community land trust that will “allow residents to buy affordable homes while the land is owned by a non-profit in the community.”

I think this is really good news. I’ve been one of those beating the drum for community land trusts as a way to address gentrification  and was happy to see it featured so prominently at the Co-op Nashville conference a few years back. Recently I’ve been wondering what happened to all the positive energy that was generated at that gathering, so it was very sweet to get an answer without even having to go look.

I wish Tunde Wey and his friends every success in this venture. I hope to send some money  their way, and I hope you will, too. But, being a “deep green perspective” kind of guy, I also have some further thoughts about this project, and that’s what I want to share with you.

This story kind of reminds me of the peace activist slogan “”It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the air force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.” Here in Nashville, we just went through a massive campaign to pass additional taxes for a public transit system that was widely, and correctly, perceived as a tool for further gentrification of the city. “I’ve already got developers calling me about property (along the proposed light rail route)” one advocate of the plan said, on camera.  (Oops!) This plan was defeated, largely by those who realized it was going to gentrify them right out of town. Something that does seem to be going through, on the other hand, is a “major-league soccer stadium” that will undoubtedly raise property values in its neighborhood, which happens to be one of the remaining pockets of affordable housing. The good news is that the soccer stadium plan is structured to listen and respond to input from the surrounding community. The relevant part of this story, however, is that Metro Nashville is issuing $275M in bonds to pay for the project, with the expectation that the stadium will do well enough financially to pay that back.

Read the rest of this entry »





LARRY NASSAR AND THE BOUNDARIES OF COMPASSION

18 02 2018

Even in the midst of a veritable avalanche of revelations of sexual predation, the case of Larry Nassar sticks out like a gaping, bleeding wound. It’s not just that he took advantage of his position as US Olympic Gymnastics Team doctor to use the bodies of young girls as objects in his sexual fantasies. It’s not just that, apparently, a whole lot of the officials involved with him knew what he was doing, and chose to ignore it. It’s that, in our culture, the objectification of female bodies is, in many ways, the norm, so that, viewed from a certain perspective, what he was doing was not so far out of the ordinary. Our commercial culture uses sexually attractive women’s bodies as a lure to sell things to men, and as a way to shame women, deny their worth, and guilt-trip them into buying things that will, supposedly, make them more worthy. In this world of women-as-objects, sex becomes detached from emotional intimacy. “Sex robots” seem like a reasonable use of technology….hey, they’re just the ultimate sex toy, right? This objectification, and consequent alienation, is a symptom of the normalization of sociopathy in our culture.

not the real thing…just a fantasy

People are rightly horrified by Nassar and what he has done. The father of one of his victims attempted to assault him in the courtroom. He will not be the last person to do so. Child molesters are the very bottom of the social ladder in prison, and often meet violent ends. Whatever thrills Mr. Nassar got from taking advantage of the young girls with whom he was entrusted, he will be paying for them dearly.

But our culture has plenty of Larry Nassars  who have figured out socially acceptable ways to victimize innocent people. I want to examine the case of one man in particular, a man whose initial way of molesting women and children was to drop bombs on them. He didn’t know the children he killed and wounded. He didn’t even see them. He was killing people for what he considered a higher purpose, so that the country he lived in would prevail against the country whose women and children he was killing. Read the rest of this entry »





THE UNITED STATES OF DENIAL

12 11 2017

I want to explore the geography of the United States of Denial just a little. No, “The United States of Denial” is not a new name for Egypt. I’m talking about the good ol’ USA, where we are all united in being in various states of denial. Some of those states are adjacent to each other, some are pretty far apart, and some of the ones that are adjacent to each other are simultaneously quite distant from their neighbors. That’s one of the ways we’re united–in denying our denial. Those other people–they’re in denial Not me!

There’s Republican states of denial, Democratic states of denial, and then there are various liberal-left-socialist-Green states of denial, as well. I think it’s wonderful that, even though the United States of America has effectively closed its political process to all but two basically similar parties, in the United States of Denial there’s room for lots of political flavors.

