Fight the disease of globalized corporate capitalism

Fight the Disease, Not the Symptoms

Mr. Fish / Truthdig

The disease of globalized corporate capitalism has the same effects across the planet. It weakens or destroys democratic institutions, making them subservient to corporate and oligarchic power. It forces domestic governments to give up control over their economies, which operate under policies dictated by global corporations, banks, the World Trade Organizationand the International Monetary Fund. It casts aside hundreds of millions of workers now classified as “redundant” or “surplus” labor. It disempowers underpaid and unprotected workers, many toiling in global sweatshops, keeping them cowed, anxious and compliant. It financializes the economy, creating predatory global institutions that extract money from individuals, institutions and states through punishing forms of debt peonage. It shuts down genuine debate on corporate-owned media platforms, especially in regard to vast income disparities and social inequality. And the destruction empowers proto-fascist movements and governments.

These proto-fascist forces discredit verifiable fact and history and replace them with myth. They peddle nostalgia for lost glory. They attack the spiritual bankruptcy of the modern, technocratic world. They are xenophobic. They champion the “virtues” of a hyper-masculinity and the warrior cult. They preach regeneration through violence. They rally around demagogues who absolve followers of moral choice and promise strength and protection. They marginalize and destroy all individuals and institutions, including schools, that make possible self-criticism, self-reflection and transcendence and that nurture empathy, especially for the demonized. This is why artists and intellectuals are ridiculed and silenced. This is why dissent is attacked as an act of treason.

These movements are also deeply misogynistic. They disempower girls and women to hand a perverted power to men who feel powerless in the global economy. They blame ethnic and religious minorities for the national decline. They foster bizarre conspiracy theories. And they communicate in the Orwellian newspeak of alternative facts. They claim the sole right to represent and use indigenous patriotic and religious symbols.

India, built on the foundations of caste slavery, has become one of many new neofeudal states, among them Turkey, Poland, Russia and the United States. Its neofeudal structure continues to carry out atrocities against Dalits—the former “untouchables”—and now increasingly against Muslims. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who as the chief minister of the western Indian state of Gujarat oversaw a vicious anti-Muslim pogrom, has defended sectarian discrimination and violence even though this year he made a tepid declaration that “[w]e will not tolerate violence in the name of faith” and issued other unconvincing appeals for religious peace. As prime minister he has employed threats, harassment and force to silence those who decry human rights abuses and atrocities carried out in India. He attacks his critics as “anti-national”—the equivalent of “unpatriotic” in the United States.

Modi, like his fellow demagogues in other parts of the world, including Donald Trump, speaks in the language of moral purity and promotes self-serving historical myth. Indians who eat beef—a huge number—are targeted, school history books are being rewritten to conform to right-wing Hindu ideology and its open admiration for fascism, and entertainers considered too political or too salacious are under attack.

There are within America’s corporate power structures individuals, parties and groups that find the hysterical, imbecilic and irrational rants of demagogues such as Trump repugnant. They seek a return to the polished mendacity of politicians such as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. They hope to promote the interests of global capitalism by maintaining the fiction of a functioning democracy and an open society. These “moderates” or “liberals,” however, are also the architects of the global corporate pillage. They created the political vacuum that the demagogues and proto-fascist movements have filled. They blind themselves to their own complicity. They embrace their own myths—such as the belief that former FBI Director James Comey and the Russians were responsible for the election of Trump—to avoid examining the social inequality that is behind the global crisis and their defeat.

The 400 richest individuals in the United States have more wealth than the bottom 64 percent of the population, and the three richest Americans have more wealth than the bottom 50 percent of the U.S. population. This social inequality will only get worse as the weak controls that once regulated the economy and the tax code are abolished or rewritten to further increase the concentration of wealth among the ruling oligarchs. Social inequality at this level, history has shown, always results in these types of pathologies and political distortions. It also, potentially, presages revolution.

The short-term political and economic gains made by the Democratic Party and liberal class in the last few decades came at the expense of the working class. The liberal class, because of its complicity in globalization, has destroyed its credibility as well as the credibility of the “liberal” democratic values it claims to represent. Enraged workers, lied to for decades by “liberal” politicians such as Bill and Hillary Clinton and Obama, delight in Trump’s crude taunts and insults directed at the power structure and elites they loath. Many Americans are perhaps aware that Trump is a con artist, but he at least appears to share their disdain for the “liberal” elites who abandoned them.

It will eventually become apparent to some, perhaps many, of Trump’s supporters that he is cravenly in the service of the 1 percent and has turbocharged the corporate kleptocracy. The Democratic Party, busy purging Bernie Sanders supporters from its ranks, is banking on this epiphany to revive its political fortunes. The Democratic leadership has no real political strategy, other than to hope that Trump implodes. They are backing and funding opposition movements such as Indivisible and the women’s marches, as well as the witch hunt about Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, all of which have as their sole focus removing Trump and restoring the Democratic Party to power. This form of resistance is sterile and useless.

But there are other resistance movements—the most prominent being the battle by the water protectors at Standing Rock to block the Dakota Access pipeline—that attack the disease. It is easy to tell the resistance from the faux resistance by the response of the state. During the women’s marches, Democrats, including Debbie Wasserman Schultz, were honored participants. The police were usually courteous and helped facilitate the marches; arrests were few and coverage by the corporate press was sympathetic. In contrast, during the long encampment at Standing Rock, which took place under the Obama administration, the nonviolent resisters were physically attacked by police, the National Guard and private security contractors. These forces used dogs, pepper spray, water cannons in subzero temperatures, sound machines, drones, armored vehicles and hundreds of arrests in their efforts to destroy the resistance.

Attack the symptoms and the state will be passive. Attack the disease and the state will be ruthless.

Once Trump’s base begins to abandon him—the repression in Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is a good example of what will happen—the political landscape will turn very ugly. Trump and his allies, in a desperate bid to cling to power, will openly stoke hate crimes and violence against Muslims, undocumented workers, African-Americans, progressives, intellectuals, feminists and dissidents. He and his allies on the “alt-right” and the Christian right will move to silence all organs of dissent, including corporate media outlets fighting to restore the patina of civility that is the window dressing to corporate pillage. They will harness the power of the nation’s substantial internal security apparatus to crush public protests and to jail opponents, even those who are part of the faux resistance.

Time is not on our side. If we can build counter-capitalist movements that include the working class we have a chance. If we can, like the water protectors at Standing Rock, mount sustained acts of defiance in the face of severe state repression, we have a chance. If we can organize nationwide campaigns of noncooperation we have a chance. We cannot be distracted by the symptoms. We must cure the disease.

Chris Hedges
Columnist
Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, New York Times best selling author, former professor at Princeton University, activist and ordained Presbyterian minister. He has written 11 books,…
Mr. Fish
Cartoonist
Mr. Fish, also known as Dwayne Booth, is a cartoonist who primarily creates for Truthdig.com and Harpers.com. Mr. Fish’s work has also appeared nationally in The Los Angeles Times, The Village Voice, Vanity…
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Russian Explanation of the Mass Poisoning in Syria Could Be True

Posted on Apr 26, 2017

By Theodore A. Postol

Map of Syria. (Wikimedia)

Theodore A. Postol is professor emeritus of science, technology and national security policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a specialist in weapons issues. At the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, he advised on missile basing, and he later was a scientific consultant to the chief of naval operations at the Pentagon. He is a recipient of the Leo Szilard Prize from the American Physical Society and the Hilliard Roderick Prize from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and he was awarded the Norbert Wiener Award from Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility for uncovering numerous and important false claims about missile defenses.

