Category Archives: Politics

war on Iran, 2

The US administration pulled back from direct confrontation with Iran three evenings ago and decided not to retaliate directly against what was claimed to be the destruction by Iran of a surveillance drone over international waters. Iran counterclaims to have destroyed the drone when it was flying over its coastal waters (within the twelve nautical miles considered national territory by international treatises). The US seems to have painted itself into a corner. It did so by unilaterally pulling back from the 2015 nuclear agreement signed by the US under Obama (not Congress, however), GB, France, Germany, Russia, and China. It compounded the problem by issuing crushing sanctions and forcing other nations, including the co-signatories above, to follow along. The goal(s) of these sanctions is (are) not clear: regime change, return to the negotiating table for a more radical denuclearization of Iran, defanging of Iran’s support for war parties in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen, or simply chaos? The third aspect, little discussed in the media—at least those I read—is that the Persian Gulf and especially the Strait of Hormuz are a vital sea passage. According to my readings again, a third of sea-transported oil and gas—from the UAE, Iraq, Qatar, Iran—goes through that region, Given the economic blockade of Iran, which is a war, the pusillanimity of the Europeans, and the separate fight between the US and China over economic matters, it would not be surprising that Iran began to test both the responses of the pact’s signatories to US pressure, and especially the willingness of the US to respond militarily. No one in top political positions, in the US at least, seems to have the courage to propose a solution in which the enmity of Iran would be recognized as well earned by the USA and GB since 1953 and especially 1978–79. Of course, this would demand that the US rejoin the 2015 agreement, which is impossible now, given the weight of the far right in shaping the war mongering. House Speaker Pelosi and many other Democrats are so scared to look weak that they only offered anemic answers and effectively accepted the administration’s framing of Iran as the aggressor. The subtext is the coming elections of 2020 and the perceived need to look strong and decisive.

The above paragraph, I feel, only scratches the surface of things and simply adds to the burden felt by the vast majority of people. We need to analyze and confront structures that are not all that hidden but do look now like monstrous forces imbued with a logic of their own. To change them and move towards a peaceful resolution requires skill, clarity of mind, courage, and a lot of patience. The first ominous force is the huge development of the military in the US, including the industrial and engineering aspects of defense that are entrusted to profit-driven private companies and contractors. This part of the US economy is simply overwhelming and to switch this destructive enterprise from its advertised objective (“defense” rather than “war”) by transforming the goals of most of the human energies developed to it—education, health, care of the young and the aged, new technologies, climate challenges—will require a fundamental political change, not simply the election of Democrats to the House, the Senate, and the White House. The second structure is related to the first. It is the control of vast natural resources that are necessary to the lives of the world population: energy sources, ores (including uranium), water, forests and lands, etc. The history of hydrocarbon extraction is closely linked to the imperial and colonial rise of a few European nations and the US, all of it hardened after WW II and since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Political means, financial structure, and war, have been systematically and thoughtlessly used to impose the will of advanced industrial nations, a will that reflects to some degree the expanding desires for comfort and for expansion of the self of modern people.

By political means, I understand the design of artificial nations on the nineteenth century mode in an area where the separation of state and religion, though wished by a minority (often Christian), could only be done by terror, as in Iraq, Syria, or even Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich kingdoms. I’m also thinking of war as an extension of politics: the assassination of Prime Minister Mossadegh of Iran in 1953, the war against the Houthis in Yemen—clearly supported by the US today, pace the Senate’s tepid efforts to hold sales of arms to Saudi Arabia—, or the present attempt to force Iran to do the chaotic will of the US and its followers or de facto allies (including France or GB that sell weaponry to Saudi Arabia, while wishing to get market shares in Teheran). In regard to this extended will-by-default, one wonders on what side Russia really is. It seems to be an ally of Iran, probably by default rather than choice, as the religious leadership of Iran is probably not fond of Russian ways and culture. But yesterday’s visit by Bolton to Israel and his meeting there with Israeli and Russian leadership, purportedly to prepare possible strikes on Iranian nuclear sites, points to the complex role Russia plays in the area. Russia’s interests are not firmly anchored in the capitalist world and its oligarchy presumably would like to see an increase in the prize of oil—even thanks to tensions in the Persian Gulf—but not to the point of threatening the “world order.”

