And so it goes …

We live under the Military Industrial Complex that President Eisenhower warned us about.

The Silent Spring that Carson predicted would come unless we stopped using pesticides is here.

Marx said the inherent instability of capitalism would cause euphoric ups and catastrophic downs, followed by a final crash.  He and Adam Smith both warned of monopoly capitalism, the latter the destructiveness of unbridled capitalism and that the hidden hand needed to have a human face.

We are in the midst of global environmental and moral collapse that, according to Jared Diamond, is the precursor to the Collapse of Civilizations.  He paints a vivid picture of repetitive societal extinctions in humanity’s history, which we are bound to repeat unless we change our patterns.  A gruesome version of Groundhog Day.

Weber analysed bureaucracy and types of leadership. HIs research should have been used as a guide of what not to do as we built our governance structures and institutions. Durkheim talked about the necessity of corporate associations as supports in society and described the anomie and alienation that would occur if society started losing its moral foundations.

People can’t say they weren’t warned.

When people go to Walmart to buy cheap stuff made in China and then complain about how China is taking away jobs,  when the majority of voters choose authoritarian and totalitarian, nepotism, and corruption over human rights, justice, and freedom, when one of the top sectors of the global economy is weapons with never pausing production and infinite possibilities, when we are in the midst of a geological scale migration and nations wring their hands while at the same time feeding the double headed monster of war and global warming causing the migration, when scientists are playing around with genetics, robotics, creating nerve agents, new and improved pesticides, and we are drowning in plastic, it’s hard to be optimistic.

Spend spend spend! Don’t worry be happy.

And so it goes …

 

 

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WHAT DO THE REPUBLICANS STAND FOR?

It’s hard to say what the Republicans stand for nowadays.

They are against abortions but also against doing anything that helps make the lives of children  healthier and safer, like health care, free school lunches for kids living under the poverty line, and gun control.

They say they are for working families and yet support tax breaks for the richest rather than a minimum wage hike for the poorest. They praise their tax break legislation that bring home an extra 90 bucks a year for those on the low end of the salary scale and a whopping multi-million for those on the other end, such as the President himself, the Republicans in office, and their rich friends.

They don’t want immigrants, particularly muslims, but it’s the muslims who are guaranteed to pass the piss test and not get fired, and companies need their work ethic.  For those who don’t know, to test for drugs people have to pee in a container, the company tests it for drug use (marijuana, opioids, etc) and if it’s positive – you’re fired .

This news report explains it: https://edition.cnn.com/2017/03/27/us/refugees-jobs-drug-testing/index.html

The Republican pushed the WTO and put Wolfowitz in charge, they pushed free trade and talked free market.  But not anymore. WTO is now the bad guy and the free market ended with the bank bailouts – better corporate welfare than social welfare.

It used to be they were the moral high and mighty, but the #metoo movement put an end to that fantasy. No longer is infidelity a political problem or insulting women, nor is being an alleged pedophile. the Russians are the good guys –  MaCarthy must be rolling in his grave.

The GPO seems to be on their way to changing their acronym to the NRA.

Who are the elite they complain about? According to the definition, they are.

We can say they don’t stand for a free press – since they don’t discourage editorial control of so many local television stations:

They don’t support a plurality, which by definition is diverse, and since democracy depends on a plurality can we say they don’t support democracy?

The Republican President congratulates autocrats on winning elections and is pushing the formerly anti-Republican stance of protectionism.

When all is said and done, the Republicans have not only lost their integrity, they don’t seem to stand for much anymore.

 

HANNAH ARENDT: THE THINKER FOR OUR TIME

In her book Human Condition, Hannah Arendt warned, “What we are confronted with is the prospect of a society of laborers without labor, that is, without the only activity left to them. Surely, nothing could be worse”.

There is no doubt she was one of the most brilliant political analysts of the 20th century and one whose writings should be read very closely today. She studied the why’s of human nature: was she a prophet or a lighthouse, warning us of what could be if we didn’t analyze societies’ actions and our own within that sphere, and heed the warnings?

In this blog post I want to expose some of her writings because her ideas are very relevant to our times.

She studied human behavior, moral responsibility and judgment, and the role of thinking in social life. Her insights are crucial for us today and there is no doubt that a critical reading of her work will help guide us through our own flirtation with fascist thinking, authoritarian and totalitarian leadership

For all the deep thinkers that came out of German society, Weber, Marx, Nietzsche, the Nazi regime somehow managed to grow and thrive. But it was Hanna Arendt who wrote best about the political, cultural and intellectual crises that defined her times. For her it was vital to understand the years leading up to the war. She questioned how the intellectual class (like Heidelberger, her philosopher lover, professor and university rector) could have been so easily seduced by the nazis.