I have been examining the possibility that the April 4 attack in which a number of Syrian civilians and animals were killed, apparently by some kind of poison, hit an ammunition dump as claimed by the Russians. Videos taken on the morning of the attack show explosive debris clouds from four targets that were hit and provide strong circumstantial evidence that this Russian explanation could be true.

One of the clouds is quite distinctly different from all the others. The stem of this debris cloud has a base area that is five or more times larger than the cloud-stem bases of the other bomb debris clouds. The evidence is consistent with the possibility that this debris cloud was created by an initial explosion, followed by a series of secondary explosions. This situation would be expected if the site was, in fact, an ammunition dump.

Evidence of bomb hit on possible ammunition and chemical storage site.

I also have looked up data on poisonous gases that could be generated by the combustion of plastics, and have inspected photographs of the dead and dying from the Bhopal, India, chemical accident of Dec. 2-3, 1984. Many of the symptoms of the victims from the Bhopal catastrophe are similar in appearance to those observed in victims of the attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria.

Images of poisoned victims of the gas release from a chemical pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, on Dec. 2-3, 1984.

In Bhopal, the gases released were not only extremely toxic but also were capable of burning the skin and eyes. The immediate and most deadly effect of these gases was when they were inhaled. The gases reacted with water in the lungs and created a large generation of fluids that caused victims to drown in their own lung fluids. This effect led to some victims showing foaming at the mouth and nose—an effect that can be generated from many toxic gases and is not unique to nerve agents.

There is no apparent evidence of burns from caustic gases in the pictures of alleged victims from the Khan Shaykhun event. However, the case of Bhopal is distinctly different because of a particular pesticide component that was released during the accident. There is no doubt that a simple mass fire that involves plastics can produce very dangerous materials like phosgene, carbonyl chloride, hydrogen cyanide, and a variety of highly toxic and dangerous organic compounds. One could expect a considerably more toxic release of gases if an ammunition dump was hit, a facility where a variety of chemicals could be stored, including precursors for the production of nerve agents.

Summary of toxic gases that can be created from combusting plastics. Does not include toxic gases that can be created from other materials released in accompanying explosions.

This evidence is not proof that the Russian explanation for a mass poisoning is correct. But given that there is no evidence to support the American alternative explanation—a sarin release from an airdropped munition at a site identified by the White House Intelligence Report—this additional data does provide some information that is relevant to the ongoing discussions on this matter.

Theodore A. Postol can be reached at postol@mit.edu.

 

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/russian_explanation_of_the_mass_poisoning_in_syria_could_be_true_20170426

Kerry in Hiroshima

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12 April 2016

On Monday, US Secretary of State John Kerry visited the Japanese city of Hiroshima, the target of the first nuclear bomb ever used in wartime. On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city, killing between 70,000 and 146,000 civilians outright. Three days later, on August 9, the US dropped a second nuclear bomb on the city of Nagasaki, killing a further 39,000 to 80,000 civilians.

The Obama administration made clear that Kerry, the highest-ranking US official ever to visit the city, was not coming to apologize for these terrible crimes. “There is no effort…to seek an apology from the United States, nor is there any interest in reopening the question of blame for the sequence of events that culminated in the use of the atomic bomb,” the State Department said Monday.

Declaring that “the peaceful, stable international system that we have built in the decades since World War II are not a given,” Kerry said the bombing of Hiroshima “reminds everybody of the extraordinary complexity of choices in war and of what war does to people, to communities, to countries, to the world.” He did not seek to reconcile this hypocritical statement with the fact that he is a representative of the state responsible for the crime.

Kerry’s visit took place against the backdrop of a major escalation of Washington’s belligerent actions against China. Not since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 has the danger of war and the use of nuclear weapons been so acute.

The main purpose of Kerry’s trip was to cement US alliances in East and Southeast Asia for the militarily encirclement of China. The ceremony at the site of the 1945 bombing followed a summit of G7 foreign ministers in Hiroshima, which issued a pointed statement warning China (although not by name) against “intimidating, coercive or provocative unilateral actions that could alter the status quo and increase tensions.”

Last week, the New York Times reported that the United States was preparing a third “freedom of navigation” operation in the South China Sea, in which the US will send a warship within 12 nautical miles of territory claimed by China. Admiral Harry Harris, the head of the US Pacific Fleet, has been agitating behind the scenes for the next such action to include “military” operations, potentially including the firing of weapons.

As Kerry was speaking, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter was in the midst of a visit to India, which the US is seeking to integrate into its anti-China alliance. From there, Carter will move on to the Philippines, which is receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in exchange for its cooperation in the US war drive. Carter will visit a location less than 100 miles from the disputed Spratly Islands archipelago claimed by China.

Japan, together with Australia, forms the linchpin of Washington’s anti-Chinese alliance. To this end, the US has encouraged the aggressive remilitarization of Japan, promoting the very tendencies that led to the deaths of millions of people and horrendous war crimes during Japan’s invasion of China and other countries in the Pacific in the 1930s.

Earlier this month, a reinterpretation of Japan’s pacifist constitution, agreed to in 2014, went into effect, allowing the Japanese military to fight wars abroad in support of its allies, including the United States. Last week, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the country’s constitution did not prohibit it from possessing nuclear weapons.

The deepening US-Japanese anti-China alliance is at the heart of a sweeping remilitarization of the Asia-Pacific region, where military spending increased by six percent last year. The Philippines and Indonesia, key US allies in the gang-up against China, increased their military spending by 25 percent and 16.5 percent, respectively.

Within US military and policy-making circles there is open talk of a “Second Pacific War,” in which, as one expert put it, “painful losses—in ships and aircraft, sailors and aviators—would have to be expected as a matter of course, and they would probably accumulate quickly, on both sides.”

In his remarks, Kerry praised President Barack Obama’s efforts “to create and pursue a world free from nuclear weapons.” In reality, despite Obama’s vow early in his presidency that the US would “not develop new nuclear warheads or pursue new military missions or new capabilities,” the US government is in the midst of a $1 trillion program to upgrade its nuclear stockpile.

In 2011, the latest year for which figures are available, the US spent $61.3 billion on its nuclear weapons program, more then all other countries combined. The amount was nearly 10 times more than China and almost 100 times more than North Korea.

Despite claiming in 2009 that it would “reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy,” the White House made explicit in a 2010 strategy document that the US military maintains the right to use nuclear weapons without being attacked, including against countries that do not possess nuclear weapons themselves.

Behind the scenes, the US military, politicians and think tanks are drawing up plans for a preemptive nuclear strike. A report published last month by a leading policy think tank, entitled “Rethinking Armageddon,” elaborates scenarios in which the United States carries out nuclear first strikes against both North Korea and Russia.

In this context, Kerry’s visit must serve as a warning to the working classes of Asia and the entire world.

The use of nuclear bombs against Hiroshima and Nagasaki, under conditions in which the Japanese government was actively seeking terms of surrender, was not, as the official US narrative claims, a measure to hasten the end of the war. Rather, the nuclear incineration of hundreds of thousands of people was intended to communicate, particularly to the Soviet Union, that the United States would stop at nothing to secure its hegemony in the postwar order.