As for financial aspects, the main one is the denomination of energy contracts (including insurance?) in US dollars, especially since 1973. Instead of a basket of currencies, the trading of oil is done in dollars. But as the sanctions against Iran show time and again, it’s not the denomination in dollars that only counts but more importantly the chokehold that the US treasury, bolstered by US military power, has on the world’s financial settlement system, via SWIFT arrangements and the structuring of securities and investments by foreigh sovereign funds.

Finally the war capability of the US and its allies—even though the latter now are rather weakened and not in a position to try significant moves of their own—means that decisions on the distribution network of energy that should obey the logic of markets and engineering, in practice follow the logic of war and narrow financial advantage. Perhaps it was understandable, even years after the end of the Cold War, that oil pipelines from the Caspian Sea and its region would go through northern Turkey and compete with the Russian project north of the Black Sea. But it was rather surprising a few years ago to read that a project of gas pipeline from Iran to India was nixed by the US, when it seemed to make complete engineering, financial, and geographical sense. The events of 1979 in Iran turned it into an enemy that was to be destroyed.

In a NYT opinion piece today, Susan Rice, who was the national security adviser under Obama from 2013 to 2017, invites the WH to do a climb down, which is unlikely to happen. More chaos is to be expected, inasmuch as the five interlocking steps she advises the WH to take require dexterity and firm control of administrative and military matters, not to mention self-control. The five steps that she recommends are first to fire Pompeo and Bolton (translation of her phrase, “to sideline”). Second, to define a few red lines: no attacks on US personnel by Iran, no highly refined fissile material for bombs, no direct attacks on Israel, and in counterpart no assimilation of Iran to Al Qaeda, a move that allows war without Congressional authorization. Third, open channel(s) with Iran regarding these red lines, through experienced diplomatic personnel. Fourth, lay out a list of reciprocal steps, for instance allow Iranians to export low-enriched uranium, stop the US military buildup in the Gulf, and in counterpart stop the targetting of international shipping or foreign aircraft. Fifth, “suspend” the withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal and also suspend sanctions temporarily if US prisoners are released, and the principle of direct talks is accepted. Then, expand relief from sanctions if the initial talks are promising.

Rice is playing good cop versus the unhinged bad cop. The latter behaves like an alcoholic abusive parent who threatens violence and occasionally backs off though not without threatening delayed punishment later. The sadistic pleasure of making millions of people anxious in the spreading chaos may be its own reward. Iran’s position has been clear all along. It has little to lose in confronting the agression. Its demands are that the US reintegrate the nuclear pact and that sanctions be lifted. At the other extreme, the “maximal pressure” that the present US government imposed and that effectively forces the whole world to follow looks like a recepe for self-defeating chaos.

pulp fiction

The UCSC Emeriti Association has just published its Newsletter 1.3. The UCSCEA newsletter is a much appreciated new feature started by the current President, Professor Todd Wipke, and maintained by volunteers. In this new issue, pages 5–8, Professor Wipke tells the extraordinary story of the secretive, inexplicably rushed, and incomprehensible management decisions—a series of them—that led to the botched selection and outrageous pulping of about 80,000 titles kept by the Science & Engineering Library (=SE Library).

Reading this article and the documents attached to it made me realize how risky and potentially ruinous management decisions have become in the new uncharted waters we find ourselves navigating presently—a public university on its way to privatization, among other things—and how much more important than ever it is to consult widely with faculty and staff. This is true of the series of decisions involving the SE Library as well as those behind the building of new residences by private partnerships. In the case of the SE Library, Wipke’s article makes clear that a major component of the catastrophic decisions was the absence of real consultation of the faculty.

