Monday, February 27, 2017

Samuel Morse and the 19 C Internet!

Catskill Review of Books on #SoundCloud#np
Kenneth Lifshitz on his book on Samuel Morse and the Telegraph
Kenneth Lifshitz on his book Samuel Morse and the Telegraph, and how the telegraph tied into the early luminaries of New York State and the Republic

Dis Donald -Don't dismiss his supporters!
Written By: Ian Williams
Published: February 27, 2017 Last modified: February 27, 2017
We can disrespect Donald all we like, but we can’t afford to be dis­missive. In the world of the Donald, dystopias rule. George Orwell’s 1984 shot back to the top of the US bestseller lists after White House press conferences reintroduced “alternative facts” to a waiting world, not to mention breaking news of hitherto unrecorded massacres in Bowling Green and Sweden, or his (not) record electoral vote. Trump’s massive ego is a big asset. He, and his pod-people spokespersons do not blush when reality impinges. They genuinely see five fingers when they hold up four, they see and taste the chocolate ration increasing from thirty to twenty grams. And they have always hated Eastasia.
However, we should also look at another Dystopia, Jack London’s Iron Heel. Trump’s early appearance with a select group of union leaders brought back memories of the pivotal scene in London’s book that had the Labour aristocrats signing up for the deal that would keep the Oligarchy in power for centuries, abandoning the unskilled proles to ruthless exploitation.
Trump’s chummy union leaders came from the construction industry, where Trump had famously employed, underpaid and then stiffed undocumented immigrants when he was building his fortunes. Implied as part of the deal was that they separate themselves from the strongest part of the union movement – the public-sector workers. In return they get a carbon belching oil pipeline through tribal lands and promise of bigger infrastructure spending.
But union bosses notwithstanding, Trump’s entourage includes Republican luminaries whose legislative efforts at both state and national level have reduced union density in the workforce to its lowest for a century. And those government workers are the target of particular animus by the Republican governors.
Is this just his immature desire to be loved by everyone, or is it a cunning plot to bestride the stage as the champion of the common man while positioning the oligarchs for unprecedented assaults on ordinary people’s income? I suspect it is an indeterminate quantum state, where either or both can be true at any one time, but if the people around him have their way, Oligarchy is the way to go.
Part of Trump’s caste appeal is that he is genuinely vulgar, tasteless, bullying and blustering. He lives like a billionaire but talks and acts like a redneck, and the more the “elite” on the TV talk shows mock and pillory him, the more his base backs him. The over-hyped revulsion of the punditocracy validates his attacks on them. Of course, Hillary’s term “deplorables”, was one of the many factors why the people she derided would support him.
Just as during the campaign, there is a sense of parallel universes, neither particularly well grounded in reality and rarely touching each other. But consider where they do impinge upon our world. Those plans for America’s infrastructure have been intellectually denied by the orthodox economists, media, and politicians since the days of Reagan and perpetual government austerity. Trump announced them anyway. Interestingly, Obama put a lot into infrastructure spending after the crash but kept it quiet for fear of neo­liberal attacks from both sides, so it was a stealth stimulus. He did not openly challenge the Washington consensus on economics.
To be fair, the outrage of the much vilified “Mainstream Media” – the lügenpresse (“Lying Press”) as Trump supporters loyal to his Teutonic roots call it, has something forced about it. These crusaders for journalistic standards mostly went along with all the canards about the Iraq War, and sharing the same socio-economic bubble as the Clintons, they did overlook the support for both Sanders and Trump out in the sticks. For decades they pandered to Trump’s own myth of business success, overlooking his recidivist bankruptcies. They parroted the neoliberal myths against austerity and for the banks and certainly failed to identify those pillars of the political and financial establishment who brought about the crisis of 2008.
However, those pillars are much in evidence. One does not have to subscribe to conspiracy theories for wondering how Goldman Sachs, which did so much to bring about the financial disaster of 2008 was simultaneously behind both Hillary Clinton in the election, and then could happily spare so many of its executives to fill Trump’s Washington swamp.
A crucial question is whether Trump and his team have method in their madness. Trump himself is no ideologue. Insofar as he has a world view, it’s a collection of petty prejudices which makes him the perfect partner for Nigel Farage’s taproom truisms neighed over the top of a pint glass. Despite the understandable fears of xenophobia and authoritarianism, he has shown some interesting ability to walk back on the rhetoric, precisely because his utterances are flexibly reflexive and populist and not held in place by any ideological framework. To confuse the issue, if Trump on Mexicans and Muslims worries you, do not delve into Jack London on Asians and Africans!
While we join protests at the airport in the big cities, out there in the sticks, the overlooked deplorables can legitimately wonder, “Where were all these urban egg­heads when we lost our jobs, healthcare and homes?” We can disrespect Donald all we like, but we can’t afford to be dismissive.

