11A war against Christians


A pervasive persecution of Christians goes on throughout the Middle East and South and Southeast Asia with relatively small organized efforts to oppose it, even among Western churchmen.

True, both the Pope Francis has spoken out against discrimination, and in many instances, imprisonment and worse. In April the Roman Catholic Pope made a ceremonial visit to meet the leader of Egypt’s indigenous Christian Coptic leader who may head as many as 20 million Egyptian Christians. But the Mainline Western Protestant churches with their preoccupation with social issues, often to the neglect of articles of faith, have largely left opposition to such oppression to the Western democratic governments led by the U.S.

 

The statistics are horrendous:

It is estimated that more than 300 people are murdered monthly throughout the world because of their Christian faith.

More than 200 places of worship are attacked and destroyed monthly.

Altogether, almost 800 incidents of violence are committed monthly because of religious prejudice against Christians.

The Pew Center, an American secular research organization, estimates more than 75% of the world’s population lives in areas of religious persecution, many of them anti- Christian.

The U.S. State Department compiles a list of more than 60 countries which practice religious discrimination against their own population.

In some areas, where Islam is the dominant religion, there are affiliated Moslem organizations which persecute religious minorities, particularly Christians.

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Ironically it is the Middle East where Christianity was founded which has the highest toll of martyrs. This past Palm Sunday preceding Easter, two suicide bombings by Moslem fananatics killed 45 persons and injured far more in two Egyptian Coptic churches. It is also paradoxical that Egypt with by far the largest Christian minority in the region has by far the largest number of victims.

 

The Center for the Study of Global Christianity, an academic research center that monitors worldwide demographic trends, estimates that in the period 2005-16 — an average of 900,000 Christians were killed.annually. From Nov. 1, 2015, to Oct. 31, 2016, Open Doors tabulated as many as 1,207 Christians were killed around the globe for faith-related reasons. This is a conservative estimate since it does not include statistics from North Korea and large areas of Iraq and Syria.

 

Persecution of Christians is part of a general pattern of repression in many of these areas, of course. But it takes on a peculiar character because the effort to oppose repression is inhibited by a lack of understanding and forthrightness about the nature of Islam. Islam is, of course, supposedly one of the Abrahamic religions. It has borrowed heavily not only in mythology but in its moral code, rituals and performance from Judaism and Christianity. But unlike Christianity and Judaism, it has not broken its ties to secular power and, indeed, has endowed them with authoritarianism. That is why, for example, Indonesia with a brief tradition of freedom since independence in 1945, is now beset with radical Islamic groups attempting to establish Islam as a state-imposed belief.

This conflict exists, to a greater or lesser extent, in all those majority Moslem societies however much they have also borrowed Western European legal codes from their colonial domination which guarantee secular societies. This conflict will intensify if economic progress does not solve some of the other growing problems of these societies.

Sws-07-24-17

10To the Finland Station


While the U.S. debates whether it has “a Russian problem”, little Finland [6 million] is again fearful of wrestling with its old neighbor.

There is a new wrinkle in the Russia-Finland encounter, however. The Finns are always feeling threatened by their giant neighbor now planning one of its largest military exercises in years. In riposte, the Finns are going underground. A subterranean city beneath Helsinki forms its critical line of defense. Finnish soldiers routinely train there with the aim of keeping Finland’s government running and city residents safe in any attack. A network of more than 124 miles of tunnels, passageways and shelters supplies utility and subway tunnels, communications, water supply and Wi-Fi. There is shelter space for al the city’s more than 600,000 residents.

The Russian war games will take place on Finland’s northern border as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization [NATO] simultaneously boosts its own presence in the three Baltic states just across the Gulf of Finland. Finland maintains the fiction of its neutrality between Moscow and the West by remaining outside NATO even though it is increasingly dependent on Western – and especially U.S. – arms with an equally officially neutral Sweden.

Much of the relationship is based on the history of The Winter War when Josef Stalin’s Soviet Union tried to subdue what was then a small largely agricultural society gangling off neutral Sweden to the West. [Finland has a substantial Swedish minority and considers itself bilingual.] But with the Western democracies, and much of the rest of the world, cheering, the little Finnish army with its ski troops and other knowledge of winter warfare, held off the Soviet giant for nine months. In the end, it lost 10% of its territory – including its Arctic port was ceded to Russia and it had to absorb a half million Finnish ethnics [12% of its population] as refugees from the Karelian peninsular reaching toward Leningrad that had been Moscow’s target.

One of the great ironies of modern history is that the threat of aggression and reincorporation into a Russian empire has raised Finland to one of the most prosperous and technically advanced societies. [The per capita income is 222% of the world’s average.] That’s despite its isolation at a frigid corner of the world.

The original $300 billion [1939 prices] of reparations which Helsinki agreed to pay the Soviets built a new manufacturing and economic complex that ultimately delivered by 1952, 340,000 railroad carloads of goods and services to Moscow. The economic effect was to turn Finland increasingly into a high tech industrial economy culminating in its leadership of the new wireless telephone industry in the late 1900s.

More than ever, more alarmed than Western observer, Helsinki has seen the Russian seizure of Crimea ahead of Moscow’s 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula as a model for a new threat to its own independence. Its military have carried out an exercise based on a recent, real-world scenario including takeover of government buildings by foreign special forces, like those of the Russians on their southern flank. Some of those wargames were held in Helsinki’s underground labyrinth.

Finland also says it has faced Moscow’s use of pro-Russian activists, propaganda and political pressure on Finnish politicians since the Cold War And although maintaining its strict formal neutrality, Finnish authorities say they have seen concerted efforts by pro-Russian nongovernmental groups, social media accounts and cyberattacks attempting to influence domestic politics..This year 10 NATO countries and the EU committed to establishing a research center focused on hybrid warfare, to open in Helsinki in September.

Sws-07-16-17

8Going to the doctor


We have never been supporters of an all-inclusive law governing the healthcare industry.

 

It is, after all, huge — the economic system that provides goods and services to treat patients with curative, preventive,

rehabilitative, and palliative care. Total health care spending in the U.S. was 18% of GDP in 2011, the highest in the world at $2.3 trillion. The very size of the whole enterprise – from individual medicine practiced by doctors to hospitalization and public health programs – perhaps a sixth of the American economy — suggests how difficult it is to get a perspective on its problems much less possible solutions.

 

That’s why we saw Obamacare as not only not a solution to the problem, but because it attempted to solve all the medical health problems in one piece of legislation, a menace and not just a legislative mistake. All that was compounded by the secrecy, the speed, and the one-party authorship – there was not a single Republican vote for the legislation – doomed it.

 

As Obamacare continues to implode under its own deficiencies, the search for a soluition to the America’s health problems continues. But, again, one would be more sanguine were that a search for solutions to individual problems than one overall panacea which is now the case.

 

The search, of course, is for a system that delivers more access to its potential clients at lower prices.

 

It is with this point of view that we approach the current debate over health care legislation now in the excruciatingly complex process of legislative production, with a House of Representatives version now in the hands of the more arcane rules of the U.S. Senate. That would, in a first stage, presumably, present a different version which would have to be compromised between the two pieces of proposed legislation for final legislation t be voted into law by both houses..

 

It is tragic, we believe, that because of the generation of Obamacare, it is now considered a given that it must be replaced by an equally all-reaching one piece of law. For some of the same reasons as with Obamacare, we fear that it will inevitably produce some of the same results.

 

Given what are generally regarded as better solutions in some other countries’ developed economies achieving more economic returns from the vast expenditures on healthcare in the U.S., introducing cost-saving and more access measures does not seem to be an unobtainable goal.

 

Also in much of the discussion it ignores the growing role of technology which while supplying new and often unanticipated solutions to individual health concerns, often incurs new costs in equipment and its application, only a small part of which we suspect is reducing existing costs. The ordinary individual with the ordinary afflictions has little difficulty in seeing this kind of solution all around him as the progress in medical practice improves extremely rapidly.

