Everyone Should Read This

Putin to Western Elites

Play-time is Over

by Dmitry Orlov

ClubOrlov (October 29 2014)

Most people in the English-speaking parts of the world missed Putin’s speech at the Valdai conference in Sochi a few days ago, and, chances are, those of you who have heard of the speech didn’t get a chance to read it, and missed its importance. (For your convenience, I am pasting in the full transcript of his speech below.) Western media did their best to ignore it or to twist its meaning. Regardless of what you think or don’t think of Putin (like the sun and the moon, he does not exist for you to cultivate an opinion) this is probably the most important political speech since Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech of March 5 1946.

In this speech, Putin abruptly changed the rules of the game. Previously, the game of international politics was played as follows: politicians made public pronouncements, for the sake of maintaining a pleasant fiction of national sovereignty, but they were strictly for show and had nothing to do with the substance of international politics; in the meantime, they engaged in secret back-room negotiations, in which the actual deals were hammered out. Previously, Putin tried to play this game, expecting only that Russia be treated as an equal. But these hopes have been dashed, and at this conference he declared the game to be over, explicitly violating Western taboo by speaking directly to the people over the heads of elite clans and political leaders.

The Russian blogger chipstone summarized the most salient points from Putin speech as follows:

1. Russia will no longer play games and engage in back-room negotiations over trifles. But Russia is prepared for serious conversations and agreements, if these are conducive to collective security, are based on fairness and take into account the interests of each side.

2. All systems of global collective security now lie in ruins. There are no longer any international security guarantees at all. And the entity that destroyed them has a name: The United States of America.

3. The builders of the New World Order have failed, having built a sand castle. Whether or not a new world order of any sort is to be built is not just Russia’s decision, but it is a decision that will not be made without Russia.

4. Russia favors a conservative approach to introducing innovations into the social order, but is not opposed to investigating and discussing such innovations, to see if introducing any of them might be justified.

5. Russia has no intention of going fishing in the murky waters created by America’s ever-expanding “empire of chaos”, and has no interest in building a new empire of her own (this is unnecessary; Russia’s challenges lie in developing her already vast territory). Neither is Russia willing to act as a savior of the world, as she had in the past.

6. Russia will not attempt to reformat the world in her own image, but neither will she allow anyone to reformat her in their image. Russia will not close herself off from the world, but anyone who tries to close her off from the world will be sure to reap a whirlwind.

7. Russia does not wish for the chaos to spread, does not want war, and has no intention of starting one. However, today Russia sees the outbreak of global war as almost inevitable, is prepared for it, and is continuing to prepare for it. Russia does not [want] war – nor does she fear it.

8. Russia does not intend to take an active role in thwarting those who are still attempting to construct their New World Order – until their efforts start to impinge on Russia’s key interests. Russia would prefer to stand by and watch them give themselves as many lumps as their poor heads can take. But those who manage to drag Russia into this process, through disregard for her interests, will be taught the true meaning of pain.

9. In her external, and, even more so, internal politics, Russia’s power will rely not on the elites and their back-room dealing, but on the will of the people.

To these nine points I would like to add a tenth:

10. There is still a chance to construct a new world order that will avoid a world war. This new world order must of necessity include the United States – but can only do so on the same terms as everyone else: subject to international law and international agreements; refraining from all unilateral action; in full respect of the sovereignty of other nations.

To sum it all up: play-time is over. Children, put away your toys. Now is the time for the adults to make decisions. Russia is ready for this; is the world?

Text of Vladimir Putin’s speech
and a question and answer session
at the final plenary meeting of the
Valdai International Discussion Club’s
XI session in Sochi on 24 October 2014

It was mentioned already that the club has new co-organizers this year. They include Russian non-governmental organizations, expert groups and leading universities. The idea was also raised of broadening the discussions to include not just issues related to Russia itself but also global politics and the economy.

An organization and content will bolster the club’s influence as a leading discussion and expert forum. At the same time, I hope the ‘Valdai spirit’ will remain – this free and open atmosphere and chance to express all manner of very different and frank opinions.

Let me say in this respect that I will also not let you down and will speak directly and frankly. Some of what I say might seem a bit too harsh, but if we do not speak directly and honestly about what we really think, then there is little point in even meeting in this way. It would be better in that case just to keep to diplomatic get-togethers, where no one says anything of real sense and, recalling the words of one famous diplomat, you realize that diplomats have tongues so as not to speak the truth.
We get together for other reasons. We get together so as to talk frankly with each other. We need to be direct and blunt today not so as to trade barbs, but so as to attempt to get to the bottom of what is actually happening in the world, try to understand why the world is becoming less safe and more unpredictable, and why the risks are increasing everywhere around us.

Today’s discussion took place under the theme: New Rules or a Game without Rules. I think that this formula accurately describes the historic turning point we have reached today and the choice we all face. There is nothing new of course in the idea that the world is changing very fast. I know this is something you have spoken about at the discussions today. It is certainly hard not to notice the dramatic transformations in global politics and the economy, public life, and in industry, information and social technologies.

Let me ask you right now to forgive me if I end up repeating what some of the discussion’s participants have already said. It’s practically impossible to avoid. You have already held detailed discussions, but I will set out my point of view. It will coincide with other participants’ views on some points and differ on others.

As we analyze today’s situation, let us not forget history’s lessons. First of all, changes in the world order – and what we are seeing today are events on this scale – have usually been accompanied by if not global war and conflict, then by chains of intensive local-level conflicts. Second, global politics is above all about economic leadership, issues of war and peace, and the humanitarian dimension, including human rights.

The world is full of contradictions today. We need to be frank in asking each other if we have a reliable safety net in place. Sadly, there is no guarantee and no certainty that the current system of global and regional security is able to protect us from upheavals. This system has become seriously weakened, fragmented and deformed. The international and regional political, economic, and cultural cooperation organizations are also going through difficult times.

Yes, many of the mechanisms we have for ensuring the world order were created quite a long time ago now, including and above all in the period immediately following World War Two. Let me stress that the solidity of the system created back then rested not only on the balance of power and the rights of the victor countries, but on the fact that this system’s ‘founding fathers’ had respect for each other, did not try to put the squeeze on others, but attempted to reach agreements.

The main thing is that this system needs to develop, and despite its various shortcomings, needs to at least be capable of keeping the world’s current problems within certain limits and regulating the intensity of the natural competition between countries.

It is my conviction that we could not take this mechanism of checks and balances that we built over the last decades, sometimes with such effort and difficulty, and simply tear it apart without building anything in its place. Otherwise we would be left with no instruments other than brute force.

What we needed to do was to carry out a rational reconstruction and adapt it the new realities in the system of international relations.

But the United States, having declared itself the winner of the Cold War, saw no need for this. Instead of establishing a new balance of power, essential for maintaining order and stability, they took steps that threw the system into sharp and deep imbalance.

The Cold War ended, but it did not end with the signing of a peace treaty with clear and transparent agreements on respecting existing rules or creating new rules and standards. This created the impression that the so-called ‘victors’ in the Cold War had decided to pressure events and reshape the world to suit their own needs and interests. If the existing system of international relations, international law and the checks and balances in place got in the way of these aims, this system was declared worthless, outdated and in need of immediate demolition.
Pardon the analogy, but this is the way nouveaux riches behave when they suddenly end up with a great fortune, in this case, in the shape of world leadership and domination. Instead of managing their wealth wisely, for their own benefit too of course, I think they have committed many follies.

We have entered a period of differing interpretations and deliberate silences in world politics. International law has been forced to retreat over and over by the onslaught of legal nihilism. Objectivity and justice have been sacrificed on the altar of political expediency. Arbitrary interpretations and biased assessments have replaced legal norms. At the same time, total control of the global mass media has made it possible when desired to portray white as black and black as white.

In a situation where you had domination by one country and its allies, or its satellites rather, the search for global solutions often turned into an attempt to impose their own universal recipes. This group’s ambitions grew so big that they started presenting the policies they put together in their corridors of power as the view of the entire international community. But this is not the case.

The very notion of ‘national sovereignty’ became a relative value for most countries. In essence, what was being proposed was the formula: the greater the loyalty towards the world’s sole power centre, the greater this or that ruling regime’s legitimacy.

We will have a free discussion afterwards and I will be happy to answer your questions and would also like to use my right to ask you questions. Let someone try to disprove the arguments that I just set out during the upcoming discussion.

The measures taken against those who refuse to submit are well-known and have been tried and tested many times. They include use of force, economic and propaganda pressure, meddling in domestic affairs, and appeals to a kind of ‘supra-legal’ legitimacy when they need to justify illegal intervention in this or that conflict or toppling inconvenient regimes. Of late, we have increasing evidence too that outright blackmail has been used with regard to a number of leaders. It is not for nothing that ‘big brother’ is spending billions of dollars on keeping the whole world, including its own closest allies, under surveillance.

Let’s ask ourselves, how comfortable are we with this, how safe are we, how happy living in this world, and how fair and rational has it become? Maybe, we have no real reasons to worry, argue and ask awkward questions? Maybe the United States’ exceptional position and the way they are carrying out their leadership really is a blessing for us all, and their meddling in events all around the world is bringing peace, prosperity, progress, growth and democracy, and we should maybe just relax and enjoy it all?

Let me say that this is not the case, absolutely not the case.

A unilateral diktat and imposing one’s own models produces the opposite result. Instead of settling conflicts it leads to their escalation, instead of sovereign and stable states we see the growing spread of chaos, and instead of democracy there is support for a very dubious public ranging from open neo-fascists to Islamic radicals.

Why do they support such people? They do this because they decide to use them as instruments along the way in achieving their goals but then burn their fingers and recoil. I never cease to be amazed by the way that our partners just keep stepping on the same rake, as we say here in Russia, that is to say, make the same mistake over and over.

They once sponsored Islamic extremist movements to fight the Soviet Union. Those groups got their battle experience in Afghanistan and later gave birth to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. The West if not supported, at least closed its eyes, and, I would say, gave information, political and financial support to international terrorists’ invasion of Russia (we have not forgotten this) and the Central Asian region’s countries. Only after horrific terrorist attacks were committed on US soil itself did the United States wake up to the common threat of terrorism. Let me remind you that we were the first country to support the American people back then, the first to react as friends and partners to the terrible tragedy of September 11.