With Europe and the Pacific all but destroyed by the war and US industry dominant throughout the world, the use of nuclear weapons was a calculated tactical decision. As the American historian Gabriel Jackson wrote in 1999, “In the specific circumstances of August 1945, the use of the atom bomb showed that a psychologically very normal and democratically elected chief executive could use the weapon just as the Nazi dictator would have used it.”

Today, the United States, wracked by internal maladies and facing the protracted decline of its economic power, has only one trump card to secure its preeminent place in the global capitalist pecking order: the threat to use its enormous military and nuclear arsenal. This makes the danger all the more acute.

Andre Damon

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/04/12/pers-a12.html

How China and Russia Are Running Rings Around Washington 

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The Eurasian Big Bang 

By Pepe Escobar

Let’s start with the geopolitical Big Bang you know nothing about, the one that occurred just two weeks ago. Here are its results: from now on, any possible future attack on Iran threatened by the Pentagon (in conjunction with NATO) would essentially be an assault on the planning of an interlocking set of organizations — the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization), the EEU (Eurasian Economic Union), the AIIB (the new Chinese-founded Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank), and the NDB (the BRICS’ New Development Bank) — whose acronyms you’re unlikely to recognize either.  Still, they represent an emerging new order in Eurasia.

Tehran, Beijing, Moscow, Islamabad, and New Delhi have been actively establishing interlocking security guarantees. They have been simultaneously calling the Atlanticist bluff when it comes to the endless drumbeat of attention given to the flimsy meme of Iran’s “nuclear weapons program.”  And a few days before the Vienna nuclear negotiations finally culminated in an agreement, all of this came together at a twin BRICS/SCO summit in Ufa, Russia — a place you’ve undoubtedly never heard of and a meeting that got next to no attention in the U.S.  And yet sooner or later, these developments will ensure that the War Party in Washington and assorted neocons (as well as neoliberalcons) already breathing hard over the Iran deal will sweat bullets as their narratives about how the world works crumble.

The Eurasian Silk Road

With the Vienna deal, whose interminable build-up I had the dubious pleasure of following closely, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and his diplomatic team have pulled the near-impossible out of an extremely crumpled magician’s hat: an agreement that might actually end sanctions against their country from an asymmetric, largely manufactured conflict.

Think of that meeting in Ufa, the capital of Russia’s Bashkortostan, as a preamble to the long-delayed agreement in Vienna. It caught the new dynamics of the Eurasian continent and signaled the future geopolitical Big Bangness of it all. At Ufa, from July 8th to 10th, the 7th BRICS summit and the 15th Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit overlapped just as a possible Vienna deal was devouring one deadline after another.

Consider it a diplomatic masterstroke of Vladmir Putin’s Russia to have merged those two summits with an informal meeting of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). Call it a soft power declaration of war against Washington’s imperial logic, one that would highlight the breadth and depth of an evolving Sino-Russian strategic partnership. Putting all those heads of state attending each of the meetings under one roof, Moscow offered a vision of an emerging, coordinated geopolitical structure anchored in Eurasian integration. Thus, the importance of Iran: no matter what happens post-Vienna, Iran will be a vital hub/node/crossroads in Eurasia for this new structure.

If you read the declaration that came out of the BRICS summit, one detail should strike you: the austerity-ridden European Union (EU) is barely mentioned. And that’s not an oversight. From the point of view of the leaders of key BRICS nations, they are offering a new approach to Eurasia, the very opposite of the language of sanctions.

Here are just a few examples of the dizzying activity that took place at Ufa, all of it ignored by the American mainstream media. In their meetings, President Putin, China’s President Xi Jinping, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi worked in a practical way to advance what is essentially a Chinese vision of a future Eurasia knit together by a series of interlocking “new Silk Roads.” Modi approved more Chinese investment in his country, while Xi and Modi together pledged to work to solve the joint border issues that have dogged their countries and, in at least one case, led to war.

The NDB, the BRICS’ response to the World Bank, was officially launched with $50 billion in start-up capital. Focused on funding major infrastructure projects in the BRICS nations, it is capable of accumulating as much as $400 billion in capital, according to its president, Kundapur Vaman Kamath. Later, it plans to focus on funding such ventures in other developing nations across the Global South — all in their own currencies, which means bypassing the U.S. dollar.  Given its membership, the NDB’s money will clearly be closely linked to the new Silk Roads. As Brazilian Development Bank President Luciano Coutinho stressed, in the near future it may also assist European non-EU member states like Serbia and Macedonia. Think of this as the NDB’s attempt to break a Brussels monopoly on Greater Europe. Kamath even advanced the possibility of someday aidingin the reconstruction of Syria.

You won’t be surprised to learn that both the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the NDB are headquartered in China and will work to complement each other’s efforts. At the same time, Russia’s foreign investment arm, the Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), signed a memorandum of understanding with funds from other BRICS countries and so launched an informal investment consortium in which China’s Silk Road Fund and India’s Infrastructure Development Finance Company will be key partners.

Full Spectrum Transportation Dominance

On the ground level, this should be thought of as part of the New Great Game in Eurasia. Its flip side is the Trans-Pacific Partnership in the Pacific and the Atlantic version of the same, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, both of which Washington is trying to advance to maintain U.S. global economic dominance. The question these conflicting plans raise is how to integrate trade and commerce across that vast region. From the Chinese and Russian perspectives, Eurasia is to be integrated via a complex network of superhighways, high-speed rail lines, ports, airports, pipelines, and fiber optic cables. By land, sea, and air, the resulting New Silk Roads are meant to create an economic version of the Pentagon’s doctrine of “Full Spectrum Dominance” — a vision that already has Chinese corporate executives crisscrossing Eurasia sealing infrastructure deals.

For Beijing — back to a 7% growth rate in the second quarter of 2015 despite a recent near-panic on the country’s stock markets — it makes perfect economic sense: as labor costs rise, production will be relocated from the country’s Eastern seaboard to its cheaper Western reaches, while the natural outlets for the production of just about everything will be those parallel and interlocking “belts” of the new Silk Roads.

Meanwhile, Russia is pushing to modernize and diversify its energy-exploitation-dependent economy. Among other things, its leaders hope that the mix of those developing Silk Roads and the tying together of the Eurasian Economic Union — Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan — will translate into myriad transportation and construction projects for which the country’s industrial and engineering know-how will prove crucial.

As the EEU has begun establishing free trade zones with India, Iran, Vietnam, Egypt, and Latin America’s Mercosur bloc (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela), the initial stages of this integration process already reach beyond Eurasia. Meanwhile, the SCO, which began as little more than a security forum, is expanding and moving into the field of economic cooperation.  Its countries, especially four Central Asian “stans” (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan) will rely ever more on the Chinese-driven Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the NDB. At Ufa, India and Pakistan finalized an upgrading process in which they have moved from observers to members of the SCO. This makes it an alternative G8.

In the meantime, when it comes to embattled Afghanistan, the BRICS nations and the SCO have now called upon “the armed opposition to disarm, accept the Constitution of Afghanistan, and cut ties with Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other terrorist organizations.” Translation: within the framework of Afghan national unity, the organization would accept the Taliban as part of a future government. Their hopes, with the integration of the region in mind, would be for a future stable Afghanistan able to absorb more Chinese, Russian, Indian, and Iranian investment, and the construction — finally! — of a long-planned, $10 billion, 1,420-kilometer-long Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline that would benefit those energy-hungry new SCO members, Pakistan and India. (They would each receive 42% of the gas, the remaining 16% going to Afghanistan.)