 

As we write, the Senate is in the process of originating its own particular approach to the healthcare industry. As we have noted, unfortunately, it is already assumed that the Senate’s product will be a substitute for the proposed legislation already enacted in the House but, indeed, both a replacement of Obamacare. It may have been critical that the question of linking the withdrawal of Obamacare and presenting “a replacement” have been linked for many legislators. Unfortunately, it also guarantees that some of the problems of Obamacare will inevitably reassert themselves in any new legislation.

 

It is early, of course, to take a pessimistic view of this whole complicated process. We can only hope that as it progresses, both the Senators and the Representatives will not have their hands tied to what has gone before.

 

Sws-07-13-17.

All the rich are screaming


Normally we would be coming down hard on the side of newspaper owners in any argument; they are after all running the business where we make our living.

But we are finding it a little hard to choose sides in a struggle between three of the wealthiest men in the world and a news service organization – no pikers themselves for rolling in the dough. The problem seems to be that Google, the preeminent internet news service, has handed the three newspaper owners a bill they think unreasonable. Given their own great resources, it seems to be less a matter of their money than their power and influence.

The three newspaper owners who claim Google is driving them toward “serfdom” [their word no less!] are The Washington Post’s Jeff Bezos [worth $83.9 billion], perhaps the richest man in the world, the Mexican Carlos Slim who is also The New York Times’ largest stockholder, The Buffalo News’ Warren Buffett [the original megabillionaire publisher said to be worth a paltry $76.9 billion].

The three have asked Congress to intervene in support of an anti-trust action to back them against another duo of media moghuls, the billionaires Sergey Brin [$45.6 billion] and Larry Page [46.8 billion], the owners of Google.

The whole idea of a Congressional intervention is not only ridiculous but obviously unconstitutional: setting terms of any relationship between government and the media is a violation of the first amendment to the Constitution which says explicitly: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” That has to include subsidies although perhaps at least temporarily beneficial to the media.[We’re not sure the U.S. Post Office subsidies for second and third class mail, although hoary parts of the current journalistic scene, don’t come under that purview.]

Google, of course, is a runner-up in a struggle with its old soulmate Amazon, both going after the broadest markets possible in their drive to eliminate the traditional retail outlet. The internet has allowed traditional retailers to connect with potential customers and express their brand in entirely new ways, and physical stores have become a part of their communication and sales strategy instead of being their only or primary way to reach consumers. Whether that isn’t a rocky relationship doomed to be eventually shaken loose remains to be seen with the retailer disappearing under the weight of his greater overhead.

The question is, of course, what is going to happen to the old newspaper establishments, so long a part of the financial as well as the cultural world. Many, if not most of that will continue to have a high value. But the days when a newspaper — even the voice of official Washington, The New York Times — set the contours of the public debate are rapidly disappearing. That isn’t helped, of course, by the current war of MainStreamMedia and their very personal antagonism toward Donald Trump. Having failed to recognize that Trump was a serious candidate, they have not accommodated themselves to the fact he is after all not only the President but one who is given to unpredictable and crucial decision-making. [He says not tipping your hand on upcoming decisions is an important part of any successful strategy.]

Trump has used the viciousness of the MSM attitude toward him and played it like a violin. If you give him the benefit of the doubt, you can say he has used this contretemps as a way of drawing attention away from his own more difficult agenda in solving the more important issues of government, although how far this strategy has worked if debatable and will be until we are further along in a very rough and tumble presidency.

Sws-07-18-17

One-state solution


The Israel-Palestine two-state “solution” is melting away.

For a half century negotiating a relationship between the Jews of Israel and the
Moslem and Christian Arabs of Palestine has been a major diplomatic preoccupation.

But without ever finding the formula, reality is wiping away the concept of creating two states in the old British League of Nationals Mandated Palestine.

The fundamental reason is clear: An Arab Palestine is no match for Israeli Jews’
dynamic economy and society which is making it — despite its size [8.5 million] — a world power.

The question posed, of course, is what kind of one-state solution will evolve from
fast moving events.

There had to be a two-state solution, it was argued, for otherwise a Jewish Israel
would be swamped by an Arab majority. Israel could not be, it was argued, a democratic and Jewish state if it had to live with a majority of Arabs. Israel’s Declaration of Independence after all had called for a Jewish state with equality of social and political rights, irrespective of religion, race, or sex.

And, indeed, Arab citizens of Israel have been elected to every Knesset, and
currently hold 17 of its 120 seats.

But Israel’s overwhelming victory against the Arab forces in the 1967 Six Day
War added the contiguous occupied areas of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights. A 2013 estimate counted 6.2 million Jews and others in Israel, 1.7 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank [and East Jerusalem].. There were 1.6 million Israeli Arabs [not including Druze who have largely chosen Israeli citizenship.]. Thus there were 5.8 million Arabs and 6.2 million Jews between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.

Higher birthrates [including plural marriage] among the Arab Bedouin [momads] increasingly redress this balance it was believed with a majority of Arabs.

The current population distribution already demonstrates that potential problem.

Yousef Munayyer, an Israeli Arab citizen argues the 1.5 million Israel Arabs
are second-class citizens while four million more are not citizens at all. Although
Palestinians make up about 20 percent of Israel’s population, he argues they are allocated less than 7 percent of the budget He recalls that a Jew from any country can move to Israel under“The Right of Return Law” but a Palestinian refugee, with a valid claim to property in Israel, cannot.

It is clear that Israel will have to produce new formulas for living as a democratic
state [that is one with electoral processes] and a Jewish state [with special privileges for its Jewish citizens].

Some problems may be less difficult than at first glance with a blurring of
formulas. For example. Israel as “a Jewish state” may not be a greater problem than England, the epitome of democracy, with an established state religion.

There are some indications that as Arabs move to higher economic status,
especially the Israeli Arabs, they have fewer children, thus reducing the future disparity. And earlier “catastrophic” demographic predictions; for example, in the 1960s, predictions suggested that Arabs would be the majority in 1990, have been way off. That study also demonstrated that Christian Arab and Druze birth rates were actually below those of Jewish birth rates in Israel.

But the phrase “demographic bomb”, famously used by Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu in 2003 when he noted that if the percentage of Arab citizens rises above its current level of about 20 percent Israel will not be able to maintain a Jewish demographic majority, is still appropriate.

A new Israel is again emerging without illusions about its demographic problems
– and that does not include another state carved out of the current complex.

Sws-07-24-17

The end of World War II


In a sense, the current Hamburg meeting of the world’s most important economic powers represents the end of the more than six decades of the Post-World War II Era.

In 1945, the second civil war among the European powers ended with the almost total devastation of Europe. Although the U.S., as a late arrival on the scene, suffered almost a half million deaths, its homeland remained isolated from the conflict.

Furthermore, the war effort had left behind an enormously new powerful industrial and managerial revolution.

It therefore seemed logical enough that not only would the U.S. participate in the rebuilding of Europe, but that it would assume a greater proportionate share of the burden.

That arrangement, in which the U.S. “inevitably” assumed a larger per capita role in any international undertaking has continued as the norm. That is despite the fact that the rebuilding of Europe with American production enhanced its already overwhelmingly leading worldwide economic role.

The Europeans – to a greater or lesser degree, notably Germany most of all, ironically one of the originators of the war and the major enemy.– profited from this assigned disproportional contribution. It became part and parcel of an international strategy of the American political Liberal Establishment – which profited from being its administrators, aided by the more conservative/corporatist business community which gained directly from its activity.

But left behind was the debris of the policy; not least was the growing erosion of the U.S.infrastructure which had not kept up nor pushed forward with the maximum new technology.. Also there was the burden – with whatever incidental profit to the economy and it was considerable – of a military defense force against the new threat to Western Europe of Soviet Communism and its international appurtenances.

The losers in this macroeconomic arrangement were the American constituency of lower middle income families and especially those which saw their more menial industrial jobs move abroad to lower wage countries. Their rebellion against their disadvantaged situation suddenly, unperceived initially by the political and bureaucratic establishments, brought the election of Donald K. Trump to the presidency. Trump, of course, was neither a rebel nor an innovator, but ipso facto he began to speak for what he himself labeled “the forgotten Americans”.

