Saturday, December 19, 2015

New Flavor of the Month

The last global trend in S and M economic/political policy was “austerity”. While it hasn't fully run its course just yet, it has yielded many of its desired outcomes. Greece is on its knees, Portugal, Spain and Italy are still reeling and hoping they won't follow Greece into permanent bondage, while Ireland has reclaimed its pre-boom place in the European economic pecking order. In the US, while business indicators seem to be moving ahead, the life expectancy of the white working class has taken an unexpectedly sudden drop. These subjects have reacted to their masters at the IMF and the World Bank in somewhat different ways.

The Greeks protested and voted to oust their dominators and dominatrixes but alas, the new government sold them out, deciding to subject them to further beatings. The Spanish and the Portuguese both seem to want to follow the Greek course by voting against the bondage administrators but it remains to be seen if they will have better luck than the Greeks. While I live in Italy, I have no idea how Italians hope to escape their bonds but they've always been good at international maneuvers. The Great Houdini was, after all, an Italian. 

The Irish, having grown up under the strict tutelage of Roman Catholic nuns, for the most part just told the banks, master we have erred, beat us, hurt us, and so they were beaten some more. There are isolated cases of the Irish growing restive as they learn that their Taoiseach (Prime Minister), Enda Kenny, chief lecturer on the joy of pain that austerity brings, even after taking two pay cuts, earns more than the British Prime Minister David Cameron, as do Irish Parliamentarians vs their British counterparts. The Americans, always the ideal passives of the world, don't appear to realize that they are being beaten, unquestioningly accepting media propaganda that the discipline is ordained by God. The coming year will see if there is any awakening of an urge to throw off the chains.

Talk of austerity has faded recently as other concerns have captured the public imagination. Flavors come and flavors go, just as colors change with the season. Two or three years ago every shop window in Italy glistened with violet tones. Last year the orange Guantanamo prisoner uniforms inspired a surge of orange, but it never really caught on. This year it's all shades of gray. As in fashion, so it is in the world of news.

In July 2014, Senate Resolution 498, written by Senators Bob Menendez (NJ) (best known for his determination to maintain bad relations with Cuba and Iran) and John McCain (AZ) (best known for picking Sarah Palin as his presidential running mate), was passed by unanimous (100-0) vote on the same night that Israel launched a massive assault on Gaza, the third since the siege started in 2008. The resolution supported Israeli efforts to defend itself from rocket attacks. They additionally voted $428 million for Israel's Iron Dome missile system and later added another $225 m to replenish the Israeli arsenal, depleted by the three week assault on Gaza, which killed over 2200 of the 1.8 million people penned up up in the 360 square kilometer (about twice the size of Washington DC) strip. For seven years the Israelis had maintained a land and sea blockade of Gaza keeping out products such as shoes, paper, tea, coffee, wood, cement and iron. Food was allowed into the territory to not exceed careful calculations of the minimum necessary per capita caloric intake for the population. In the assault, 18,000 housing units were destroyed, four hospitals, two UN shelters and the only power plant in the territory were bombed. Strong measures!
self-defense measures

Since the UN partitioning of Palestine in 1948 there has been a recurring cycle of violence, with a pattern emerging of Arab aggression met with crushing retribution, interspersed with short-lived attempts to broker peace accords. It seems the Israelis got fed up with the never ending cycle of violence and came around to an unstated policy of eliminating all those troublesome Palestinians. This was perhaps one of the few possible rational solutions to the Israeli dilemma, but surprising in light of twentieth century history, coming from this particular group. The dilemma results from the unworkability of either the two-state solution or the one state solution for Palestine/Israel. The original two state solution, mandated by the UN, is no longer feasible because the Israelis have seized a vast amount of the Palestinian territory and rendered most of the rest unusable by the Palestinians. The one-state solution, i.e. allowing Israel to swallow up the entire territory and its inhabitants, may be the future, but it doesn't promise well for the long term. The Israelis want a Jewish state but the Arab birth rate is significantly higher than the Israeli birth rate so the ruling group would be destined to become a minority. Apartheid, a policy that worked for a while in South Africa, is already effectively in place.

Genocide is a term that we associate with the Nazi campaign to exterminate Jews during WWII but there have been numerous other cases of one national or ethnic group trying to wipe out another. In Rwanda, the Hutu made a serious effort to eliminate the Tutsi; most Armenians were eliminated in a purge by the Turks that the Turks have continued to deny doing to this day. In China, Mao made an all out effort to eliminate the professional classes. In the USA, the Native Americans, or Indians as they were called until recently, were decimated by the new settlers. Many of these conflicts were the intensification of long standing rivalries or revenge for perceived offenses in the past. Hitler viewed the Jews as an inferior race and sought to eliminate them not for anything they might do but because of his own warped perspective on racial purity.

The US Senate has put a whole new spin on mass killing with its certificate of approval on pre-emptive genocide, the new flavor of the month. Once approved, it's become as trendy as those violets or shades of gray, putting talk if not the reality of austerity into the category of yesterday's news.