During my conversations with American and European leaders, I always spoke of the need to fight terrorism together, as a challenge on a global scale. We cannot resign ourselves to and accept this threat, cannot cut it into separate pieces using double standards. Our partners expressed agreement, but a little time passed and we ended up back where we started. First there was the military operation in Iraq, then in Libya, which got pushed to the brink of falling apart. Why was Libya pushed into this situation? Today it is a country in danger of breaking apart and has become a training ground for terrorists.

Only the current Egyptian leadership’s determination and wisdom saved this key Arab country from chaos and having extremists run rampant. In Syria, as in the past, the United States and its allies started directly financing and arming rebels and allowing them to fill their ranks with mercenaries from various countries. Let me ask where do these rebels get their money, arms and military specialists? Where does all this come from? How did the notorious ISIL manage to become such a powerful group, essentially a real armed force?

As for financing sources, today, the money is coming not just from drugs, production of which has increased not just by a few percentage points but many-fold, since the international coalition forces have been present in Afghanistan. You are aware of this. The terrorists are getting money from selling oil too. Oil is produced in territory controlled by the terrorists, who sell it at dumping prices, produce it and transport it. But someone buys this oil, resells it, and makes a profit from it, not thinking about the fact that they are thus financing terrorists who could come sooner or later to their own soil and sow destruction in their own countries.

Where do they get new recruits? In Iraq, after Saddam Hussein was toppled, the state’s institutions, including the army, were left in ruins. We said back then, be very, very careful. You are driving people out into the street, and what will they do there? Don’t forget (rightfully or not) that they were in the leadership of a large regional power, and what are you now turning them into?

What was the result? Tens of thousands of soldiers, officers and former Baath Party activists were turned out into the streets and today have joined the rebels’ ranks. Perhaps this is what explains why the Islamic State group has turned out so effective? In military terms, it is acting very effectively and has some very professional people. Russia warned repeatedly about the dangers of unilateral military actions, intervening in sovereign states’ affairs, and flirting with extremists and radicals. We insisted on having the groups fighting the central Syrian government, above all the Islamic State, included on the lists of terrorist organizations. But did we see any results? We appealed in vain.

We sometimes get the impression that our colleagues and friends are constantly fighting the consequences of their own policies, throw all their effort into addressing the risks they themselves have created, and pay an ever-greater price.

Colleagues, this period of unipolar domination has convincingly demonstrated that having only one power centre does not make global processes more manageable. On the contrary, this kind of unstable construction has shown its inability to fight the real threats such as regional conflicts, terrorism, drug trafficking, religious fanaticism, chauvinism and neo-Nazism. At the same time, it has opened the road wide for inflated national pride, manipulating public opinion and letting the strong bully and suppress the weak.

Essentially, the unipolar world is simply a means of justifying dictatorship over people and countries. The unipolar world turned out too uncomfortable, heavy and unmanageable a burden even for the self-proclaimed leader. Comments along this line were made here just before and I fully agree with this. This is why we see attempts at this new historic stage to recreate a semblance of a quasi-bipolar world as a convenient model for perpetuating American leadership. It does not matter who takes the place of the centre of evil in American propaganda, the USSR’s old place as the main adversary. It could be Iran, as a country seeking to acquire nuclear technology, China, as the world’s biggest economy, or Russia, as a nuclear superpower.

Today, we are seeing new efforts to fragment the world, draw new dividing lines, put together coalitions not built for something but directed against someone, anyone, create the image of an enemy as was the case during the Cold War years, and obtain the right to this leadership, or diktat if you wish. The situation was presented this way during the Cold War. We all understand this and know this. The United States always told its allies: “We have a common enemy, a terrible foe, the centre of evil, and we are defending you, our allies, from this foe, and so we have the right to order you around, force you to sacrifice your political and economic interests and pay your share of the costs for this collective defense, but we will be the ones in charge of it all of course”. In short, we see today attempts in a new and changing world to reproduce the familiar models of global management, and all this so as to guarantee their [the US'] exceptional position and reap political and economic dividends.

But these attempts are increasingly divorced from reality and are in contradiction with the world’s diversity. Steps of this kind inevitably create confrontation and countermeasures and have the opposite effect to the hoped-for goals. We see what happens when politics rashly starts meddling in the economy and the logic of rational decisions gives way to the logic of confrontation that only hurt one’s own economic positions and interests, including national business interests.

Joint economic projects and mutual investment objectively bring countries closer together and help to smooth out current problems in relations between states. But today, the global business community faces unprecedented pressure from Western governments. What business, economic expediency and pragmatism can we speak of when we hear slogans such as “the homeland is in danger”, “the free world is under threat”, and “democracy is in jeopardy”? And so everyone needs to mobilize. That is what a real mobilization policy looks like.

Sanctions are already undermining the foundations of world trade, the WTO rules and the principle of inviolability of private property. They are dealing a blow to liberal model of globalization based on markets, freedom and competition, which, let me note, is a model that has primarily benefited precisely the Western countries. And now they risk losing trust as the leaders of globalization. We have to ask ourselves, why was this necessary? After all, the United States’ prosperity rests in large part on the trust of investors and foreign holders of dollars and US securities. This trust is clearly being undermined and signs of disappointment in the fruits of globalization are visible now in many countries. 

The well-known Cyprus precedent and the politically motivated sanctions have only strengthened the trend towards seeking to bolster economic and financial sovereignty and countries’ or their regional groups’ desire to find ways of protecting themselves from the risks of outside pressure. We already see that more and more countries are looking for ways to become less dependent on the dollar and are setting up alternative financial and payments systems and reserve currencies. I think that our American friends are quite simply cutting the branch they are sitting on. You cannot mix politics and the economy, but this is what is happening now. I have always thought and still think today that politically motivated sanctions were a mistake that will harm everyone, but I am sure that we will come back to this subject later.

We know how these decisions were taken and who was applying the pressure. But let me stress that Russia is not going to get all worked up, get offended or come begging at anyone’s door. Russia is a self-sufficient country. We will work within the foreign economic environment that has taken shape, develop domestic production and technology and act more decisively to carry out transformation. Pressure from outside, as has been the case on past occasions, will only consolidate our society, keep us alert and make us concentrate on our main development goals.

Of course the sanctions are a hindrance. They are trying to hurt us through these sanctions, block our development and push us into political, economic and cultural isolation, force us into backwardness in other words. But let me say yet again that the world is a very different place today. We have no intention of shutting ourselves off from anyone and choosing some kind of closed development road, trying to live in autarky. We are always open to dialogue, including on normalizing our economic and political relations. We are counting here on the pragmatic approach and position of business communities in the leading countries.

Some are saying today that Russia is supposedly turning its back on Europe – such words were probably spoken already here too during the discussions – and is looking for new business partners, above all in Asia. Let me say that this is absolutely not the case. Our active policy in the Asian-Pacific region began not just yesterday and not in response to sanctions, but is a policy that we have been following for a good many years now. Like many other countries, including Western countries, we saw that Asia is playing an ever greater role in the world, in the economy and in politics, and there is simply no way we can afford to overlook these developments.

Let me say again that everyone is doing this, and we will do so to, all the more so as a large part of our country is geographically in Asia. Why should we not make use of our competitive advantages in this area? It would be extremely shortsighted not to do so.

Developing economic ties with these countries and carrying out joint integration projects also creates big incentives for our domestic development. Today’s demographic, economic and cultural trends all suggest that dependence on a sole superpower will objectively decrease. This is something that European and American experts have been talking and writing about too.

Perhaps developments in global politics will mirror the developments we are seeing in the global economy, namely, intensive competition for specific niches and frequent change of leaders in specific areas. This is entirely possible.

There is no doubt that humanitarian factors such as education, science, healthcare and culture are playing a greater role in global competition. This also has a big impact on international relations, including because this ‘soft power’ resource will depend to a great extent on real achievements in developing human capital rather than on sophisticated propaganda tricks.

At the same time, the formation of a so-called polycentric world (I would also like to draw attention to this, colleagues) in and of itself does not improve stability; in fact, it is more likely to be the opposite. The goal of reaching global equilibrium is turning into a fairly difficult puzzle, an equation with many unknowns.

So, what is in store for us if we choose not to live by the rules – even if they may be strict and inconvenient – but rather live without any rules at all? And that scenario is entirely possible; we cannot rule it out, given the tensions in the global situation. Many predictions can already be made, taking into account current trends, and unfortunately, they are not optimistic. If we do not create a clear system of mutual commitments and agreements, if we do not build the mechanisms for managing and resolving crisis situations, the symptoms of global anarchy will inevitably grow.

Today, we already see a sharp increase in the likelihood of a whole set of violent conflicts with either direct or indirect participation by the world’s major powers. And the risk factors include not just traditional multinational conflicts, but also the internal instability in separate states, especially when we talk about nations located at the intersections of major states’ geopolitical interests, or on the border of cultural, historical, and economic civilizational continents.

Ukraine, which I’m sure was discussed at length and which we will discuss some more, is one of the example of such sorts of conflicts that affect international power balance, and I think it will certainly not be the last. From here emanates the next real threat of destroying the current system of arms control agreements. And this dangerous process was launched by the United States of America when it unilaterally withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, and then set about and continues today to actively pursue the creation of its global missile defense system.

Colleagues, friends, I want to point out that we did not start this. Once again, we are sliding into the times when, instead of the balance of interests and mutual guarantees, it is fear and the balance of mutual destruction that prevent nations from engaging in direct conflict. In absence of legal and political instruments, arms are once again becoming the focal point of the global agenda; they are used wherever and however, without any UN Security Council sanctions. And if the Security Council refuses to produce such decisions, then it is immediately declared to be an outdated and ineffective instrument.

Many states do not see any other ways of ensuring their sovereignty but to obtain their own bombs. This is extremely dangerous. We insist on continuing talks; we are not only in favor of talks, but insist on continuing talks to reduce nuclear arsenals. The less nuclear weapons we have in the world, the better. And we are ready for the most serious, concrete discussions on nuclear disarmament – but only serious discussions without any double standards.