Central Asia is, at the moment, geographic ground zero for the convergence of the economic urges of China, Russia, and India. It was no happenstance that, on his way to Ufa, Prime Minister Modi stopped off in Central Asia.  Like the Chinese leadership in Beijing, Moscow looks forward (as a recent document puts it) to the “interpenetration and integration of the EEU and the Silk Road Economic Belt” into a “Greater Eurasia” and a “steady, developing, safe common neighborhood” for both Russia and China.

And don’t forget Iran. In early 2016, once economic sanctions are fully lifted, it is expected to join the SCO, turning it into a G9. As its foreign minister, Javad Zarif, made clear recently to Russia’s Channel 1 television, Tehran considers the two countries strategic partners. “Russia,” he said, “has been the most important participant in Iran’s nuclear program and it will continue under the current agreement to be Iran’s major nuclear partner.” The same will, he added, be true when it comes to “oil and gas cooperation,” given the shared interest of those two energy-rich nations in “maintaining stability in global market prices.”

Got Corridor, Will Travel

Across Eurasia, BRICS nations are moving on integration projects. A developing Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar economic corridor is a typical example. It is now being reconfigured as a multilane highway between India and China. Meanwhile, Iran and Russia are developing a transportation corridor from the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman to the Caspian Sea and the Volga River. Azerbaijan will be connected to the Caspian part of this corridor, while India is planning to use Iran’s southern ports to improve its access to Russia and Central Asia. Now, add in a maritime corridor that will stretch from the Indian city of Mumbai to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas and then on to the southern Russian city of Astrakhan. And this just scratches the surface of the planning underway.

Years ago, Vladimir Putin suggested that there could be a “Greater Europe” stretching from Lisbon, Portugal, on the Atlantic to the Russian city of Vladivostok on the Pacific. The EU, under Washington’s thumb, ignored him. Then the Chinese started dreaming about and planning new Silk Roads that would, in reverse Marco Polo fashion, extend from Shanghai to Venice (and then on to Berlin).

Thanks to a set of cross-pollinating political institutions, investment funds, development banks, financial systems, and infrastructure projects that, to date, remain largely under Washington’s radar, a free-trade Eurasian heartland is being born. It will someday link China and Russia to Europe, Southwest Asia, and even Africa. It promises to be an astounding development. Keep your eyes, if you can, on the accumulating facts on the ground, even if they are rarely covered in the American media. They represent the New Great — emphasis on that word — Game in Eurasia.

Location, Location, Location

Tehran is now deeply invested in strengthening its connections to this new Eurasia and the man to watch on this score is Ali Akbar Velayati. He is the head of Iran’s Center for Strategic Research and senior foreign policy adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Velayati stresses that security in Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia, and the Caucasus hinges on the further enhancement of a Beijing-Moscow-Tehran triple entente.

As he knows, geo-strategically Iran is all about location, location, location. That country offers the best access to open seas in the region apart from Russia and is the only obvious east-west/north-south crossroads for trade from the Central Asian “stans.” Little wonder then that Iran will soon be an SCO member, even as its “partnership” with Russia is certain to evolve. Its energy resources are already crucial to and considered a matter of national security for China and, in the thinking of that country’s leadership, Iran also fulfills a key role as a hub in those Silk Roads they are planning.

That growing web of literal roads, rail lines, and energy pipelines, asTomDispatch has previously reported, represents Beijing’s response to the Obama administration’s announced “pivot to Asia” and the U.S. Navy’s urge to meddle in the South China Sea. Beijing is choosing to project power via a vast set of infrastructure projects, especially high-speed rail lines that will reach from its eastern seaboard deep into Eurasia. In this fashion, the Chinese-built railway from Urumqi in Xinjiang Province to Almaty in Kazakhstan will undoubtedly someday be extended to Iran and traverse that country on its way to the Persian Gulf.

A New World for Pentagon Planners

At the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum last month, Vladimir Putin told PBS’s Charlie Rose that Moscow and Beijing had always wanted a genuine partnership with the United States, but were spurned by Washington. Hats off, then, to the “leadership” of the Obama administration. Somehow, it has managed to bring together two former geopolitical rivals, while solidifying their pan-Eurasian grand strategy.

Even the recent deal with Iran in Vienna is unlikely — especially given the war hawks in Congress — to truly end Washington’s 36-year-long Great Wall of Mistrust with Iran. Instead, the odds are that Iran, freed from sanctions, will indeed be absorbed into the Sino-Russian project to integrate Eurasia, which leads us to the spectacle of Washington’s warriors, unable to act effectively, yet screaming like banshees.

NATO’s supreme commander Dr. Strangelove, sorry, American General Philip Breedlove, insists that the West must create a rapid-reaction force — online — to counteract Russia’s “false narratives.” Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter claims to be seriously considering unilaterally redeploying nuclear-capable missiles in Europe. The nominee to head the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Commandant Joseph Dunford, recently directly labeled Russia America’s true “existential threat”; Air Force General Paul Selva, nominated to be the new vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, seconded that assessment, using the same phrase and putting Russia, China and Iran, in that order, as more threatening than the Islamic State (ISIS). In the meantime, Republican presidential candidates and a bevy of congressional war hawks simply shout and fume when it comes to both the Iranian deal and the Russians.

In response to the Ukrainian situation and the “threat” of a resurgent Russia (behind which stands a resurgent China), a Washington-centric militarization of Europe is proceeding apace. NATO is now reportedly obsessed with what’s being called “strategy rethink” — as in drawing up detailed futuristic war scenarios on European soil. As economist Michael Hudson has pointed out, even financial politics are becoming militarized and linked to NATO’s new Cold War 2.0.

In its latest National Military Strategy, the Pentagon suggests that the risk of an American war with another nation (as opposed to terror outfits), while low, is “growing” and identifies four nations as “threats”: North Korea, a case apart, and predictably the three nations that form the new Eurasian core: Russia, China, and Iran. They are depicted in the document as “revisionist states,” openly defying what the Pentagon identifies as “international security and stability”; that is, the distinctly un-level playing field created by globalized, exclusionary, turbo-charged casino capitalism and Washington’s brand of militarism.

The Pentagon, of course, does not do diplomacy. Seemingly unaware of the Vienna negotiations, it continued to accuse Iran of pursuing nuclear weapons. And that “military option” against Iran is never off the table.

So consider it the Mother of All Blockbusters to watch how the Pentagon and the war hawks in Congress will react to the post-Vienna and — though it was barely noticed in Washington — the post-Ufa environment, especially under a new White House tenant in 2017.

It will be a spectacle.  Count on it.  Will the next version of Washington try to make it up to “lost” Russia or send in the troops? Will it contain China or the “caliphate” of ISIS? Will it work with Iran to fight ISIS or spurn it? Will it truly pivot to Asia for good and ditch the Middle East or vice-versa? Or might it try to contain Russia, China, and Iran simultaneously or find some way to play them against each other?

In the end, whatever Washington may do, it will certainly reflect a fear of the increasing strategic depth Russia and China are developing economically, a reality now becoming visible across Eurasia. At Ufa, Putin told Xi on the record: “Combining efforts, no doubt we [Russia and China] will overcome all the problems before us.”