Republican states of denial have been on the front burner a lot lately. Climate change denial has been front and center, along with science denial in general, as well as denial of racism, sexism, and compassion.  And then, of course, there’s denial of reality in general. Speaking of generals, there’s denial of the danger that a war anywhere in the world would pose to life everywhere in the world.

That particular state of denial, the denial of the danger of war, borders one of the most prominent Democratic states of denial, which also denies the dangers of war. While the Republican state of denial of war danger borders North Korea and Iran, its Democratic counterpart bumps up against Russia. The two states of denial also share a common border with Afghanistan.

Republican climate denialism is so well-known that I’m going to skip over it and give some attention to its neighbor, Democratic climate denialism. Democratic climate denialism is more subtle than the rugged Republican version, which simply denies that the problem exists. Hey, mass extinction is the capitalist way to solve overpopulation!

Read the rest of this entry »





THE RUSSIAN CONNECTION

12 03 2017

It’s the Cold War all over again. Americans left and right are being accused of taking orders and money from, being the tools of, or at least harboring sympathy for, a miraculously resurrected Evil Empire headquartered in Moscow. If the accusers actually controlled the government, no doubt the political show trials would begin. The accusers–elements of our security apparatus, neo-conservatives associated with the infamous “Project for a New American Century,” virtually the entire Democratic Party, and their allies in the mainstream media–are  using the highly manipulable court of public opinion to find anyone who dissents from their doctrine of Russophobia guilty of the treasonous crime of Russophilia, as if it were some even worse perversion of pedophilia. Their aim appears to be to regain control of the government. They consider this a legitimate counter-revolution. Others call it a coup, American style.

“It’s simple,” the Democrats and their allies say. “If we take over again, everything will be fine.”

It’s not simple, and things wouldn’t be fine if the Democrats were running things, but let’s leave “if the Democrats were running things” alone for now. It’s mind-bendingly complicated, because to truly understand what’s going on in America now requires that we be free of the conditioning most Americans accept unquestioningly–and I’m not talking air conditioning, although that is a luxury that most Americans take far too for granted. I’m talking about mind conditioning–the way we subliminally learn to perceive reality by taking cues from our parents and our culture as we grow up.

As we grow up, and all through our lives, we spend a lot of time absorbing stories from movies, television, and books, and all those stories share certain common elements. There’s a hero, who is clearly a hero, at least in the end, and the hero is not you, although of course you identify with her or him. There’s a villain, and the villain’s identity is usually clear from the beginning. The hero and the villain clash, and, although the villain seems to be winning at first, the hero ultimately triumphs, and all the most pivotal moments in that struggle can be captured in an hour, or two, or maybe longer if it’s a TV series. These are the expectations we then project on real-world events.

But real-world events are not the movies, or even a long-running TV series. In real life, it is extremely rare for anyone to be a complete hero or a complete villain. I’m not, and you probably understand that you’re not 100% hero–or villain–either. Even sociopaths and psychopaths occasionally do the right thing. Well-intentioned people do terrible things. Think about it–doesn’t everybody believe their intentions are good? You betcha. What political figures do as a result of their good intentions may look good to millions of people, and simply awful to millions of others, and it can be difficult to determine in the short run just what “the greater good” really is. It can also be glaringly obvious what does or does not constitute “the greater good,” whether there are millions of people who understand what’s really going on, or just a few. Reality is not determined by popular vote. And, of course, political figures also do things for concealed, strategic reasons, and lie to the public about their motivation. As I said, it’s complicated.

So, with that in mind, I want to examine the history of what some are already referring to as “the new Cold War,” and see how the mainstream American story of what’s going on holds up under scrutiny. Read the rest of this entry »





SYRIA–6,000 DEATHS AND (NOT) COUNTING

11 02 2012

Bertolt Brecht reputedly asked,”If the government doesn’t trust the people, why doesn’t it dissolve them and elect a new people?” While Robert Anton Wilson may have been the only person who knows where and under what circumstances Brecht coined this cynical bon mot, and Brecht certainly saw plenty of efforts by Nazi and Communist governments alike to put it into practice, word that a government is undertaking this program never loses its appall, and the latest place where this practice appalls me is Syria, where the government has so far killed around 6,000 people in an attempt to “continue the beatings until morale improves,” and the UN has said things are so chaotic that it is not going to even attempt to keep track of the number of dead.