What do I mean? Today, many types of high-precision weaponry are already close to mass-destruction weapons in terms of their capabilities, and in the event of full renunciation of nuclear weapons or radical reduction of nuclear potential, nations that are leaders in creating and producing high-precision systems will have a clear military advantage. Strategic parity will be disrupted, and this is likely to bring destabilization. The use of a so-called first global pre-emptive strike may become tempting. In short, the risks do not decrease, but intensify.

The next obvious threat is the further escalation of ethnic, religious, and social conflicts. Such conflicts are dangerous not only as such, but also because they create zones of anarchy, lawlessness, and chaos around them, places that are comfortable for terrorists and criminals, where piracy, human trafficking, and drug trafficking flourish.

Incidentally, at the time, our colleagues tried to somehow manage these processes, use regional conflicts and design ‘color revolutions’ to suit their interests, but the genie escaped the bottle. It looks like the controlled chaos theory fathers themselves do not know what to do with it; there is disarray in their ranks.

We closely follow the discussions by both the ruling elite and the expert community. It is enough to look at the headlines of the Western press over the last year. The same people are called fighters for democracy, and then Islamists; first they write about revolutions and then call them riots and upheavals. The result is obvious: the further expansion of global chaos.

Colleagues, given the global situation, it is time to start agreeing on fundamental things. This is incredibly important and necessary; this is much better than going back to our own corners. The more we all face common problems, the more we find ourselves in the same boat, so to speak. And the logical way out is in cooperation between nations, societies, in finding collective answers to increasing challenges, and in joint risk management. Granted, some of our partners, for some reason, remember this only when it suits their interests.

Practical experience shows that joint answers to challenges are not always a panacea; and we need to understand this. Moreover, in most cases, they are hard to reach; it is not easy to overcome the differences in national interests, the subjectivity of different approaches, particularly when it comes to nations with different cultural and historical traditions. But nevertheless, we have examples when, having common goals and acting based on the same criteria, together we achieved real success.

Let me remind you about solving the problem of chemical weapons in Syria, and the substantive dialogue on the Iranian nuclear program, as well as our work on North Korean issues, which also has some positive results. Why can’t we use this experience in the future to solve local and global challenges?

What could be the legal, political, and economic basis for a new world order that would allow for stability and security, while encouraging healthy competition, not allowing the formation of new monopolies that hinder development? It is unlikely that someone could provide absolutely exhaustive, ready-made solutions right now. We will need extensive work with participation by a wide range of governments, global businesses, civil society, and such expert platforms as ours.

However, it is obvious that success and real results are only possible if key participants in international affairs can agree on harmonizing basic interests, on reasonable self-restraint, and set the example of positive and responsible leadership. We must clearly identify where unilateral actions end and we need to apply multilateral mechanisms, and as part of improving the effectiveness of international law, we must resolve the dilemma between the actions by international community to ensure security and human rights and the principle of national sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of any state.

Those very collisions increasingly lead to arbitrary external interference in complex internal processes, and time and again, they provoke dangerous conflicts between leading global players. The issue of maintaining sovereignty becomes almost paramount in maintaining and strengthening global stability.

Clearly, discussing the criteria for the use of external force is extremely difficult; it is practically impossible to separate it from the interests of particular nations. However, it is far more dangerous when there are no agreements that are clear to everyone, when no clear conditions are set for necessary and legal interference.

I will add that international relations must be based on international law, which itself should rest on moral principles such as justice, equality and truth. Perhaps most important is respect for one’s partners and their interests. This is an obvious formula, but simply following it could radically change the global situation.

I am certain that if there is a will, we can restore the effectiveness of the international and regional institutions system. We do not even need to build anything anew, from the scratch; this is not a “greenfield”, especially since the institutions created after World War Two are quite universal and can be given modern substance, adequate to manage the current situation.

This is true of improving the work of the UN, whose central role is irreplaceable, as well as the OSCE, which, over the course of forty years, has proven to be a necessary mechanism for ensuring security and cooperation in the Euro-Atlantic region. I must say that even now, in trying to resolve the crisis in southeast Ukraine, the OSCE is playing a very positive role.

In light of the fundamental changes in the international environment, the increase in uncontrollability and various threats, we need a new global consensus of responsible forces. It’s not about some local deals or a division of spheres of influence in the spirit of classic diplomacy, or somebody’s complete global domination. I think that we need a new version of interdependence. We should not be afraid of it. On the contrary, this is a good instrument for harmonizing positions.

This is particularly relevant given the strengthening and growth of certain regions on the planet, which process objectively requires institutionalization of such new poles, creating powerful regional organizations and developing rules for their interaction. Cooperation between these centers would seriously add to the stability of global security, policy and economy. But in order to establish such a dialogue, we need to proceed from the assumption that all regional centers and integration projects forming around them need to have equal rights to development, so that they can complement each other and nobody can force them into conflict or opposition artificially. Such destructive actions would break down ties between states, and the states themselves would be subjected to extreme hardship, or perhaps even total destruction.

I would like to remind you of the last year’s events. We have told our American and European partners that hasty backstage decisions, for example, on Ukraine’s association with the EU, are fraught with serious risks to the economy. We didn’t even say anything about politics; we spoke only about the economy, saying that such steps, made without any prior arrangements, touch on the interests of many other nations, including Russia as Ukraine’s main trade partner, and that a wide discussion of the issues is necessary. Incidentally, in this regard, I will remind you that, for example, the talks on Russia’s accession to the WTO lasted nineteen years. This was very difficult work, and a certain consensus was reached.

Why am I bringing this up? Because in implementing Ukraine’s association project, our partners would come to us with their goods and services through the back gate, so to speak, and we did not agree to this, nobody asked us about this. We had discussions on all topics related to Ukraine’s association with the EU, persistent discussions, but I want to stress that this was done in an entirely civilized manner, indicating possible problems, showing the obvious reasoning and arguments. Nobody wanted to listen to us and nobody wanted to talk. They simply told us: this is none of your business, point, end of discussion. Instead of a comprehensive but – I stress – civilized dialogue, it all came down to a government overthrow; they plunged the country into chaos, into economic and social collapse, into a civil war with enormous casualties.

Why? When I ask my colleagues why, they no longer have an answer; nobody says anything. That’s it. Everyone’s at a loss, saying it just turned out that way. Those actions should not have been encouraged – it wouldn’t have worked. After all (I already spoke about this), former Ukrainian President Yanukovych signed everything, agreed with everything. Why do it? What was the point? What is this, a civilized way of solving problems? Apparently, those who constantly throw together new ‘color revolutions’ consider themselves ‘brilliant artists’ and simply cannot stop.

I am certain that the work of integrated associations, the cooperation of regional structures, should be built on a transparent, clear basis; the Eurasian Economic Union’s formation process is a good example of such transparency. The states that are parties to this project informed their partners of their plans in advance, specifying the parameters of our association, the principles of its work, which fully correspond with the World Trade Organization rules.

I will add that we would also have welcomed the start of a concrete dialogue between the Eurasian and European Union. Incidentally, they have almost completely refused us this as well, and it is also unclear why – what is so scary about it?

And, of course, with such joint work, we would think that we need to engage in dialogue (I spoke about this many times and heard agreement from many of our western partners, at least in Europe) on the need to create a common space for economic and humanitarian cooperation stretching all the way from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.

Colleagues, Russia made its choice. Our priorities are further improving our democratic and open economy institutions, accelerated internal development, taking into account all the positive modern trends in the world, and consolidating society based on traditional values and patriotism.

We have an integration-oriented, positive, peaceful agenda; we are working actively with our colleagues in the Eurasian Economic Union, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, BRICS and other partners. This agenda is aimed at developing ties between governments, not dissociating. We are not planning to cobble together any blocs or get involved in an exchange of blows.

The allegations and statements that Russia is trying to establish some sort of empire, encroaching on the sovereignty of its neighbors, are groundless. Russia does not need any kind of special, exclusive place in the world – I want to emphasize this. While respecting the interests of others, we simply want for our own interests to be taken into account and for our position to be respected.

We are well aware that the world has entered an era of changes and global transformations, when we all need a particular degree of caution, the ability to avoid thoughtless steps. In the years after the Cold War, participants in global politics lost these qualities somewhat. Now, we need to remember them. Otherwise, hopes for a peaceful, stable development will be a dangerous illusion, while today’s turmoil will simply serve as a prelude to the collapse of world order.

Yes, of course, I have already said that building a more stable world order is a difficult task. We are talking about long and hard work. We were able to develop rules for interaction after World War Two, and we were able to reach an agreement in Helsinki in the 1970s. Our common duty is to resolve this fundamental challenge at this new stage of development.

Thank you very much for your attention.

http://cluborlov.blogspot.jp/2014/10/putin-to-western-elites-play-time-is.html

Categories: Uncategorized

A Pink Slip for the Progress Fairy

by John Michael Greer

The Archdruid Report (October 22 2014)

Druid perspectives on nature, culture, and the future of industrial society

If you’ve ever wondered just how powerfully collective thinking grips most members of our species – including, by and large, those who most forcefully insist on the originality of their thinking – I have an experiment to recommend: go out in public and advocate an idea about the future that isn’t part of the conventional wisdom, and see what kind of reaction you field. If your experience is anything like mine, you’ll get some anger, some argument, and some blank stares, but the most telling reaction will come from people who try to force what you’re saying into the Procrustean bed of the conventional wisdom, no matter how thoroughly they have to stretch and chop what you’ve said to make it fit.

Now of course the project of this blog is guaranteed to field such reactions, since the ideas explored here don’t just ignore the conventional wisdom, they fling it to the floor and dance on the crumpled remains. When I mention that I expect the decline and fall of industrial civilization to take centuries, accordingly, people take this to mean that I expect a smooth, untroubled descent. When I mention that I expect crisis before this decade is finished, in turn, people take this to mean that I expect industrial civilization to crash into ruin in the next few years. Some people, for that matter, slam back and forth from one of these presuppositions to another, as though they can’t fit the concepts of prolonged decline and imminent crisis into their heads at the same moment.

That sort of response has become more common than usual in recent months, and part of the reason may be that it’s been a while since I’ve sketched out the overall shape of the future as I see it.  Some of my readers may have lost track of the broader picture, and more recent readers of this blog may not have encountered that picture at all. For that reason among others, I’m going to spend this week’s post summarizing the the decline and fall of  industrial civilization.