The newsletter article reminded me of my own puzzlement and later shock at discovering in December 2016 that books in the history of ancient technology and historical atlases that I expected to find on the shelves had disappeared. I’ll tell that story in the coming hours. For now, I encourage readers to go to Professor Wipke’s newsletter article cited above.

compassion in the desert

Politics: the US are more divided than ever after the midterm elections. The election of democratic governors, the turn to the center of suburban women and non-whites, the interest shown by young voters, the inexorable demographic changes, nothing seems to shake us free from the grip that radical right wingers have over rural regions and will be likely to retain for quite a few years. Trump adds to the feeling, as he profits at least psychologically from the disunion and from inflaming even further many white, working-class voters. The vote for democratic representatives of all kinds exceeded the vote for republican ones by more than 7% or 11 million votes. Pennsylvania, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, seem to have returned to their democratic sense of direction, but for how long? Will it take a serious economic downturn, conjugated to a foreign crisis, to bring some form of unity? And unity of what kind? On the back of what manufactured enemies? Intellectual work, and especially history of the ancient world, looks like a desperate individual act when faced with this state of affairs. I feel like crawling under a rock.

Yet, the image of my crawling under a rock while the tyrannosauri reges of the world stomp their way over to extinction gives way to landscapes of compassion and humility. Not so timid or foggy landscapes either. All across the land, heroic compassion is at work responding to needs, without recriminations, hurrahs, shouts of victory, flag waving, or claims to have truth on its side. This lived, shared, savvy, crafty empathy finds new, expansive strength over and over again. It becomes the patient, universal answer to the desiccated, warring, egotistic, greedy bands that are raiding the minds, hearts, and pockets of the working and middle classes, while distracting and entertaining them with bile-full bowls of hate and contempt.

justice and peace

In a recent NYT opinion piece, James Baker III recommends that the US government and power brokers suspend moral qualms and take the middle or balanced path about Saudi Arabia. Neither hard-line realism—embodied by Trump, Kushner, or oil circles that Baker has served for so long—nor hard-line idealism—à la Zola or Péguy in the Dreyfus affair—. Let ethically-coated material interests trump the defense of human life, be it that of Yemenites or Khashoggi. What is needed is to keep a steady balance between geo-political interests and the “promotion of America’s values.” According to Baker, the major issues for which there is this purported need to keep to a steady middle course are “Stabilizing global oil markets, combating terrorism and countering Iranian regional adventurism.” These three issues, however, if considered historically, are one single large issue: the protection of economic interests of a war-bound kingdom and its protector, interests which have long been those of US energy companies and that of an over-militarized government. Stabilizing global oil markets means continuing to impose a military-backed distribution of infrastructure and profits via dollar-based contracts rather than payments in a basket of world currencies. No Iranian pipelines to the Indian ocean or to northern India. Enormous wealth and world peace are at stake. Combating terrorism is pushing back against radical religious organizations like the Muslim Brothers whose goals include a redistribution of wealth in their countries and striking a difficult, dangerous path towards social justice. Countering Iranian regional adventurism is code for a policy of military containment of the whole area that was inherited from the UK in the fifties. It was made worse by the elimination of Hussein’s dictatorship in Iraq. The policies defended or tolerated by Baker and others have made things awful for everyone. Appeals to a purportedly shared reasonableness fall on deaf ears today when they come from quarters that helped give shape to the present situation.

The US government’s inclination, under present proto-fascists or earlier, more reasonable leadership, is to continue the customary use of overwhelming force in all areas of life by resuming the development of tactical nuclear weapons and freeing them from any oversight. Alarms were recently sounded by Mikhail Gorbatchev or George Schultz. They beg the US government not to withdraw from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Will it?

Thinking about these issues and trying to reach something of a “balance” in daily life becomes more and more difficult as I realize how explosive our hopes for justice and dignity can be. Is it possible to live in peace when so many injustices, however distant and repressed, seem to shape one’s being? Peace is often seen as a natural state and an inherited routine. It can become debased as a claim to be left alone. What we need to do, however, is to begin to make peace and seek justice, a costly, difficult, daily task.