It was inevitable, perhaps, that this new domestic American scene was to be reflected on the international tableau. Rather suddenly it was recognized that there was nothing sacred about the rule of thumb which had assigned the U.S. a larger than proportionate cost in any international economic undertaking. The most dramatic, of course, was the American military expenditures [$600 billion in 2017] which maintained armed forces far larger than all the others in the world in order to defend a European constituency which as individuals for the most part did not bear its share of the load.

The expression of this new call for the U.S. 350 million gross national product, almost one quarter of the world’s total, is now being put forward by the Trump Administration in such international fora as the G20. To a world – and even part of the American public – that does not recognize the change of mood and its U.S. policy and strategic implications, it is seen in the Establishment circles – including the Mainsteam Media – as a reversal of all the chosen criteria for U.S. policy, and to an extent it is just that.

But the world – and the American Establishment – is going to have to live with a new U.S. strategy which claims “what is mine is mine”, not what is mine could be partly yours. The political manifestations could turn ugly.
Sws-07-06-17

One president at a time


Former Pres. Barack Hussein Obama refuses to leave the stage.

He is defying the tradition of former presidents who too a senior statesman role with philanthropic, scholarly and other non-political activities. True, he has a different problem with a decimated Democratic Party bereft of leadership.But stationing himself in Washington, with a $8.1 million house, despite the fact he has no roots in the District, was generally seen as an expression of his continued search for political leadership.

He also has violated the tradition of former presidents of taking only a ceremonial role in visits overseas. When Pres. Donald K. Trump was making his first visit to Europe, for a controversial NATO summit, Obama turned up simultaneously to court German Chancellor Angela Merkel. It’s true, of course, again, that Obama was recalling his pre-presidency May 2017 Brandenburg Gate speech before a wildly enthusiastic 70,000 Europeans. He got a premature Nobel Prize for Peace for that performance. But his activities made Trumps’ simultaneous diplomatic efforts more difficult. The sitting president, of course, had taken up the cudgels for NATO members to pay up and Washington is facing difficult trade issues with Merkel, who is playing domestic politics as she approaches an election with lagging support.

Obama “…push [es] back against those trends that would violate human rights or suppress democracy or restrict individual freedoms” and to “fight against those who divide us”. These charges are widely interpreted as being aimed at Trump.
There has been, of course, a tradition that former American officials do not criticize Washington policy from overseas venues. Longer lifespans have proliferated the number of former chief executives increasing the importance of the issue with so many ex-presidents around.

In early June, speaking to the Montreal Chamber of Commerce, Obama called on people, in the face of uncertainty, to stand by some of the very post-World War II economic and political institutions. These are postwar positions Trump has repeatedly called into question.

“In periods like this, people looking for control and certainty — it’s inevitable,” Obama told the Canadians. “But it is important to remember that the world has gone through similar moments. … Our history also shows there is a better way.”
He said people should overcome fear and not listen to those who “call for isolation or nationalism” and those who “suggest rolling back the rights of others.”

The fact is that although Obama is touted as “the first black president”, he neither comes from the Urban Ghetto nor the rising black professional class but a multicultural environment in Hawaii with time out as a student in Indonesia. On June 30 in Jakarta, Obama, greeted by a crowd of thousands of leaders, students and business people, where he opened the Fourth Congress of Indonesian Diaspora, struck out against Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement on climate change. “In Paris, we came together around the most ambitious agreement in history about climate change, an agreement that even with the temporary absence of American leadership, can still give our children a fighting chance.”

At a time when the Trump Administration is facing difficulties in its own Republican Party and with the President’s unpredictable – he says it is a strategic tactic – approach to issues, Obama is becoming a center of anti-Trump activism.With his own fanatical following within the left, Obama may continue to pursue his own set of domestic and foreign policies in public debate with Trump. But it is neither appropriate nor helpful to defy the traditional American withdrawal of former executives after they have had their “innings”.
It’s time for Obama to make a dignified exit to the traditional role of elder statesman.
Sws-07-01-17

The Syrian crisis deepens


With growing civilian casualties and some nine million refugees, Syria’s civil war has taken a turn for worse.

Direct participation of both the U.S. and Israel now appears to have become inevitable. That adds a new dimension to what too often has been seen as a parallel to the Spanish Civil War [1936-39]. That war, with Mussolini and Hitler aiding the Nationalist/Fascist revolt with weapons and advisers while the Allied powers remained neutral, has often been seen as the prelude to World War II.

In a recent defense engagement the U.S. brought down one of Syrian Dictator Bashar al-Assad’s fighters, its first direct intervention in the war where it has maintained a defensive shield protecting U.S. interests. But it has carefully avoided conflict with either Russia or Iran, allies both on the ground supporters of the al Basher regime. Israel, a contiguous neighbor, has tried to remain neutral. But it recently returned artillery fire across its northern Golan Heights border when bombardments inside Syria from ISIS strayed albeit with no casualties. But both ISIS and Hizbollah, Moslem terrorists operating as part of the rebellion against the al Assad regime, but are also Jerusalem’s opponents.

With this threat of direct U.S. and Israeli intervention, Syria now becomes a critical test for Pres. Donald Trump’s foreign policy. A threat to intervene directly if al Assad or the Soviet and Iranian forces allied with him use chemical weapons, in effect against unarmed populations, would be a major test of Trump’s overall policy of nonintervention. That includes, of course,Washington’s close alliance with Israel. Trump had made such nonintervention basic to his new foreign policy following “America First” goals.

Chemical warfare in Syria would put into question three very different but important aspects of U.S. policy:

1] Chemical warfare in the increasingly chaotic conflict would lead to a massive increase in noncombatant victims. The Syrian fighting, much of it for control of strategic urban areas, has taken heavy casualties among women and children as well as the combatants. The fighting often involves unrestrictive bombing by Soviet aircraft supporting the regime. These civilian casualties have become an increasing concern for American public opinion as well as official government policy.

2] although Trump has recently endorsed the strategy of keeping his policy options secret in oder to use ambiguity as a strategic tactic, the fact is the rest of the world sees opposition to the spread of chemical weapons as a basic American policy in Syria. It is assumed that their use would bring direct U.S. intervention as was threatened but ultimately rejected by a more reluctant Obama Administration.

3] Chemical warfare was initiated in World War I with an arms development race among the warring parties. By the end of the war, scientists working for both sides had tested some 3,000 different chemicals for use as possible weapons. Some 50 of these poisons were actually tried out on the battlefield including a widespread use of chlorine for which there were continuing postwar casualties for U.S. military., But the horror and fear of the weapons’ use – even though responsible for less than 1% of WWI’s fatalities and about 7% of its casualties – led to repeated and relative success in banning them in various international treaties and wars leading up to WWII. Nor were they used in WWII.Were chemical weapons to become pervasive in Syria now it would be not only be a serious new development in the war there, but would break the general taboo that has held them in check since 1915 as a weapon of even in all-out war.

sws-06-28-17

Living with Putin


July 5, 2017

Marcus Wolf, “the man without a face”, infamous East German intelligence operative who once put a Communist spy into West German Chancellor Willy Brandt’s bed, has commented pithily on Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Wolf doubts Putin lived in Dresden for 15 years as liaison between the Soviet KGB and the Communist East German spies. He said that Putin couldn’t have been important if he, Wolf, as the East Berlin regime’s external security apparatus boss, had not known him. On the other hand, Wolf admitted an accomplishment of a good spy is to make those around him think he is a mediocrity – and Putin certainly accomplished that. That’s been the assumption for why the former Moscow leader and strongman Boris Yeltsin chose him as a successor.

Those observations help explain the difficulty American leadership has dealing with Putin as head of the Russian state. His ambitions are clear: Putin wants to restore Russia to its former Soviet glory. No Communist, he has nevertheless said that the fall of the Soviet Union was the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century. Whatever odds, Putin dreams of rebuilding a Russia that can compete with the U.S. as a world superpower. That means incorporating eastern and central Europe, even when he risks retribution from the West.