Yes, I’m aware that many people believe that such a thing can’t happen:  that science, technology, or some other factor has made progress irreversible. I’m also aware that many people insist that progress may not be irreversible yet but will be if we all just do that little bit more. These are – well, let’s be charitable and call them faith-based claims. Generalizing from a sample size of one when the experiment hasn’t yet run its course is poor scientific procedure; insisting that just this once, the law of diminishing returns will be suspended for our benefit is the antithesis of science. It amounts to treating progress as some sort of beneficent fairy who can be counted on to tap us with her magic wand and give us a wonderful future, just because we happen to want one.

The overfamiliar cry of “but it’s different this time!” is popular, it’s comforting, but it’s also irrelevant. Of course it’s different this time; it was different every other time, too. Neolithic civilizations limited to one river valley and continental empires with complex technologies have all declined and fallen in much the same way and for much the same reasons. It may appeal to our sense of entitlement to see ourselves as destiny’s darlings, to insist that the Progress Fairy has promised us a glorious future out there among the stars, or even to claim that it’s humanity’s mission to populate the galaxy, but these are another set of faith-based claims; it’s a little startling, in fact, to watch so many people who claim to have outgrown theology clinging to such overtly religious concepts as humanity’s mission and destiny.

In the real world, when civilizations exhaust their resource bases and wreck the ecological cycles that support them, they fall. It takes between one and three centuries on average for the fall to happen – and no, big complex civilizations don’t fall noticeably faster or slower than smaller and simpler ones.  Nor is it a linear decline – the end of a civilization is a fractal process composed of crises on many different scales of space and time, with equally uneven consequences. An effective response can win a breathing space; in the wake of a less effective one, part of what used to be normal goes away for good. Sooner or later, one crisis too many overwhelms the last defences, and the civilization falls, leaving scattered remnants of itself that struggle and gleam for a while until the long night closes in.

The historian Arnold Toynbee, whose study of the rise and fall of civilizations is the most detailed and cogent for our purpose, has traced a recurring rhythm in this process.  Falling civilizations oscillate between periods of intense crisis and periods of relative calm, each such period lasting anywhere from a few decades to a century or more – the pace is set by the speed of the underlying decline, which varies somewhat from case to case. Most civilizations, he found, go through three and a half cycles of crisis and stabilization – the half being, of course, the final crisis from which there is no recovery.

That’s basically the model that I’m applying to our future. One wrinkle many people miss is that we’re not waiting for the first of the three and a half rounds of crisis and recovery to hit; we’re waiting for the second. The first began in 1914 and ended around 1954, driven by the downfall of the British Empire and the collapse of European domination of the globe. During the forty years between Sarajevo and Dien Bien Phu, the industrial world was hammered by the First World War, the Spanish Flu pandemic, the Great Depression, millions of political murders by the Nazi and Soviet governments, the Second World War, and the overthrow of European colonial empires around the planet.

That was the first era of crisis in the decline and fall of industrial civilization. The period from 1945 to the present was the first interval of stability and recovery, made more prosperous and expansive than most examples of the species by the breakneck exploitation of petroleum and other fossil fuels, and a corresponding boom in technology. At this point, as fossil fuel reserves deplete, the planet’s capacity to absorb carbon dioxide and other pollutants runs up against hard limits, and a galaxy of other measures of impending crisis move toward the red line, it’s likely that the next round of crisis is not far off.

What will actually trigger that next round, though, is anyone’s guess. In the years leading up to 1914, plenty of people sensed that an explosion was coming, some guessed that a general European war would set it off, but nobody knew that the trigger would be the assassination of an Austrian archduke on the streets of Sarajevo. The Russian Revolution, the March on Rome, the crash of 1929, Stalin, Hitler, Pearl Harbor, Auschwitz, Hiroshima? No one saw those coming, and only a few people even guessed that something resembling one or another of these things might be in the offing.

Thus trying to foresee the future of industrial society in detail is an impossible task. Sketching out the sort of future that we could get is considerably less challenging. History has plenty to say about the things that happen when a civilization begins its long descent into chaos and barbarism, and it’s not too difficult to generalize from that evidence. I don’t claim that the events outlined below are what will happen, but I expect things like them to happen; further than that, the lessons of history will not go.

With those cautions, here’s a narrative sketch of the kind of future that waits for us.

*****

The second wave of crisis began with the Ebola pandemic, which emerged in West Africa early in 2014. Efforts to control the outbreak in its early phases were ineffective and hopelessly underfunded. By the early months of 2015, the first cases appeared in India, Egypt, and the Caribbean, and from there the pandemic spread to much of the world. In August 2015 a vaccine passed its clinical trials, but scaling up production and distribution of the vaccine to get in front of a fast-spreading pandemic took time, and it was early 2018 before the pandemic was finally under control everywhere in the world. By then 1.6 billion people had died of the disease, and another 210 million had died as a result of the collapse of food distribution and health care across large areas of the Third World.

The struggle against Ebola was complicated by the global economic depression that got under way in 2015 as the “fracking” boom imploded and travel and tourist industries collapsed in the face of the pandemic. Financial markets were stabilized by vast infusions of government debt, as they had been in the wake of the 2008 crash, but the real economy of goods and services was not so easily manipulated; joblessness soared, tax revenues plunged, and a dozen nations defaulted on their debts. Politicians insisted, as they had done for the past decade, that giving more handouts to the rich would restore prosperity; their failure to take any constructive action set the stage for the next act in the tragedy.

The first neofascist parties were founded in Europe before the end of the pandemic, and grew rapidly in the depression years. In 2020 and 2021, neofascists took power in three European nations on anti-immigration, anti-EU and anti-banking industry platforms; their success emboldened similar efforts elsewhere. Even so, the emergence of the neofascist American Peoples Party as a major force in the 2024 US elections stunned most observers. Four years later the APP swept the elections, and forced through laws that turned Congress into an advisory body and enabled rule by presidential decree. Meanwhile, as more European nations embraced neofascism, Europe split into hostile blocs, leading to the dissolution of the European Union in 2032 and the European War of 2035-2041.

By the time war broke out in Europe, the popularity of the APP had fallen drastically due to ongoing economic troubles, and insurgencies against the new regime had emerged in the South and mountain West.  Counterinsurgency efforts proved no more effective than they had in Iraq or Afghanistan, and over the next decade much of the US sank into failed-state conditions. In 2046, after the regime used tactical nuclear weapons on three rebel-held cities, a dissident faction of the US military launched a nuclear strike on Washington DC, terminating the APP regime. Attempts to establish a new federal government failed over the next two years, and the former United States broke into seven nations.

Outside Europe and North America, changes were less dramatic, with the Iranian civil war of 2027-2034 and the Sino-Japanese war of 2033-2035 among the major incidents. Most of the Third World was prostrate in the wake of the Ebola pandemic, and world population continued to decline gradually as the economic crisis took its toll and the long-term effects of the pandemic played out. By 2048 roughly fifteen per cent of the world’s people lived in areas no longer governed by a nation-state.

The years from 2048 to 2089 were an era of relative peace under Chinese global hegemony. The chaos of the crisis years eliminated a great many wasteful habits, such as private automobiles and widespread air travel, and renewable resources padded out with what was left of the world’s fossil fuel production were able to meet the reduced needs of a smaller and less extravagant global population. Sea levels had begun rising steadily during the crisis years; ironically, the need to relocate ports and coastal cities minimized unemployment in the 2050s and 2060s, bringing relative prosperity to the laboring classes. High and rising energy prices spurred deautomation of many industries, with similar effects.

The pace of climate change accelerated, however, as carbon dioxide from the reckless fossil fuel use of the crisis years had its inevitable effect, pushing the polar ice sheets toward collapse and making harvests unpredictable around the globe. Drought gripped the American Southwest, forcing most of the region’s population to move and turning the region into a de facto stateless zone.  The same process destabilized much of the Middle East and south Asia, laying the groundwork for renewed crisis.

Population levels stabilized in the 2050s and 2060s and began to contract again thereafter. The primary culprit was once again disease, this time from a gamut of pathogens. The expansion of tropical diseases into formerly temperate regions, the spread of antibiotic resistance to effectively all bacterial pathogens, and the immense damage to public health infrastructure during the crisis years all played a part in that shift. The first migrations of climate refugees also helped spread disease and disruption.

The last decade before 2089 was a time of renewed troubles, with political tensions pitting China and its primary allies, Australia and Canada, against the rising power of the South American Union (formed by 2067’s Treaty of Montevideo between Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Paraguay), and  insurgencies in eastern Europe that set the stage for the Second European War. Economic troubles driven by repeated crop failures in North America and China added to the strains, and kept anyone but scientists from noticing what was happening to the Greenland ice sheet until it was too late.

The collapse of the Greenland ice sheet, which began in earnest in the summer of 2089, delivered a body blow to an already fraying civilization. Meltwater pouring into the North Atlantic shut down the thermohaline circulation, the main driver of the world’s ocean currents, unleashing drastic swings in weather across most of the world’s climate zones, while sea levels jolted upwards. As these trends worsened, climate refugees fled drought, flood, or famine in any direction that promised survival – a promise that in most cases would not be kept. Those nations that opened their borders collapsed under the influx of millions of starving migrants; those who tried to close their borders found themselves at war with entire peoples on the move, in many cases armed with the weapons of pre-crisis armies.

The full impact of the Greenland disaster took time to build, but the initial shock to weather patterns was enough to help trigger the Second European War of 2091-2111. The Twenty Years War, as it was called, pitted most of the nations of Europe against each other in what began as a struggle for mastery and devolved into a struggle for survival. As the fighting dragged on, mercenaries from the Middle East and Africa made up an ever larger fraction of the combatants. The final defeat of the Franco-Swedish alliance in 2111, though it ended the war, left Europe a shattered wreck unable to stem the human tide from the devastated regions further south and east.

Elsewhere, migration and catastrophic climate change brought down most of the nations of North America, while China dissolved in civil war. Australia and the South American Union both unexpectedly benefited as rainfall increased over their territory; both nations survived the first wave of troubles more or less intact, only to face repeated invasions by armed migrants in the following decades. Neither quite succumbed, but most of their resources went into the fight for survival.