Friday, February 24, 2017

First Trump at the UN!

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, January/February 2017, pp. 32-33

United Nations Report

Just Like the President-Elect, Trump Cabinet Appointments Send Mixed Messages

By Ian Williams

Ambassador Peter Thomson of Fiji, president of the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly, addresses a special meeting of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, held in observance of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, Nov. 29, 2016. (U.N. PHOTO/MANUEL ELIAS)

CRYSTAL BALLS DO NOT work well in the United Nations at the best of times. If you want a recipe for chaotic outcomes, then take 193 direct players, 5 of whom have an ace up their sleeve in the form of a veto, dictating to an organization with dozens of relatively autonomous agencies whose heads often apportion their allegiances to the nations who proposed them and those who finance them. And into this, Donald Trump has thrown the Tea Party-backed governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, born Sikh, converted to Methodism, one of whose few foreign policy stands mandates state opposition to BDS efforts.
On the bright side, the new U.N. representative did have the courage to oppose Trump earlier, and to oppose deportation of Muslims, and we can assume that her subcontinental origins will to some extent inoculate her against xenophobia, and perhaps even American exceptionalism. However, quite how this works for future American foreign policy in general, let alone toward the United Nations, is even more of a mystery than before.
The previous pattern was that Democratic presidents included the U.N. ambassador in their cabinet, while Republicans do not. But Donald Trump has promoted Haley to the cabinet. Was this because he was not aware of previous practice, or because he wanted a minority woman in his cabinet? Or was it a bribe to get her to give up her independent position in South Carolina?
Previous U.N. ambassadors have always had to cope with the ghost of Andrew Young, the U.N. envoy fired for meeting informally with the Palestinian representative at the U.N., so even those who privately disagreed with the Lobby’s manipulation of U.S. Middle East policy have gone along with the flow and dutifully—and shamefully—leveled the veto on the mildest criticism of Israel.
It would be difficult to piece together a coherent foreign policy from Trump’s erratic statements on the campaign trail and afterward. From one point of view, his phone conversation with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen was a welcome sign of refusal to be bullied by Beijing—but if it was not part of a considered policy, it was an indication that we have a president-elect who could puckishly start World War III with an ill-considered gesture. And to add to the confusion, it is not clear against whom he would start it!
So, on the one hand, he opined that the Israelis should pay for their U.S. weapons supplies—but on the other, he made the standard pledge of moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. But had anyone explained the intricacies of international law to him? Or, since almost every other candidate made the same pledge, did he, too, have his fingers crossed behind his back when he said it?
Trump’s nominee as defense secretary, Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis, has wisely suggested that Israeli policies in the occupied territories are a clear and present danger to U.S. forces in the region—but then wants to step up pressure on Iran, just as Netanyahu and the Lobby ordered.
We are not even sure what Trump’s views on the United Nations are. From some quarters, hostility to the organization is engendered by the member states’ insistence that Israel does not have an automatic pass for breaches of U.N. decisions. Certainly the Democratic Party has been torn for years between supporting the great creation of Roosevelt and Truman and deploring its support for Palestinian rights. Since the Republican/Likud Axis has become so prominent, the GOP has merged its pro-Israel stance with its nativist dislike of foreigners—a blend manifest in Rudy Giuliani, the curmudgeonly ex-mayor of New York who in 1995 ordered PLO leader Yasser Arafat out of a U.N. anniversary banquet.
To some extent Trump has prejudices rather than policies—but he is enough of a businessman to realize that it is often profitable to overlook reflexive aversions. Trump the realtor obviously appreciates the U.N.’s effect on property values in New York City, building one of his most outstandingly tasteless edifices just across the road from U.N. headquarters. Whatever prejudices he and his father had against African-American tenants is clearly not carried over to the many African and Arab diplomats who rent and buy his properties.
So will the policy be neglect, or will he see what other administrations, not least Bill Clinton’s, have: that the U.N. saves a lot of effort compared with being the world’s self-appointed cop? It is really difficult to say, but then that is true of previous regimes. Clinton posed as a liberal internationalist and then issued his Policy Directive 25 that vetoed any expenditure on peacekeeping that did not directly serve self-defined U.S. interests. The victims of Rwanda and Srebrenica were not, we discovered, essential U.S. interests.
In contrast, President Barack Obama amended that directive last year, in a reasoned assessment that asserted, “Multilateral peace operations, particularly United Nations (U.N.) peace operations, will, therefore, continue to be among the primary international tools that we use to address conflict-related crises.”
The crucial question is whether a Trump administration will have anything like a coherent foreign policy—and to what extent it sees the United Nations as helping in fulfilling that.
Using the old Confucian cliché of crisis as opportunity, new U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has a better chance of independence than most—even if the major powers will nominate most of his senior officials. As previously noted (see Nov./Dec. 2016 Washington Report, p. 30), elected unanimously as a former prime minister of an important, if small, power; as head of one of the U.N.’s most called-upon agencies; and even as former president of the Socialist International, he has far more experience and better international connections than Trump—or any of his cabinet members.
Interestingly, Guterres had the support of China for his candidacy, and China has upped its dues payments, so that it is now the next biggest financier, after the U.S., for U.N. operations—and provides more peacekeepers than any other great power. The U.S. might still be the “indispensable power” Madeleine Albright claimed it to be, but it has never been more dispensable than now, as its primacy is increasingly challenged.