On the other hand, in an increasingly complex world of alliances, Washington looks to Putin to help fight Islamic terrorism, an equally great threat to American security. He has lent his air force to Syria’s Basher al Assad to defend that tyrant against a rebellion led by Washington’s chief terrorist enemy, ISIS. But Washington and its allies are dedicated to ousting al Assad as a menace to Mideast stability. Furthermore, Putin’s war on Islamic extremists is compromised by European Russia’s collapsing birthrate making Moscow increasing dependent on Moslem military recruits from the Russian Federation’s Central Asian republics.

Putin’s survives near bankruptcy with oil and gas exports mostly to Western Europe and Japan. But the high energy prices of yesteryear are only a memory. U.S. technology has found unanticipated huge new reserves in shale deposits at home and around the world. [When Saudi Arabia tried to undercut American pricing with its own vast oil reserves, U.S. oilmen upped their productivity with a technological ante.] There’s a pretty good chance that the U.S. will again take up its prewar and early post-WWII role as a net energy exporter.

Putin’s pretensions to superpower status, however, do have a basis. Although its conventional military badly eroded when the Communists imploded in 1990, Moscow has an arsenal of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. Putin rattles these from time to time. He reminds Washington that while it can generally round up an anti-Putin Western coalition – at least when it is not trying “to lead from behind” as in the Obama years – he still can harness and lead anti-Americanism.

Furthermore, Putin’s Russia is not the old Communists’ continuing failure to create an autarchical economy – independent of the rest of the world. The dollars that roll in for energy and cannot be absorbed because of Russia’s primitive investment climate almost as quickly roll out to Western Europe and the U.S. It‘s this access to Moscow energy profits that tempts Westerners to play games with individual Russians – often closely associated with Putin’s coterie.

Reports of clumsy Russian efforts to hack and otherwise influence American elections are as much as anything else part of this international chase for profits from its energy exports. It’s this Putin and his clique that challenges American policymakers trying to maintain world peace and stability. It also explains the contradictory reporting and welter of often unsubstantiated gossip that surrounds the contacts between Russian and Washington players.

Untangling U.S. foreign policy


American geopoliticians in the 100 years the U.S. was coming of age as the superpower had the “luxury” of facing a relatively monolithic enemy. From the early 30s, it was fascism dominated by Mussolini and then Hitler until his downfall at the conclusion of World War II. Stalin and his worldwide Communist apparatus moved into that role in the immediate postwar period.

It was only with the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1990 that Washington planners faced what had been the more normal historical array of a number of powerful national and imperial entities vying for power. Turning their hand to this complex has confronted American policymakers – however the disproportionate size and power of their country – with new and perplexing conflicting interests.

Nowhere is that problem more apparent than with Washington’s relations with the Russians. The muddled argument now taking place in the public arena is only the most obvious expression of this.

Vladimir Putin’s success at accumulating near-dictatorial powers, his potential to employ the former Soviet Union’s reservoir of weapons of mass destruction including hydrogen bombs, give him heft that has to be considered beyond the crippled power and condition of his country.

Especially is that true because he has sought to wield it against his neighbors and former Soviet appendages Georgia and Ukraine, threatening Poland and the Baltic states.The U.S. and its European allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization could not ignore what was again a threat to peace by an aggressive neighbor, seeking as Putin has, the reconstruction of the foreign Russian Empire/Soviet Union.

If Putin does not aim at the superpower status of the former Soviet Union – although not nominally a Communist, he said “the breakup of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century” – he had the power to disrupt the peace and stability of the post-Soviet world.

Washington does not find it easy to deal with Putin’s Russia which in some parts of the world over which the U.S. still has the obligations of the principal, and at times, only, peacekeeper. It must oppose and lead an alliance against Moscow in Putin’s efforts to move back to the Communist/Imperial western borders. But in the critical Syrian civil war – with its growing foreign participation – Washington seeks to oust the Basher Al Assad government which Moscow supports although both find a common enemy in the ISIS Moslem terrorists who are the chief opponent of the Basher regime.

This leads to tactical contradictions such as U.S. bombing of Russian forces supporting the Damascus government, Washington’s chief enemy in the region and perhaps now the world.

In Western Europe, Washington’s half-century of backing the economic and political integration of the continent as a solution to its centuries of internecine warfare – which twice within the century have drawn in the U.S. – is collapsing. The withdrawal of Britain and its attempt now to boost its commercial and political relations with the U.S. and the English-speaking former Dominions, resurrects the old dilemma – what to do about a Germany that overwhelms its traditional enemy France, flirts with the Russians, and is dismayed by its own power.

In Asia, the U.S. has the prospect of an increasingly powerful and aggressive China which threatens to dominate both Japan and manipulates the two Koreans, menacing the most important sea lane in the world through Southeast Asia. A short-term U.S.commercial policy toward China that has been a net transfer of resources through below-cost pricing is now reaching its climax, but having destroyed much of the American manufacturing base on which the new digital revolution must build a completely new concept of production.

Washington is faced with the prospect of increasing its expensive buildup in East Asia or encouraging Japan and South Korea to adopt nuclear weapons in their defense.

The Trump Administration – a rogue if powerful political force built on the resentment of a large part of the population outside the three elitist urban centers – may be blessed with a certain naïve vitality. But it has only a short time for it and its successors to create a new U.S. approach to world diplomacy.

sws-04-04-17

 

 

 

 

Taking responsibility


We may never get to the end of the Susan Rice story.

History tells us that Rice rattled off a false tale on several networks after the attack and death of Four Americans – including the ambassador to Libya — in the Benghazi. Her detailed lie was that the deaths were the result of a semi-spontaneous anti-American demonstration occasioned by broadcasts from the then pro- Muslim Brotherhood broadcasts from radio Cairo that had spread throughout the Arab and Moslem world.

The truth was, of course, that the Libyan jihadists had plotted to kill Americans for some time, that the local U.S. diplomatic corps had been pleading unsuccessfully for weeks for additional defenses against what it knew were plots against them. Although Rice’s performance was almost immediately exposed, she suffered no particular consequences and continued as a high national security official.
The Rice story has barged into the headlines again with the revelation that she “unmasked” American citizens who, presumably, were only incidentally recorded in secret U.S. intelligence agencies’ search of communications for important leads. Theoretically such persons were protected unless specific requests were made for their identity by Administration officials, presumably because they would lead to further insights on the principal target of the surveillance.

When word eked out that Rice had been responsible for “unmasking” some of these names, she initially denied the role. But, again, she has backtracked and admitted that it was she who unasked some of these conversational participants. Why? is not yet to be explained since theoretically she was only a recipient of intelligence as she served as the 24th United States National Security Advisor from 2013 to 2017. It was in this role as a consumer of intelligence that she had access to the surveillance but theoretically had no authority except in unusual circumstances to direct its contents, a role for the several American intelligence agencies who produced the material for the president’s office to examine.

What is still at issue is whether having “unmasked” various U.S. persons who fell into the hands of the surveillance teams, she passed this material on to others in the Obama Administration, perhaps to be used against the Republican candidate in the run up to the presidential election last fall. Rice says she did no such thing, but given her record of stretching the truth, there is considerable speculation that is precisely what she did do.

It is here that we begin to enter the territory of does the punishment fit the crime?

Much too often recently, in “the swamp” in Washington that Donald Trump says he was elected to drain, there has been no penalty for either skirting the outer reaches of the law or, indeed, breaking it.

Instead, American public and private life has fallen into the speech formula of “taking responsibility” for the infraction. That epithet has moral and propaganda implications but it does not actually penalize the miscreant. In most cases, he [or she] either does not pay the price in dollars and cents for his failure to conform to the law nor does he surrender privileges and prestige that surround the position that has been violated. The most notorious example, of course, is Hillary Clinton’s use of her private e-mail [for whatever reason] to move official documents, which among other things increased their exposure to foreign espionage.

In both these instances of outright violation of the law, Hillary Clinton has announced that she “takes responsibility” for these missteps. But she has paid no other price.

This new version of the formula “I take responsibility” but requires no actual pain or suffering — either in prestige or in wealth – has eroded the whole concept of right and wrong in public life. It may be too late to fill the widening gap. But an effort ought to be done to take up this responsibility.