Strike at UCSC

Quick bike ride early this morning to the entrance of UCSC to show support for the strike. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) represents 522 employees at UCSC, about 25,000 employees across the UC system: patient care workers, custodians, dining hall employees, building maintenance workers, loop bus drivers, and more. Some of the issues on which UCOP (UC Office of the President) has refused to budge for a year now are: fair wages, decent retirement, health benefits, staffing levels. Please go to Meranze’s and Newfield’s web page (Remaking the University) for detailed information and messages from the unions. UPTE-CWA (University Professional & Technical Employees-Communication Workers of America) and CNA (California Nurses Association) are organizing sympathy strikes for Tuesday and Wednesday 8-9 May. The strike continues tomorrow, starting at 4am. See you there.

AFSCME strike
AFSCME strike at main entrance of UCSC campus, Monday, May 7, 2018

evangelical

The words “evangelical” and “conservative” are waiting to be reclaimed by many more people than those who pretend to be so. Let the latter lose their disguises and power over imaginations and souls. The first word means “good news” and can be adopted broadly since the story, without the necessity of church of any kind, including our modern mega versions, is about the real costs of fostering life and the recognition of everyone in need as self. The second one means “to save.” It has long been clear that so-called conservatives are all but people who save, in any broad financial or bodily sense, except for their own narrow designs. They are on a radical, destructive reactionary mission and movement the “forwardness” of which alone—completely backward looking—justifies itself. I’m struck by the imaginary and literary aspect of the political question. So much money is invested in using words in a proprietary way. I think part of the present work of resistance demands a renewed, stubborn claim on our vocabulary and thinking. They are our most public goods. Words like “god,” “moral,” “Christian,” and many more need to be acid-cleaned. Let’s get to it.

parking in Santa Cruz

I’ve signed a petition to the Santa Cruz City Council regarding a new parking garage project. In the space for comments I wrote:

Parking garages are behemoth of the past. The advent of intelligent automated transportation, use of adaptable public vehicles, concentration of habitat, all of these and more that you are much more aware of than I am, mean that we don’t need another very expensive, single-use parking garage. What strikes me about parking garages is their lack of adaptability and the weight they put psychologically on the minds and wallets of people, including our children and grandchildren. Nothing else can be done with these expensive constructions than park cars that are going to become part of much more fluid networks. PLEASE, consider the best transportation and public policy management before committing to such a massive, unmovable project.

tax message

I sent the following message re. the tax bill’s last spasms to my representatives, Feinstein and Panetta. Please edit, add, circulate, and send:

I know that you don’t support the tax bill and will do all you can to stop it. It will increase the deficit without obvious economic benefits for the nation. Many corporations have accumulated enormous capital that they are not willing or able to invest productively. They should not be rewarded for removing it from the reach of taxation. Furthermore, adding more capital to this capacity by lowering their tax rate will increase dangerous speculation. The economy is working without it, in part because social net protections have been dangerously eroded and provide much cheaper labor, as well as frustration, fear, and anger, whereas they should be strengthened. PLEASE, do all you can to prevent the Republican party from having the excuse of a deficit that this tax bill will soon put even more deeply in the red, an excuse that will likely be used to try and erode even further the social protections needed for a free, productive, sharing, and peaceful society.