Historians attempting to trace the course of events in most of the world are hampered by sparse and fragmentary records, as not only nation-states and their institutions but even basic literacy evaporated in many regions. As long as the migrations continued, settled life was impossible anywhere close to the major corridors of population movement; elsewhere, locals and migrants worked or fought their way to a modus vivendi, or failing that, exterminated one another. Violence, famine and disease added their toll and drove the population of the planet below two billion.

By the 2160s, though, the mass migrations were mostly at an end, and relative stability returned to many parts of the planet. In the aftermath, the South American Union became the world’s dominant power, though its international reach was limited to a modest blue-water navy patrolling the sea lanes and a network of alliances with the dozen or so functioning nation-states that still existed. Critical shortages of nonrenewable resources made salvage one of the few growth industries of the era; an enterprising salvage merchant who knew how to barter with the villagers and nomads of the stateless zones for scrap technology from abandoned cities could become rich in a single voyage.

Important as they were, these salvaged technologies were only accessible to the few.  The Union and a few other nation-states still kept some aging military aircraft operational, but maritime traffic once again was carried by tall ships, and horse-drawn wagons became a standard mode of transport on land away from the railroads. Radio communication had long since taken over from the last fitful fragments of the internet, and electric grids were found only in cities. As for the high-end technologies of a century and a half before, few people even remembered that they had ever existed at all.

In the end, though, the era of Union supremacy was little more than a breathing space, made possible only by the collapse of collective life in the stateless zones. As these began to recover from the era of migrations, and control over salvage passed into the hands of local warlords, the frail economies of the nation-states suffered. Rivalry over access to salvage sites still available for exploitation led to rising tensions between the Union and Australia, and thus to the last act of the tragedy.

This was set in motion by the Pacific War between the Union and Australia, which broke out in 2238 and shredded the economies of both nations.  After the disastrous Battle of Tahiti in 2241, the Union navy’s power to keep sea lanes open and free of piracy was a thing of the past. Maritime trade collapsed, throwing each region onto its own limited resources and destabilizing those parts of the stateless zones that had become dependent on the salvage industry. Even those nations that retained the social forms of the industrial era transformed themselves into agrarian societies where all economics was local and all technology handmade.

The negotiated peace of 2244 brought only the briefest respite: a fatally weakened Australia was overrun by Malik Ibrahim’s armies after the Battle of Darwin in 2251, and the Union fragmented in the wake of the coup of 2268 and the civil war that followed. Both nations had become too dependent on the salvaged technologies of an earlier day; the future belonged to newborn successor cultures in various corners of the world, whose blacksmiths learned how to hammer the scrap metal of ruined cities into firearms, wind turbines, fuel-alcohol stills, and engines to power handbuilt ultralight aircraft. The Earth’s first global civilization had given way to its first global dark age, and nearly four centuries would pass before new societies would be stable enough to support the amenities of civilization.

*****

I probably need to repeat that this is the kind of future I expect, not the specific future I foresee; the details are illustrative, not predictive. Whether the Ebola epidemic spins out of control or not, whether the United States undergoes a fascist takeover or runs headlong into some other disaster, whether China or some other nation becomes the stabilizing hegemon in the next period of relative peace – all these are anyone’s guess. All I’m suggesting is that events like the ones I’ve outlined are likely to occur as industrial civilization stumbles down the curve of decline and fall.

In the real world, in the course of ordinary history, these things happen. So does the decline and fall of civilizations that deplete their resource bases and wreck the ecological cycles that support them. As I noted above, I’m aware that true believers in progress insist that this can’t happen to us, but a growing number of people have noticed that the Progress Fairy got her pink slip some time ago, and ordinary history has taken her place as the arbiter of human affairs. That being the case, getting used to what ordinary history brings may be a highly useful habit to cultivate just now.

_____

John Michael Greer is the Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America {1} and the author of more than thirty books on a wide range of subjects, including peak oil and the future of industrial society. He lives in Cumberland, Maryland, an old red brick mill town in the north central Appalachians, with his wife Sara.

{1} http://www.aoda.org/

http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.jp/2014/10/a-pink-slip-for-progress-fairy.html

Categories: Uncategorized

Where Hucksters Rule

Democracy in America

by Andrew Levine

CounterPunch Weekend Edition (October 24 to 26 2014)

In less than two weeks, this year’s midterm elections will be history; hardly anyone cares.

Why would they?  There are some state and local elections in the offing where the outcomes matter.   But at the national level, it is a wasteland.

The results are already in too – ninety-nine percent of us lose.  We have no one to vote for, and no good way to vote against anyone either.

There is not even a good way to express contempt for what the duopoly party system has put on offer.  Not voting is an ambiguous gesture at best.

If control of the Senate weren’t at stake, even inveterate liberals would have a hard time finding reasons to care what the outcome will be.

They ought to have a hard time anyway.  In view of the abundance of evidence accumulated in recent years when Democrats controlled the Senate, it is hard to see how it could be worse were Republicans to wrest control away from them.

And, as President Obama starts a third Iraq War – or revives Number Two, depending on how you count – it is hard to enthuse over the candidates of his feckless party.

Still, elections focus the mind.  This election season is therefore as good a time as any to reflect on what (small-d) democrats ought to make of elections nowadays – the one about to happen and in general.

Thinking about them, it is hard not to despair.  So far from implementing defensible democratic ideals, they neuter democratic aspirations by disempowering the people, and then making them think that elections, the kind we are about to suffer through and others like it, are what democracy is about.

* * *

Until about two hundred years ago, “democracy”, rule by the demos, the people as distinct from social or economic elites, was widely regarded in much the way that “anarchy” now is.

The prevailing view was that while it could be enlightening to reflect upon democracy as a theoretical possibility, no reasonable person would actually endorse it as a political ideal.

This understanding dates back to the beginnings of Western philosophy; the reasoning behind it is already evident in Aristotle’s Politics.  For most of the past two and a half millennia, Aristotle’s position – not the details, but the general idea – seldom encountered serious dissent.

For both the ancients and the moderns, the prevailing view was that, except in very small communities, democracy cannot work; that effective governance is possible only when the few rule the many.  Monarchies and various forms of aristocratic governance pass the test; democracy does not.

But times change.  As the modern – capitalist – era took shape, the demos, once an inchoate agglomeration of no political consequence, became a lively and potent presence on the political scene.  Rulers could no longer ignore its interests, except at their own peril.

And so, they and those who think for them changed their view one hundred eighty degrees.  The case against democracy was no longer that it couldn’t work, but that it would likely work too well.

The fear was that an empowered demos, without property or privileges, would put the property and privileges of social and economic elites in jeopardy.  What the ruling classes feared most, for just this reason, were free and fair elections.

But, for the peoples’ interests to be taken into account, there has to be a way to ascertain what they want.  This is what voting does.  Elections are indispensable.

Nevertheless, the two are not the same.  Elections are held in all kinds of circumstances for all kinds of reasons, not just to ascertain the peoples’ will.  And, in principle, statistical polling, or some functional equivalent, can work as well or better than voting for discovering what the people want.

This point was understood in Greek antiquity; in fourth century BCE Athens, for example, magistrates were sometimes chosen by lot.

The connection between voting and democracy is therefore more practical and historical than conceptual.  But there is a conceptual connection as well, and the association runs deep.  This is why it is natural to think of democracy and elections together.

Because elites feared the popular masses, the first elections in the modern era were modest in scope.   Voters could not decide very much, and voting rights were severely restricted – typically, to male, white property holders.

In time, though, it became apparent that, with well-constructed representative institutions and with political parties mediating between the people and the state, voting rights could be extended broadly without endangering the interests of ruling elites.  The demos, tamed, was no longer feared – not, anyway, in the voting booth.

And so, as if by common consent, democracy’s standing in the political culture changed; formerly despised when taken seriously at all, it became honored and esteemed.

The transformation was so far-reaching that, before long, no regime could count as legitimate without the consent of the governed, the people.

Of all the ways to indicate consent, political theorists came to focus mainly on participation in electoral processes.  From there, it was just a small step to the view that prevails today: that for a country to count as a democracy, it is both necessary and sufficient that its rulers be chosen in free and fair competitive elections.

Because views about what counts as free and fair are, almost without exception, undemanding, the requirement that elections be competitive is the one that, in practice, does most of the work.

In the United States, for example, if there is a Democrat running against a Republican, the election is ipso facto free and fair, so long as there are no unusually egregious shenanigans involved in getting out or suppressing the vote, and so long as the votes are tallied more or less honestly.

The election that put George W Bush in office in 2000 is a case in point.  It was stolen, but, by prevailing norms, it was stolen fair and square.

Al Gore said as much when he conceded – after Republicans on the Supreme Court stopped Florida from recounting the votes.  It is now generally conceded that had the recount continued, Gore would have won the state’s electoral votes and therefore the Presidency.  However, nobody, Gore included, seemed at the time or later to care all that much.

As understandings of democracy were transformed and as the idea itself was revalued, democracy effectively dropped its connection to the demos; it lost its class content. The ideal became rule by the undifferentiated people, not the popular classes.

This made widespread acceptance easier, inasmuch as social and economic elites, though opposed as much as ever to demotic power, no longer found it useful to oppose democratic forms and procedures.

The institutions that shape opinion to accord with their interests naturally followed suit.

It is hardly surprising, therefore that, for some time, democratic theory has been a flourishing academic enterprise.

And with so much attention lavished on the topic, it is not surprising either that progress has been made in understanding what democracy is, and how it can be justified.

This too is hardly surprising.  Once the general line of inquiry was legitimated, denizens of ivory towers were more or less free to do as they pleased, blessed with means, motives and opportunities to follow the arguments, wherever they lead.

The downside of this freedom is, of course, political irrelevance.  Except when they have some pecuniary interest is this or that type of research, America’s social and economic elites seldom pay heed to what goes on in academic precincts; they neither know nor care much about it.

But the general drift does trickle out into the larger culture; and so, at least indirectly, sophisticated understandings of what democratic values and aspirations imply have taken hold.

This being the case, the political class has no choice but to get on board too, and at least pretend to follow.