Sws-04-06-17

The Obama Legacy


Historians will debate the importance of the Obama Administration and its role in American history for decades to come, of course. The legacy which presidents leave behind them is always a concern of our chief executives, and it has been of even more importance to Barack Obama. As he marked a milestone in his tour of duty. leaving on a foreign tour, with a successor he opposed now chosen, he publicly drew his own optimistic record. He carefully picked, of course, in a press conference, what he considered the best interpretation of events over the last eight years. But at least for the time being, when his policies and their repercussions are still relatively fresh, it is hard to draw a balance sheet which is less than disastrous.
Obama, of course, perhaps more than any other recent president, is an ideologue – and he insisted in his political campaigns that he aimed at a “transformation” of American society. His framework for events is a combination of his studies of history but overlaid by the socialist and pro-Communist views of the little social-political group around the University of Chicago who launched his career.
There is no doubt that he has effected changes, whether they are indeed transformations, and whether any have been beneficiary, only time will tell.
But any honest examination of the effects of his strategies is a record of miscalculation and failures. Perhaps the most dramatic ones have been in foreign policy. His campaign to withdraw American power and decision-making from the international scene has demonstrated what had always been apparent to serious students of foreign affairs: the enormous power of the U.S., economic, political and military, has a role in any international confrontation even when Washington chooses to remain neutral or withdraw its influence. A world order without U.S. participation is not only unimaginable to our allies but something our adversaries always question as a possibility.
The Middle East is the most dramatic example of the failure of Obama’s effort to remove American leadership and power in the interelated conflicts there. First, his effort to weaken the U.S.-Israel alliance encouraged the Moslem terrorists in the area. Then, Sec. Hillary Clinton’s courted the brief Moslem Brotherhood regime in Egypt – overthrown by the military through popular demand. Obama and Hillary attempted to boycott the new military rulers thus providing an opportunity for Russian arms sales and influence where it had been expelled a half century ago by pro-Western Egtptians. In Syria, Obama’s initial declaration of opposition to the Basher al Assad regime was followed by withdrawal. Washington’s retreat assured the descent into a bloody, irresolute civil war sending a flood of millions of refugees into neighboring countries and Europe. The threat of force followed by its withdrawal has returned Moscow to a base in the eastern Mediterranean and helped extend Tehran mullahs’ state terrorisn excesses across the Fertile Crescent, even into Latin America. A treaty to curb Tehran’s nuclear weapons, never submitted to the Senate as the Constitution fdemands, is rapidly disintegrating
In East and South Asia, Obama’s ambivalent policies toward Chinese aggression have encouraged Beijing to aggressive territorial claims against its neighbors, discouraged unity among the Southeast Asians against Chinese Communist threats. Again Hillary’s much publicized pivot to the Western Pacific has failed to materialize. Slowly, the rape of the American economy by the Chinese through export subsides and currency manipulation – begun in the Bush Administrations — has become so clear that the Trump Administration qill have no option but a dangerous crackdown.
Obama’s role as the first American Afro-American president was, whether admitted in public discussion, seen as an important opportunity to continue to heal the historic American race problem. But whether in part because his own exotic background linked him neither to the rising black middle class nor the poor of the ghetto, he either took nondefensible positions on individual race incidents or neglected completely the mayhem of his own Chicago hometown. One has to assume that the American black leadership can only see these past eight years as a failure by a president, whatever his color, to contribute to solution of the race problem which appears to most observers to be in an even worse condition than at his entry into office.
Obama’s claim for his Affordable Care solution to long-term U.S. medical care is nearing collapse with skyrocketing costs and failure of the insurance framework which was to support it. His steady stream of executive directives for additional regulation and environmental restraints has contributed toward the slowest and most erratic economic recovery since World War II.
Despite his rhetorical skills and personal popularity as the first black president, Obama’s legacy will be a negative one. As the anti-Obama vote for Donald Trump has demonstrated, it will also cast a shadow on many of the techniques and political forms his very talented political team gave the nation.
sws-11-14-16

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The decision laying on the table


In the last critical hours before the American people decide their new leadership, the hyperbole will mount into near hysteria. Much, if not most, of what is said is either irrelevant or grossly inaccurate. Even the descriptive monologues of The Talking Heads are either exaggerated or dead wrong.
No, it is not certain this is the most important election in history, even recent history. That would have to left to historians with a more dispassionate view decades if not centuries from now.
No, it is not the most dramatic or controversial presidential election ever. Greybeards will remember when a dashing, young, handsome utilities executive organized the balconies at Philidelphia in 1940 to wrestle away the convention from the floor and domination of the historic Taft family of Cincinnati. [In many ways he set the style for the Kennedy brothers a generation or so later.]
No, not the most drama ever? going to work an early November 1948 morning on an overnight shift through an empty Time Square bereft of its NYC Democrats only to find a few minutes later that Harry S Truman had won a victory that surprised almost everyone included the professional politicians.
American presidential campaigns have always been as much show and tell as serious electoral proceedings. The parties were one of the few major governing features the Founding Fathers did not envisage. But even the otherise untouchable George Washington complained to his Thomas Jefferson follower, soon to be president himself, that Democratic-Republican critics were out of hand in their fight against they saw as the royalist Federalists around the first president.
None of this is to minimize the importance of the decision coming in next week’s voting booths. [Early voters by mail or whatever as a new innovation not to be discounted]. The voters are being given a choice of two candidates who may represent more differences than usual. They are not reflected in the policy arguments – which have been few and far between. Hillary Clinton, despite her enormous reliance on the Baracl Obama Presidency’s support, would likely drift quickly away from many of his policies, the disastrous Obamacare and the American overseas withdrawal where she is quietly much more hawkish.
But it is the tone that sets the two contenders apart, not their differences on policies. One has to take Donald Trump’s more flamboyant throw-away proposals with more than a dash of salt. Yes, Washington and the American people have tired of bearing what they consider an overload for the maintenance of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. But the argument, like all policy conundrums, is complex: is the solution in an expansion of European forces in thegface of new Russian aggression in Georgia, Crimea, Ukraine. There are the complicated payments for resident American forces [which in any event would have to be maintained if in North America]. It’s an old and complicated argument, as old as the Treaty itself. But as the most successful alliance in history, NATO won”t be abandoned overnight whatever Trump’s throwaway suggestion.
But what Trump is adding to the political mix is a sense of the amateur, the non-professional political – one he rides to success on and cherishes. He may know, as he claims and which seems likely, that as a successful big businessman he has more than the novice’s share of understanding of how the system operates. That makes him, he claims in an interesting argument, the one to best tackle and reform it.
But what really sets this election apart – if, indeed, it is that unique – is that that the amateurism which Trump represents and the knowledgeable if tarnished professionalism of Hillary introduce a new and basic “feel” to the contest. There’s little doubt that Trump has reversed the traditional party roles, the mystic that the Democrats since at least Franklin Roosevelt’s time that they represented the little people and their Grand Old Party opponents were the creatures of Wall Street. We may never see those speeches Hillary gave at enormous fees for the corporations [nor Bill gold auxiliary speaking tours from the Clinton Foundation] but her ties to big capital are now well known.
The big policy questions may indeed be how much Trump could and would change major trends in the U.S. economy with his “amateurism”. Some of his [and Hilary’s] economic promises are downright foolish. Neither can nor would “return” the “jobs” they are promising. Washington’s actual contribution to the economy – even with such expensive outlays as FDR’s and Obama’s – has minimal effect. In fact, what business craves at the moment is the withdrawal of Washington’s bear hug. Meeting the demand for jobs against a tsunami of technology which is routinely eliminating them would be an enormous feat; America’s economy even traveling at its current slow rate demonstrates that new phenomenon.
So what’s at stake in a few hours is not thoughtful contradiction of ideas but the contest between a rank if talented amateur and a gifted is tarnished politico.
sws-11-04-16