Read “efforts” as new Silk Roads, that Eurasian Economic Union, the growing BRICS block, the expanding Shanghai Cooperation Organization, those China-based banks, and all the rest of what adds up to the beginning of a new integration of significant parts of the Eurasian land mass. As for Washington, fly like an eagle? Try instead: scream like a banshee.

Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times, an analyst for RTand Sputnik, and a TomDispatch regular. His latest book is Empire of Chaos. Follow him on Facebook by clicking here.

Copyright 2015 Pepe Escobar

 

http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176026/tomgram%3A_pepe_escobar%2C_the_pivot_to_eurasia/

The 21st century belongs to China

Why the new Silk Road threatens to end America’s economic dominance

Beijing is building a trans-Siberian railway system that rivals the Marshall Plan in its ambition and global reach

The 21st century belongs to China: Why the new Silk Road threatens to end America's economic dominance
Performers show the dragon dance during a night parade to celebrate Chinese New Year in Hong Kong, Thursday, Feb. 19, 2015. (Credit: AP/Vincent Yu)
This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch.

BEIJING — Seen from the Chinese capital as the Year of the Sheep starts, the malaise affecting the West seems like a mirage in a galaxy far, far away. On the other hand, the China that surrounds you looks all too solid and nothing like the embattled nation you hear about in the Western media, with its falling industrial figures, its real estate bubble, and its looming environmental disasters. Prophecies of doom notwithstanding, as the dogs of austerity and war bark madly in the distance, the Chinese caravan passes by in what President Xi Jinping calls “new normal” mode.

“Slower” economic activity still means a staggeringly impressive annual growth rate of 7% in what is now the globe’s leading economy. Internally, an immensely complex economic restructuring is underway as consumption overtakes investment as the main driver of economic development. At 46.7% of the gross domestic product (GDP), the service economy has pulled ahead of manufacturing, which stands at 44%.

Geopolitically, Russia, India, and China have just sent a powerful message westward: they are busy fine-tuning a complex trilateral strategy for setting up a network of economic corridors the Chinese call “new silk roads” across Eurasia. Beijing is also organizing a maritime version of the same, modeled on the feats of Admiral Zheng He who, in the Ming dynasty, sailed the “western seas” seven times, commanding fleets of more than 200 vessels.

Meanwhile, Moscow and Beijing are at work planning a new high-speed rail remix of the fabled Trans-Siberian Railroad. And Beijing is committed to translating its growing strategic partnership with Russia into crucial financial and economic help, if a sanctions-besieged Moscow, facing a disastrous oil price war, asks for it.



To China’s south, Afghanistan, despite the 13-year American war still being fought there, is fast moving into its economic orbit, while a planned China-Myanmar oil pipeline is seen as a game-changing reconfiguration of the flow of Eurasian energy across what I’ve long called Pipelineistan.

And this is just part of the frenetic action shaping what the Beijing leadership defines as the New Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road of the twenty-first century. We’re talking about a vision of creating a potentially mind-boggling infrastructure, much of it from scratch, that will connect China to Central Asia, the Middle East, and Western Europe. Such a development will include projects that range from upgrading the ancient silk road via Central Asia to developing a Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar economic corridor; a China-Pakistan corridor through Kashmir; and a new maritime silk road that will extend from southern China all the way, in reverse Marco Polo fashion, to Venice.

Don’t think of this as the twenty-first-century Chinese equivalent of America’s post-World War II Marshall Plan for Europe, but as something far more ambitious and potentially with a far vaster reach.

China as a Mega-City

If you are following this frenzy of economic planning from Beijing, you end up with a perspective not available in Europe or the U.S. Here, red-and-gold billboards promote President Xi Jinping’s much ballyhooed new tagline for the country and the century, “the Chinese Dream” (which brings to mind “the American Dream” of another era). No subway station is without them. They are a reminder of why 40,000 miles of brand new high-speed rail is considered so essential to the country’s future. After all, no less than 300 million Chinese have, in the last three decades, made a paradigm-breaking migration from the countryside to exploding urban areas in search of that dream.

Another 350 million are expected to be on the way, according to a McKinsey Global Institute study. From 1980 to 2010, China’s urban population grew by 400 million, leaving the country with at least 700 million urban dwellers. This figure is expected to hit one billion by 2030, which means tremendous stress on cities, infrastructure, resources, and the economy as a whole, as well as near-apocalyptic air pollution levels in some major cities.

Already 160 Chinese cities boast populations of more than one million. (Europe has only 35.) No less than 250 Chinese cities have tripled their GDP per capita since 1990, while disposable income per capita is up by 300%.

These days, China should be thought of not in terms of individual cities but urban clusters — groupings of cities with more than 60 million people. The Beijing-Tianjin area, for example, is actually a cluster of 28 cities. Shenzhen, the ultimate migrant megacity in the southern province of Guangdong, is now a key hub in a cluster as well. China, in fact, has more than 20 such clusters, each the size of a European country. Pretty soon, the main clusters will account for 80% of China’s GDP and 60% of its population. So the country’s high-speed rail frenzy and its head-spinning infrastructure projects – part of a $1.1 trillion investment in 300 public works — are all about managing those clusters.

Not surprisingly, this process is intimately linked to what in the West is considered a notorious “housing bubble,” which in 1998 couldn’t have even existed. Until then all housing was still owned by the state. Once liberalized, that housing market sent a surging Chinese middle class into paroxysms of investment. Yet with rare exceptions, middle-class Chinese can still afford their mortgages because both rural and urban incomes have also surged.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is, in fact, paying careful attention to this process, allowing farmers to lease or mortgage their land, among other things, and so finance their urban migration and new housing. Since we’re talking about hundreds of millions of people, however, there are bound to be distortions in the housing market, even the creation of whole disastrous ghost towns with associated eerie, empty malls.

The Chinese infrastructure frenzy is being financed by a pool of investments from central and local government sources, state-owned enterprises, and the private sector. The construction business, one of the country’s biggest employers, involves more than 100 million people, directly or indirectly. Real estate accounts for as much as 22% of total national investment in fixed assets and all of this is tied to the sale of consumer appliances, furnishings, and an annual turnover of 25% of China’s steel production, 70% of its cement, 70% of its plate glass, and 25% of its plastics.

So no wonder, on my recent stay in Beijing, businessmen kept assuring me that the ever-impending “popping” of the “housing bubble” is, in fact, a myth in a country where, for the average citizen, the ultimate investment is property. In addition, the vast urbanization drive ensures, as Premier Li Keqiang stressed at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, a “long-term demand for housing.”

Markets, Markets, Markets

China is also modifying its manufacturing base, which increased by a multiple of 18 in the last three decades. The country still produces 80% of the world’s air conditioners, 90% of its personal computers, 75% of its solar panels, 70% of its cell phones, and 63% of its shoes. Manufacturing accounts for 44% of Chinese GDP, directly employing more than 130 million people. In addition, the country already accounts for 12.8% of global research and development, well ahead of England and most of Western Europe.

Yet the emphasis is now switching to a fast-growing domestic market, which will mean yet more major infrastructural investment, the need for an influx of further engineering talent, and a fast-developing supplier base. Globally, as China starts to face new challenges — rising labor costs, an increasingly complicated global supply chain, and market volatility — it is also making an aggressive push to move low-tech assembly to high-tech manufacturing. Already, the majority of Chinese exports are smartphones, engine systems, and cars (with planes on their way). In the process, a geographic shift in manufacturing is underway from the southern seaboard to Central and Western China. The city of Chengdu in the southwestern province of Sichuan, for instance, is now becoming a high-tech urban cluster as it expands around firms like Intel and HP.