Syria, like the rest of the Middle East, is no stranger to such campaigns.  When the Ottomans wanted to kill mass numbers of Armenians without having to work too hard, they just sent them out into the Syrian desert to starve.  The population of Syria’s neighbor, Palestine, has been the subject of slow-motion strangulation by the Israelis for over sixty years, and plenty of Middle Easterners would be only too happy to see that karma rebound onto the Israelis.   In classical times, the Romans crucified Maccabean rebels by the thousands, ultimately killing somewhere between a quarter-million and a million Jewish Palestinians–and now the survivors’ descendants, osmosed into Muslims through the years, are now under the heel of their brethren who remained Jewish.  But that’s not what I’m here to talk about today.

More recently, in Syria’s neighbor Iraq,  ten years of American sanctions in the 90’s resulted in the deaths of over half a million Iraqis, mostly children, termed “an acceptable cost” by Democrat Secretary of State Madeline Albright, whose own children were not among the victims.  Our government’s 2003 invasion is responsible for the deaths of a million and a quarter more Iraqi civilians.   So, from a certain perspective, a mere six thousand casualties is chump change.   Meanwhile, the U.S. won’t fund abortions because so many people in our Congress and our country profess a “respect for life.”  Do I detect a disconnect here?  “Protect the unborn, but once you’re out of your momma, tough nuggies”?  But that’s not what I’m here to talk about today, either.

Perhaps a more apt comparison, at least for the time being, can be found in the situation in Libya last Spring, when rebels there, with the eventual help of NATO, threw out Col. Qadhafi, at the cost of  5-10,000 lives.  By that standard, the six thousand known deaths in Syria could almost be called par for the course, but there are important internal and external differences between the two situations. There are four times more Syrians than Libyans, in a country only 1/9 the size of Libya.  The populated part of Libya is the long, narrow coastal strip, which made it easier for the initial protesters to have some territorial integrity and create an alternative government in the far east of the country right from the beginning.  The Libyan rebels were able, in effect, to barricade one end of the hall and fight with their backs to the wall of the Egyptian border.  In little, triangular Syria, the population is in the situation of a hapless amateur trapped in the wrestling ring with Hulk Hogan, who keeps attacking again and again, from any and all angles, at any time. It’s enough to get a person nervous, ya know?

Another big difference is the two countries’ standing in the international community.  Qadhafi had gone his own way, using Libya’s oil wealth to maintain its political independence.  For this reason, and because he did in fact spend a fair amount of money on social programs that actually did improve the lives of most Libyans, as long as they were willing to kowtow to him, Qadhafi had a certain cachet in international radical political circles, especially when he proposed to start asking for gold, rather than dollars, as payment for his country’s oil.  But that made him a major pariah in the West.  Threatening to deny the dollar was a far more unforgivable sin than the Lockerbie bombing or murdering his own people, and with no major power to watch his back, his fall was inevitable.

Syria, on the other hand, enjoys a fairly close relationship with several world powers.  Its relationship with Russia dates back to Soviet days, when the current dictator’s father cultivated close ties.  Many Syrians go to Russia for advanced studies, but most importantly, the Syrian army uses Russian-made weapons, purchased with their oil cash, and Russia has continued to supply Syria with killing devices even as the rest of the civilized world has attempted an arms embargo on Syria.   (Just for the record, Syria’s oil production is declining sharply.) Russia’s only military base outside the borders of the former Soviet Union is on the Syrian coast.  The Russians do not want to see this relationship upset, if at all possible, especially since they gave their Chechen population similar treatment.  If they have to do something similar to some other would-be breakaway republic, they don’t want to help set the precedent of international intervention.

China, too, is more inclined to support Syria, where it has major oil interests.  Like Russia, China also has a strong interest in discouraging internal revolts in China, where the Uyghurs and Tibetans have suffered fates similar to what Russia visited on the Chechens.  Like Russia, China does not want to give the U.N. any precedent for poking around in what it regards as its internal business, nossir.

