Tuesday, 30 November 2010


From what we know so far, it is indeed true that the latest Wikileaks docs may prove simply to confirm what the world suspected already about the policies and practices of a number of governments. After all, we do live in the age of the Internet and instant news and official leaks, despite the culture of secrecy about matters concerning public policy that prevails in many countries, among them the US. However, there are much larger questions that Wikileaks raises and they pertain to the profession of journalism.

Is Wikileaks conducting the kind of journalism that the complacent if not openly pro-status quo mainstream media should have been conducting? When was the last time that we have had some really good investigative reporting, and I don't mean one that exposes the personal habits of public officials like Berlusconi (and Gadhafi) chasing little girls? As much as Wikileaks wants to project the image of dissidence, it seems that it is motivated by more tangible benefits and not necessarily by the kind of ideological goals that characterized the era of whistle blowers like Philip Agee. I would not be at all surprised if Wikileaks is sold for some outrageous amount of money to some corporation, perhaps to Murdock's Newscorp.

A Roman Catholic and a graduate from the University of Notre Dame, Agee is world famous or infamous depending on one's perspective for publishing a book Inside the Company: CIA Diary (1975) that exposed CIA operations in the Third World, especially in Latin America where he worked mostly. After serving the agency from 1957 to 1968, Agee, resigned owing to ideological and moral disagreements he had with US foreign policy as well as operations on the ground, and with their purpose, which was to promote US corporate interests.

The year Agee left the agency there were major US and global political and social developments. On the US side, there was the divisive Democratic Convention in Chicago where Richard J. Daley (the boss with the Irish-Italian political machine) decided to play kingmaker once again as he had in 1960 by using the "Daley Machine" to manufacture Democratic consent and elect Humphrey. The Chicago convention took place against the background of the escalating Vietnam War, civil rights increasingly radicalizing and polarizing the American people after M. L. King and Bobby Kennedy's assassination that demonstrated that political differences in the 20th century are resolved in the same manner as during the Roman era.

As a case officer for the CIA, Philip Agee reflected America's dissidents, who vehemently objected to US support of authoritarian regimes and to covert operations that were the type only seen in 1950s film noir involving Soviet and Nazi agents determined to spread chaos and disrupt democratic order. Although opposed to the publishing of agents' names, the Frank Church committee investigating CIA operations that were above any US or international law, gave moral support to Agee and eventually to a few others who chose to more or less follow in Agee's footsteps.

His critics charged that the KGB and Cuban intelligence provided Agee with valuable information about covert US operations. The charge that he was making money and becoming famous by violating the oath of office is something that most people understand. Even more so, it stands to reason that he could have written a book about policies and operations without naming names, but all of this depends on whether one judges Agee politically/ideologically or from the perspective of an interested researcher.

He countered that he was only interested in helping fight what he deemed systemic injustice and insisted that naming names was the way to be effective in disrupting operations. More specifically, he argued that the CIA had infiltrated and manipulated Latin American governments and organizations. In the early 1990s, when I was writing my book on US foreign policy and Latin American labor unions, Agee's work helped to direct me toward a direction I would not have considered at the time, and colleagues in US, England, and Latin America at the time were taking the same approach. CIA had a role in the American Institute for Free Labor Development, (AIFLD) in which the AFL-CIO worked closely with US corporations and government to minimize Latin American opposition to US corporate domination of Latin America; all part of Kennedy's Alliance for Progress that on the surface appeared so progressive, but in fact designed to deradicalize and co-opt organized labor into accepting a more docile role in contract negotiations.

To accomplish the same goal in Africa where Fanonism, Pan-Africanism, and Castroism were on the rise in the 1960s, the US formed the African-American Labor Center (AALC)--again with CIA involvement. The Asian-American Free American Institute (AAFALI) was created to diminish the influence of Mao and Sukarno in Asia amid the Vietnam War--all to secure and perpetuate a capitalist political economy at the cost of social justice, according to Agee.

Agee helped to expose secret operations that would never be known to researchers who relied on official written and oral sources in order to accurately analyze political, foreign policy, economic, social and labor developments. Besides revealing some details about US use of former Nazi war criminals in a number of capacities in various agencies, Agee ended many illusions people entertained about how American democracy actually works in the operations field where torture and assassination of civilian subjects in time of peace are a patriotic duty just as in time of war.

President George H. W. Bush, a former CIA director, argued that Agee's book exposed the names of agents in the field and it cost the life of CIA station chief Richard Welch. The Harvard-educated classicist worked for the CIA in Guatemala, Guyana, Peru, Cyprus, and Greece where he was killed by the well-known ultra-left organization November 17th. The tragic case of CIA station chief Welch provided all the ammunition the US needed to begin rebuilding the culture of secrecy, silence and consent in government that culminated during the presidency of George Bush.

To discredit him, critics accused Agee of everything from alcoholism to working for Moscow and the Cubans from whom he received a sizable sum of money as their propagandist. There is no evidence that he received KGB and Cuban funds. Unless his widow reveals something, we may never know. Just the money generated from book sales would have been enough, given that it was translated into 27 languages and was best seller for a long time, and even two years after his death, it is selling rather well.

Agee belonged to an era of counterculture when America was preparing to pull out of Vietnam. It was the era of CIA involvement in Allende's assassination and numerous counterinsurgency operations in Africa, Asia and Latin America; the era when there was a Civil Rights movement at home while the US backed South Africa's apartheid regime. A segment of the American people were questioning authority and the values of conformity, because the entire society seemed on the wrong course, not just foreign affairs. Agee was driven by ideology and his Roman Catholic upbringing that caused the profound sense of guilt for what he had been doing and what the agency was doing "in the name of freedom and democracy." 

The year he resigned from the agency, Agee ran CIA operations in Mexico City during the Olympic games. He witnessed the Tlatelolco massacre. Two US athletes participating in the Olympic games decided to protest by making the black power sign--raising their arm in a tight fist while receiving the national anthem was playing. During the Cold War when people felt that they had to choose sides, Agee chose sides for ideological and moral reasons. Perhaps he was driven by some type of "Jesus complex" or by other motives, but he adamantly opposed US foreign policy and western capitalism after serving the system for a dozen years. He found support in a number of European democratic countries as well as in Communist ones, as he spent his life as a political refugee, having published the names of US and other western agents.

Agee's book when it came out was very useful both as a work of journalism and as a historical document. Many researchers used it, if not for the empirical information, for the angles he directed the reader as a CIA officer applying pressure on labor unions and politicians to conform to US policy. Agee forced people to consider if their "freedom and democracy virginity" was ever that virginal during the honorable Cold War. The conscientious whistle blower era that Agee represented with some semblance of idealism slowly came to an end in America after the Iranian and Nicaraguan revolutions coinciding with the emergence of the Reagan presidency two years later. The whistle blower era rooted in idealism and morality is now replaced by the web-era of Wikileaks behind which there is commercialism.

As much as I am delighted that Wikileaks is disclosing top secret documents, the latest round from what is revealed so far in news summaries reveals nothing of much consequence, no matter how Angela Merkel and others are offended that Wikileaks tarnished the image they wish to project. It is now obvious that Wikileaks is simply publishing anything and everything indiscriminately in the absence of any ideology, moral conviction, political agenda, etc. It is simply doing it because it attracts world-wide attention.

Bombarding the Web with massive info perhaps for the sake of becoming large and important enough to become legitimate enough to become mainstream and commercially worthy is what I see as the Wikileaks goal, though I could be proved wrong and they may very well be doing all this to secure a place in Heaven next to other ideologically and morally motivated whistle blowers like Agee.

When I had read some time ago Wikileaks had top secret info on corrupt Russian politicians with links to mobsters involved in money laundering operations, narcotics, human trafficking, etc. my reaction was that I had read lots of stories about such things in the past two decades. Will publishing such classified material result in public action and better government to serve all of the Russian people, instead of the wealthy regardless of whether they are making money legally or illegally?

Is the purpose of Wikileaks to serve the public by exposing government corruption and its links to the private sector, or is it headed toward entertainment-style journalism focused on personalities and their peculiarities? So that we do not have to be bombarded by Wikileaks one million page-docs in the future, it is time that the mainstream media distances itself from political and financial elites in order to do some honest and critical reporting intended to promote the public good, instead of eulogizing the rich and powerful so that the publication can secure the advertising space from corporate and government sponsors. Wikileaks is more a condemnation of the state of journalism than it is of the state.

Saturday, 27 November 2010


Rather than calming markets and governments, Ireland induction into the IMF-EU austerity program, the second EU member after Greece, investors and politicians are more nervous today than ever. They expect Portugal to ask for bailout assistance within days, and my information is that Lisbon will receive about the same amount as Ireland. There is talk that Belgium may be next in line, a not so unexpected development given that sovereign debt is at 100% of GDP. In order to lessen the pressure for a bailout on the part of  Spain and perhaps even Italy, the number 4 and number 3 countries respectively in the eurozone, in terms of GDP, EU leaders have been pressuring the peripheral EU members to seek bailout and be subjected to IMF austerity, as though the problem is entirely separate from the core EU nations; not realizing that the disease that started in the weaker countries is rapidly infecting the strong ones that have opted for a case-by-case approach to what is a euzone problem.