So China is boldly attempting to upgrade in manufacturing terms, both internally and globally at the same time. In the past, Chinese companies have excelled in delivering the basics of life at cheap prices and acceptable quality levels. Now, many companies are fast upgrading their technology and moving up into second- and first-tier cities, while foreign firms, trying to lessen costs, are moving down to second- and third-tier cities. Meanwhile, globally, Chinese CEOs want their companies to become true multinationals in the next decade. The country already has 73 companies in the Fortune Global 500, leaving it in the number two spot behind the U.S.

In terms of Chinese advantages, keep in mind that the future of the global economy clearly lies in Asia with its record rise in middle-class incomes. In 2009, the Asia-Pacific region had just 18% of the world’s middle class; by 2030, according to the Development Center of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, that figure will rise to an astounding 66%. North America and Europe had 54% of the global middle class in 2009; in 2030, it will only be 21%.

Follow the money, and the value you get for that money, too. For instance, no less than 200,000 Chinese workers were involved in the production of the first iPhone, overseen by 8,700 Chinese industrial engineers. They were recruited in only two weeks. In the U.S., that process might have taken more than nine months. The Chinese manufacturing ecosystem is indeed fast, flexible, and smart — and it’s backed by an ever more impressive education system. Since 1998, the percentage of GDP dedicated to education has almost tripled; the number of colleges has doubled; and in only a decade, China has built the largest higher education system in the world.

Strengths and Weaknesses

China holds more than $15 trillion in bank deposits, which are growing by a whopping $2 trillion a year. Foreign exchange reserves are nearing $4 trillion. A definitive study of how this torrent of funds circulates within China among projects, companies, financial institutions, and the state still does not exist. No one really knows, for instance, how many loans the Agricultural Bank of China actually makes. High finance, state capitalism, and one-party rule all mix and meld in the realm of Chinese financial services where realpolitik meets real big money.

The big four state-owned banks — the Bank of China, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the China Construction Bank, and the Agricultural Bank of China — have all evolved from government organizations into semi-corporate state-owned entities. They benefit handsomely both from legacy assets and government connections, or guanxi, and operate with a mix of commercial and government objectives in mind. They are the drivers to watch when it comes to the formidable process of reshaping the Chinese economic model.

As for China’s debt-to-GDP ratio, it’s not yet a big deal. In a list of 17 countries, it lies well below those of Japan and the U.S., according to Standard Chartered Bank, and unlike in the West, consumer credit is only a small fraction of total debt. True, the West exhibits a particular fascination with China’s shadow banking industry: wealth management products, underground finance, off-the-balance-sheet lending. But such operations only add up to around 28% of GDP, whereas, according to the International Monetary Fund, it’s a much higher percentage in the U.S.

China’s problems may turn out to come from non-economic areas where the Beijing leadership has proven far more prone to false moves. It is, for instance, on the offensive on three fronts, each of which may prove to have its own form of blowback: tightening ideological control over the country under the rubric of sidelining “Western values”; tightening control overonline information and social media networks, including reinforcing “the Great Firewall of China” to police the Internet; and tightening further its control over restive ethnic minorities, especially over the Uighurs in the key western province of Xinjiang.

On two of these fronts — the “Western values” controversy and Internet control — the leadership in Beijing might reap far more benefits, especially among the vast numbers of younger, well educated, globally connected citizens, by promoting debate, but that’s not how the hyper-centralized Chinese Communist Party machinery works.

When it comes to those minorities in Xinjiang, the essential problem may not be with the new guiding principles of President Xi’s ethnic policy. According to Beijing-based analyst Gabriele Battaglia, Xi wants to manage ethnic conflict there by applying the “three Js”: jiaowang, jiaoliu, jiaorong (“inter-ethnic contact,” “exchange,” and “mixage”). Yet what adds up to a push from Beijing for Han/Uighur assimilation may mean little in practice when day-to-day policy in Xinjiang is conducted by unprepared Han cadres who tend to view most Uighurs as “terrorists.”

If Beijing botches the handling of its Far West, Xinjiang won’t, as expected, become the peaceful, stable, new hub of a crucial part of the silk-road strategy. Yet it is already considered an essential communication link in Xi’s vision of Eurasian integration, as well as a crucial conduit for the massive flow of energy supplies from Central Asia and Russia. The Central Asia-China pipeline, for instance, which brings natural gas from the Turkmen-Uzbek border through Uzbekistan and southern Kazakhstan, is already adding a fourth line to Xinjiang. And one of the two newly agreed upon Russia-China pipelines will also arrive in Xinjiang.

The Book of Xi

The extent and complexity of China’s myriad transformations barely filter into the American media. Stories in the U.S. tend to emphasize the country’s “shrinking” economy and nervousness about its future global role, the way it has “duped” the U.S. about its designs, and its nature as a military “threat” to Washington and the world.

The U.S. media has a China fever, which results in typically feverish reports that don’t take the pulse of the country or its leader. In the process, so much is missed. One prescription might be for them to read The Governance of China, a compilation of President Xi’s major speeches, talks, interviews, and correspondence. It’s already a three-million-copy bestseller in its Mandarin edition and offers a remarkably digestible vision of what Xi’s highly proclaimed “China Dream” will mean in the new Chinese century.

Xi Dada (“Xi Big Bang” as he’s nicknamed here) is no post-Mao deity. He’s more like a pop phenomenon and that’s hardly surprising. In this “to get rich is glorious” remix, you couldn’t launch the superhuman task of reshaping the Chinese model by being a cold-as-a-cucumber bureaucrat. Xi has instead struck a collective nerve by stressing that the country’s governance must be based on competence, not insider trading and Party corruption, and he’s cleverly packaged the transformation he has in mind as an American-style “dream.”

Behind the pop star clearly lies a man of substance that the Western media should come to grips with. You don’t, after all, manage such an economic success story by accident. It may be particularly important to take his measure since he’s taken the measure of Washington and the West and decided that China’s fate and fortune lie elsewhere.

As a result, last November he made official an earthshaking geopolitical shift. From now on, Beijing would stop treating the U.S. or the European Union as its main strategic priority and refocus instead on China’s Asian neighbors and fellow BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and South Africa, with a special focus on Russia), also known here as the “major developing powers” (kuoda fazhanzhong de guojia). And just for the record, China does not consider itself a “developing country” anymore.

No wonder there’s been such a blitz of Chinese mega-deals and mega-dealings across Pipelineistan recently. Under Xi, Beijing is fast closing the gap on Washington in terms of intellectual and economic firepower and yet its global investment offensive has barely begun, new silk roads included.

Singapore’s former foreign minister George Yeo sees the newly emerging world order as a solar system with two suns, the United States and China. The Obama administration’s new National Security Strategy affirms that “the United States has been and will remain a Pacific power” and states that “while there will be competition, we reject the inevitability of confrontation” with Beijing. The “major developing powers,” intrigued as they are by China’s extraordinary infrastructural push, both internally and across those New Silk Roads, wonder whether a solar system with two suns might not be a non-starter. The question then is: Which “sun” will shine on Planet Earth?  Might this, in fact, be the century of the dragon?