community

This is a comment triggered by the language used in an update on UCSC’s strategic academic planning (EVC M. Tromp’s email of Dec. 1, 2017). Academic planning is a periodic necessity, given demographic changes, scientific evolution, political shifting background, institutional fatigue. No question about that. The language used in the present cyclical exercise is what interests me, specifically the use of the word community that appears at the top of the message, since it is addressed to the UC Santa Cruz community. I take the word “community” to echo a sense of common endeavor and real, practical sharing of work, risk, benefits, in an atmosphere of generous give and take, trust, peace, and respect. It is being used in that sense, I assume, but the insistence on deploying the word everywhere is a correlate of the disappearance at UCSC as elsewhere of the real good denoted by the word. It is now used in all communications because a university like UCSC has effectively become a competing institution of our capitalist world. Like all those other institutions, it still needs to squeeze references to old fashion values in the hope that some juice is left in them (for comparison, think of “fidelity” or “trust”). The logic of development of the school itself and the long-developing hostile political environment—diminished taxes for common, public goods—has done away with the values of “community.” Yet, in a magic gesture not all that appropriate for a scientific institution, it finds itself needing to reach out for the mythic charge of the word and hope for the best. I don’t think that the consultants hired to help with this year’s strategic planning can recharge words like “community” and resurrect its old entangled mojo. Whence then?

banlieues de l’être

Hike along the beautiful Clinton River north of Troy (MI). From the road that leads to it, I see huge suburbs with identical houses, surrounded by greenery and trees. Two levels of salary, it seems to me, from the dimensions of the houses and the number of garage doors, as well as the area of the lot. Here and there, I get a glimpse of the regime above, for example vast mansions on lakesides, or the regime below, usually mobile home parks or very modest houses that preceded these new suburbs built in the seventies to the nineties. Difficult to imagine living there: where to walk to meet others, how to make friends if not in the malls or perhaps places with religious themes punctuating this huge space from at least the tenth mile until the fifteenth or sixteenth. Going to work, to school, to shops, everything has become transport outside oneself. No more “home” where one has the sense of residing, of transforming what one has in what one can be, of appropriating landscape and construction as being of oneself, at least partially. One is more and more intensely projected below and beyond a self that escapes the reach of tools of communication which to the services of research (Google) or of self-promotion (Facebook) add refinement upon refinement of desires of presence that they sell to the highest bidder. The stock market value of these smugglers, carriers and marketers of images and desires, according to what I read recently, is about two trillion dollars, just over half of the annual budget of the US government, or about 10% of the country’s economy (Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Alphabet-Google, Facebook).

French

Balade le long de la belle rivière Clinton au nord de Troy (MI). De la route qui y mène, je vois d’énormes banlieues aux maisons identiques, entourées de verdure et d’arbres. Deux niveaux de salaire, ce me semble, à la grandeur des maisons et au nombre de portes de garage, ainsi qu’à la surface du lotissement. Ici et là, j’ai un aperçu du régime au-dessus, par exemple de vastes demeures au bord de lacs, ou du régime au-dessous, généralement des parcs de maisons tractées (= mobilhomes) ou des maisons très modestes qui ont précédé ces nouvelles banlieues construites depuis les années soixante-dix aux années quatre-vingt-dix. Difficile de m’imaginer y vivre: où aller à pied à la rencontre d’autres, comment se faire des amis sinon dans les malls ou peut-être les lieux à thèmes religieux ponctuant cet espace énorme depuis le dixième mille au moins jusqu’au quinzième ou seizième. Aller au travail, à l’école, aux magasins, tout est devenu transport au dehors de soi. Plus de “home” où on a le sens de demeurer, de transformer ce qu’on a en ce qu’on peut être, de s’approprier paysage et construction comme étant de soi, au moins partiellement. On est de plus en plus intensément projeté en-deça et au-delà d’un soi introuvable par les outils de communication qui aux services de recherche (Google) ou de “rapprochement” (Facebook) ajoutent raffinement sur raffinement de désirs de présence qu’ils vendent aux plus offrants. La valeur en bourse de ces trafiquants, transporteurs et fomenteurs d’images et de désirs, d’après ce que j’ai lu récemment, est d’environ deux mille milliards de dollars, soit un peu plus de la moitié du budget annuel du gouvernement des États-Unis, ou environ 10% de l’économie du pays (il s’agit de trois grandes compagnies de messagerie et deux d’électronique: Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Alphabet-Google, Facebook).