Mr. Kerry in Wonderland


There is a disputed old argument that extensive air travel causes pgysical injury and distorts cognitive thinking. [Stewardesses did remark that during the changeover in mid-20th century from internal combustion and jet-prop engines interrupted their menstrual cycle.]
Perhaps that is the explanationof a recent responses by Secretary of State John Kerry to a group of University of Chicago political science students. Kerry, like his predecessor Sec. Jillary Clinton, is in constant motion, most of it to foreign parts.
Kerry was presenting his case for the success of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy.
Syria, he said, had actually proved that Pres. Obama’s famous red line had been drawn and was a success. He said it had ushered in a program of the export of chemical weapons of the Assad regime. The fact is, of course, that statement would depend on your definition of chemicals since it is certain Assad and his Russian and Iranian and Hezbollah allies continue to use tear gas in abundance. Nor can the Russian delibe air attacks on civilian air targets including medical facilities – nothing as barbaric seen since the 1930s—be ignored.
Obama’s “deal” with Iran to postpone their introduction of nuclear weapons, however, effective it may be, is another of Kerry’s victories. Again he ignores that within weeks Tehran had boasted of developments in intercontinental ballistics missiles tests – their only utility, of course, would be to transport weapons of mass destruction including nuclear. Nor is their any elucidation if the accusation, quietly confirmed by Washington, that billions in payments to Iran at the same time as the release of American citizens would go to fund the world’s number one state terroruist campaign.
Kerry skirts completely the March 2009 highly staged gift of a badge marked “reset” in English and Russian to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in n March 2009 U.S. The red button Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had the English word “reset”. But the Cyrillic transliteration was “peregruzka”, Russian for “overload”, perhaps a significant mistake!What the Obama Administration believed was to be the beginning of a new cooperative era turned into Vladimir Putin’s seizure of Crimea, his sponsorship of of the Russian-speaking minority toward the destruction of Ukraine, and hints at similar operations in the Baltic states. That was after Hillary Clinton’s State Department approved the transfer of 20% of America’s uranium holdings to Russia [while nine investors in the deal funneled $145 million to the Clinton Foundation]. This was supposed to be another clever maneuver to halt Moscow’s expanding its own production of uranium as a fuel for nuclear weapons.
Kerry claimed the U.S. had preserved freedom of the seas by what must be described by others as a tepid response to China’s claims in the South China Sea. Beijing, despite a fimr denunciation of its sovereignty claims by the Permanent Coiu of Arbigration in the Hague, has moved now from an unsubstantiated claim to negotiations with Washington on how its claims are to be compromised.
Perhaps most egregious of Kerry’s maneuvers has been his courtship of the Vietnamese Communist regime. Ignoring its persecution of Cthe religious and other political prisoners, the argument that a stronger Vietnam in tacit alliance with the U.S. against China’s encroachments in Southeast Asia might be sustained. But the elaborate courtship of the chairman of Hanoi’s Communist Party rather than its government figures reminds us of Kerry’s past. He was, after all, a flamboyant supporter of the cutoff of military aid to a South Vietnam army which had performed well after the American withdrawal. He and his friends assured us there would be no human castrophe. Tell that to the families of a million South Vietnamese who went into fetid political pisons, tens of thousands never to exit, the thousands who lost their lives trying to flee by sea from the new regime and the murder of prominent anti-Communist leaders without trial.
The Mad Hatter told Alice that the truthfulness of his statements was of his own choosing. Kerry obviously has taken that advice.
sws-10-28-16

Swapping myths


Enduring American political parties have always been coalitions. The country is too big and populous, with too many strong regional and other economic demands to meet the models of European-style ideological political configurations. In reality, the coalitions have often included absolutely contradictory forces making the fight for leadership of the parties in conventions and primaries more issue-oriented than the final election itself. We have seen that this year when the Republican primary candidates discussed every issue on the political battlefield but the general election is going to be purelu a contest of personalities, the cool, even cold, professional Clinton against the amateurish showman but attractive Trump..
These coalition-parties often have built myths about who constitutes the party machines and who votes for them.
The Democrats had been consistently as the party of “the people” – big city Irish-American machines, strong personalities with highly personal followings, not the least Franklin Delano Roosevelt for almost half a century, and Southern bosses with their solid, segregationist following. Then there was trade union support, and demagogic oratory backing up their claims which overwhelmingly depended on government legislation and intervention. The Republicans, on the other hand, were characterized as aristocratic with their “permanent” New to a New England constituency, their supposed strong links to Wall Street and the innocent rubes in the fly-over rural hinterland.
We may well be in one of those rare periods when even the myths are changing. One of the things Donald Trump is doing –- assuming he comes in a strong vote-getter if not the winner in November – is remoulding these traditional parties’ mystiques. In fact, he appears to be swapping them, one for the other almost intact.
His hard-core base of supporters are the proverbial “little people” who have lost their jobs to technology in the digital revolution or to overseas low-wage competitors, a large following that feel they haven’t got a fair shake from the system. In reality, Hillary Clinton’s Democrats have long since had uncelebrated stronger ties to the new Wall Street of the MBAs and widening international markets than the GOP. The South – look at the current loud battle for North Carolina – is not only less than solid Democrat but with strong Republican leanings since Richard Nixon’s days. Trade unions [except for the powerful traditionally conservative Teamsters] may still be Democrats but their numbers have melted except as government workers tied to the party in power.
Trump’s stream-of-consciousness oratory now often sounds like the old Democrat swan song. Democrat Hillary’s ties to the corporate world, particularly Wall St., were no more better demonstrated than tens of millions of dollars collected by her from the still to be revealed speeches to financial entities in the primary run-up to the general election campaign.
The old myths may hang on for a while in some benighted and less political circles. But what Trump is in the process of doing, if nothing else, is creating a new set of myths about the two great political coalitions – and, in fact, up to a point, simply swapping them as we go into a new political era.
sws-10-18-16

Mexico plays US politics


Pres. Enrique Peña Nieto’s invitation to the two U.S. candidates for president is one more instance of the growing role of Mexico in domestic American politics.
There was a time, now long ago politically, when Mexican politicians preferred to ignore what they considered an embarrassment of the Mexican American population in the U.S. and the massive flow of migrants from Below the Border. In more recent times, Mexican politicians have seen the growing size and activism in the Mxican American population as one of their negotiating weapons in the increasingly complex relationship with the U.S.
That relationship is one of the most intense of any neighbors in the world with U.S. goods and services trade with Mexico totaling an estimated $583.6 billion in 2015. Exports were $267.2 billion; imports $316.4 billion, with a goods and services trade deficit with Mexico almost $50 billion in 2015.
To some extent this business – the third largest foreign destination and source of American trade – is underpinned by the huge American Mexican American population. It is now estimated at 33 million or a tenth of the U. S. population, a third of whom were born in Mexico.
With its own population tripling in a half century to some 135 million by 2012, Mexico’s long-time monopoly ruling party, the Party of the Institutionalized Revolution [PRI], always had seen immigration to the U.S. as its steam escape valve. Still a largely subsistence agriculture economy with crippling leftwing ideological modifications introduced in the 1930s, Mexico could not provide jobs and livelihood for its population. The PRI did everything it could to push migrants over the border, all the while ignoring their existence in the U.S., but welcoming their remittances to relatives who hadn’t made the journey. [Trump has said he would block the largest remittance channel in the world, more than $23 billion annually. But like so many of Trumps’ proposals, it’s not clear how he could do that and if he could, how to avoid serious consequences to both economies.].
In more recent decades, Mexico has not only begun to try to acknowledger the large Mexican presence in the U.S. but its government – including a short ill-fated opposition interregnum by the Catholic-oriented and northern states based National Action Paty [PAN] has tried to exploit it. Mexican politicians have seen the possibility of its using the growing Mexican American political influence as a weapon in bilateral national negotiations.
Peña Nieto’s invitation to the two candidates to come to Mexico to discuss bilateral issues was a daring maneuver in this new game of growing interrelations. The invitation came despite what some would interpret as Trump’s hostile attitude toward Mexican emigration, including the illegals crossing a very leaky U.S. southern border.
Mexico’s population control policies, and the inevitable fall in birthrate with rising living standards, has somewhat reduced the pressure to push more Mexicans across the border. But even though the birthrate has been cut by two thirds in recent decades, at 1% in a population half of whom was under 25 in 2010, there are surplus workers even which a growing industrialization and modernized corporate agricultural sector [with exports to the U.S.] cannot absorb.
Donald Trump’s immediate acceptance of Peña Nieto’s invitation, despite what some in Mexico and the U.S. might have characterized as his antagonistic statements, was characteristic. He obviously saw it as another opportunity, whatever the outcome of his disussions with the Mexican president, as another of his successful media exploitations. And Hillary Clinton’s delayed response was equally characteristic of her inability to meet Trump’ unpredictable hursts – perhaps an omen for the what most observers believe will be the crucial candidate debates.
Trump has promised to slap restrictions on multinational companies’ exports from migrating U.S. manufacturing which moves south of the border to exploit lower wage and other operating costs. That would call for a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement [NAFTA], and perhaps negotiation of a new “Bracero” treaty – contract imported agricultural workers – to satisfy the agroindustrial lobby for unrestricted immigration.
Whatever the outcome of Trump;s talks in Mexico City – and they are likely to lead only to publicly announced generalities – he has scored points against Clinton. And at the same time, Peña Nieto will have made his point that Mexican policies [and [politics] can no longer be ignored by American politicians.
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Add to GoodReads
Mexico
Chaos on our Doorstep
Sol Sanders
Paperback
Sol Sanders presents a panorama of Mexico’s problems, gives reasons for the current situation, and explores the possible impact on the United States.
Madison Books
Pages: 232 • Size: 6 x 9
978-0-8191-7296-9 • Paperback • July 1989 • $14.95 • (£9.95)