“Without taking into account the almost universal breakdown, not of personal responsibility but of personal judgment (her italics) in the early stages of the nazi regime”, she wrote, “ it’s impossible to understand what actually happened”. Change comes in a sequence of measures and yet “no man, however strong, can ever accomplish anything, good or bad, without the help of others. “

In Madison’s words, “all governments rest on consent”. To do nothing is to consent, to consent is to support; this is the dilemma. She warns that the voices of outrage should never become silent, for when they do bad government becomes normal.

On the Banality of Evil

Arendt covered the Eichmann trial at Nuremberg, out of which came her book “Banality of Evil”. To be banal is to be boring, unimaginative, ordinary or vapid, and she was struck by Eichmann’s banality.

As she explained, the banality of evil was a “phenomenon of evil deeds committed on a gigantic scale”, which couldn’t be traced to an ideology, wickedness or pathology, but “whose only personal distinction is extraordinary shallowness”; it was not stupidity but the “inability to think” that stunned her.

Can there be evil when there was no motive? After sitting through his trial, she was struck by his dullness and how he was able to remove himself from personal responsibility for his part in the murders of millions of people because he “was just following orders”, “just doing his job”. He was puzzled – why should he be judged on the actions of the state since he was only one cog in a big machine. He spoke to the prosecutor with pride about how well he had accomplished the task given him, “not understanding there was no pride in organizing the death of millions”.

On Personal Responsibility under Dictatorship

She put the years 1933-1945 under the microscope and examined how easily human behavior adapted to fit the norms of dictatorship and totalitarian government. She muses that legal and moral issues presuppose the power of judgment, and questions whether in a world where we are cogs in the machine how much is personal responsibility a marginal issue.

Dictatorship is when “even the comparatively small number of decision makers” shrinks down to one, “while all institutions and bodies that initiate control over or ratify executive decisions have been abolished”.

“All the defendants in the post war trials excused themselves of blame: If i had not done it somebody else could have and would have”. One must ask even today – What are the alternatives to following orders? Is judgment one of hindsight said by people who aren’t there? We we do the same thing in his shoes? Are we partially to blame for being passive rather than fighting back against this machine?

She points out that it is the one who makes the system function, the human being on the stand, not the system itself that is put on trial. No one is a free agent unless they opt out and to opt out when the majority are opting in takes a great deal of courage and integrity that most of us don’t have.

“When many people, without having been manipulated, begin to talk nonsense, and if intelligent people are among them, there is usually more involved than just nonsense.”
For her it was not the outrage caused by the behavior of the brown shirts, but the “intrusion of criminality into the public realm and the ordinariness of it. The coordination of this criminality is what creates the moral issue, and “the eagerness of men to jump on the train”.

On Thinking and Moral Considerations

She was committed to the ideas that each event that happens in the world is new and unique and that we cannot fit it into an overall world view or impose a pre-formed theoretical explanation onto it.

Events are unique and non-linear. What happened in 1933 can be explained by events leading up to that time and it’s not the same as events in 2018. She was critical of the tendency to categorize present day events using historical events as present day eventualities of consequence because it dulls our sense of what might be new or unique about the new event.   It is my opinion the press is being lazy when they use past events to describe present ones as done deals –  since x happened last time it will happen again.  They are metaphors only.

Let the outrage continue.

Sources

I used the following books for this essay. All are by Hannah Arendt.

The Human Condition, 1958

Responsibility and Judgment, 2003.
This is a book of her essays. The ones I used here were “ Some Questions of Moral Responsibility”, “Collective Responsibility” and “ Thinking and Moral Considerations”.

Politics vs. What Women Wear or An Argument for Emancipating Women’s Clothing

I was waiting for the metro when I saw a contrast typical of Turkey. A woman with jet black hair was talking on the phone; she wore her bangs straight across her forehead, big red glasses, and a ring through her nose. Under her midi skirt were fishnet stockings, and on her feet black army boots. Her other arm was slung through her friend’s. Her friend was wearing a black headscarf, a very cool black coat and black boots.

I see women in groups and pairs half wearing a headscarf and half not, or one/without and the others with/without all the time. it doesn’t matter. The only people who do care are the staunch secularists or westerners who equate wearing a headscarf with submission. It seems that what matters most is what the headscarf represents to the viewer rather than the wearer.