Meanwhile, back at the U.N., Israel’s Ambassador Danny Danon has shown his heritage in the settlement movement since he became chairman of the U.N. General Assembly’s Sixth Committee, which deals with legal affairs. He is clearly enjoying himself and has expanded the toehold to annex more and more organizational territory. His latest escapade was to convene a meeting of self-appointed legal experts that included Alan Dershowitz and Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America to consider legal action against advocates of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. It appears to be a tendentious extension of the claimed privileges of the chair, but has no legal effect.
However, politically, it surely is time for the Palestinian Mission to convene a U.N. conference on how to give international legal effect to the decisions of the International Criminal Court on the applicability of the Geneva Conventions on Occupied Territories to the Israeli-occupied territories.
On Nov. 29 the U.N. commemorated its Annual Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. Ban Ki-moon has been an articulate defender of international legality, not to mention humanitarian solidarity, in the region, but his statements have rarely been reported, not even in indignation by pro-Israeli press—almost as if they realized that condemning such a mild-mannered and manifestly principled person would only validate his statements. So it is only fitting that as he leaves office we reproduce his remarks:
“Recent years have witnessed two unsuccessful attempts at negotiating a peaceful settlement, three armed conflicts, thousands of dead—the vast majority of them Palestinian civilians—rampant incitement, terror attacks, thousands of rockets and bombs fired at Israel from Gaza, and an expanding, illegal Israeli settlement enterprise that risks undermining Israel’s democratic values and the character of its society.  This year, the number of demolitions of Palestinian houses and other structures by Israeli forces has doubled, compared to 2015. Gaza remains a humanitarian emergency, with two million Palestinians struggling with crumbling infrastructure and a paralyzed economy, and tens of thousands still displaced, awaiting reconstruction of homes destroyed by conflict.”
While it contains the obligatory “balance” so often demanded by U.S. and Israeli representatives, the inescapable truth of who is most to blame emerges clearly from its enumeration of the details. In the General Assembly debate on the resolutions, U.S. representative Richard Erdman came out with the usual worries about “the disproportionate number of one-sided resolutions that had been designed to condemn Israel.” Interestingly, he added, “While the United States consistently opposed every effort to delegitimize Israel at the United Nations, his delegation would also continue to view Israeli settlement activity as illegitimate, corrosive and a threat to a two-state solution.”
Erdman failed, however, to identify how much of Israel Palestine occupied and how many settlements it had built there. Nor did he identify what steps Washington had taken to persuade Israel to give up its corrosive ways, short of stuffing its arsenal with offensive weapons and its treasury with cash.
In fact, he missed a golden opportunity to suggest ways to take the wind out of the sails of the international BDS movement. If the U.S. and U.N. took the action they had against South Africa, then consumers’ boycotting bath salts from the occupied Dead Sea would be totally unnecessary. 