It is therefore remarkable how attenuated the connection is between what democratic theorists envision and the real world of democracy.  There are few aspects of human life where the gap between theory and practice is wider.

* * *

In theory, elections combine the choices of individual voters, each counting equally, to produce a social choice that expresses the voters’ collective will.

When a simple numerical majority determines the outcome, the social choice is neither biased for nor against the status quo.  When larger majorities are required, the outcome is biased in favor of the status quo; numerical minorities have effective veto power.  This may be wise for some kinds of decisions – those that bear on constitutional arrangements, for example – and it is not necessarily undemocratic.  But it does introduce a limited form of minority rule.

It has been known for some time that there are significant conceptual problems involved in aggregating individuals’ choices in the ways democratic theorists suppose.  These problems have fueled important lines of research in economics, political science, and related fields.

But difficulties in generating social choices out of individuals’ choices seldom become manifest in actual electoral contests.  Those difficulties are therefore of more theoretical than practical importance.

And so, for all practical purposes, we can proceed as if majority rule voting does what it seems to do, and what the great democratic theorists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries thought it could do.

Those theorists, and their intellectual heirs, fall broadly into two categories: those that idealize the fora of Greek antiquity, the site of public deliberation and debate, and those that idealize markets.

The most prominent exponent of the former view was Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778).  In his political philosophy, majority rule voting is part of a process in which citizens collectively discover what is best for the whole community.

What is best, as he conceived it, is logically independent of individual citizens’ opinions about what is best.   But, he argued, citizens collectively, in the right conditions, can discover what is best by combining their opinions through majority rule voting.

However, for majority rule voting to have this effect, citizens must vote disinterestedly; their votes must register their opinions about what is best, not their preferences for one or another outcome.

Rousseau held that citizens are well positioned to do this because, as citizens, what they want is what is best for the community of which they are integral parts.

In principle, therefore, they have privileged access to what is best for the whole community, in much the way that they have privileged access to their own preferences – not just their actual preferences (this is trivially true), but also to their ideal preferences, to what they would want given full knowledge and adequate reflection.  They know what they want – not infallibly, but well enough.

Like the political philosophers of Greek antiquity whose views anticipate modern democratic theory, Rousseau thought that public deliberation and debate are indispensable for shaping individuals’ judgments and therefore for getting the truth about what is best for the whole community to emerge in elections.

Philosophers who follow his lead today are, if anything, even more inclined to emphasize the deliberative side of democratic collective choice.

It is telling that a near contemporary of Rousseau’s, the Marquis de Condorcet (1743-1794) proved mathematically that if individual voters have a greater than 50% chance of getting the right answer on a matter of fact, the probability that a majority of voters will get the answer right rises exponentially, almost to certainty, as the size of the majority increases.

Condorcet was interested, in the first instance, in jury voting; that is, in cases where there is a matter of fact to be discovered because the defendant is either guilty or not.  Rousseau thought of voting in political communities in a similar way.  He thought that there is a right answer to the question: what ought we, the collective body of which are integral parts, to do?

The other model, more plainly a creature of emerging capitalism, trades on the structural similarity between consumer sovereignty in markets and democratic notions of popular sovereignty.

Adam Smith (1723-1790) famously conjectured that when economic agents do what is best for themselves, then, provided certain background conditions are met, the outcome at the societal level is, in a well-defined and pertinent sense, as good as can be.  This happy result comes about, Smith said, as if by the workings of an “invisible hand”.

In fact, it comes about because markets, like majority rule voting, aggregate individuals’ choices in ways that generate a social choice that reflects the preferences of individuals for alternative outcomes.

Inasmuch as we are disinclined these days to think that there is a right answer to such questions as, for example, should Barack Obama or Mitt Romney be President – or, worse, Hillary Clinton or any of a dozen certifiable Republican whackos – the market model has, by now, become overwhelmingly dominant.

The idea is that elections run on the principle of majority rule produce fair outcomes when everybody’s preferences are taken into account and accorded equal weight.  Nowadays, this seems only commonsensical.

What elections do not, and cannot, do, Rousseau notwithstanding, is discover what, as a matter of fact, is best, regardless of what people think.  The commonsense view is that elections cannot do that, even in theory, because there is no fact of the matter to discover.

But not all preferences are created equal.  Some truly are autonomous, freely formed by consumers and other economic agents, based on adequate knowledge and reflection.  Others are in one way or another induced.

In markets for consumer goods, most preferences are induced; advertisers and other hidden persuaders see to that.

Consumer sovereignty is therefore often a sham.  Consumers do determine outcomes by buying and selling, but the preferences they act on are not really their own.  The ideal is a theoretical possibility, but the practical reality is something else.

* * *

It is much the same in the real world of democracy, and for much the same reason.  Popular sovereignty too is often a sham.

In theory, the collective choice is the one most preferred by individual voters.  When elections are free and fair, this may be so.  But, even then, preferences are often shaped by circumstances and by outside forces to such an extent that the case for satisfying them is diluted beyond recognition.

In other words, the preferences votes register are often not preferences voters autonomously form.  They are preferences they are sold on, in just the way that they are sold on preferences for consumer goods and other objects of sales campaigns.

Because people understand this intuitively, it has become commonplace in practice to understand “democracy” in a way that has very little to do with traditional or even plausible theoretical understandings of democracy.

This is why the term is often used to designate practices that have more to do with liberalism, as traditionally conceived, than democracy.   For a regime to count as democratic in current parlance, it must, as liberalism requires, acknowledge and protect basic rights and liberties.

But only some of those rights and liberties, like the right to vote and otherwise participate in political processes, fall within the purview of democratic theory, strictly speaking.

This is obvious on a moment’s reflection: rights that accord liberal protections that have nothing to do with governance can be upheld, in principle, in regimes that no one would call democratic – in benevolent dictatorships, for example; and they can be denied in democratic regimes that fall prey to “the tyranny of the majority”.

Nevertheless, in the world today, countries that hold some semblance of free and fair competitive elections and that generally respect the individual rights that liberals have traditionally defended are deemed democratic.

This usage is widespread.  But the only real connection between it and any genuine strain of democratic theory is the endorsement it accords to democratic procedures in voting.

In the democracy envisioned by democratic theorists, people vote and their votes are counted fairly.  Allowing for inevitable imperfections and occasional shenanigans around the edges, this happens in our elections too.  But nearly all the action in democratic theory happens before this final procedural stage is reached.

And almost none of it happens anymore in American elections.

Where is the rational deliberation and debate?  The idea that there is any seems almost ludicrous.  For that matter, where is interest-driven electioneering?

The American party system used to have a place for that – in big city machine politics, in the labor movement, in rural areas, and so on.  The party system still fulfills some of its traditional functions; parties are instrumental for, among other things, recruiting candidates, staffing positions, and raising money.

But when elections come around, what they mainly do is sell their brand.   This has no more to do with discovering what is best for the whole community or for aggregating autonomously developed preferences than any other marketing campaign.

This is why the situation voters will face on November 4 in the election booth is very much like the situation they will face at the convenience store on the way there or back:  Coke or Pepsi.

Elections aren’t about doing what is best or maximizing collective preference satisfaction.  They are about persuading voters to choose Brand X over Brand Y;  they are about selling candidates to voters.   Hucksters run the show.

The affront to democracy would be more forgivable if the wares the hucksters were peddling were more responsive to peoples’ interests, particularly the interests of the popular classes, the demos.  With Big Money calling the shots, this is out of the question.

Why then care about the outcomes?   The question is mainly rhetorical because it is plain, nowadays, that the less local electoral politics is, the less reason there is to care.

Democrats could lose control of the Senate this year.  This is supposed to matter, but does it really?  Except to those who have a pecuniary interest in the outcome, it is not at all obvious how.

The outcome will determine who will serve America’s and the world’s social and economic elites.  There are no doubt differences among candidates and parties that matter to them; and, at the margins, the results could have broader consequences for others as well.  But the one sure thing is that whoever wins, the demos will lose.

Coke or Pepsi?  Neither is good for you and, for most people most of the time, neither is especially appealing; yet Coke or Pepsi choices are all that the system offers.  Even the lesser evil, these days, isn’t clearly lesser.

When the time comes to vote, voting for the lesser evil, if there is one; is as reasonable an option as any, though there are problems associated with the practice – like accelerating the race to the bottom.  But lesser evil voting hardly speaks to the real problems at hand.  The only way to do that is to change the system itself.

_____

Andrew Levine is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, the author most recently of The American Ideology (2004) and Political Keywords (2007) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People (2011). He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (2012).

http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/10/24/where-hucksters-rule

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The Bottom 90% are Poorer …

… Today Than They Were in 1987

by Matt O’Brien

Wonkblog (October 22 2014)

Once upon a time, the American economy worked for everybody, and even the middle class got richer. But this story has only been a fairy tale for almost thirty years now. The new, harsh reality is that the bottom 90% of households are poorer today than they were in 1987.

This is actually a much more dramatic statement than it sounds. While the Federal Reserve has already told us that the median households is worth less now than it was in 1989 – that’s the household right in the middle – it turns out that everybody but the richest 10% of Americans are worst off. That includes the poor, the entire middle class, and even what we would consider much of the upper class.

You can see this troubling finding in the chart above, based on data from Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman’s new paper on US wealth inequality, which itself is based on tax data: http://gabriel-zucman.eu/files/SaezZucman2014.pdf

In this chart, I’ve taken each group’s inflation-adjusted net worth from 1945 and indexed that to 100, so we can compare how wealth has grown for people with lots or little of it. The answer, as you can see, is that the bottom 90% actually did very well during the first few decades of the postwar period – adding more wealth, in percentage terms, than those at the top.

But these days of shared prosperity have come to an end, gradually and then suddenly. It started in the 1980s when the top 1% awoke from their long postwar slumber, thanks to the combination of lower taxes, financial deregulation, and new technology. It wasn’t a total disaster for the bottom 90%. Even as most Americans saved much less, accumulating far less wealth, stock markets and housing prices continued to rise. Until they didn’t, coming crash down in 2007 and 2008.

The problem was that middle class doesn’t own that much in stocks, but went into debt to buy lots of housing. So the housing crash turned their biggest financial asset into an albatross, wiping out their equity but not their debt. And the housing recovery hasn’t done much to fix this, since it’s struggled to move beyond the “nascent” stage.