It’s a political pivot point, as a recent NYT’s article succinctly pointed out, “the headscarf has long been emblematic of the struggle between the country’s secular and religious factions.” The writer uses the headscarf (hijab) and the veil interchangeably, as if they are the same thing never mind that they are two types of clothing worn differently. This prejudice needs to be called out for what it is.

Just as the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation, so too it has no business telling women what to wear or what not to wear. The headscarf has been used as an excuse to deny women entry into university. Be it in France, Iran, at home or on the street, it’s used as a symbol of a greater ideology by the powers that be. If a woman wears a headscarf under duress that is a social problem, if she wears it out of choice that’s nobody’s business.

Controlling what women wear whether by fiat, legislation, or pressure is a power game. It’s time that women’s clothing is emancipated from politics.

The New Republicans

Who would’ve thought this time last year that the Republicans would abandon such core principles as free trade and global hegemony? But just 3 weeks into the new presidency these policies are fraying at the edges and will soon lie in tatters at the President’s feet, if he has his way.  Policies years in the making have, in one tweet, dissolved.

Over the last couple of weeks foreign policy pundits and policy makers have been bordering on apoplexy as the Republican President leads the GOP in protectionism and isolationism.  Republican leaning publications such as Foreign Policy and Newsweek will soon be waxing nostalgic for the Obama years.

First to fall was the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, or TPP, effectively removIng the U.S. from a leadership position in a 12 country Pacific trade alliance. Pundits claim the Chinese are rubbing their hands ready to pick up the slack. Next will be NAFTA, which originally Trump threatened to tear up though now it looks as if he’s just aiming for Mexico. The Canadian side will just be ‘tweaked’, whatever that means. Either way, American trade partners are going to have to brace themselves for the unknown.

The cognitive dissonance emanating from Washington over the relationship and natural affinity between Putin and Trump is almost audible. The President may want to get cozy with Putin, but Americans don’t give up their enemies that easily. Though these two leaders may be cut from the same cloth, Putin is much shrewder politically. The U.S. President sees no good reason to freeze out a man he admires and can benefit from; here the instincts of the business man dominate the politician.

Beware Enemies and Allies

The United States has effectively declared it’s closed for business to 7 countries. The trickle down effect of this poorly made decision will be incalculable. Rather than being a net receiver of brain drain the reverse may soon be true with Canada and Mexico being the likely beneficiaries. Mexico is reportedly trying to seduce Silicone Valley and may be more attractive than its colder and wetter neighbor to the north.

The President of the United States seems to think he can run the country as an offshoot of his business, and until recently most Americans agreed with him. This idea now seems to be wearing thin. HIs weaknesses are becoming apparent: a man with an addiction to twitter who gets his news from cable T.V., and according to reports doesn’t like to read, prefers not to attend intelligence briefings, and becomes offended very easily. It’s no wonder rational pundits and politicians are starting to panic.

Be it Mexico, Europe or Australia, no country is safe from a twitter-lashing when the President feels he or his family is slighted, or he perceives something is not in his interest. His lack of political experience and volatile personality leaves him open to the manipulation and biases of his inner circle.

Will the real President stand up?

This would have been a ridiculous question to ask before January 20th 2017, but recent headlines from such magazines as Foreign Policy and Newsweek proclaiming ” President Bannon” is in charge attests to an already developed deep distrust. Now White House advisor, Stephen Bannon,  former Goldman Sachs employee and editor of the online news alt-right forum Breitbart, seems to be calling the shots.  (Alt-right is an umbrella term under which the white supremacists and neo-nazis identify.)

Apparently Bannon is a self-declared Leninist whose raison d’etre is to destroy the Washington status quo through revolution. It looks like he’s well on his way.

America’s Black Swan

The morning after the presidential election people around the world were incredulous that Americans had entrusted their future to a business man and political neophyte  whose campaign brought the neo-right into the mainstream of American politics.

Defying all predictions, even the President-elect looked stunned by his win and a bit afraid, perhaps at the daunting thought of a 16 hour work day. He promised to “keep ‘em guessing”, “drain the swamp” , and “make America great again”; the latter promise undermining the United States’ position in the eyes of world, making it less great just by saying so.

Donald Trump’s election is a great example of a Black Swan, what Nassim Nicholas Taleb describes in his book (of the same name) as that “exceptional and unexpected event which leads to the degradation of predictability dominated by the extreme, the unknown, and the very improbable”. A good description of the administration of United States of America under the 45th President.