Iran is yet a third country that is watching Assad’s back.  Iran and Syria have a longstanding close relationship, going back to Biblical days, really, but most lately renewed over the Iran-Iraq war, and Syria’s provision of a refuge for Hezbollah, which both countries employ as a proxy to keep pressure on Israel.  While the Russians provide diplomatic support, the Iranians have “boots on the ground,” providing support, training, and reputedly troops to help the Assad government kill dissenters, or anybody who lives in the same neighborhood as somebody who might be a dissenter.

Add to this the fact that Russia is the source of much of Western Europe’s fuel supply, and that China is a source of just about everything for everybody, and that makes the Europeans (and Americans) shy about jumping into a situation that might turn out to involve tightening a noose around their own necks.  Now, throw in the many similar pogroms the U.S. has countenanced–the slaughter of half a million alleged “communists” in Indonesia in the mid-sixties and the elimination of around a hundred thousand citizens of East Timor who happened to object to the seizure of their country by Indonesia are just two further examples of U.S. government-approved mass murder, in addition to the ones I mentioned above, that deny our leaders any ability to claim the moral high ground on this issue.  There are many, many more.  There is blood on Uncle Sam’s hands, and it ain’t “the blood of the lamb.”

OK, just one more example of mass deaths caused by U.S. government policy–it is now estimated that about thirty thousand Mexicans have been killed in just the last four years due to the “war on drugs” (or, in this case, the war over drug profits)–that’s a kill rate similar to what we are seeing in Syria, albeit in a country with five times Syria’s population.  The war over drug profits would be over tomorrow if marijuana were legalized and thus inexpensive enough to out-compete crack and meth.  Coca?  Talk to the Bolivians–they’ve got a plan.  But, I digress.

What the Syrian situation adds up to is a dangerous pile of kindling with the potential to spark something like World War III if it is dealt with crudely.  It looks to me like the U.S. couldn’t go in there with guns blazing to protect the civilian population without our blazing guns setting fires that cause far more damage than the intervention might prevent.  Mere hand wringing is not an acceptable alternative, either.  What would a Green foreign policy on this issue look like?

I need to preface what I am about to say by remarking that it is a  very easy for me, sitting here in the safety of America, to proclaim, and not necessarily so easy for a citizen of Homs or Damascus.

First and foremost, I believe, a Green foreign policy would support the essential nonviolence of the Syrian movement.  Bashir Assad’s brutal response to his people’s peaceful protests will, ultimately, undermine him,  but only if the protestors can maintain the moral high ground.  This is where the rubber meets the road for nonviolent resistance, the place where the bombs and artillery shells start to fall–and yet fail to instill fear in the people at whom they are aimed.  Non-violent resistance is not easy, and it is carried out with no guarantee of the personal safety, much less the success, of those who undertake it.   But if we are going to create an alternative to mass murder as a government policy, we have got to start by rejecting mass murder as a way to change governments.  That is the great challenge, and the great hope, of the situation in Syria.  A non-violent revolution there will take the wind out of the sails of Russian, Chinese, Iranian, American, Israeli and Palestinian peddlers of repression alike, and mark a new, peaceful direction for unraveling the tangled knot of Mideast tension.  Violent intervention, at best, will fuel more old scores than it settles, and at worst create a regional or even global conflagration that we can ill afford at this time of planetary environmental peril.  If the essence of the Syrian uprising can remain nonviolent, and replace Assad with a truly populist movement, it would mark a major turning point in world politics.  We need a major turning point much more than we need more violence.  It’s time for a change.

music:  Judy Collins, “Carry It On”





WORM WAR ONE

12 02 2011

A very unusual and deeply significant event happened last Fall, but largely escaped notice in the media. The significance of this story is that we have crossed a threshold, entered a new territory, and there is no telling what will happen next. Sometimes that’s a good thing. In the long run, this particular event may be beneficial, but I have a feeling it is going to raise a lot of hell along the way.

I’m not even talking about climate change here. The event was the infection of the control system for Iran’s nuclear program with a computer worm called “Stuxnet.”