Stocks, meanwhile, collapsed during the crisis, but came back soon thereafter. The middle class, in other words, missed out on the big bull market in stocks, but not on the even bigger bear one in housing. That’s why the recovery has restored so little of the wealth that the recession destroyed. In fact, the bottom 90% have actually kept losing net worth the past few years, in large part, due to rising student loan debt.

It’s been a lost 25 years for the bottom 90%, but a lost fifteen for the next 9%, too. That’s right: altogether, the bottom 99% are worth less today than they were in 1998.

But this isn’t a story about the top 1% running away from everybody else. It’s a story about the top 0.1% –  scratch that, the top 0.01% –  doing so. You can see that in the chart below, again based on data from Saez and Zucman, of each group’s share of US wealth. Indeed, since 1980, the top 0.01%’s piece of the wealth pie has increased by 8.6 percentage points, while the next 0.09%’s has done so by 5.4. The bottom 99%, meanwhile, have seen their wealth share fall an astonishing eighteen percentage points.

Here’s a bit of historical perspective: the top 1% now own over 41% of all the wealth in the country. That’s the most since 1939. Although it’s still well below the all-time high of 51% set in 1928.

In other words, this new Gilded Age might get even more Gilded.

_____

Matt O’Brien is a reporter for Wonkblog covering economic affairs. He was previously a senior associate editor at The Atlantic.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/10/22/the-bottom-90-percent-are-poorer-today-than-they-were-in-1987/

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The Anti-Empire Report #133

by William Blum

http://williamblum.org (October 16 2014)

Official website of the author, historian, and US foreign policy critic.

The Islamist State

You can’t believe a word the United States or its mainstream media say about the current conflict involving The Islamic State (ISIS).

You can’t believe a word France or the United Kingdom say about ISIS.

You can’t believe a word Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan, or the United Arab Emirates say about ISIS. Can you say for sure which side of the conflict any of these mideast countries actually finances, arms, or trains, if in fact it’s only one side? Why do they allow their angry young men to join Islamic extremists? Why has NATO-member Turkey allowed so many Islamic extremists to cross into Syria? Is Turkey more concerned with wiping out the Islamic State or the Kurds under siege by ISIS? Are these countries, or the Western powers, more concerned with overthrowing ISIS or overthrowing the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad?

You can’t believe the so-called “moderate” Syrian rebels. You can’t even believe that they are moderate. They have their hands in everything, and everyone has their hands in them.

Iran, Hezbollah and Syria have been fighting ISIS or its precursors for years, but the United States refuses to join forces with any of these entities in the struggle. Nor does Washington impose sanctions on any country for supporting ISIS as it quickly did against Russia for its alleged role in Ukraine.

The groundwork for this awful mess of political and religious horrors sweeping through the Middle East was laid –  laid deeply –  by the United States during 35 years (1979 to 2014) of overthrowing the secular governments of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria. (Adding to the mess in the same period we should not forget the US endlessly bombing Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.) You cannot destroy modern, relatively developed and educated societies, ripping apart the social, political, economic and legal fabric, torturing thousands, killing millions, and expect civilization and human decency to survive.

Particularly crucial in this groundwork was the US decision to essentially throw 400,000 Iraqis with military training, including a full officer corps, out onto the streets of its cities, jobless. It was a formula for creating an insurgency. Humiliated and embittered, some of those men would later join various resistance groups operating against the American military occupation. {1} It’s safe to say that the majority of armored vehicles, weapons, ammunition, and explosives taking lives every minute in the Middle East are stamped “Made in USA”.

And all of Washington’s horses, all of Washington’s men, cannot put this world back together again. The world now knows these places as “failed states”.

Meanwhile, the United States bombs Syria daily, ostensibly because the US is at war with ISIS, but at the same time seriously damaging the oil capacity of the country (a third of the Syrian government’s budget), the government’s military capabilities, its infrastructure, even its granaries, taking countless innocent lives, destroying ancient sites; all making the recovery of an Assad-led Syria, or any Syria, highly unlikely. Washington is undoubtedly looking for ways to devastate Iran as well under the cover of fighting ISIS.

Nothing good can be said about this whole beastly situation. All the options are awful. All the participants, on all sides, are very suspect, if not criminally insane. It may be the end of the world. To which I say … Good riddance. Nice try, humans; in fact, GREAT TRY … but good riddance. ISIS … Ebola … Climate Change … nuclear radiation … The Empire … Which one will do us in first? … Have a nice day.

Is the world actually so much more evil and scary today than it was in the 1950s of my upbringing, for which I grow more nostalgic with each new horror? Or is it that the horrors of today are so much better reported, as we swim in a sea of news and videos?

After seeing several ISIS videos on the Internet, filled with the most disgusting scenes, particularly against women, my thought is this: Give them their own country; everyone who’s in that place now who wants to leave, will be helped to do so; everyone from all over the world who wants to go there will be helped to get there. Once they’re there, they can all do whatever they want, but they can’t leave without going through a rigorous interview at a neighboring border to ascertain whether they’ve recovered their attachment to humanity. However, since very few women, presumably, would go there, the country would not last very long.

The Berlin Wall –  Another Cold War Myth

November 9 will mark the 25th anniversary of the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. The extravagant hoopla began months ago in Berlin. In the United States we can expect all the Cold War cliches about The Free World versus Communist Tyranny to be trotted out and the simple tale of how the wall came to be will be repeated: In 1961, the East Berlin communists built a wall to keep their oppressed citizens from escaping to West Berlin and freedom. Why? Because commies don’t like people to be free, to learn the “truth”. What other reason could there have been?

First of all, before the wall went up in 1961 thousands of East Germans had been commuting to the West for jobs each day and then returning to the East in the evening; many others went back and forth for shopping or other reasons. So they were clearly not being held in the East against their will. Why then was the wall built? There were two major reasons:

1. The West was bedeviling the East with a vigorous campaign of recruiting East German professionals and skilled workers, who had been educated at the expense of the Communist government. This eventually led to a serious labor and production crisis in the East. As one indication of this, the New York Times reported in 1963: “West Berlin suffered economically from the wall by the loss of about 60,000 skilled workmen who had commuted daily from their homes in East Berlin to their places of work in West Berlin” {2}.

It should be noted that in 1999, USA Today reported: “When the Berlin Wall crumbled [1989], East Germans imagined a life of freedom where consumer goods were abundant and hardships would fade. Ten years later, a remarkable 51% say they were happier with communism” {3}. Earlier polls would likely have shown even more than 51% expressing such a sentiment, for in the ten years many of those who remembered life in East Germany with some fondness had passed away; although even ten years later, in 2009, the Washington Post could report: “Westerners [in Berlin] say they are fed up with the tendency of their eastern counterparts to wax nostalgic about communist times” {4}.

It was in the post-unification period that a new Russian and eastern Europe proverb was born: “Everything the Communists said about Communism was a lie, but everything they said about capitalism turned out to be the truth”.

It should be further noted that the division of Germany into two states in 1949 –  setting the stage for forty years of Cold War hostility –  was an American decision, not a Soviet one {5}.

2. During the 1950s, American coldwarriors in West Germany instituted a crude campaign of sabotage and subversion against East Germany designed to throw that country’s economic and administrative machinery out of gear. The CIA and other US intelligence and military services recruited, equipped, trained and financed German activist groups and individuals, of West and East, to carry out actions which ran the spectrum from juvenile delinquency to terrorism; anything to make life difficult for the East German people and weaken their support of the government; anything to make the commies look bad.

It was a remarkable undertaking. The United States and its agents used explosives, arson, short circuiting, and other methods to damage power stations, shipyards, canals, docks, public buildings, gas stations, public transportation, bridges, et cetera; they derailed freight trains, seriously injuring workers; burned twelve cars of a freight train and destroyed air pressure hoses of others; used acids to damage vital factory machinery; put sand in the turbine of a factory, bringing it to a standstill; set fire to a tile-producing factory; promoted work slow-downs in factories; killed 7,000 cows of a co-operative dairy through poisoning; added soap to powdered milk destined for East German schools; were in possession, when arrested, of a large quantity of the poison cantharidin with which it was planned to produce poisoned cigarettes to kill leading East Germans; set off stink bombs to disrupt political meetings; attempted to disrupt the World Youth Festival in East Berlin by sending out forged invitations, false promises of free bed and board, false notices of cancellations, et cetera; carried out attacks on participants with explosives, firebombs, and tire-puncturing equipment; forged and distributed large quantities of food ration cards to cause confusion, shortages and resentment; sent out forged tax notices and other government directives and documents to foster disorganization and inefficiency within industry and unions … all this and much more. {6}

The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, of Washington, DC, conservative coldwarriors, in one of their Cold War International History Project Working Papers (#58, page 9) states: “The open border in Berlin exposed the GDR [East Germany] to massive espionage and subversion and, as the two documents in the appendices show, its closure gave the Communist state greater security”.

Throughout the 1950s, the East Germans and the Soviet Union repeatedly lodged complaints with the Soviets’ erstwhile allies in the West and with the United Nations about specific sabotage and espionage activities and called for the closure of the offices in West Germany they claimed were responsible, and for which they provided names and addresses. Their complaints fell on deaf ears. Inevitably, the East Germans began to tighten up entry into the country from the West, leading eventually to the infamous wall. However, even after the wall was built there was regular, albeit limited, legal emigration from east to west. In 1984, for example, East Germany allowed 40,000 people to leave. In 1985, East German newspapers claimed that more than 20,000 former citizens who had settled in the West wanted to return home after becoming disillusioned with the capitalist system. The West German government said that 14,300 East Germans had gone back over the previous ten years. {7}

Let’s also not forget that while East Germany completely denazified, in West Germany for more than a decade after the war, the highest government positions in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches contained numerous former and “former” Nazis.

Finally, it must be remembered, that Eastern Europe became communist because Hitler, with the approval of the West, used it as a highway to reach the Soviet Union to wipe out Bolshevism forever, and that the Russians in World War One and Two, lost about forty million people because the West had used this highway to invade Russia. It should not be surprising that after World War Two the Soviet Union was determined to close down the highway.