Uncertainty and unpredictability in American politics is the new normal. Over the last 70 years the United States has inter-twined itself throughout the workings of the international system using its wealth, influence, and military might to force, influence and threaten; to mold the structure of international financial, political and social institutions into its vision.

In Taleb’s words, “the world in which we live has an increasing number of feedback loops, causing events to be the cause of more events thus generating snowballs and arbitrary and unpredictable planet-wide winner-take-all effects.” This state of anarchy has always existed in international politics, but with chaos at the core of the ‘democracy enforcer’ delivered by its own executive, what will come remains to be seen.

As the American system undergoes the state constructed existential threat to its institutions of governance and their sphere of influence shrinks,  governments around the world will have to figure out how best to extricate themselves from the ‘American Project’* with as little damage as possible.

*See PNAC Project for a New American Century (Republican neo-conservative think tank 1997-2006)

Following the Peace Camp Trail, 1984

Peace camps were common in North America and across Europe in the early to mid 1980’s, and lately I’ve been wondering whether what we did back then would be possible in these times?

Those were the days when Mike Duffy was cool, Reagan and Andropov were facing off, and NATO was deploying short range nuclear missiles (the pershing and cruise) in England, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy.

In April 18, 1983, staid Ottawa was taken aback when the Peace Camp on Parliament Hill popped up to protest the testing of the cruise guidance system in Cold Lake, Alberta. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau got a kick out of us, a bunch of dedicated No Cruisers, and he let us stay. We would write NO CRUISE in the snow on the lawn of the Hill in big letters so when he looked out of his office window he was reminded. We slept under a tarp that covered a cardboard cruise Greenpeace Bob named Bruce. I wonder whatever happened to Bruce the cruise.  I have tons of stories about those days and the people we met.

My mother and grandmother figured I would benefit from getting away so they offered me a one way ticket to England, their home country. The same day Pierre took his long walk in the blizzard, February 29th, 1984, I flew to England.

Peace camps became my centre of gravity and I traveled to most of them. In England it was the Trident submarine camps and the cruise missile base at Greenham Common, the most famous and longest lasting peace camp.

In the Netherlands I traveled to Woendsdrecht, another cruise missile base. I happened to arrive at the time there was a big weekend action at the base with probably 16,000 people who divided themselves into two groups to camp out at the main gates. It was the first time I witnessed state violence and blood when one afternoon the mounted police charged protestors through the barley fields as if they were playing polo. I felt bad for the farmers.

I was walking alone around the base one day when suddenly a grey van drove up and soldiers dressed in grey with red berets jumped out and surrounded me, I suppose I looked Dutch with my blond braids. The first thing I thought of to say was , “Hi, how’s it going?”. Too funny. They stopped and looked at me, then jumped back in the van and drove away. Bizarre. Maybe they thought I was American and didn’t want a diplomatic incident?

My next stop was Mutlangen (near Schwabish Gmund) in Germany. This peace camp was called the Pressehutte and was in a renovated barn just up the road from a pershing missile base. It was a well organized cell, part of the German resistance against short range deployment and the American military presence generally. They also researched and published material.

The American army regularly took their pershing missiles on practice missions, 8-12 at a time. With or without warheads they neither confirmed nor denied.

One day Ronald Reagan was doing a radio show and during the check unbeknownst to him and the others in the room the mic was hot; he was on the air, “We start bombing in 5 minutes”, he joked. Only no one else knew he was joking.

American Command went on red alert. Nobody knew what to think or do. Afterwards the soldiers told me everybody was absolutely freaked out. Apparently that was the closest we came, at that point in time, to a nuclear exchange since the Bay of Pigs.

From Mutlangen I took a side trip to Comiso, Sicily, where there was another cruise missile base. I wonder now what the target from there was, maybe Libya? What’s interesting about Comiso is that the mafia gained position in the town because they were the contractors who built the American base.

Fortunately for me there were no computers in those days and I got nothing more than a warning letter to stay away from the areas of American military command (and a red flag by my name for a few years, I heard). When I got a second warning from my boyfriend, a soldier whose superior said that I should leave, or else, I called my mum for a ticket home.

After 10 months, there ended my Peace Camp adventures. Would the peace camp movement be allowed to exist today? I suppose the Occupy movement was comparable. Would young people be able to do what we did, to assemble freely, to watch, record and disseminate information about military maneuvers for public knowledge?

Did our presence make a difference? I know it did on a personal level. As far as the bigger picture, a soldier once told me it was like kicking a steel boot.