The EU bailout mechanism was not designed for bailing out large economies like Italy and Spain, so it does not have the necessary funding for that purpose. Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero denied that Madrid will ask for bailout funds and go under IMF-EU austerity like Greece and Ireland. Zapatero hopes Portugal follows that road so his country avoids it. About a year ago when the debt contagion started, the CEO of a major Spanish bank argued that comparing Spain to Greece is like comparing the world-class soccer team Real Madrid with some third-rate ball club. Today, everyone is drowning in the same soccer field of mounting public debt, and the faster that EU leaders realize it the better it will be for the EU as a whole and the lower and middle classes paying for this crisis. The EU debt-crisis domino effect is a reality as reflected by higher bond rates. Finance Minister Elena Salgado assured the public and investors, mostly German that provide the largest portion of bailout funding, that Madrid's austerity measures and reforms are on track and Spain does not need bailout funding. Spain claims that if necessary, it can raise funding internally, so that it would not go under IMF-EU austerity.

Silvio Berlusconi's Italy goes even farther than Spain to claim that it is immune from the public debt domino effect now sweeping across the eurozone. But Italy's public debt currently more than 1.85 trillion euros ($2.5 trillion) - one of the highest in the world after Japan and US - and rising, cannot be serviced in the absence of steady growth. In fact. Italy's situation seems much closer to that of Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and Spain than it does of Germany. Like the weaker EU members, Italy too relies inordinately on small businesses to keep the economy moving. Of course Italy, unlike Ireland, and closer to Portugal and Greece, has a solid banking sector. However, its growth rate has slowed to 0.2 percent in the third quarter and public debt hit a new high. Italy's problem is complicated by Berlusconi, the billionaire playboy leader who is immersed in corruption and faces growing opposition from his otherwise divided centrist and leftist opponents as well as the Catholic Church that can no longer give its blessing to an old man chasing teenage call girls.

Bond speculators whose job is to target weak countries and drive interest rates higher after assessing risk, will not stop until there is an EU-wide policy that puts an end to the problem at its root. What is the solution to the contagion public debt crisis facing Europe? As a creditor nation with the EU's strongest economy planning to remain globally competitive with Japan, China, and US, Germany wants a strong currency, thus it backs rigid austerity measures for EU members that have violated Maastritch Treaty rules of sustaining annual public debt above 3% annually.  Angela Merkel sees the weaker EU members undercutting Germany's current competitiveness and debilitating the common reserve currency. Some Germans believe they would have been better off keeping their own currency and not pushing for a European monetary Union; a good thing when the world economy is growing a very bad thing when it is contracting. There are those who advocate a euro for the northwestern EU members, a sort of 'Nordic-uber-euro' v. a southern European 'PIIGS-euro' for Europe's debtor slackers. That millions of hard-working people who had no role in causing the public debt crisis that financial capitalism precipitated is not at issue for Germany, any more than it is for the rest of Europe's leaders that expect workers and the middle class to pay for the abuses of the financial system that concentrated wealth in the hands of a few people who should be in prison and their wealth confiscated. Instead, we have austerity measures that cut into living standards and are the cause for the massive student demonstrations in England and Italy, and labor strikes and demonstrations in Portugal, Spain and Greece.  

  • Corporation tax rate unchanged at 12.5%.
  • 10bn euros (£2.5bn) of spending cuts between 2011-2014, and 5bn euros in tax rises.
  • Minimum wage to be cut by one euro to 7.65 euros per hour.
  • 3bn euros of cuts in public investment by 2014.
  • 2.8bn euros of welfare cuts by 2014, returning spending to 2007 levels.
  • Reduction of public sector pay bill by 1.2bn euros by 2014.
  • Reform public sector pensions for new entrants and cut their pay by 10%.
  • 24,750 cut in public sector jobs, back to 2005 level.
  • VAT up from 21% to 22% in 2013, then 23% in 2014.
  • Raise an extra 1.9bn euros from income tax.
  • Abolition of some tax reliefs worth 755m euros.
The question is whether this latest round of austerity will amount to anything, unless there is massive capital investment for development that stimulates job growth and of course mass consumption. My view is that Ireland along with the rest of the peripheral EU members will not emerge from their predicament of 'managed bankruptcy' as I have baptized it, and as we now know the German government (11 November 2010 memo) also calls it. On the contrary, IMF austerity retards economic development and it raises debt much higher causing cyclical debt crises and permanent low living standards. There is a solution to the EU contagion of debt crises and managed bankruptcy; there is a solution that would be to the benefit of all Europe, but I doubt it will ever be considered simply because finance capital would be adamantly against it and politicians serving fiance capital lack the strength to impose it. The solution is a European Recovery Program - like the massive program that the US launched under the name Marshall Plan during the Truman administration. I first wrote about this on WAIS right after Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy. I now believe that the time has come to at least examine the pro-and-con aspects of such a program, even as an exercise that may lead the debate to a solution other than the current IMF-EU austerity program.

The US after the war ended tried bilateral loans, but it could not stimulate the economies of its European trading partners, as exports to Europe were falling every year in the second half of the 1940s. President Truman, an otherwise much more conservative Democrat than FDR, had no choice but to launch the Marshall Plan as a solution to revive Europe so it could trade with the US and remain a strong partner in all aspects. The Marshall Plan actually helped the US as much if not much more than it did Europe. Ireland, Greece, Portugal, Belgium, Spain and Italy cannot consume the products of northwest Europe which dominates the markets of the weaker members if the latter are spending an inordinate percentage of their capital to service public debt. The US also cannot sell its products to countries whose consumption power is cut drastically because the state is amassing capital to pay bondholders. I have already stated that debt forgiveness as part of debt restructuring is inevitable for EU debtor nations, assuming the contagion continues. However, in the absence of development capital partial debt forgiveness and restructuring are not sufficient. A Marshall Plan within the eurozone that includes debt forgiveness and debt restructuring is unthinkable at this point to mainstream politicians who represent finance capital and who expect workers and the middle class to bail out banks. But it will not be unthinkable if Spain and/or Italy come close to seeking bailout funding. At that juncture, the EU will be at a crossroads and we will have to wait and see what Germany decides is in its best long-term interest. 

EU will also have to reconsider its relationship with Russia. A few years ago on a WAIS posting, I raised the question of whether Russia should join the EU and NATO. At the time, one or two people took my proposal seriously, especially since I linked it with Israel as part of the same model of integration. However, the Russians had raised the issue of joining NATO in the 1990s mostly as a way to contain NATO's expansion. At Lisbon's NATO conference in November 2010 the question is Russia's relationship to NATO going forward, with the delicate economic and geopolitical balance of power in the hands of China during this century. Ever since Peter the Great, Russia is more Western than it is Oriental. The world power structure favors Russian integration with the EU and NATO. On 25 November 2010 at a meeting with EU officials, Vladimir Putin rhetorically asked whether Russia and EU should consider integration. EU and Russia have a common destiny and they need each other, especially now that global economic contraction has left EU very vulnerable to debt crises with a contagion effect.

Realistically, I do not expect anything but more of the same case-by-case approach policies on the part of the EU dominant nations to the debt crises, until a major crisis erupts in a large economy, and it is possible that it may not come to that. However, speculators live to amass capital and they will not stop targeting vulnerable EU members, eventually hitting on the larger ones like Spain and Italy, perhaps France if this continues to go unchecked. What will the economic, political and social cost be at that point? We already know that in addition to social turmoil thus far this year across all of Europe, in mid-December there will be pan-EU labor strikes and demonstrations involving millions of people in many European cities. This despite the fact that trade union bosses have been co-opted by political parties serving in government. As I have been saying for more than a year, social unrest will intensify and it will destabilize governments. If nothing is done to address the contagion of managed bankruptcies like those of Greece and Ireland with Portugal, Belgium and Spain waiting in the wings, social upheaval on a wide scale is not so far off as most believed even a few weeks ago during the Athens and Paris strikes and demonstrations.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Thanksgiving and the US Tea Party (Jon Kofas, Greece)

Posted on November 24th, 2010

Making news after it questioned the role of the Federal Reserve Bank when it tried to stimulate the markets and economy by purchasing $600 billion in bonds (the day after the mid-term elections of 2010), and teaching the Democrats a lesson of what it means to support the “Obama-Reid-Pelosi oligarchy” leading America in the embrace of Socialism, the US Tea Party is now determined to repair the damage that Rockefeller Republicans and the biased liberal media have caused in recent years. How to accomplish such ambitious goals? First, by redefining history and then identifying the enemies of Tea-Party America.

Countless of Tea Party community groups will be promoting conservative and Libertarian principles of small, limited or decentralized government, free markets, above all, devotion to God and country. This means, no Democrats, no gays, no feminists, no commies, no liberals, no moderates, no pro-UN or pro-NGO activists, no Obamafascists, no Rockefeller Republicans, no liberal media, no leftist academics, no Hollywood elite, no neo-conservative statism! “As the pendulum swings, we appear to be returning from the leftward most swing of Obamafascism on a trajectory far back to the Founding Fathers’ perfect, small government vision.”  http://biggovernment.com/jloudon/2010/11/20/tea-party-president-in-2012/

In a controversy that erupted in July 2010 and lingered throughout the summer and fall, Tea Party Express conservative radio personality and CNN guest commentator Mark Williams apparently insulted NAACP by stating that it was led by “Tom’s nephew and head colored person.” Williams, who has called Allah “monkey god,” blasted the “US media and our domestic enemies,” writing that: “We are in a war for the future of this country and the left and their allies in the news media have decided to use my personal comments and views as a weapon to injure the Tea Party movement and conservative activists. I am going to continue to fight on the side of liberty, but it is clear that doing so with any affiliation with the Tea Party Express is not the best way to do so.”