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sws-08-31-16

Obama’s Syrian legacy


It would be hard to exaggerate the mess in the Middle East that Pres. Barack Obama is leaving his successor.
While the five-year Syrian civil war continues unabated, pitting a number of different armed groups against each other with their foreign sponsors, Washington is caught in its own contradictions. In August American special forces assistance and bombing was given a Turkish incursion into northern Syria even though Ankara’s target was the American Kurdish Syrian ethnic ally most effective in the contest, and Washington’s target the Islamicist rebels now involved in the anti-regime movement.
Ankara fears Syrian Kurdish ethnics are attempting to set up a ministate, perhaps aiming to link up with its own Kurdish armed guerillas it has been fighting for three decades, often with Soviet assistance. The Turks fear America’s autonomous ally, the Syrian Kurds, the Kurdish region in Iraq, and ultimately, Iranian ethnic Kurds may try to form a new secessionist state with their own huge Turkish Kurdish minority.
Meanwhile, Turkey accuses Americans of having been involved in the recent failed coup against an elected Turkish government, one that under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is steadily headed toward an authoritarian Islamicist regime. Erdogan blames Fethullah Gulen. Muslim cleric and politician, once his closest infiltrating the state judicial and security system, for leading the coup and has formally asked for his extradition from the U.S.
Turkish airmen at the NATO-Turkish-U.S. base at Incirlik air base near the Syrian border were accused by Erdogan of implication in the failed coup, and U.S. operations there aimed at the Daesh [ISIS or ISIL Islamic terrorists] were halted temporarily. Not a comforting thought for Washington planners with nuclear weapons deployed there.
Erdogan’s leaky southern border has seen Islamicist support move south from Ankara and hundreds of thousands of migrants — some refugees from violence, others economic immigrants – moving on to Europe. His effort to blackmail German Chancellor Angela Merkel for additional aid and free movement of Turks inside the European Union in exchange for blockin the migrants has collapsed. Germany is hiccupping violently from the more than a million “refugees” it admitted last year with Merkel’s welcome.
Meanwhile, Obama courts Tehran’s mullahs. He signed what many believe was a no enforceable pact to halt Iran’s nuclear weapon, even though within weeks they publicly bragged of their firing of an intercontinental ballistic missile for carrying such a weapon. The American president went through secret contortions to pay $400 million – originally part of earlier arms purchases by the government of Reza Shah Palevi which Washington helped unseat – to free hostages. Billions more apparentlyis on its way.
The mystery is, of course, what Obama [and supporters of his Persian policy] think they are buying: Iran is already the world’s leasing sponsor of state terrorism and has lined up Mediterranean satellites in Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. Both, of course, threaten Israel. One of the troubled aspects between Jerusalem and Ankara, once close military allies, is Turkish support of Hamas, a common enemy now of Egypt and the Israelis.
Obama didn’t create the bitter and explosive Mideast animosities, of course. But he has built on that inheritance, antagonizing America’s tradition Sunni and Israeli allies in the region. In Syria, the crux of the conflict, Turkey is ostensibly an ally of the U.S. is seeking to oust the Damascus regime under Basher al Assad, supported in turn by the Russians as well as the Persians. Moscow, despite its still a crippled relic of Soviet power, is creating naval and air bases in Syria – culpable in mass bombing of civilian populations – aiming at the old Soviet influence.
Whether Obama’s original threat to intervene in Syria, then withdrawn, would have made the difference in controlling the Mideast chaos, is an unanswerable question. But there is no doubt that his policies have helped create the current chaotic situation, increasingly involving the major powers, that could be the beginning of a regional conflict spreading beyond its current confines.
sws-08-30-16

Corporatist America?


We’re not sure what can be done about it, but we regret the decision of the National Labor Relations Board that unionization of graduate students among private sector universities is now legal and a possibility.
The board — mostly Democrats — in a 3-1 decision ruled that there is no clear language in the National Labor Relations Act that would forbid teaching assistants from being classified as employees. The Board ruled that “they perform work at the direction of the university, for which they are compensated,” and therefore have the right to organize unions, the board’s majority said in its decision.
The NLRB has overall jurisdiction over union-organizing elections and referees in private sector workplace disputes. It doesn’t have jurisdiction over the public sector where a small portion of the roughly one million graduate students at public universities have been unionized for decades, generally covered by state law, not federal law. The new ruling came in response to a petition by the United Auto Workers Union’s free-swinging District 50 which has gone far beyond the bounds of its motorcar industry origins to expand unionization.
The petition asking for the new ruling – it reversed an earlier 2004 decision in regards to Brown University — from Columbia graduate students had drawn opposition from schools including Harvard University and Stanford University. The ruling could also cost schools millions of dollars in increased compensation.
But the universities’ administration opposition to the ruling in a joint legal brief, said collective bargaining in graduate programs could disrupt their ability to choose who would teach specific classes. The ruling rejects previous board decisions which argued whether teaching assistants should be seen primarily as students or employees; the majority decision now argued that they can be both.
Students deserve such protection when “they perform work, at the direction of the university, for which they are compensated,” the board ruled. The decision will pose a challenge for some of the nation’s most prestigious universities, who opposed it, warning that a decision in favor of the students could disrupt colleges across the country by injecting collective bargaining into graduate programs and adding an additional expense burden.
Philip A. Miscimarra, the Board’s single dissenter, argued that his colleagues disregarded the enormous expense faced these days by many students to finance higher education. “Congress never intended that the [National Labor Relations Act] and collective bargaining would be the means by which students and their families might attempt to exercise control over such an extraordinary expense.”
It remains to be seen whether the universities will challenge successively the NLRB ruling in the courts for a reversal. Prolonged fights over NLRB nominees slowed down the process by which the board could rule. Other universities are expected to challenge the NLRB decision in court.
Our own objection to the decision goes much further toward what we feel is a far move important insidious current in American life. We see this action as another move toward “corporatism”, toward the representation of conflicting economic and political interests through a corporate entity. We do not call this fascism, of course, although it was the original ideological underpinning of 1930s Fascism in Italy which sought in a world of increasingly complicated industrial and societal relationships to substitute the power of an organized entity [a corporation], whether it be on the left [trade unions] or the right [industrial associations] for negotiating the more intricate personal relations than of an earlier time.
Nowhere in the whole scheme of life is the relationship between the individuals – the teacher and the pupil – more important than between teacher and student. To substitute for that relationship, a collective [corporation] is to our mind the worst sort of deterioration of that very complicated and somewhat mysterious process of teaching, learning and education. Would it not be possible to somehow increase what we acknowledge is the current undercompensation of the graduate student-tutor rather replace his personal relationship with his individual learner?
sws-08-23-16