For an additional and very interesting view of the Berlin Wall anniversary, see the article “Humpty Dumpty and the Fall of Berlin’s Wall” by Victor Grossman {8}. Grossman (nee Steve Wechsler) fled the US Army in Germany under pressure from McCarthy-era threats and became a journalist and author during his years in the (East) German Democratic Republic. He still lives in Berlin and mails out his “Berlin Bulletin” on German developments on an irregular basis. You can subscribe to it at wechsler_grossman@yahoo.de. His autobiography: Crossing the River: a Memoir of the American Left, the Cold War and Life in East Germany (2003) was published by University of Massachusetts Press. He claims to be the only person in the world with diplomas from both Harvard University and Karl Marx University in Leipzig.

Al Franken, the Liberal’s Darling

I receive a continuous stream of emails from “progressive” organizations asking me to vote for Senator Franken or contribute to his re-election campaign this November, and I don’t even live in Minnesota. Even if I could vote for him, I wouldn’t. No one who was a supporter of the war in Iraq will get my vote unless they unequivocally renounce that support. And I don’t mean renounce it like Hillary Clinton’s nonsense about not having known enough.

Franken, the former Saturday Night Live comedian, would like you to believe that he’s been against the war in Iraq since it began. But he went to Iraq at least four times to entertain the troops. Does that make sense? Why does the military bring entertainers to soldiers? To lift the soldiers’ spirits of course. And why does the military want to lift the soldiers’ spirits? Because a happier soldier does his job better. And what is the soldier’s job? All the charming war crimes and human-rights violations that I and others have documented in great detail for many years. Doesn’t Franken know what American soldiers do for a living?

A year after the US invasion in 2003, Franken criticized the Bush administration because they “failed to send enough troops to do the job right”. {9} What “job” did the man think the troops were sent to do that had not been performed to his standards because of lack of manpower? Did he want them to be more efficient at killing Iraqis who resisted the occupation? The volunteer American troops in Iraq did not even have the defense of having been drafted against their wishes.

Franken has been lifting soldiers’ spirits for a long time. In 2009 he was honored by the United Service Organization (USO) for his ten years of entertaining troops abroad. That includes Kosovo in 1999, as imperialist an occupation as you’ll want to see. He called his USO experience “one of the best things I’ve ever done” {10}. Franken has also spoken at West Point (2005), encouraging the next generation of imperialist warriors. Is this a man to challenge the militarization of America at home and abroad? No more so than Barack Obama.

Tom Hayden wrote this about Franken in 2005 when Franken had a regular program on the Air America radio network:

Is anyone else disappointed with Al Franken’s daily defense of the continued war in Iraq? Not Bush’s version of the war, because that would undermine Air America’s laudable purpose of rallying an anti-Bush audience. But, well, Kerry’s version of the war, one that can be better managed and won, somehow with better body armor and fewer torture cells. {11}

While in Iraq to entertain the troops, Franken declared that the Bush administration “blew the diplomacy so we didn’t have a real coalition”, then failed to send enough troops to do the job right. “Out of sheer hubris, they have put the lives of these guys in jeopardy”. {12}

Franken was implying that if the United States had been more successful in bribing and threatening other countries to lend their name to the coalition fighting the war in Iraq the United States would have had a better chance of WINNING the war.

Is this the sentiment of someone opposed to the war? Or in support of it? It is the mind of an American liberal in all its beautiful mushiness.

Notes:

{1} Derived from William Astore, “Investing in Junk Armies”, TomDispatch (October 14 2014)

{2} New York Times (June 27 1963), page 12

{3} USA Today (October 11 1999), page 1

{4} Washington Post (May 12 2009); see a similar story (November 05 2009)

{5} Carolyn Eisenberg, Drawing the Line: The American Decision to Divide Germany, 1944-1949 (1996); or see a concise review of this book by Kai Bird in The Nation  (December 16 1996)

{6} See William Blum, Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, page 400, note 8, for a list of sources for the details of the sabotage and subversion.

{7} http://www.truth-out.org/speakout/item/26667-humpty-dumpty-and-the-fall-of-berlins-wall

{8} The Guardian, London (March 07 1985)

{9} Washington Post (February 16 2004)

{10} Star Tribune, Minneapolis (March 26 2009)

{11} Huffington Post (June 2005)

{12} Washington Post (February 16 2004)

Any part of this report may be disseminated without permission, provided attribution to William Blum as author and a link to this website are given.

William Blum’s books in foreign languages available for only the cost of shipping in the United States ($5 each)

http://williamblum.org/aer/read/133

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Fukushima Update

Undernews (October 21 2014)

A large swathe of land downwind of the four Fukushima Daiichi reactors smashed by a fifteen-metre tsunami in March 2011 is so contaminated by radioactivity that it will not be officially safe to return for more than 100 years.

Tens of thousands more who have left their homes outside the most contaminated zone will choose never to return because of the dangers.

The explosions, meltdowns and leaks at Fukushima Daiichi triggered by an earthquake and tsunami three and a half years ago have hurt Japan deeply, triggering 2.2 million compensation claims, an eight billion GBP (1.4 trillion yen) decontamination budget and dozens of legal suits. It’s a hurt that is going to take many decades to heal.

More than 30,000 square kilometres of northern Japan were contaminated by the huge clouds of radioactivity that belched into the air during the accident. More than 80,000 people were forced to evacuate from the areas closest to Fukushima Daiichi, and at least another 80,000 are reckoned to have voluntarily decided to flee their homes.

The official evacuation zone is divided into three different areas. In the least contaminated, furthest away from the nuclear plant, the Japanese government is hoping to allow 32,900 people to return soon.

In the second area there is twice or three times as much contamination, and no immediate plan to lift the ban on living there. But the government is hoping that, after decontamination work and natural radioactive decay, 23,300 people will be allowed home in years to come.

In the third area closest to the nuclear station, radiation levels are so high that experts say it will be more than 120 years before it will be safe for anyone to be allowed back. That means that the 24,700 who used to live there will all be dead before they can go home.

http://prorevnews.blogspot.jp/2014/10/fukuishima-update.html

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On Putin’s Valdai Speech

The Logjam in World Diplomacy

by Patrick L Young

RT.com (October 25 2014)

President Putin expressed frustration at the global status quo from the Valdai Conference. Western politicians may find it painful to appreciate that the Russian president was accurate in many assessments.

Former French PM Dominique de Villepin expressed a ‘mot juste': the spiral of mistrust needs to be reversed. The trouble is once I introduce the name of the next speaker at the Valdai conference, a significant chunk of the trolling classes will immediately head for the comments section to resume the war of words, doubtless suggesting the Russian political class advocates eating babies or some other ludicrous notion.

Mentioning ‘Vladimir Putin’ and ‘constructive comment’ in the same sentence is more than stubbornly closed-minded elements of the Western media can comprehend. A dismal Cold War spirit has been re-engaged from various points west despite a very post-Communist spirit being apparent within seconds of landing on Russian soil.

We have a logjam in world diplomacy. The single superpower of the past twenty years is demonstrating monopolistic follies tinged with delusion, ringed with incompetence. Thus US intelligence agencies missed the rise of ISIS until they reached the cusp of conquering an area somewhere between the size of Belgium and South Korea … For those worried about big government inefficiency, it is difficult to endorse American intelligence agencies as delivering value for taxpayers.

Thus Putin expounded a rather telling argument: the American-centric superpower era has created troubling consequences – and a remarkable power vacuum! Militant terrorists rampaging in Canada clearly implies total failure to make the world a safer place.

American ‘divine right’ regime change has destabilized the world with the US falling into imperial folly, unable to acknowledge its mistakes, destined to evoke Einstein’s definition of “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.

In Sochi this week, Putin didn’t mince his words. He is understandably frustrated about sanctions – a bizarre process by which Europe has sacrificed economic recovery to please the USA, whose Russian economic exposure is minimal. Meanwhile Russia may be suffering ruble decreases, but the economy is still growing. Pity the poor Ukrainians: promised an unrealistic leap to prosperity by has-been Western politicians on the Maidan. The Ukrainian economy stands to decline a staggering nine percent this year, despite a dismally low base thanks to a generation of color revolutions concealing oligarchical kleptocracy.

Putin has a clear right to his ‘told you so’ remarks, even leaving aside the Syrian fiasco in which President Obama crossed a self-created thin red line from Commander … to Discredited-Ditherer-in-Chief. Meanwhile the Chief Putter of the Oval Office prefers playing golf to negotiating nuclear arms reduction which Russia is eager to pursue.

President Putin succinctly described US sanctions as “sawing through the branches on which they are sitting” while he presses on with an Eastern pivot which the West dismisses at its peril. That US sole superpower status will be threatened outright by China soon.

True, the US has played its fiercest card, endeavoring to block Russia through the US dollar payment system, but that financial hegemony will only last as long as the dollar is the undisputed currency king. Obama has motivated Russia to disintermediate it.

Those keen to disparage Putin emphasize his Soviet-era Communist background. Curiously, outgoing EU President Barroso, whose decade in office has left the EU palpably poorer, was also an ex-Communist … but they sweep that under Brussels’ totalitarian carpet!

Prescriptive Western arrogance is being undermined by relative financial decline – the Germans won’t bail out their EU neighbors, only Russo-Chinese involvement can save Ukraine from the economic abyss. Western credibility has suffered from shrill assertions that the hand of the Kremlin is omnipresent in every problem. Even Der Spiegel magazine is now distancing itself from previous suggestions that the MH17 tragedy involved direct Russian military intervention.

There is much reform still to be undertaken, but Russia has achieved great things in two decades of freedom. It becomes all global citizens to encourage that path to greater prosperity. Rather we have a tired American empire abusing legal systems and due process, or as Putin put it:

The existing system of international relations, international laws, the system of checks and balances have been therefore declared useless, obsolete and ready to be torn down.

Dominique De Villepin is right: the spiral of distrust must be broken – the sooner the better for everybody. But will any of the Western political pygmies be brave enough to break the impasse?

_____

Patrick L Young is expert in global financial markets working in multiple disciplines, ranging from trading independently to running exchanges.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

(c) Autonomous Nonprofit Organization “TV-Novosti”, 2005–2014. All rights reserved.

http://rt.com/op-edge/199212-valdai-russia-putin-conference-west/

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