Adventures in geek mythology: The mystic’s guide to computing

In a stunning new book, author Vikram Chandra explores the mystical complexities hiding in our laptops and iPhones

 

Adventures in geek mythology: The mystic's guide to computing

Vikram Chandra (Credit: Faber and Faber)

Is computer code art? What binds two different acts of creation — writing fiction and programming a computer — together and what sunders them apart? To successfully answer such questions, one needs to be both a superlative writer and a smart programmer, equally at home building worlds out of words and software code.

In “Geek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, the Code of Beauty,” the novelist and programmer Vikram Chandra proves himself exactly that kind of multidimensional world traveler. Chandra weaves a comprehensive understanding of the history, practice and art of programming into a startling fabric that includes a fascinating dose of classical Indian philosophy and his own lifelong creative journey as a writer. Unexpected connections abound.

To pick just one typical example of his cross-discipline riffing:

At the end of a discussion (a meditation? exploration? evocation?) about something called dhvani – the theory of “aesthetic suggestion” formulated by 9th century Indian philosopher Anandavardhana – Chandra suddenly leaps across time and and space and quotes the American writer Flannery O’Connor:

You tell a story because a statement would be inadequate. When anybody asks what a story is about, the only proper thing is to tell him to read the story. The meaning of fiction is not abstract meaning but experienced meaning.

For a reviewer, Chandra’s diversion to O’Connor is a challenge and a subtle joke about the act of reading the book itself. What is ”Geek Sublime” about? Don’t ask me — just read it!

Like poetry, “Geek Sublime” seems designed not to be summarized, but to be felt. As the last words of the book resonate through your brain — “In the practice of fiction what is tasted — first and then again — is consciousness itself” — you’ll suddenly understand what the poet T. S. Eliot was trying to communicate when he described two years of Sanskrit study as having left him in “a state of enlightened mystification.”

(Did you know, by the way, that a very strong case can be made that Sanskrit was the first programming language? Because I did not. But thanks to Chandra, I am now convinced.)



Okay, yes, my job here is do more than evoke, and honestly, it isn’t that impossible a task. Because “Geek Sublime” turns out to be about a great many things. In the space of a mere 210 pages, Chandra covers broad territory. “Geek Sublime” is instantly essential to any further discussion of of whether computer code can be thought of as the same kind of exercise in creativity delivered by music or painting. (The short answer: no.) He brings keen new insight into the troubling gender divide in the American software industry. (His points about how the Indian software industry is far less male-dominated than in the U.S. crushes theories that programming is somehow intrinsically male.) Perhaps most unexpectedly, while exploring the psychology of coders and writers, he manages to integrate the vast legacy of Indian intellectual history into contemporary conversations about the meaning of art and experience. He manages to get as close to the machine as any previous literary inquisition of coding, to explain exactly how computing happens, how ones and zeroes are translated into action, while simultaneously soaring into the delicate ether of the most refined aesthetic spirituality. It is a dazzle, from beginning to end.

Who knew that Vikram Chandra — the author of three novels, and teacher of creative writing at UC Berkeley — was such a geek? When James Gleick (the author of “Chaos Theory” and “The Information”) reviewed “Geek Sublime” for the New York Times Book Review two weeks ago, I thought the name sounded familiar. And yes, it turned out that I had devoured Chandra’s sprawling, epic novel about India, “Sacred Games,” seven years ago. But of the fact that Chandra had supported his early writing life by working as a programmer, I had not a clue. That he’s as nimble manipulating code as he is at narrative flow was a revelation. Plenty of programmers consider themselves artists, and plenty of writers presume to declaim about programming. But very, very few can comfortably inhabit both worlds with such grace and precision.

“Fiction has been my vocation, and code my obsession,” writes Chandra. What, then, to make of a nonfiction work about code and fiction? If one of the key differences between code and fiction is that code actually has to work, in the real world, as a functioning tool, to achieve its desired goal — while fiction can be broken and shattered and not even make any obvious sense and still succeed in evoking a meaningful response — how do we appraise a nonfictional exploration of both the fictional and real?

Does it work? Yes, absolutely. But how? Not by tripping logic gates on a silicon chip, certainly, but through something more mysterious, the chemistry of synapses and cognition.

There is so much to be fascinated by here: Like, for instance, that the structure of Sanskrit appears to have influenced the structure and development of high-level programming languages in the U.S. — well before Indian programmers became a significant part of the American software industry.

His discussion of Indian philosophy opens up portals to a world of subtlety and sophistication that strips away Western cultural arrogance like acid dissolving a lacquered veneer. There’s so much we in the West still don’t have a clue about. There’s so much to learn and absorb. It turns out that vast historical tidal waves — the impact of British imperialism on India, for example — inform to this day how Indian and white programmers interact with each other in the cubicle farms of  Silicon Valley.

Across thousands of years of history, from the India of his youth to the United States of his professional career, down deep in the nitty gritty of compilers and assembly language and object-oriented programming, “Geek Sublime” tells one coherent story about the creative process and our aesthetic reactions to art. There may be times when the newcomer to Indian philosophy can get a little lost in the intricacies of viyabhicaribhavas (“fleeting emotional states”) and samskaras and vasanas (“latent impressions”) but sometimes poetry can be inscrutable and still pack a payoff.

And then there’s rasa, a word that, Chandra writes, “literally means ‘taste’ or ‘juice’” — but in the context of classical Indian discourse is defined as “the aestheticized satisfaction or ‘sentiment’ of tasting artificially induced emotions.”

Chandra is all about the rasa. Because that’s what artists do, right? And that’s why writers write, isn’t it? We want you to feel the rasa. We will artificially induce your emotions and you will love us for it.

The chief dialectician of rasa, Abhinavagupta, the 10th century mystic, aesthetician, musician, poet, dramatist, theologist and logician who is considered one of India’s greatest philosophers (and of whom I knew zilch about before reading “Geek Sublime”) comes off, through Chandra’s telling, as a pretty smart guy.

Chandra writes:

Abhinavagupta tells us that his teacher said, “Rasa is delight, delight is the drama; and the drama is the Veda,” the goal of wisdom.

“Geek Sublime” is a wise book.

 

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

http://www.salon.com/2014/09/06/adventures_in_geek_mythology_the_mystics_guide_to_computing/?source=newsletter

Hindu chauvinist BJP sweeps to power in India

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By Keith Jones
17 May 2014

The Hindu communalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its National Democratic Alliance (NDA) have swept to power in India’s general election, buoyed by popular anger over soaring food prices and mass unemployment and the support of Indian big business and the corporate media.

The BJP will have 282 seats in the incoming Lok Sabha—the first time in three decades any single party has secured a majority in the 545-member lower house of India’s parliament. The 54 seats won by the BJP’s NDA allies are more than the total secured by any of the opposition parties and mean that the government will have the support of at least 336 Lok Sabha MPs.

What hopes India’s workers and toilers have that the BJP will deliver on its election campaign promises of jobs and development will soon be dashed.

Big business has championed the BJP and its prime ministerial candidate—the self-styled Hindu strongman, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi—as the instrument through which to impose socially incendiary “pro-market” reforms in the face of mass popular opposition.

Modi is notorious for his role in instigating the 2002 Gujarat anti-Muslim pogrom. But he has impressed India’s corporate elite and the likes of Goldmann Sachs, which recently issued a gushing report on Modi’s potential to serve as an “agent of change,” by lavishing investors with land and tax concessions, illegalizing strikes, and otherwise doing their bidding.