The Tea Party is about to make history again, not by what it hopes to accomplish in the next presidential election, but by the manner it wishes to define the historic Thanksgiving holiday. Hold on to your cranberry sauce and put that turkey wing down before you say your prayers. The Tea Party has officially declared America’s early settlers Socialists! Thanksgiving is nothing but a left-wing holiday that must be exposed as sure as the gravy is drying on the roasted turkey that is the symbol of primitive American Socialism. Ham any one? Yes, the primitive Socialist pilgrims were engaged in collectivist operations that led to crop shortages and famine until they realized the errors of their Socialist ways and the only way to save themselves was to embrace Adam Smith’s free enterprise theory and Ronald Reagan’s distaste of the welfare state!

This Thanksgiving holiday, think of the parallels between the early settlers in America sitting down and sharing their food with native Americans–imagine sharing an anomaly of nature and a perversion of the American way of life. This Thanksgiving holiday, reflect on current issues facing the nation, issues like entitlement programs, universal health care, and other New Deal Socialist policies the Washington insiders push with the help of the liberal media. That’s the result of decades of Democrat administrations, and some misguided Republican ones, influenced by distorted liberals and Socialists alike and backed by a biased media that never had the gumption to expose for the dangers of Socialism cloaked behind the welfare state.

Think of those early Pilgrims living in a communal system where they shared the fruits of their labor; think of the chaos, crime, and devastation that their collectivist lifestyle invited until they saw the errors of their ways and reverted to private property they appropriated from native Americans; think of rugged individualism that suddenly resulted in prosperity for all and a place in Heaven for the predestined few.

Who are the Tea Party promoters of such “fast-food tales” that a segment of the American public buys more readily than fast food burgers and fries? Former House majority leader Dick Armey, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, among others are among the leaders, with Sarah Palin waiting on the sidelines to declare her candidacy for President in 2012. Are they serious; can they possibly be serious? Absolutely! Many people are very angry and disappointed after the election of 2008 when so much was expected and so little delivered. They respond emotionally to such extremist populist rhetoric that appears cathartic to the tormented psychic amid hard times for so many, designed to permit people to vent against government that has failed them again, and again…

There is indeed widespread cynicism, frustration, anger, and disillusionment that pervades American society about the body politic–just as there is in many countries suffering amid this economic contracting cycle. Some people find expression in the Tea Party that appears to have the sole version and copyrights to patriotism. The enemy is not just official Washington, but all Washington insiders and that includes the media. In these difficult times for so many disgruntled millions of people, all one has to do is resort to angry populist rhetoric wrapped in the flag, ultra-nationalistic rhetoric that demonizes what otherwise was once a sacrosanct like Thanksgiving.
“Tea Party blogs have reposted ‘The Great Thanksgiving Hoax’ from a Web site celebrating the work of the libertarian economist Ludwig von Mises, a favorite of Ron Paul devotees. The post concludes: "Thus the real reason for Thanksgiving, deleted from the official story, is: Socialism does not work; the one and only source of abundance is free markets, and we thank God we live in a country where we can have them."
http://topics.nytimes.com/topics/reference/timestopics/people/z/kate_zernike/index.html?inline=nyt-perDick Armey   --- http://mediamatters.org/blog/201005180064  ---- http://voices.washingtonpost.com/right-now/2010/05/mark_williams_the_monkey_god_a.html --- http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/07/23/tea-party-groups-chief-sp_n_657518.html ---- http://www.conservativeblog.org/amyridenour/2010/7/19/project-21-members-speak-out-about-mark-williamstea-party-ex.html ---- http://www.examiner.com/destinations-travel-in-atlanta/mark-williams-and-tea-party-express-expelled-from-national-movement

Monday, 22 November 2010

China: Nationalism and Communism

Arising from the ashes of the feudal/manorial structure, nationalism as a societal and political structure–a form of political, economic and social life–arose concurrently with capitalism and became identified with the emerging commercial/banking class that looked to the state (invariably absolutism until the Glorious Revolution) for support. Nationalism spread globally with the spread of capitalism during the nascent stage of the Commercial Revolution when Portugal, Spain, Holland, England, France pursued overseas markets and began the race for colonies that culminated with the wars of imperialism in the late 19th-early 20th century.
Throughout history nationalism has undergone many phases from that defined by Absolutism where the Monarch was the nation-state, the entire population identified with the nation-state, a certain class–workers or peasants–are identified with the nation-state, a certain ethnicity or race identified with the nation-state. Nationalism, therefore, is an umbrella under which variety of ideologies have found shelter and it remains so to the present.

Resistance movements against foreign domination in the 19th and 20th centuries invariably assumed the form of nationalism, which transcends political labels and appeals to peoples’ sense of patriotism. The catalyst to the success of all mass revolutions–Russia, China, Vietnam, Cuba, etc.–was not Marxism but nationalism. Moreover, the leaders who led such movements, Lenin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Castro, were well aware of the appeal of nationalism to the masses and used it to secure popular support that brought them to power and allowed them to retain it. If Marxist-influenced rebel leaders used national identity, not class struggle, as the driving force behind their movements, then what followed as regimes was an even greater commitment to nationalism as a useful tool to maintaining popularity.

Many scholars of 20th century revolutions have debated whether Marxism as an ideology was opportunistically subordinated to nationalism as a practical and unavoidable route to mobilizing popular support in order to achieve the goal of removing the colonial presence and securing power. As committed as V. I. Lenin was to internationalism, did he not succumb to the practical reality of national interest after the Civil War and wound up supporting not the Chinese Communist Party, but the Kuomintang (KMT) led by nationalist Dr. Sun Yat-sen, succeeded by Chiang Kai-shek in 1925? And did he not do the same with Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, whom Lenin did not consider a Socialist but a nationalist struggling against western imperialism? Lenin’s foreign policy was designed to serve Russian national interests, much to the dismay of Leon Trotsky, who pushed for world revolution.

Once the uprisings failed in Germany, Poland, and other Eastern European countries, Lenin turned to a foreign policy of backing anti-colonial struggles, that is supporting nationalists in India, China, Africa. While USSR economic and trade policy were also modified to meet the realities of the situation at home and the global market economy, USSR foreign policy was also modified to reflect a nationalist character. By the time Stalin took over, Soviet Communism, itself an expression of nationalist aspirations against foreign dependence and exploitation, and a promise that a strong state structure would better manage the economy and uplift society to realize its potential, had sharply deviated from Marxism-Leninism.

Stalin, Russia’s 20th-century Ivan the Terrible, was more nationalistic than the Czars, especially in foreign affairs, despite the crude propagandist anti-Western rhetoric. Stalin-style Communism was immersed in extreme nationalism, demanding sacrifice of Marxists and Communist parties around the world for “Mother Russia,” a policy that filtered through international labor and political organizations that only hurt the cause of revolutionary movements in other countries.

Nationalism was the driving force behind Stalin’s strategy to help Chiang’s nationalists as part of a deal with the US, instead of helping Mao’s revolution. After all, a strong China was not in USSR geopolitical interest and Mao knew it–one reason he requested rapprochement with the US during the Revolution, one reason Mao launched the Cultural Revolution, one reason Mao supported non-aligned nations. But was Mao any less nationalist than Stalin, given that nationalism helped bring him to power during the war and Civil War, given that he remained lukewarm at best about Ho Chi Minh, who was trying to create a strong sovereign nation-state free of foreign dependence and exploitation? Did Mao want a powerful Vietnam, any more than Russia want a powerful China? The nationalist bug also influenced Castro, who realized during the Cuban Missile Crisis that Moscow used Cuba in a reckless foreign policy game with Washington. Nationalism behind Marxist revolutions in the 20th century was much more powerful than the non-expert realizes, and nationalism remains far more powerful today regardless of political ideology.

Amid the lingering global recession, nationalism is the driving force behind opposition to domestic and foreign obstacles to economic growth an upward social mobility. Nationalism is an integral part of protests against lower wages and benefits, job losses, lack of opportunities for the future. Pessimism, fear, frustration and anger that pervades among workers and the middle class are all assuaged by the individual’s identity with the nation-state as well as with the expectations of the nation-state as part of social contract that has gone unfulfilled for the masses.

Because nationalism finds expression among right, center and left elements, it is difficult for those focused solely on the ideological and political aspects to miss the strong nationalist tendency that all have in common and that may be driving them into action. This is the case in the weaker EU members (Ireland, Portugal, Greece, and Spain), where millions of people identify the strong G-7 economies, the IMF, and foreign and domestic banks as the enemy of the nation with which they equate the people. This is indeed a concept of nationalism rooted in Abbe Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyes’s What is the Third Estate? which identified all people except the privileged estates (nobility and clergy) as the nation-state. Although the economy is driving the social dynamics, nationalism remains the constant force behind assumptions many people entertain on “what is best for the nation”–and how one defines “nation” is based on ideology.

Sunday, 21 November 2010


People judge political regimes based on the experiences of their native land to which they have emotional ties, and depending on the privileges they enjoy they see the best or worst aspects of their society. The question of labels for regimes is far more useful for purposes of propaganda than meaningful description for how a regime impacts society and the lives of people; how it has evolved and the degree to which it is benevolent toward its people.