The Finns choose


Do the Finns know something we don’t?
Reporting out of Helsinki – as deficient as ever with the mainstream media – says the Finns have negotiated what amounts to a military alliance with Washington. Finnish Defense Minister Jussi Niinistö says he hopes the deal – incorporating joint military training, information sharing and research – will be concluded before the U.S. presidential elections.
Given Finland’s long and tortured effort to maintain its neutrality, one has to speculate. The move appears to fly in the face of growing American criticism and perhaps support of the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance as well as the Obama Administration’s general withdrawal.
Helsinki’s No. one concern [with its 5.5 million], of course, has to be its giant Russian neighbor [143.5 million]. It’s not a new one, nor a simple one: when Moscow grabbed Finland in its wars with the declining Swedish Empire, it made a distinction. The Grand Dutchy of Finland was not part of the Tsarist Empire; an Helsinki statute memorializes favorably the ill-fated Nicolas II as Grand Duke since he continued to permit Helsinki autonomy.
But in 1939 Josef Stalin made demands Helsinki would not meet, the Finns gave Moscow a black eye in the three-month Winter War. With their white-clad ski troops and wirery little Uzi submachine gun, the Finns held off the Russians long enough to win the hearts of most of the democratic world. Even the hardest-nosed U.S. “isolationist” cheered the Finns [except for an Communist English professor at Chapel Hill, N.C. – where else! – who set up an “Aid for the Soviet Unuion” desk!]
But the cheering didn’t include breaking the American Neutrality Act and the West Eutopean democracies were still appeasing dictators to avoid the outbreak of War. According to later statistics by Soviet Dictator Nikita Kruschev, 1.5 million Soviet men were sent to Finland and one million of them were killed, while 1,000 aircraft, 2,300 tanks and armored cars and an enormous amount of other war materials were lost. Little Finland’s losses were limited to 25,904 dead or missing and 43,557 wounded.
But in the end, the Finns paid a heavy price, reparations originally totaled $300 billion [1938 prices] in electrical goods, shipping and motors. But ironically the goods shipped to the Soviets – which did not do much for an already crippled economy there – industrialized a former agricultural country.
Even the territorial concessions were stark, in the long term, including abandoning the heartland of the old Finno-Urugian heartland in the Karelian peninsular [where workers were once recruited for building Peter the Great’s Petrograd window on the West]. More than 400,000 Finnish Karelians,] or 12% of Finland’s population, had to be relocated. But their generally higher skills and education spread across the remainder of Finland helped build the new economy wqhich by the 2000 was leading the world’s wireless telephony.
Stalin, who said he feared an alliance of the Finns with Nazi Germany because of its prominent Baltic German minority, produced a self-fufiling prophecy. Nazi troops employed Finnish bases after Hitler’s attack on Poland opening World War II. [The Finns held out against some of the more notorious Nazi repression, including moving against its small Jewish population.] In the postwar settlement, Finland lost access to the Arctic and more of Karelia. [But, again ironically, even large recent Finnish investments in Karelia timber and minning where Stalin moved in other Empire settlers, has left it a crippled appendage of Moscow.]
Successive Finnish governments since World War II have tried to maintain a neutrality between the Blocs in the Cold War, sometimes aided at its back by a nominally Swedish neutrality. [Swedish neutrality has often been honored more in the breach than in its observance: Stockholm permitted transit of Nazi troops to Norway in 1940 and was an important German source of high-tech weaponry during the War].
Helsinki has already signed a similar agreement with the U.K. and both Sweden and Finland have taken part as observers in recent NATO meetings and military exercises. Finland spokesmen, with a 800-mile border with Russia, say the option of joining NATO is open, but opinion polls show a majority opposed. Although Vladimir Putin has publicly announced the withdrawal of Russian troops on Finnish borders, that is not the case, and the threat – also hinted at in relations with the Baltic States including against fellow Finno-Urguians just a short ferry ride away in Estonia with its large Russian-speaking minority.
The general speculation is that Finland is abandoning neutrality because of the growing threat from Putin. But it may well be just the opposite: despite the recent attempt to rebuild Russian military forces after breakdowns in the August 2008 attack on Georgia, there is a widespread view that Putin is bluffing, that continuing threats against Ukraine and the Baltics are only feints. Russian Federation forces, more and more dependent on Moslem recruits from Central Asia, are in sad shape.
If that were the Helsinki view, it might well explain why neutrality before a diminished foe is less an option than an alliance with even an increasingly reluctant American intervention and a NATO badly needing reconstruction. And there are the American elections which could turn U.S. policy around.
sws-08-24-16

Islamcist infiltration


The nacent ideological conflict over the nature of Islam and its relation to the current wave of terrorism is just coming into focus. The tardiness of the delineation of issues is not only regrettable but to a certain extent mysterious. Why has the nature of Islamic terrorism not been examined even by those who unlike Pres. Barack Obama and his minions refuse to even name it?
However much sincere Moslems who abhor the jihafists, their ideology and their violence, try to detach themselves from it or a less sophisticated Islamic mass simply tries to ignore the issue, a bond exists. The Islamic terrorists identify themselves as Moslems, not as Southern Baptists or Christian Scientists. They argue, and they can quote chapter and verse in original Koran passages and the hadith [the vast histories and commentaries on Mohammed’s life and his beliefs], to “prove” that that their barbaric actions are rooted in the religion’s tenets.
Unfortunately, this relationship leads to a second and more threatening problem for the democratic societies. That is the wide acceptance in our free societies of individual Moslems who echo these sentiments, but often in more august surroundings such as the universities or even in organizations devoted to multicultural understanding and acceptance of others’ beliefs.
The “revelation” this week, finally, by even the mainline media that Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton’s long time closest collaborator and alter ego, has in fact been in the past a collaborator of radical Muslims. As the long kept “secrets” surface, it will be revealed that not only has Abedin written in the past supporting ultra-Islamic causes, but she is steeped in such ideology through a family long associated with those concepts. Her mother, in fact, widow of a prominent Pakistani Islamicist installed in what passed for a Muslim think tank iu Saudi Arabia, could well be considered the head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s female auxillary. The Brotherhood, of course, is the latest manuifestsation of the old Islamic drive for total political power throughout the world. And Abedin escorted Clinton on more than one occasion to counsels in the Middle East with her mother.
There is a frightening similarity between the growing infiltration of such advocates of Islamic supremacy – the totalitarian nature of Islam as a political movement with religious trappings – and Communism for half a century. Much as Western intellectuals often were persuaded to accept if not Communist doctrine itself but its toleration because it theoretically advocated so many of the utopian concepts of the whole socialist left, Muslim advocates of ultimately equally disastrous concepts are being tolerated. Islam, after all, is said to preach equality before a complete “submission” to Allah with no prejudice of class, ethnicity or race.
It was, insiduslously, this infiltration of the Communist ideologues – particularly in the early post-World War II reinforced by wictorious Soviet armies in eastern and central Europe – that threatened to win through the ballot box all Western Europe. Only the overwhelming strength of U.S. armed forces backed by a giant economy which had not seen the destruction of wartime Europe and the democrats of the non-Communist socialists that turned the tide. Unparalleled American generosity in rebuilding Europe was as much a miracle as the event itself. Even that finale intellectual outcome had to finally wait on the implosion of the Soviet Union itself, once and for all confirmation of the utter nonsense of Communist economics and its heinous threat to civil liberties.
Islamic terrorist spokesmen have by no means reached the high tide of Communist influence in Western intellectual circles in the 1930s. But the very fact that the most intimate collaborator of Hillary Clinton, a nominee for president of the United States in a highly contested election, has reached that height is a dire warning. The time to discuss the nature of Islam as an ideology and its adherents in the world of politics can not longer be denied under the false rubric of “political correctness” — the inability to distinguish honest, straight-forward intellectual discussion, from prejudice and religious intolerance.

sws-08-23-16