The Indian bourgeoisie’s enthusiasm for the arch-communalist thug Modi underscores that it is turning to reaction and authoritarian methods of rule to realize its ambitions to transform India into a hub of cheap-labor production for world capitalism.

In an editorial published yesterday, the London-based Economist declared, “The last [Congress Party-led] government dithered and was preoccupied with bolstering India’s welfare state. India’s new rulers must be more strategic and ruthless.”

Billions of dollars have poured into India’s money markets in recent weeks in anticipation of a BJP victory and on Friday, India’s stock markets again soared to record highs. But as last summer’s rupee crisis illustrated, India’s economy is massively dependent on in-flows of foreign capital and can be roiled by disgruntled foreign investors almost overnight. Standards and Poor’s reiterated yesterday that it will slash India’s credit rating to junk status if the new government does not demonstrate in the next two to three month’s its commitment to “fiscal prudence”—i.e., massive social spending cuts—and “structural reform.”

An historic debacle for the Congress Party

Friday’s election results constitute an historic debacle for the Congress Party, the party that has led India’s national government for all but 13 of the 67 years since independence.

The Congress has won just 44 seats, little more than a fifth of its tally in the last election and not enough under the rules of India’s parliament to be recognized as the official opposition.

The Congress’s central role in the politics of the Indian bourgeoisie has been bound up with the broad multiethnic, cross-communal popular following it developed due to its association with the struggle against British colonial rule and the rudimentary reforms enacted in the aftermath of independence.

Already by the late 1960s, under conditions of the breakup of the post-Second World War capitalist boom, the Congress was coming into violent conflict with the working class. But with the assistance of the Stalinist Communist parties, it staggered on, becoming in the process a dynastic party revolving around the Nehru-Gandhi family.

While the Congress last won a parliamentary majority in 1984, it has remained until now the bourgeoisie’s principal political instrument and has done most of the heavy-lifting in the repudiation of “Congress socialism”—the state-led “national development” program the bourgeoisie pursued in the first four decades after independence.

It was the Congress-led government of Narasimha Rao that, between 1991 and 1996, initiated the bourgeoisie’s turn to neo-liberal policies and adoption of a cheap-labor, export-led growth strategy. It was a Congress government that locked India into a “strategic partnership” with US imperialism and has presided over a rapid expansion of India’s military, pressing forward with the development of an air-land-sea nuclear-strike capacity and the building of a blue-water navy.

The “reform”-fueled expansion of Indian capitalism over the past two decades is the subject of endless glowing reports in the West. But the fruits of India’s economic growth have been appropriated wholesale by a tiny capitalist elite and the most privileged sections of the middle class, leaving more than three quarters of the population to survive on less than $2 a day and half of all India’s children malnourished.

Returned to power in 2004 after six years in opposition, the Congress claimed that it would deliver “reforms with a human face.” This was a sham on par with its earlier claims to be building “Congress socialism.”

It consisted of taking a tiny fraction of the increased revenues generated by India’s rapid economic expansion to provide work and food for the hungry. While the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government continued to spend the equivalent of less than 4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on education and health care combined, it was selling off at fire sale prices and outright gifting tens of billions of dollars’ worth of public assets to Indian big business.

The twin shocks of the 2008 world financial crisis and the post-2010 halving of Indian’s growth rate made it impossible for the Congress to sustain even the derisory social supports it enacted in the UPA’s first-term. While joblessness soared and prices rose at double-digit rates, the Congress slashed social spending and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh took to the airwaves to demand Indians “tighten their belts” to attract foreign investment.

Big business, meanwhile, turned on the government for failing to redeem with sufficient speed its repeated pledges of further pro-investor reforms.

The complicity of the Indian Stalinists

Responsibility for the fact that the Indian bourgeoisie has been able to exploit mass anger against the Congress-led government to push Indian politics still further right lies first and foremost with the Stalinist parliamentary parties—the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM.

They and their Left Front have played a pivotal role in implementing the bourgeoisie’s neo-liberal agenda. This includes sustaining in office both the minority Congress-led government that initiated the Indian bourgeoisie’s “new economic policy” and the Congress-led UPA government from May 2004 through June 2008.

In those states where they have formed the government, the Stalinists have enacted what they themselves call “pro-investor” policies, slashing public spending, illegalizing strikes in IT and IT-enabled industries, and using police and goon violence to crush peasant opposition to the expropriation of their land for big business.

These endless betrayals have shattered the Stalinists’ base of support in the working class. In the 2009 elections, the Left Front’s Lok Sabha delegation was more than halved, falling to just 24. In 2014, the CPI won no seats and the CPM was reduced to 9.

A government of crisis and reaction

The ruling elite will use the BJP’s strong parliamentary majority to try to intimidate the working class and justify state repression.

In reality, the BJP’s real base of support is extremely narrow. Benefiting from the mass anger at the Congress and the complicity of the Stalinists, and shamelessly lying about the true import of its “development” program, the BJP won 171.5 million votes (a 31 percent share of the popular vote) in a country of 1.2 billion people.

From the get-go, the Modi-led government will be a regime of extreme crisis. It is tasked with imposing, under conditions of global capitalist crisis, a class-war agenda that is inimical to the vast majority: the slashing of social spending; the reduction and eventual elimination of price subsidies for energy, fertilizer and food; the gutting of restrictions on mass layoffs and plant closures; privatization; the shifting of still more of the tax burden onto working people. The list goes on and on.

Moreover, large swathes of India’s population—above all, the working class—are deeply hostile to the BJP’s noxious Hindu communalist agenda.

The BJP is itself a highly combustible political formation. It combines captains of industry who are livid that India is “wasting” billions on keeping the hungry alive, recruits from the most bellicose and antidemocratic sections of the national-security establishment, and the cadre of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) militia and associated Hindu supremacist outfits.

Between the end of the election campaign and yesterday’s vote-count, Modi, himself a lifelong RSS member, and other senior BJP leaders had a series of meetings with the RSS leadership to discuss the BJP’s next steps.

With the BJP enjoying for the first time ever a parliamentary majority, sections of the Hindu right will invariably begin agitating for it to enact some of its longstanding communally-charged pledges—repeated in its current election manifesto—such as abolishing the unique status of Jammu and Kashmir and building a temple to the Hindu god Ram on the site of the razed Babri Mosque.

Moreover, as opposition mounts to the BJP government’s big business socio-economic agenda, it will respond with the only means it has of mobilizing its base and popular support—rank communal appeals directed at scapegoating Muslims and other minorities.

India’s neighbors, including Pakistan, Bangladesh and China, have all announced their readiness to work with a Modi-led Indian government. But behind the business-as-usual façade, there is undoubtedly deep concern. Modi’s strongman image is built in part on his attacks on the UPA government for “appeasing” Pakistan and being “soft” on China. And during the election campaign, he repeatedly called for the expulsion of Muslim migrants from Bangladesh, including after communal violence in Assam resulted in the death of more than three dozen Muslims.

The Obama administration is eager to draw India even more tightly into its anti-China “Asian Pivot.” Toward that end, it has been anxious in recent months to set aside the flap over the visa restrictions Washington placed on Modi in 2005 because of his role in the Gujarat pogrom. On Friday, Obama telephoned Modi to congratulate him on the BJP’s election victory and invite him to visit the White House.