In the Western Liberal tradition, the right to vote, freedom of worship, and a free press usually constitute the essence of “democracy.” But when citizens actually vote, they are electing officials funded by a small group of wealthy individuals who own the media, thus molding public opinion. The result of free and open elections in most countries usually means that one (conservative) or the other (liberal) political party forms a government whose policies are designed to maintain the existing social order and institutions that serve the privileged few at the top of the social pyramid, and the regime becomes in reality less benevolent as we descend the social pyramid. Is this democracy designed to serve all of the people, a democracy the West wants to export to China and the world?

Does it mean the same thing to the life of a millionaire in a large western Chinese city vs. a miner, a peasant, a dissident intellectual to label the regime “authoritarian” or “totalitarian”? And is it not true that a single mother living in the projects in any large Western city does not have the same view of the degree to which the government of her country is benevolent in comparison with a millionaire’s view of the government, a millionaire enjoying the privileges society offers him? Does not social class largely influence how the individual sees society and its institutions?

Many scholars have raised this issue about regimes from ancient times to the present. Gustave Glotz, Ancient Greece at Work (1926) and Robert Flaceliere, Daily Life in Greece at the Time of Pericles (1965) argued that Athens during the Golden Age of Pericles served the interests of the commercial class to the detriment of slaves, metics (foreigners) and of course workers and peasants who were free citizens but whose social status precluded them from effectively enjoying the benefits of democracy. Although Athenian Democracy served a handful of male citizens to the detriment of the vast majority of the population of Athens, many in the non-privileged groups enjoyed freedoms that were unheard of in other city-states like Sparta.

The same issue that Glotz and Flaceliere raised about Athenian democracy under Pericles can be raised today about societies that define themselves “democratic” and judge others to be authoritarian. Radio Free Europe and other US government agencies and communications networks list China, Russia, Venezuela, Iran and Pakistan as authoritarian. The Nobel Peace Price this year went to a Chinese dissident, indicating to send a message to Beijing about its refusal to permit freedom of expression. There are those who in fact maintain that China remains totalitarian because it has a single political party and restricts basic individual freedoms. I will not bore readers with encyclopedic definitions because there are different definitions for these terms by different scholars, and I have no doubt people have their own definitions based on their ideological convictions.

Authoritarianism is a term that historically has been linked to regimes with conservative, pro-status quo policies, imposing restrictions on basic freedoms, civil rights and human rights. Authoritarian regimes operated in but were not limited to Eastern Europe and Balkans, especially during the interwar era. Latin America, Africa and some places in Asia in the post-WWII era were under US-backed authoritarian regimes that enjoyed the backing of the military and traditional elites, and suppressed political opposition to the one-party state. In contrast to authoritarianism, the term totalitarian that implies a police state is a product of the early Cold War and used in American text books and officially by the government to identify the Communist bloc with the Axis powers that Communists helped to defeat. To this day, many people, especially in the US, fail to see the difference between Communist regimes and Fascist or Nazi, and some bunch together military dictatorships that lack any coherent ideology with regimes driven by ideology. This is indeed the case with Republican Tea Party activists trying to deflect focus from their own extreme right-wing positions so that their opponents will not link them to Fascism.

Where does China of the early 21st century fit in politically and ideologically? Is Marxist ideology the driving force behind Chinese political, economic, and social policy today, or is it such a mixed bag of influences in every domain of public affairs that it is difficult to label China as having a single coherent ideology? How does China as a society compare with Taiwan, for example, that also had an authoritarian tradition and gradually evolved into a more pluralistic society?

To develop a strong capitalist economy, Taiwan as well as South Korea transitioned from an authoritarian state to the current multi-party structure free election model that the West loves to praise. But is “democracy” the same in Taiwan and South Korea as it is in Norway, and for that matter is democracy in Norway the same as it is in US? Is there a single model of democracy, and if so, is it the US model?
Like all societies whose regime and institutions are influenced by non-native ideologies, China from the Napier Mission in 1834 designed to open markets to British trade, mainly opium that led to the Opium War, until Mao’s forces defeated Western imperialism in 1949, suffered massive social problems with endemic poverty, narcotics, prostitution, crime and above all the degradation of foreign exploitation that ravaged all parts of China. Rebuilding institutions on the manner that Mao and the Chinese Communist officials at the central government and local levels understood and interpreted Marxism was an experiment that had social costs and benefits, and represented as much continuity as it did change.

Chinese philosophers (Wing-Tsin Chan, Chinese Philosophy), maintain that the value system that evolved under Maoist China was built on the existing quilt of various philosophies and values (mainly Confucian), admittedly much more collectivist and far less individualistic than what Westerners preferred from ancient Athens to modern America. Collectivism is a deeply rooted ancient value in society and a part of what some Chinese philosophers believe constitutes the cultural heritage that they define as “democratic, scientific, and people-oriented” (Wing-Tsin Chan, 780-781). Writing in the 1960s and influenced by East Asian scholar John King Fairbanks, Immanuel C. Y. Hsu writes: “Historical continuity manifests itself in many ways. The once sacrosanct imperial ruler is replaced by a defied party leader, and the old bureaucracy by party elite and cadre. Political indoctrination to ensure conformity of thought can be construed as a modern variation of the ideological orthodoxy of Confucianism.” (The Rise of Modern China, 1970) In short, historical continuity is inevitable in society while social discontinuity takes a very long time to evolve.

China of the early 21st century is much more diverse, complex, and much more open to Western influences than it was 40 years ago when Hsu was writing. There are in China certain freedoms, including travel, seeking employment, buying homes and commodities, starting a business, becoming wealthy, immigrating, and expressing ideas within established perimeters. As long as there is no social unrest or active and open government opposition, does the Chinese regime really care what the individual thinks, what religion they practice, what they do in their private lives that are becoming increasingly like those of Westerners for those immersed in the spirit of hedonistic values and pop culture? Of course, China is still practicing restrictive policies in some cases very repressive toward minorities. But to a certain degree so do “Western democracies” or countries that the US actively supports and labels “democratic” but that the UN lists as egregiously violating human rights–Israel for example.

China is certainly no open society when it comes to permitting public debate on the need for a multi-party system, and it opposes social-political opposition designed to challenge the one-party state. But to some degree this is also true in countries that label themselves “democratic,” but they employ very subtle mechanisms of silencing the opposition, including everything from elaborate and rigid legal and judicial system to a media that reflects official policy and challenges the regime only within the system. While absolute freedom of speech, expression and worship are indeed great for a society to practice and all societies have restrictions that regiment freedoms allowing them to operate within an existing framework, a much more fundamental question for China, indeed all societies, is the degree to which social justice exists and the state is benevolent.

Freedom in any form is great, but you cannot eat freedom if you are unemployed and penniless, you cannot use freedom as shelter, you cannot buy life’s necessities with it, you cannot buy good legal assistance when in trouble as do the wealthy, you cannot educate your children with it; all you can do is celebrate freedom for its own sake while others are enjoying the tangible privileges of freedom. What good is the freedom to speak publicly when the institutions are not listening because you live on society’s margins? What good is democracy if by invoking its noble cause the state launches wars against other countries?

Ireland has democracy within its own traditions and institutions, but what does it mean to the millions now threatened with loss of jobs and lower income? The essential question is whether in China today the lives of people in general are better off than they were when it was divided into spheres of influence by Western imperialist nations selling everything from Jesus to opium and ravaging the country while delivering the gospel of Christ and commerce, while depriving the nation and its people of a future. With all its faults as a statist country that imposes restrictions on the individual and group opposition, China today has a better future than many western democracies. The solutions for China’s problems cannot come from the US or the Nobel Commission, they cannot be exported from the West like automobiles and corn, but can only come from the Chinese people who will determine their own destiny within the context of their own traditions and institutions.

Friday, 19 November 2010


Since 2004 I have written a great deal on the futility of the US war in Afghanistan, plainly and simply stating that the war was lost and that it was only a matter of time for the US to recognize that inevitability. That announcement came today, 19 November 2010 in Lisbon. To the delight of most European governments, NATO has agreed to a withdrawal in the course of the next four years, although it is readily acknowledged pro-US Afghan forces, will probably not be ready to defend their country–just like the South Vietnamese army was ready to defend its country when the US pulled out.

In a WAIS posting of June 2004, I argued that US policy of pouring billions in reconstruction aid and forging ties with local Afghan leaders had no impact in the war on terrorism, amid a massive increase in the heroin trade and sharp rise of violence associated with it. In November 2008, in a WAIS posting about how Afghan women were selling their babies for a few dollars to survive, I argued that president-elect Obama’s pledge to make Afghanistan the new battleground of US policy would fail in its goal of eliminating Islamic terrorism and securing Afghanistan for Hamid Karzai. In the latest posting in September 2010, I asked: “In terms of geopolitical/strategic, economic, and political influence, is Afghanistan the belly of the beast for the US and NATO, or is it the new chosen Vietnam after Iraq because there must always be a Vietnam to validate American power (and its limits)?”

Today, we have NATO (28) members’ official exit strategy announcement, coming with a pre-announcement of NATO’s 10-year-vision statement, after consultations with Moscow of course. Afghanistan war costs to the US alone are about $200 million per day, an amount the US economy cannot sustain and have absolutely nothing to show for it other than the illusion of “feeling good about fighting Islamic terrorism at the source” and appeasing delusional right-wing ideologues who need an enemy to validate their patriotism. Ten years of war in that impoverished country produced nothing more for the Americans than it had for the Soviets (1979-1988)–an era of US covert operations that laid the foundation for the Taliban and “warlordism” and Al Qaeda.

The irony of the US-NATO announcement today is the desire for a political solution. In other words, the implied admission that a military solution is not in the cards, after insurgent leaders had refused US-NATO terms and the Taliban demanded a complete foreign troop withdrawal. For the past decade, Afghanistan was America’s “Little Vietnam,” as it was for the Soviets in the 1980s. All the treasure, all the lives lost on all sides, the entire country destroyed, the entire Islamic world less than cordial to the US and the “crusading West,” and all for what–a complete withdrawal as the Taliban now demands? Of course NATO will try to train Karzai’s military of 300,000, but that is merely a target and the reality will be shaped by the rebels who control most of the country, while Karzai, mayor of Kabul, will have to strike some deal with them or choose exile in a country of his choice.

Are there any lessons from the war in Afghanistan? Absolutely not! NATO announced today that it will recommit to a global military role for the decade, once the new strategic concept is promulgated. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen insists that NATO “is the only alliance capable of responding to global crises.” Behind such bold rhetoric rests the reality that most NATO members are debtor nations with immense social pressures during this lingering recession for government to cut defense. Obama as well as his NATO counterparts read public opinion polls as well as the rest of us and they know the public sees the futility of wasting money in Afghanistan. Patriotism does have its limits, and they start and end with peoples’ fear of the future, a future that seems like Charles Dickens’ Hard Times for many countries around the world.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

UNESCO World Philosophy Day 2010 (Jon Kofas, Greece)

Posted on November 18th, 2010

The United Nations Educational and Scientific Organization (UNESCO), headquartered in Paris, has been celebrating World Philosophy Day every year in November since 2002. Today is the special occasion, and on the special focus is “Philosophy, Cultural Diversity and Rapprochement of Cultures” with special attention to Asia, Latin America, and Africa.

This is an interesting topic, considering the controversy behind UNESCO’s World Philosophy Day. While I strongly believe that UNESCO deserves special praise for honoring this ancient field of study, I understand why it may not seem relevant to a mining worker in Bolivia, to a teenager flipping burgers in a fast food joint in Detroit, to an immigrant maid in a hotel in Dubai. For the vast majority of people, feeding, clothing, and sheltering themselves and their families is and ought be first priority as the instinct of survival dictates. And in the age of runaway materialism when the only golden rule that matters is the one imposed on the rest by those who own the “gold” and the institutional power to protect their gold, it is understandable that the masses are immersed in cynicism about this ancient noble profession conveniently and opportunistically used by some among the educated elites to justify unjust government and institutions, to justify war and exploi tation.

UNESCO’s World Philosophy Day was not free of political controversy this year. In 2008, UNESCO accepted Iran’s proposal for Tehran to host this year’s World Philosophy Day. Despite tremendous opposition from various quarters in the past few months, UNESCO stuck to its decision until last week, when officials announced to abstain from any event in Tehran. Well-known scholars like Otfried Hoffe, a specialist on Kantian philosophy, decided against attending the conference for political reasons, joining others who politicized the event. Joined by scholars from various parts of the world, Iranian philosophers Mohammadreza Nikfar and Ramin Jahanbegloo and other Iranian-born scholars called for boycotting Tehran as the host, arguing that Iran has exiled philosophers or isolated them thus proving it has no respect for basic human rights and academic freedom.

In April 2006, Ramin Jahanbegloo was arrested in Tehran on a charge of fomenting a “velvet revolution” and he spent four months in jail. Currently a professor at the University of Toronto, Ramin Jahanbegloo has been accused of links to the CIA and Israeli security agency Mossad, but hard evidence proving his ties to those agencies is not available. Similarly it is difficult to prove the political hand of US, Israel and other countries behind UNESCO’s decision.

That philosophy is subject to politics and a reflection of political trends is as old as Socrates’ trial by the Athenian establishment. When Socrates was put to death for non-conformity, with him was poisoned Athenian democracy and the idea that it was a “free and open” society, as Pericles praised it at the start of the Peloponnesian Wars. While Iran is hardly an open society in comparison with Norway, let us say, the “democratic societies” to which UNESCO yielded when it chose not to hold World Philosophy Day in Tehran are hypocritical about their commitment to pluralism and openness–central topics of the various UNESCO conferences. Is it any wonder that people throughout much of the world are cynical about all elites, from academics, including philosophers driven by political agendas, to “democratic” institutions proclaiming equality and justice for all and delivering inequality and injustice for most?

UNESCO topics include: “Women philosophers and political correctness,” “Al-Fârâbi: enlightened bridge-building among different cultures,” “Rethinking intellectual, cultural and political issues relating to the notion of civilization,” “10th International Meeting on New Philosophical Practices,” “The reason and its struggles: Enlightenment, modern rationalism and revolution, yesterday and today,” “Questions on the universal and diversity,” “The work of Mohammed Iqbal, a proposal for human achievement,” “Rethinking the human condition–homage to Gustave Guillaume and Jean Piaget,” “Philosophy of education and philosophy teaching. From knowledge transmission to building competencies,” “Intercultural Vademecum,” “Scientific, philosophical, literary and artistic itineraries between the Arab-Muslim and Western worlds (from the seventh to the nineteenth centuries),” “Arab-Muslim civilization in the mirror of the universal: philosophical perspectives.”


Kazantzakis is indeed the best modern Greek philosopher/literary figure who was profoundly influenced by the existentialist philosophical and literary trends in the interwar era when T.S. Elliot, Hollow Men and Oswald Sprengler, The Decline of the West were making an impact. My fellow Greek students in Athens, as well as my fellow U.S. students in the late 1970s, were captivated with Kazantzakis and other existentialists and Eastern philosophers. Was there an urban college student in the 1970s who had not attended a session on ZEN Buddhism or a forum on Indian philosophy? Kazantzakis' works became popular amid the cultural revolution in the western world of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when young educated middle class people were questioning the political status quo, western bourgeois values, and even the very foundations of western civilization like Christianity. Sartre, Camus, Nietzsche, among other existentialist thinkers were of interest to a generation questioning everything from the war in Vietnam, to the white-minority regimes of southern Africa, and to Christianity, which appeared to be identified with the political status quo and with a decadent middle class society bent on materialism as a substitute for human happiness. Kazantzakis had an interesting life, questioning marriage and sexuality, questioning the ability of human transcendence, questioning all facets of faith while clinging to it. Questioning the foundations of western civilization just as did many of his contemporaries who lost faith in the rationalism of the Enlightenment after the destruction of WWI followed by Communism, Fascism, and Nazism, Kazantzakis tried to find that which fills the void in the spirit/intellect through writing which gave meaning to an otherwise absurd existence. Like most Greeks at a time of a collectivist peasant society not very different than Catholic Spain in values, he was profoundly influenced by Christianity, but his view is closer to Fyodor Dostoyevski's. The enduring quality of his work is that he raised the issue of human alienation, and he tried to answer it by relying on a combination of Buddhism, Christianity, and Existentialist thought. In both Zorba the Greek and The Last Tempetation he raises questions about what matters in man's transcendent spiritual life and in every day life, where meaning is not a priori, but it has to be defined for the moment. His message remains as pertinent today as when he wrote these works".

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Is Philosophy Relevant?


What is Philosophy by Jose Ortega y Gasset is one of the very few studies that describes the field of study, a task with which professional philosophers hardly bother. Like other academicians who do not describe their field but delve into it, philosophers immerse in the various branches of the discipline (13 total, according to some) such as metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, logic, language. etc. Other than sharpening and fulfilling the mind, what “cash value” does philosophy have in a modern technological society that has reduced human beings into commodities and consumers of commodities?

If philosophy has no “cash value,” is that the fault of philosophers who write for each other instead of addressing the entire population like a best-selling novelist? Recognizing that philosophy must be rooted in experience and in the masses instead of reserving for itself an elite and esoteric place among a few scholars, Ortega y Gasset argued that philosophy deals with the essence of life and allows people to gain a better understanding of life and society. Uncovering the multiple layers of one’s self and the environment that shapes those layers is philosophy’s goal, to return to the Socratic goal of the field.

A number of philosophers from Kant, Nietzsche, Husserl, and Heidegger influenced Ortega y Gasset, who lived during the interwar era when great thinkers breathed life into Existentialism from different perspectives–Sartre and Heidegger among the most influential and best exponents of the particular branch. Understanding Heidegger’s (Being and Time) and Sartre’s (Being and Nothingness), influenced by the former, is extraordinarily difficult and not very pleasant reading for the average person. Even an elaborate glossary does not help, especially for Heidegger, unless the reader has substantial background in philosophy. This raises the question that John Eipper poignantly asked WAISers on 15 November: “why are modern philosophers incomprehensible? Is it because every profession needs its proprietary language, to keep out the amateurs? Have all the basic concepts been explored, à la Plato, leaving only the complex ones for philosophical reflection?”

With the exception of history, every other academic discipline has its own technical or proprietary language. In the case of philosophy, the difficulty emanates from the fact that the student cannot fully understand for example John Locke’s Treatises on Government without first having studied Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan, and in addition having a fairly good command of the historical context in which both Hobbes and Locke wrote. The reader of Locke or any other philosopher needs a broader sense not only of societal developments but understanding of the contemporary theories of science on which philosophy often relies. For example, the nexus between Locke’s epistemology based on empiricism and Newtonian physics provided the foundation for Enlightenment thought. Unless one studies the precursors to the Enlightenment (Locke, Newton and Descartes) it is more difficult to appreciate the Enlightenment.

Although a background in “Liberal Arts” education helps to understand philosophy, philosophers cannot resist writing for each other and to a large degree they have marginalized themselves, just as Ortega y Gasset warned more than eighty years ago. A very successful and influential philosopher, Bertrand Russell wrote in a very clear and simple style for which his works earned many distinctions and honors. This does not mean that to appreciate his works one need not study the historical context and the thinkers that influenced him.
In all cases, the manner that a person grasps philosophy or any other discipline for that matter, depends not merely on the writer but on the reader’s level of education, background, experience, social and cultural background,as well as the specific field of academic training. A banker understands the issue of wealth and poverty, for example, very differently than a theologian. Although both Protestant reformers, John Calvin with his legal background and political experience in Geneva (hieropolis) had a legalistic concept of Christianity that he imposed on the city, while Martin Luther with his background as monk and university professor did not have “puritanical legalism” as part of his doctrines.

From the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, philosophy, profoundly influenced by the classical Greeks as well as Christianity, was an integral part of a general “Liberal Arts” education. Undergraduates studying philosophy were proud of the field instead of apologizing for “wasting their time” as today’s undergraduate majoring in chemistry may complain about “having to take a philosophy course.” The advent of the Industrial Revolution accounting for advances in science and technology, and the practical application of the findings of these fields in the realm of business regimented educational training to the degree that philosophy became less relevant to daily life, associated increasingly with the aristocracy and the affluent who had “the leisure to engage in speculative thought.” The Industrial Revolution that accounted for changes in the social structure and institutions also brought changes in the value system of the Western World where philosophy’s place was gradually diminished.

As an ancient discipline rooted in religion and cosmology, philosophy from Locke’s “Essay Concerning Human Understanding” to Erwin Laszlo’s “Introduction to Systems Philosophy” and Ernest Nagel’s “Scientific Method” rely on advancements in science to explain the human condition in a holistic manner, although science within its framework of an institutional structure that influences peoples’ perceptions of it role. Clearly Einstein influenced many philosophers, including Wittgenstein and Popper among many others, and philosophy in the 20th century would not be the same in the absence of Einstein. While it is understandable that the language and style of scientists must be technical and esoteric, the question is why must the same hold true for philosophers whose purpose as Ortega y Gasset argued is to enlighten the public about the essence of life, self-discovery and appreciation of the nature and the world.

The style, language, and method of philosophy, especially ever since Kant, is so out of reach for the general public that it has had less relevance to society and unfortunately less demand even in college curriculum designed to prepare students for a career by loading them with courses in their major field. While philosophers are partly to blame for making themselves less relevant, modern bourgeois society seeks out the “cash value” of knowledge and it does not have much use for philosophy any more than it does for creativity in the Fine Arts, unless of course it it has been reduced into a commodity like gold or pork bellies. When William James wrote Pragmatism in 1907, philosophy still had some value for society. James was swept up by the Anglo-Saxon concept of “action-based, and results-oriented” value system that was popular during the era of Progressivism, an era based on the notion of improving self and society, mainly in the material sense of the word. John Dewey was also part of the era and he had a far reaching influence on American education.
Material civilization immersed in pragmatism and a hedonistic value system has increasingly obviated the institutional need and individual intellectual quest for philosophy. While I do not think that the time will ever come in human history that there will be no philosophy as a field of study, I also do not believe that there should be a Dummy’s Guide to Philosophy, as there is such guide for other fields, like accounting that people identify as “useful.” Today when society is confronting institutional structures that the political economy shapes and along with them the human mind, there is definitely a need for philosophers and academia to make philosophy relevant to society and to the individual no matter how the broader anti-intellectual culture militates against it.
JE comments: Actually, as I suspected, there is a Philosophy for Dummies, together with a Complete Idiot’s Guide to Philosophy:

Monday, 15 November 2010

Theory and Practice in Political Philosophy (Jon Kofas, Greece)

Posted on November 15th, 2010

There have been a number of scholarly studies dealing with the important issues of how there is lack of convergence in theory and practice in political philosophy. Such studies usually begin with Plato’s Republic and end with the works of Marx & Engels. Plato’s work is indeed a good starting point, insofar as it demonstrates that inherent limitations in human nature, flaws of human beings carried into their various endeavors and into societal institutions necessarily entails limits of politics. If indeed the Republic could never become reality, why then bother with political philosophy? The answer is the same for Plato as it was for Aristotle, for Machiavelli, for Hobbes, Locke, and of course Marx.

As any undergraduate philosophy major knows, political philosophy is as much about the study of human nature and assumptions that philosophers make about it in crafting a political theory as it is about arriving at a vision of utopia. Was the Republic designed to be actualized, did it reflect Plato’s views about Athenian politics and its citizens (adult male–no slaves, foreigners or women), was it intended as speculative or scientific thought, did it have any relevance to the realities of Athenian society? Was the ultimate goal of Plato to engage in an intellectual exercise or to strive for what he believed–conditioned by his own world of Athens and Eastern Mediterranean–the best society that would deliver social justice as he defined it?

Machiavelli’s The Prince and Hobbes’s The Leviathan, both the foundations of modern political philosophy, raise equally intriguing questions about human nature, based on the two thinkers’ largely Christian assumptions. Written during the Renaissance era during the rise of Absolutism that coincides with the emergence of the bourgeoisie and the Commercial Revolution, the works of Machiavelli and Hobbes reflect their contemporary epochs in Europe and are designed both as critiques of existing institutions and of human nature as well as alternatives to a status quo they perceived as implausible thus harmful to society. Were the ultimate goals of Machiavelli and Hobbes any different than those of Plato, namely to analyze what they believed were the traits of political institutions that reflected human nature and thus to provide for what they believed was an ideal model of society? Opposed to Hobbes’s assumptions that human beings are predisposed to chaos and destruction because of innate irrational traits, Locke assumed that human beings are rational and it is the environment that shapes them and their institutions.

Living in the later part of the 17th century with the benefit of the Glorious Revolution that finally brought compromise and stability to England, Locke’s political philosophy Treatises on Government reflects the experience and limitations of his era in his own country above all, but also developments in northwest Europe, especially Holland. Lockean Liberalism became the main philosophical foundation for Enlightenment thought and inspired both the French and American revolutions. Lockean Liberalism advocates political freedoms and rights of the people, an admirably humane political philosophy on which Western democracies are based ideologically. However, the reality is that regimes, including the US when it was founded, that based their constitutions on Lockean Liberalism excluded the vast majority of the people from the political process, thus proving the enormous gap between the theory of Liberalism and practice of government.

Regimes rooted in Lockean Liberalism, and varieties of that theory as it was embraced and modified by other thinkers, practiced: a) Slavery; b) excluded women from the institutional mainstream; c) excluded natives (Indians) and foreign laborers (Chinese for example) from the institutional mainstream; d) practiced Liberalism for the small propertied male elites at home, while denying the same to the people that they colonized in non-white lands.

In short, we see that there is an immense gap between the otherwise seemingly egalitarian and socially just theory of Liberalism and the reality of how it unfolded as regime. This brings us to Marx and Engels, whose works of course are vast in number, very difficult and complex to understand, and subject to varieties of interpretations by Marxists and non-Marxist alike. In a recent posting, Alain de Benoist made this point, something that those who have actually studied the works of Marx & Engels already know no matter whether they agree or not with Marxism, but Alain was unfortunately misunderstood by a few individuals hastily refusing to permit the merits of his arguments interfere with preexisting notions they entertain, preferring instead to circumvent scholarly discussion in favor of populist rhetoric befitting talk-radio show seeking higher ratings.

While the works of Marx and Engels may or may not have sold more copies than the Bible, the reality is that they are widely known globally and many people seem to have opinions about Marxism, without really having studied the voluminous works of these thinkers, or realizing that indeed there is the “Early Marx” who was closer to Rousseau and to the humanist spirit of the Age of Reason; or that Engels exerted considerable influence on Marx on social and economic issues.

Profoundly influenced by the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution and the era of European colonialism as a method of global economic integration, Marx and Engels cannot be understood any differently than Plato or Locke. In short, their works can only be understood in their own historical context properly placed in their environment. One reason I always advised my undergraduates to study the historical context of philosophers and not only their ideas in isolation, is so that they could gain greater appreciation of the ideas. Many scholars, Marxists and non-Marxists alike, appreciate the philosophical contributions that the two thinkers made in analyzing the dynamics of “Industrial capitalist society” that was in rapid transition amid social uprisings (1848) and military conflicts.

Where non-Marxist scholars have difficulty and categorically reject Marxism is with the atheism of Marx & Engels, with the political philosophy that became the foundation for revolutionary social change, with regimes that relied on Marxism to impose their own style of government, and with the Hegelian historicist goal that ultimately society will evolve into a classless system.

Unlike Plato, Hobbes, and Locke, Marx and Engels crafted an eclectic political philosophy that took into account social justice from the bottom up: working-class perspective. They were by no means the first to do this, nor the only ones during the 19th century, as Engels recognized in his writings. However, they were among the more articulate to craft a working-class political philosophy at a time that bourgeois society appeared to be omnipotent and its challenges came from disparate elements that lacked a coherent ideology. Any undergraduate who has studied the “intellectual history of Europe” knows that not just Marxism but no political philosophy was ever put into practice in the manner that it was conceived in theory; that there is indeed a sense of faith (religious aspect if you like) not only in Marxism but to some degree in any political philosophy, for it deals with assumptions about human nature, social institutions and above all ideal solutions of the future (visions of utopia, paradise on earth). This is especially the case in the modern era (since the French Revolution) when traditional religions are not at the core of societies because in secular society political ideology has essentially contributed to affording political philosophy a religious aura–people want to believe in a better future here on earth.

Political philosophers strive to uncover the essential elements for what could be the ideal society, the perfect solution that would best serve humanity; an endeavor indicative that human beings realize their own imperfection and strive for perfection through institutional means. Finally, each individual understands political theory, whether it is Liberalism, Marxism or any other, very differently and interprets it so. To a Liberal, Marxism is an anathema that only disturbed individuals advocate. Therefore, a Liberal finds no redeeming qualities in Marxism and seeks to simplify through one-dimensional interpretations and demonize not just the regimes that have claimed to rely on the theory but the theory itself, taking it out of its historical context. Similarly, a Marxist seeks to expose only blatant flaws and contradictions in Liberalism, deliberately omitting all other aspects that may both reflect and best serve the individual and secular society. These are reflections of the imperfections in people that necessarily takes us back to the old debate between Locke and Hobbes about the rational vs. irrational in human nature.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

The EU & Ireland’s Debt Crisis (Jon Kofas, Greece)

Posted on November 14th, 2010 

 A poll conducted for Wall Street investors indicates that the majority believe Greece and Ireland will default on their public debt in the next 18 months, with Portugal coming in a close third and Spain a distant fourth.
The fiscal scare across EU has sent bond rates higher for Ireland as well as Southern and Eastern Europe, and it has resulted in a drop of the euro at a time that Germany is trying to keep the currency steady and struggling to convince Washington that the Fed has to stop its stimulative monetary measures. To calm the markets, deliberately leaked sources have revealed that within a few days Ireland will probably receive a bailout package in the order of 80 billion euros to service its debt beginning in 2011 when Dublin will be facing serious liquidity shortfalls. The problem with Ireland is not just the public debt as is the case of Greece, but the very weak banking system that will need massive capital injections to remain afloat. Whereas Ireland was expected to suffer a budgetary deficit of 12% of GDP in 2010, bailing out the banks will cost at least one-third of GDP, money that must come from deep cuts in the public sector and higher indirect taxes. This development comes on the heels of possible defaults for Greece and Portugal, or at the very least major debt restructuring, as I have written in previous postings when analyzing the massive EU public debt problem and its repercussions on the social and political arenas. If one of the smaller EU members actually defaults, or proceeds with debt restructuring, then Spain, the fourth largest eurozone economy, will have problems servicing its debt because interest rates will rise sharply. Because Spain has the additional problem of massive private sector debt which competes with the public sector for new credit, interest rates will rise further for Spain and the rest of Europe. A number of Eastern European countries, Romania and Czech Republic among them, are also on investors “watch list” as default candidates. To prevent the ripple effect, Ireland’s debt crisis will be addressed more or less in the same manner as it was in Greece, namely rigorous austerity measures that will cripple labor and the middle class. Like the Greek press and government earlier this year, Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen blamed German Chancellor Angela Merkel for making public remarks that do not help EU debtor nations in the south and East. On the postive side of all this, EU officials will act more rapidly in the case of Ireland than they did in Greece, given that there is the 750 billion euro stabilization fund set up by the European Union and International Monetary Fund. Patrick Honohan, governor of the Irish central bank, tried to calm investors a few days ago by stating that there will be budgetary cuts, which of course translate into IMF-style austerity measures once Ireland accepts the EU-IMF bailout package. The cuts will be very painful for workers and the middle class that have already endured the pain of previous measures. It has now become necessary to ask bond investors to share in the sacrifice for the sake of long-term stability. French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde has stated that “all stakeholder must participate in the gains and losses” of the bonded debt. Merkel made similar remarks, apparently hinting that debt crises by EU members will entail at some point down the road, depending on how serious the problem becomes for EU monetary and economic stability, that debtor nations like Greece and Ireland (possibly Portugal and Spain) will only pay the interest and not the principal; a model of public financing that has long historical roots going back to the 19th century. The Irish crisis comes amid a US-China currency-valuation controversy that implies lack of consensus on a number of issues from trade to fiscal policy among the G-20, a phenomenon that can only lead to increased economic nationalism. China is about to cool its economic growth at a time that the global economy needs stimulus and the US is already on record for reducing the deficit by adopting what we have come to know as “austerity-style” measures. Both organized labor and conservatives have already reacted with sharply negative remarks about austerity-style measures that they otherwise support but not in their own country. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said: “The chairmen of the Deficit Commission just told working Americans to ‘Drop Dead,’” Grover Norquist, a Republican activist, was sharply critical of the Commission’s recommendation to raise $1 trillion in tax increases during the next 10 years. By 2015 when Obama asked for a balanced budget, the Bowles-Simpson proposals would reduce budgetary deficits by $380 billion in 2015. Interest payments, however, which currently account for $13.7 trillion, just $1 trillion under annual GDP, would be exempt from the Bowles-Simpson proposal, thus leaving the US with budgetary deficits not that different from EU’s worst cases like Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain who must comply with the rule of 3% budgetary deficit of GDP once the austerity measures are complete. At the heart of Greece’s and Ireland’s debt crisis, as well as those pending across southern and Eastern Europe, is the double standard that creditor and debtor nations belonging in the G-7 impose on weak debtor nations. “Out of the world’s 75 largest economies, the United States has the 20th largest as debt-to-GDP ratio, standing at 94.3%, with a gross external debt of $13.454 trillion and an annual GDP $14.26 trillion. In fact, out of the largest 75 economies, this number is just above the worldwide average of 90.8%. Western-European and North American countries dominate the upper end of the spectrum, with Switzerland (422%) and the United Kingdom (408%) at the #2 and #3 spots, respectively, and Ireland representing the most drastic debt-to-GDP ratio. According to the most recent World Bank data, Ireland’s number stands at a staggering 1,267%.”   http://www.cnbc.com/id/33506526
If Germany which enjoys a substantial surplus had agreed to the formula that French finance minister is now proposing about bond investors “sharing in the gains and losses,” if the US had agreed with its G-20 counterparts to impose greater regulation on banks and investment firms and moved to cut defense spending and end swiftly the futile wars of Iraq and Afghanistan, while forcing Israel to negotiate peace in good faith, the world economy would have been far better better off than it is expected to be in 2011. If the G-20 had agreed on partial debt forgiveness, cost-sharing with investors, and debt rescheduling for debtor nations whose living standards are falling off the cliff as is the case not just for Ireland and Greece, but many mid-sized and small economies in all continents. The political decision to support finance capital at the expense of the middle class and labor remains at the heart of global crises, whether it is Ireland and Greece or the US that is about to bathe in some austerity-style measures that weak debtor nations have endured.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Racism and Human Nature (Jon Kofas, Greece)