U.N. correspondent Ian Williams’ book UNtold: the Real Story of the United Nations will be published by Just World Books in Spring 2017.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Sorel Draws an Age

This week’s CRoB Friday 10 Feb 15:30 on WJFF features Edward Sorel on his book -

 brilliantly drawn, verbally and pictorially, portrait of an age along with a discussion of how a cartoonist can survive in an age beyond caricature!

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Take Up the Orange Man's Burden!

Letter From America

Ian Williams
Published: Tribune  January 27, 2017 
If anyone were to say China is playing a leadership role in the world I would say it’s not China rushing to the front but rather the front runners have stepped back leaving the place to China,”
Zhang said.
“Oh Brave New World, that has such people in it,” Miranda gushed in The Tempest, but Aldous Huxley put it in perspective, invoking her exclamation to name his dystopia. And dystopic is the name of the game. Surely I am not alone in wondering whether we are living through some dark simulated alternative reality.
Looking at the swamp monsters dominating Trump’s cabinet, it is difficult to see how there could be a bright side as he celebrated the victory of ordinary Americans while surrounded with people who have worked so hard and consistently to steal American workers’ pensions, their healthcare and their savings.
For over two decades I have written about Trump as a blustering con-man, a bully, a bilker of debts and wages – so, in the interests of objectivity, I should refer to the stopped clock moments when he has been right.
He was quite correct that the Clintons and their cabal had completely ignored ordinary Americans across the heartland both in rhetoric and reality. He was quite right to scorn the idea that their defeat was because of a Kremlin plot – and he is even right that the foreign policy establishment in Washington had humiliated and taunted Moscow all these years.
A year ago, he even suggested Israel should pay for its own weapons, but with his eminently consistent inconsistency he has now renewed the “get-out-of-the-security-council-free” card for the Zionist Fundamentalists around Netanyahu – thereby probably fanning the flames of the Islamic Fundamentalism against which he has pledged eternal warfare.
So, what are the implications of Trump’s inauguration for Britain and its role in the world? To begin with, Trump’s leaning to Likud and its even more toxic allies has already reinforced Britain’s slavishness to them as shown by the abstention in the Paris Middle East
In the days of Mrs T, the foreign office establishment’s residual respect for international law, not least about the Palestinians, plus the commercial imperatives of trading weapons systems with the Saudis, meant that Britain would have no compunction in voting with the rest of the world against the US and Israel in the Security Council.
May’s utterances suggest that even if Britain supported the last UN resolution condemning settlements, things are changing. Israeli commentators are gloating at the idea of an Anglo-Saxon axis that would automatically back Israel – Trump, May and Turnbull in Australia. Since the original radical Islamic
Fundamentalists in Riyadh have formed a de facto alliance with Israel against Iran, that suggests that May will be able to continue pandering to Israeli expansionism and while expanding weapons sales to the Kingdom. Insofar as the Tory government has any economic plan to cope with the catastrophic consequences of Brexit, weapons sales to unsavoury regimes probably top the sales bill.
Thanks to the alleged special relationship with the US, Britain has more often than not been Washington’s Trojan Horse in Brussels, but at least had to make compromises to persuade others to form a consensus.
With no EU consensus as an excuse, May’s attitude suggests that we will return to the “Yo Blair!” days under George W Bush, and she will volunteer to carry out any unsavory task that Trump whimsically grabs her for, and that will be most palpable in terms of playing Sancho Panza to Trump’s Don Quixote at the UN.
That has other repercussions, since Russian and China, in particular, have been playing a more active role in the UN, with Beijing advancing to the second biggest bill payer and a major contributor of peace-keepers. If Britain’s vote is folded uncritically into the US’s as the latter becomes semidetached from the UN, it allows the Russian and Chinese to play a much larger role in the organization that, as Kofi Annan said, has a unique legitimizing role in the world.
President Xi in Davos is already considering taking up the Orange-head’s burden. This will doubtless cheer the hearts of those whose concern over Trump is combined with nostalgia for the glory days of the ComIntern. However, while the new American President refuses to answer questions from stroppy journalists, the rulers in Moscow and Beijing lock them up outright, and what is more, will do the same to any unruly bloggers and cheaters as well.
On the stopped clock principle, it is reassuring that Trump wants the Cold War with Russia to finish, but it is less so if he wants to start an economic war with China, or even to team up with the protector of the Baathist butchers of Aleppo. It is time for sober consideration of Britain’s place in the world, not for a reflexive leap from the European frying pan to rally to the Last Trump.