When the US launched its shock and awe invasion of Iraq in 2002 it harbored no thoughts of extermination of the entire Iraqi population. Our PNAC crusaders only wanted to create regime change to allow Saddam's enslaved subjects to taste the fruits of American capitalism and democracy, except that we made the entire ruling Baath Party unemployed and unemployable, which led, unsurprisingly, to widespread ethnic and religious civil wars. A decade later, the battered, beaten and hardened Sunni Muslim groups, have emerged, with Saudi money, American weapons, and jihadi fervor, as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), leaving headless corpses in their wake. What's the answer? We have to wipe them out, whoever they are or call themselves! (They have more aliases than a CIA secret agent, using also ISIL, Daesh and lately IS, for Islamic State) This has played right into the 2016 US presidential campaign and its bizarre coverage in the media. Candidates are falling all over themselves in a rush to declare that they will kill more Islamic terrorists faster than their competitors. While the Republican candidates excel at this sort of rhetoric, the sitting president and his leading pretender to the oval office, do not sit on words alone. The president has taken on the tedious chore of wiping out suspected bad guys by drone attack in the far corners of the world. Former Secretary of State Clinton seems to light up with glee recalling her part in the overthrow and grisly murder of Colonel Gaddafi, another designated bad guy. Her delight in that bloody moment seems to render her blind to the reign of chaos left behind and the vast flow of desperate refugees it has launched on Europe.

The presidential campaign is obviously too long and it needed a lift, which ISIS has provided. Before that, in order to avoid the serious issues of the day, the candidates had to simply rail about the illegal immigrants coming across the Mexican border. Who would be tougher? Donald Trump won that shouting contest and leads the field.
contenders to lead the free world
Now, we've seen Islamic terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino breathing fresh air into the campaign. We have entered World War III,” Rick Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, declared. Former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas said Americans were “just plain scared…..We have an enemy out to kill us, and we have a government we don’t trust anymore.” There's an incursion of Syrian refugees into Europe and a prospect of some getting to the United States. Donald Trump wants all the Muslims already in the country, as well as any newcomers, to be issued special identity cards or other identification, perhaps a number tattooed on their arm. The lesser candidates don't want to see or hear of them at all. We don't need to kill them. Just keep them out.

There is a bit of confusion in the rush to kill. Everybody wants to kill ISIS. Our neo-cons want President Assad gone, preferably dead, and therefore want to arm the people opposed to him. The people who most want to topple Assad are Sunnis, many of whom belong to ISIS or Al Qaeda, that is, the bad guys. The Russians are also out there killing ISIS and we've been taught that Putin and the Russians are among the worst bad guys. The Turks, who belong to NATO, are fighting against both Assad's forces and the Kurds, who in turn are fighting ISIS. Lindsey Graham wants to arm them all, a policy seconded with a bit more caution by some of his campaign adversaries. Most of the candidates want boots on the ground but none are sending their daughters. So, whose boots?

Any discussion of pre-emptive genocide would be flawed if it failed to note that three GOP candidates for president attended a meeting of the National Religious Liberties Conference on the same weekend that they got together for a presidential debate. The leader of the Conference, the Rev. Kevin Swanson, emotionally proclaims that the Bible teaches us that homosexuals are to be rounded up and executed. Debate within the Conference centers around the proper means of execution. The candidates, Jindal, Huckabee and Cruz, were welcomed to the gathering but didn't stay for the speeches or debate. His attendance apparently having done nothing to boost his poll numbers, Bobby Jindal subsequently dropped out, leaving Huck and Cruz to soldier on, almost alone, in the anti-gay crusade. Now Ted Cruz seems to be gaining on Trump and has a shot at becoming the GOP candidate for the presidency.

A word of caution. Ethical concerts apart, and the majority of my American countrymen appear to have no trouble setting aside such concerns if any do exist in their hearts and minds, there is one practical problem with the current penchant for pre-emptive genocide.

The last time a religiously identified group was singled out for extermination, Nazis killed about seven million Jews, drastically reducing the European Jewish population and virtually eliminating it in some countries. By that standard, the number of Palestinians to be eliminated is manageable and the territory is small. The US fervor for the elimination of Muslims is more problematic. Based on the counsel of our Israeli and Saudi advisers, our hawkish congressmen want to get the killing bandwagon rolling in earnest, as opposed to the token drone killings in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, with a major (nuclear?) attack on Iran, which is the main center of Shia Muslims. Shiites, one of the two main branches of Islam, constitute a 10 to 15 % minority of the estimated 1.5 billion Muslims in the world. At the same time, most of the jihadis carrying out terrorist attacks these days are Sunni Muslims. All western democracies seem poised to respond to the challenge of ISIS by unleashing their military might. Ted Cruz wants to make the sands of the desert glow in the dark while Carly Fiorina appears to advocate taking out Russia at the same time. Simultaneous attacks on both Shia and Sunni Muslims could conceivably result in their reunification, something they haven't been able to achieve on their own in more than a thousand years.

Furthermore, while most of this huge swath of humanity is currently peaceful, or even passive, under all out siege that could conceivably change. In addition to a number of Muslim majority countries there are also millions of Muslims living in Western countries. It might be prudent to consider the fate of Nazi Germany in the wake of its rather efficient killing program of its perceived internal enemies. To skeptics who might protest that Nazi Germany only fell due to being militarily overextended, I would point out that the US currently has military bases in three quarters of the world's countries and has “special forces operations” going on in most of them.

As we are now in the holiday season, I wish you all a Merry Christmas. May we move on to a new and better flavor of the month. As the shades of gray fade, may we skip the bloody red and make blue the color of the year for 2016.