Posted on November 13th, 2010

Do economic crises and wars exacerbate racism among all social classes and result in greater social tensions and political polarization to the degree that moderate conservatives more farther to the right and moderate centrists inadvertently find themselves defending the left? There is certainly ample proof that economic crises do result in higher crime rates against people and property, but do they result in hate crime expressed in subtle and overt ways? During the Enlightenment the concept of the “universality of human nature” prevailed among philosophers from Rene Descartes (precursor to the era) to David Hume and Immanuel Kant, who claimed that they did not consider any factor such as skin color, religion, ethnicity, body size, or any trait other than intellectual capacity and artistic creativity. Enlightenment thinkers believed that human progress cannot take place with stereotypes, prejudice, and intolerance and only when human beings rest on reason and empirical criteria can they be closer to the truth and be able to make a contribution to the edification of humanity.
In theory, this was based largely on an empiricist philosophy–racism is learned behavior and not an integral part of human nature that has always existed and will always exist. The Enlightenment was indeed a great step forward for Europeans that were at the time engaged in the trans-Atlantic slave trade and colonizing, frequently with very violent wars against non-whites with the sole purpose of exploiting their labor and resources, while a select few intellectuals argued the boundless horizon of reason and the limitations of the irrational. Racism in European society (and in the North American colonies) became prevalent because there was a motive of power and profit. Therefore, racism was deeply ingrained in the minds of white Europeans, including prominent philosophers like Hume among others who believed that non-whites differed (were inferior) from whites who were presumed “civilized” for it was widely believed northwest Europe was God’s chosen center of the universe. Euro-centrism that included racism remained a characteristic of European culture, shared by American colonists who were born into a society of prejudice, intolerance, and stereotypes that served domestic and foreign policy goals, military schemes, economic interests, and of course social interests. Racism was as natural as colonialism. Whites grew up believing in their biological–physical and mental–and their moral (linked to Christianity) superiority that fed into innate human proclivities of fear, anxieties, insecurities about identity, potentialities, and abilities, and guilt, all projected on the other of a different race lower down the evolutionary chain; the other that is the ubiquitous enemy looking back from inside the mirror with a menacing look. Racism also goes hand in hand with militarism. We see a substantial rise of racism in all facets of Western societies during the era of colonialism that resulted in the 19th and 20th-century wars of imperialism, wars that intensified racism among whites. Similarly, we see that the rise of Japan as an economic power in the late 19th century and its subsequent rise as a regional military power, after it defeated Russia in 1905, resulted in the rise of racism against the Chinese and Koreans, later to include other Asian nationalities. Besides irrational proclivities in human beings, as Enlightenment thinkers correctly identified as the source of prejudice and intolerance, power, especially military power afford human beings a sense of superiority that in popular culture it translates into prejudice, stereotypes and intolerance. Modern society is still operating under the ideals of the Enlightenment, the last intellectual revolution of the Western World, and it does so because there is societal consensus that harmony and progress cannot take place in the absence of tolerance in an increasingly multicultural world. Racism is not good politics, it is not good business, it is not good for any institution that endeavors to project an image of responsibility and constructiveness in society. The question, however, is the degree to which human beings, when they are all alone or with others who think like them, do not candidly reveal the irrational racist self because it “feels good” to feel a sense of superiority–man playing God. Therefore, while constitutions and laws provide for punishment of racism and encourage tolerance, in the real world–whether in the streets of Chicago among poor teenagers of different ethnic and racial groups or in New York’s, London’s or Tokyo’s corporate board rooms or in the battlefield in Iraq or Gaza–the enemy is still objectified and reduced to a racially inferior being, for that is the essence of power many human beings worship more than they value any virtue in theory. Far more dangerous and destructive than any direct or overt racially motivated act or speech is the subtle form of racism as we have witnessed since Obama became president by people who are too ignorant to recognize that he is as quintessentially “establishment” as any other president and represents the white Anglo-Saxon value system as much as he does finance capitalism. Nevertheless, the Tea Party and especially Glenn Beck have launched repeated attacks on America’s first black president and his Jewish supporters like billionaire George Soros. The irony of such racially motivated attacks is the sheer ignorance and stupidity of those delivering the divisive rhetoric, as Salon magazine exposed in an article about Beck, Palin and Soros. “Given Soros’s alleged role plotting to destroy the United States, Beck and his Fox viewership might be surprised to learn that one of Sarah Palin’s top aides has been on Soros’s payroll for years.That would be Republican lobbyist Randy Scheunemann, Palin’s foreign policy adviser and a member of her small inner circle. He runs a Washington, DC consulting firm called Orion Strategies. Scheunemann and a partner have since 2003 been paid over $150,000 by one of Soros’s organizations for lobbying work, according to federal disclosure forms reviewed by Salon. The lobbying, which has continued to the present, centers on legislation involving sanctions and democracy promotion in Burma.”

Thursday, 11 November 2010


Unless there is some reason such as clarifying something I have written hastily and sloppily, which I often do, or there is some an educational purpose, I usually try, but I do now always succeed, to resist the temptation to reply to fellow-WAISers who at times of understandable emotional impetus may yield to the temptation of focusing not on the merits of ideas as they would like their readers to know, but on demonizing the author of ideas contrary to theirs. This is a rather cheap and pedestrian method to discredit the validity of ideas with which one disagrees. Senator Joseph McCarthy was an expert at demonizing and stigmatizing political opponents without ever examining the substance of issues he was raising, the consequences of what he was doing, or the value of engaging in tactics solely intended to lift his political career as had Nixon before him. Of course, it was Senator Richard Nixon who started the Red Scare trend during the Truman administration amid the nascent Cold War that chose confrontation instead of co-existence with Moscow because it served strategic and economic interests and a domestic agenda of social conformity to engage in such conduct. In 2010 when America is faced with lingering economic contraction, high unemployment and rising poverty levels, rising budgetary and balance of payments deficits, loss of US global prestige owing to the disasters of Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and China rapidly becoming the presumptive preeminent power on earth, there is a right-wing emergence in the form of the Tea Party, behind which are varieties of people from very wealthy individuals to Christian fundamentalists that believe it is Springtime for McCarthyism. One of those who believes in Springtime for McCarthyism is Mr. Nigel Jones who in a recent posting argued that the American people 'nodded off' during the 2008 election when they elected Obama, and presumably they have awakened from a deep left-liberal sleep inspired by Mao and Stalin to see the light shinning above the brilliant minds of "Republican Tea Party" politicians. Emboldened by indisputable 'web-based facts' that the biased mainstream media has ignored regarding the role of William Ayers in the Obama biography, Mr. Jones went to castigate me for criticizing 'McCarthyism' as a phenomenon that has made its grand revival under the banner of Tea Party. Mr. Jones wrote: "Jon Kofas jeered at “McCarthyism” in a post yesterday. Say what you will about the crude and drunken late Senator, subsequent research has revealed that in essence, Joseph McCarthy was right. The New Deal administration was honeycombed with Communists and Soviet agents. Alger Hiss, his wife and his brother, were Soviet spies. The Rosenbergs did pass the secrets of the Hydrogen bomb to Stalin. And McCarthy may have stalled a few Hollywood careers but he did not kill anybody. Communism and its helpers killed hundreds of millions."

I have already suggested that some of Mr. Jones ' postings would make good source for satire, especially Garrison Keillor's PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION show. Now that Mr. Jones is defending McCarthyism, I think that he has given Broadway producers some good ideas for a musical similar to THE PRODUCERS (1968) that Mel Brooks wrote and directed. Instead of Hitler and Nazism as misunderstood, misinterpreted and maligned by liberal and leftist intellectuals and biased media controlled by liberals and leftists, SPRINGTIME FOR McCARTHYISM, written by none other than ghost-writer William Ayers, only so he can atone for sins already committed as leftist intellectual, would have Senator McCarthy as the theme with Sarah Palin and Glen Beck as the stars, with Rush Limbaugh playing a key role as 'information minister'. Of course, Beck does not believe that McCarthy was 'enough of a McCarthyist', but he along with Palin and Limbaugh as the stars will be trying to convince the American people that Republicans who have just taken control the House of Representatives there is an urgent need to establish a new House on Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) that would never dissolve until and unless the land is safe from all Un-Americans parading around as OBAMA-philes. This (Tea Party-inspired) committee would be just like the one originally established in 1937 under the chairmanship of Martin Dies who received a telegram from the Ku Klux Klan congratulating him: "Every true American, and that includes every Klansman, is behind you and your committee in its effort to turn the country back to the honest, freedom-loving, God-fearing American to whom it belongs."   John Rankin and John S. Wood were members of HUAC who defended the Klan: "The threats and intimidations of the Klan are an old American custom, like illegal whisky-making." Led by soloists Palin-for-President and Beck-for-vice President singing it's SPRINGTIME for McCARTHYISM, the musical show would have a chorus of Tea Party Christian fundamentalists delivering THE WORD through song across America. The traveling show would be trying to convince misguided (OBAMA-phile) voters concentrated mostly in large cities in the northeast, upper Midwest and West coast that the land is threatened by a wave of Communists and other Un-American elements like Muslims on a crusade to destroy Christianity, liberal and leftist intellectuals, gays in and outside the military diluting the good image of American militarism, feminists like Hilary Clinton and 'her type' of ball-busting feminist politicians, illegal immigrants and many legal ones whose disloyalty to America is exposed by voting for Obama, and anyone who has ever voted for or contributed to a Democrat campaign. SPRINGTIME FOR McCARTHYISM chorus would warn 'real Americans' through song and dance that all sectors of public and private life since Obama took office are now under the control of disloyal citizens under suspicion who must be investigated by HUAC and exposed for daring to elect a black man with an Arab-sounding name and an African father; a man with college friends who read THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO, but failed to study how the RED SCARE era actually saved America from Communists that had infiltrated the State Department, Pentagon, and even the White House under both presidents Truman and Eisenhower! All subversive books would be banned, starting with Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 that criticizes a futuristic police-state society based on hedonistic values where critical thought based on book reading is outlawed, followed by Arthur Miller's THE CRUCIBLE, which tries to show that Puritanism is deeply ingrained in white Anglo-Saxon American culture and psyche, shaping attitudes and values that are destructive to a pluralistic society. Song titles in SPRINGTIME FOR McCARTHY would include: "we are real Americans and we want to save America from disloyal Americans; we tell the truth that comes to us directly from God through the mouths of  Rush Limbaugh,. Glen Beck and Sarah Palin; we ruin peoples' lives because we love America, we believe in righteousness, and we are rooting out evil to save America!" Clothed in the American flag and holding a shining gold-plated cross on the right hand and a picture of Joe McCarthy on the left, SPRINGTIME FOR McCARTHYISM cast members would deliver the gospel truth about the evils threatening the 'American way of life' as God intended it. To deliver their holy message inspired by the Holy Spirit as reflected in the brilliant mind of Senator McCarthy, the chorus would sing memorable quotes from Senator McCarthy himself, like the one that made him (in)famous. "I have here in my hand a list of two hundred and five [people] that were known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping the policy of the State Department." Demanding that the new and improved Un-American Activities Committee investigate, castigate, and imprison all OBAMA-phile suspects without a trial, the SPRINGTIME FOR McCARTHYISM show would then investigate its own members until there is no one left to investigate, with Palin and Beck accusing each other of lacking sufficient McCarthyist loyalty and Rush Limbaugh as the judge deciding that neither Beck nor Palin have sufficient McCarthyist credentials.