Stuxnet is a very carefully designed worm. It won’t use your computer to send spam. It won’t eat your hard drive. But, if your computer is one that controls certain kinds of industrial equipment, especially nuclear centrifuges, Stuxnet will cause the centrifuges to malfunction, while it shields the malfunction from monitoring equipment. Nuclear centrifuges have to spin at a certain speed in order to properly separate out the uranium isotopes. If the speed varies, they don’t do the job right, and the end product will not function properly in a nuclear reactor–or an atomic bomb.

That is not the kind of worm that is designed by bored teenage hackers in LA.  It is a highly sophisticated computer program that could only have been designed by a very big business or a government. “Dissection” of the worm uncovered several clues that seem to point to Israeli involvement.

I’m not big on either nuclear reactors or nuclear weapons.  To me, they are both clear examples of technologies that a truly wise and intelligent species would have theorized about but not actually created, due to the inherent dangers.  But we are not a truly wise and intelligent species, and we have gone ahead and created hundreds of nuclear reactors and, according to once source, 23,000 nuclear weapons.  (Twenty-three again!  Who’s writing this script?)

Iran claims its nuclear program is intended for peaceful uses only.  But most of its neighbors have nuclear arsenals–the Russians on the north, the Pakistanis to the east, the Israelis to the west, (although we’re supposed to act as if they don’t!), and the US on its south, in the Persian Gulf.  When you’re surrounded by mean monkeys with big sticks, it’s a natural monkey reaction to grab the biggest stick you can and look as threatening as you can.  If the US really wants Iran not to reach for a big stick, we should stop harassing them.  That, however, is unlikely to happen.

There has been a great deal of speculation that, via its proxy, Israel, the US would act to take out Iran’s nuclear program with an air strike, similar to the Israeli attacks on an Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981 and a mysterious target in Syria last fall.

Iran, however, is a much more problematic target for this kind of violence.  It’s further away from Israel than Syria or Iraq and has  more sophisticated air defense systems, leading to a greater possibility of failure.  With its superior resources and the experience of Israel’s attacks on its neighbors, Iran has doubtless “hardened” its nuclear facilities, making them less vulnerable to bombing.  Because the facilities are up and running, attacking them would also be more likely to involve considerable loss of life and widespread nuclear contamination, not to mention condemnation.  And then there’s blowback; Israel has repeatedly beat the crap out of Syria, so that its response to the Israeli attack was largely bluff and bluster; but Iran has much more capacity and willingness to retaliate.  An Israeli air strike on Iran could well have the same effect as throwing a lit match into a very large pool of gasoline.

So, attacking Iran’s nuclear program with a computer worm is, in many ways, a far more sensible choice than sending in the bombers.  And, from a realpolitik viewpoint, the accompanying assassinations of several top Iranian nuclear scientists is more compassionate, or maybe just less uncompassionate, than dropping a bunker-buster on the site and spreading radioactive debris all over the surrounding countryside.

I can understand Israel’s skittishness.  There is a genocidal holocaust in their past, and they want to do all they can to make sure there isn’t another, nuclear, holocaust in their future.  If they’re serious about that, maybe they should just give up on Palestine and move to Nevada or Utah.  But that’s another story.

My guess is that we have not heard the last of this exchange.  You can be sure Iran is looking for a way to retaliate, some back-door, plausible-deniability m.o. that will cripple US and/or Israeli infrastructure without being blatant.  China is apparently actively researching ways to cripple American computer networks.  Perhaps Iran can serve China in the same way that Israel serves America?

It doesn’t have to be high-tech.  It’s long been known that a few tons of gravel, launched into the same low-earth orbit as communications and spy satellites, would rapidly take out every one of those vital links in our communication network.  Bye-bye internet, bye-bye cell phones, bye-bye credit card transactions, bye-bye military communications. Sure, putting gravel in outer space is “rocket science,”  as well as a bad pun, but it’s pretty simple rocket science.  The North Koreans could probably pull that one off.

The worm war is on.  Its campaigns are  well disguised and waged in secret, and there’s no telling when, or what, the next attack will be.  Make hard copies of your favorite data and keep plenty of cash on hand.  Things could get primitive in the blink of an eye–or the launch of a rock.  Taking down communications satellites with rocks–back to the stone age, eh?

music:  Medeski, Martin, and Wood, “Bloody Oil”








%d bloggers like this: