Exploring the nature of capitalism

Capitalism and Christmas: Peace on Earth?

Junk Drawer fillers, Trinkets, Collectibles, Fantasy,
Resignation, Betrayal and Déjà Vu

Bill Geddes
18th December 2012

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Index

Let's celebrate… Return to Index

Once again, it’s the week before Christmas1 . This is the time when we, in the West, get ourselves into a festive mood; it's "Ho, Ho, Ho, and Merry Christmas to you all!".

But we won't look too closely, or our tinsel brightened surroundings will lose their glitter; the despair of those who have found it all too much to bear will seep through and ruin our celebrations; we will see the reality, rather than the fantasy which we all so desperately want to be real.

So, what is that reality which we want to conjure up this Christmas?

Is it the reality of the apostle Paul?

… the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit

… We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”
(Romans Chapters 14, 15)

Or is it a superficial time-out when we can be jolly without the ongoing commitment which Paul's vision would require?

We all know which reality this festive season is about!

The tawdry, barely dusted-down decorations, flashing lights, loud music have been polluting our shopping centers for more than a month. And now there are houses in the suburbs trying to whip up some ‘Xmas cheer’ by displaying grotesque images of a fat and superficially jolly Santa Claus and his ‘reindeer’ in their front yards.

They’ve festooned their homes in flashing lights (what’s with the lights??), and hung strange baubles from their gates and fences. What on earth is this festival about? All they’re celebrating, it seems, is some cheap, Hollywood mockup of a fantasy realm inhabited by dwarves, elves, fat men in red costumes and oddly misshapen animals, supposedly ‘reindeer’. Sometimes, a strangely warped version of a doll in a ‘manger’, surrounded by an odd mix of animals, is added into the mélange.

There’s a feeling of déjà vu; of having seen it all before, in the air. And it’s not just in our shopping malls and suburbs. Around the world the same feeling of resignation, of futility, hangs in the air.

As Pollution Grows Return to Index

(it's no longer our fault!)

We've completed another round of 'Climate Talks'!

Didn't you know?

Neither did I!

Yes, the ritual gathering and talk-fest came and it went. Same resolutions, same conclusions. But there were a few oddities this time round. This time round the Western nations were, apparently, no longer the 'major polluters' in the world! That distinction had passed to East and South-East Asian nations!

Could it be that, along with our manufacturing jobs, we've also bequeathed to them our most obviously polluting industries? In a globalized world, there's an odd absurdity: we remain the world's major compulsive consumers; but we accuse the regions we've co-opted into producing our cravings for us of, in the process, polluting the environment.

We want our knickknacks, junk drawer fillers and collectibles as cheaply as you can make them (our wages are being driven down by 'forces beyond our control' so we can't afford more!). If you increase the price in trying to reduce pollution we'll co-opt others who are prepared to do it for less.

Don't pollute the planet the way we used to when we made those baubles ourselves. If you do, the consequences will, of course, be your fault!

The climate inexorably changes Return to Index

Aren't we fortunate: Sandy was not nearly as devastating as Katrina - what quaint names we give to catastrophic storms! Of course, as a major 'News' Channel explained in the aftermath, Sandy was a 'once in century' storm. To suggest otherwise is simply 'fear-mongering'.

There's a cyclone in the mid-Pacific, it's a category 4. It has devastated Samoa, it's threatening Fiji2 . It's the start of a new El Niño season for the central and south western Pacific, and the past few years have not been kind. If another disaster strikes the Eastern States of Australia so soon after previous storms, floods and droughts, will people rally again and rebuild? Or will they begin to wonder whether there is any point?

And the killing goes on Return to Index

(doesn't it always!)

Those drone attacks! Thousands killed, and many more maimed, and it's all done to 'keep us safe'! And Obama seems such a nice person. Only the other day, I saw him wiping away a tear as he comforted the families of victims of another tragic shooting event in the United States. Does he cry for the children who die as 'collateral damage' of Drone missile attacks? 3

And Syria: Nobody asks about the background to the current fighting - I guess that's because nobody in the West really wants to know!

By 2005, Iraqi refugees were already becoming a major problem for the Syrian government and population, as Scott Wilson of the Washington Post Foreign Service reported at the time,

Syrian officials say 700,000 Iraqis from various ethnic, religious and economic backgrounds have arrived since the U.S.-led invasion, far more than in any other country in the region. The flow has spiked in the past four months.

… Many Syrians are starting to complain about the effects of the Iraqi arrivals, mostly over the crowded schools and rising rents. The wealthiest Iraqis have been buying up land in the western suburbs of Damascus, building huge homes and pushing up real estate prices 50 percent over the past year. A lawyer who works in government circles said President Bashar Assad will soon sign an order barring Iraqis from purchasing property.

"If they are allowed to continue," said a Syrian used-car dealer looking for property to buy in Damascus, "they will buy up half of Syria."

This ancient city, which had churches before the mosques that outnumber them today, has become a sanctuary for about 15,000 Iraqi Christians. Syrian Orthodox and Chaldean churches, which dispense small amounts of aid and tap a Christian business network to find arriving men jobs, are usually the first stop for Iraqi families.

"They may have been rich," the Rev. Joseph Shabo, a Syrian Orthodox priest, said, adding, "When they arrive, soon they have nothing."
(Washington Post Foreign Service (Thursday, February 3, 2005; Page A18), Iraqi Refugees Overwhelm Syria: Migrants Who Fled Violence Put Stress on Housing Market, Schools)

By 2007 there were well over a million Iraqi refugees in Syria. An Amnesty International report explained the problem:

Syria is the only country that has so far kept its border open to refugees fleeing the sectarian violence in Iraq. It is estimated that there are now some 1.5 million Iraqis living in Syria, with around 30,000 more arriving each month.

The majority have arrived during the last 17 months following the bombing of al-‘Askari Shi’a holy shrine in Samarra on 22 February 2006. This attack, apparently carried out by members of al-Qa’eeda in Iraq, severely damaged the shrine and also triggered a widespread intensification in the level of sectarian violence between Shi’a and Sunni armed groups.
(Iraq: The situation of Iraqi refugees in Syria, Amnesty International Briefing, Index Number: MDE 14/036/2007, 26 July 2007)

In 2007, the US administration altered its Middle East strategy. As Seymour Hersh explained,

In the past few months, as the situation in Iraq has deteriorated, the Bush Administration, in both its public diplomacy and its covert operations, has significantly shifted its Middle East strategy. The “redirection,” as some inside the White House have called the new strategy, has brought the United States closer to an open confrontation with Iran and, in parts of the region, propelled it into a widening sectarian conflict between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

… The new American policy, in its broad outlines, has been discussed publicly. In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that there is “a new strategic alignment in the Middle East,” separating “reformers” and “extremists”; she pointed to the Sunni states as centers of moderation, and said that Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah were “on the other side of that divide.” (Syria’s Sunni majority is dominated by the Alawi sect.) Iran and Syria, she said, “have made their choice and their choice is to destabilize.”

Some of the core tactics of the redirection are not public, however. The clandestine operations have been kept secret, in some cases, by leaving the execution or the funding to the Saudis, or by finding other ways to work around the normal congressional appropriations process, current and former officials close to the Administration said.
(Seymour M. Hersh, The New Yorker, March 5, 2007, The Redirection: Is the Administration’s new policy benefitting our enemies in the war on terrorism?)

This remaking of 'reality' to fit a new strategy of destabilization in both Syria and Iran, involved what had already become an art form for the Bush administration. In the double-speak of the new 'redirection' strategy, the chaos in Iraq would now be blamed not on the ineptitude of US policy but on the 'destabilization' activities of Syria and Iran4 .

By 2012, the inevitable tensions in Syria resulted in internal unrest. As Khalid Waleed, an Iraqi journalist reported (Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 11th January, 2012, Iraqi Refugees in Syria Fear For Future: Reluctant to return to Iraq, asylum-seekers worry sectarian violence will ruin their safe haven),

According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, half of all Iraqis seeking asylum abroad went to Syria, and 93 per cent of the refugees in that country are from Iraq.

Amid deepening ethnic and sectarian divisions, with much of the ruling elite and military belonging to the Alawite minority in a mostly Sunni country, the harsh crackdown and army defections have brought the country to what many fear is the brink of civil war.

Iraq’s Shia majority was ruled by the Sunni minority led by Saddam, and experts say the similarities between the two countries has heightened concerns among Iraqis in Syria.

“The two countries are ethnically divided,” social scientist Abdul Khaleq al-Shemmari said. “Before 2003, Iraq was also ruled by its minority, and Syria is ruled by its minority.”

After the fall of Saddam’s regime, Iraq endured a vicious sectarian war, and refugees in Syria anticipate a similar turn of events. “This makes them fearful,” Shemmari said.

Now, surely, was the time for the United States and its 'Coalition of the Willing' to accept responsibility and actively work to ensure stability in the country and region. They would surely not be so irresponsible as to foment trouble in a region whose stability they had put at risk! After all, the United States has always wanted to be the 'honest broker' in the Middle East, the impartial arbiter of the region's disputes, as President Obama explained during his visit to the region early in his first presidential term.

So, from where did the Syrian rebels get their weaponry? Surely they could not have been encouraged by United States operatives. Those reports of Libyan armaments being secretly channeled to Syrian rebels by the C.I.A.5 must surely have been malicious lies, aimed at defaming the United States - or were they?

President Barack Obama authorized clandestine CIA support earlier this year and both the US and Britain have had special forces and intelligence officers on the ground for some time. They have helped with logistics and communications, but until now have refused to arm the Free Syrian Army.
(Christina Lamb, Covert US plan to arm rebels (Sunday Times: 9 December 2012))

It was only when they could no longer deny it that the US administration admitted that they had indirectly provided 'Syrian rebels' with the weapons with which they had started their insurrection. As the New York Times explained:

A small number of C.I.A. officers are operating secretly in southern Turkey, helping allies decide which Syrian opposition fighters across the border will receive arms to fight the Syrian government, according to American officials and Arab intelligence officers.

The weapons, including automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and some antitank weapons, are being funneled mostly across the Turkish border by way of a shadowy network of intermediaries including Syria ’s Muslim Brotherhood and paid for by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the officials said.
(Eric Schmitt, New York Times, June 21, 2012 , C.I.A. Said to Aid in Steering Arms to Syrian Opposition)

One wonders what the United States will do when 'Jihadists' seize control of a country destabilized by their adventures in the region over the past decade.

So, What's it all about? Return to Index

Looking back at last year's posting on the week before Christmas1 , I realize that nothing has changed!

And this was supposed to be a time when people stepped back from crass materialism, re-examined their lives, re-ordered their priorities, and shared their loaves and fishes.

This was supposed to be a time when we celebrated the arrival of a new dispensation, a time when the world would refocus, when there would be Peace on Earth and Goodwill toward all people; a time when we could say with the Prophet Isaiah,

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
(Isaiah Chapter 9, Verse 6)

As the apostle Paul explained,

… the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking,

… We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.
(Romans Chapter 14, verse 17 and Chapter 15, Verses 1-5)

We need always to remember that we should love our neighbors as ourselves and that, as Jesus taught, our neighbors are all those who need our care (Luke Chapter 10 verses 25-37).

Where does that leave Syria? Return to Index

"Syria is the only country that has so far kept its border open to refugees fleeing the sectarian violence in Iraq." (Iraq: The situation of Iraqi refugees in Syria, Amnesty International Briefing, Index Number: MDE 14/036/2007, 26 July 2007)

Yes, Syria's leadership is flawed - it is a fortunate nation which has competent, unflawed leaders these days! But, wasn't Syria being a good neighbor? As Jesus taught, our neighbors are all those who need our care (Luke Chapter 10 verses 25-37).

Why are we punishing them now?

Footnotes

1 See Capitalism, the Spirit of Christmas, a Bleak New Year (and a hollow feeling in the pit of the stomach) for last year's entry. The more things change… …

2 The latest from NASA:

On Monday, Dec. 17 many warnings and watches were in effect. A tropical cyclone warning is in effect for Fiji. A Hurricane warning is in effect for the Mamanuca island group, west of the line from Lautoka to Sigatoka and nearby smaller islands. A storm warning is in effect for the Yasawa group, Vatulele and the interior of Viti Levu. A gale warning is posted for the Lomaiviti group, rest of Viti Levu and nearby smaller islands, Kadavu, Beqa, and nearby smaller islands. There are also other local warnings in effect for Fiji.

The Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) is issuing forecasts for Evan and is using NASA and other satellite data to provide warnings and status updates on the storm. On Dec. 17 at 0900 UTC (4 a.m. EST), Cyclone Evan had maximum sustained winds near 115 knots (132 mph/213 kph). Evan is a Category 4 cyclone on the Saffir-Simpson Scale.

3 For more on children killed during drone missile strikes see: Chris Woods, Drone War Exposed – the complete picture of CIA strikes in Pakistan (The Bureau of Investigative Journalism August 10th, 2011); also: Obama 2012 Pakistan strikes (The Bureau of Investigative Journalism January 11th, 2012).

Here are the figures for C.I.A. strikes in Pakistan 2004-2012 (See the report above for figures in other regions):

The Bureau’s key findings

  • 305 CIA attacks have taken place in Pakistan – 8% more than previously reported. Under President Obama alone there have been 253 strikes – one every four days.
  • Between 2,347 and 2,956 people are reported to have died in the attacks – most of them militants
  • The minimum number of reported deaths is far higher than previously believed – with 40% more recorded casualties. Most of those killed are likely to be low-ranking militants.
  • Up to 150 named militants have so far been killed.
    The Bureau has collated credible news reports of 392-781 civilians being killed in the attacks.
  • The Bureau has identified credible reports of 175 children killed in the drone strikes. Under President Bush, one in three of all attacks is reported to have killed a child.
  • For the first time the Bureau has compiled accurate details of recorded injuries in drone strikes, revealing that at least 1,158 people have been wounded.

We should remember that a 'militant' is not some strange sub-species of humanity, destined to be killed by we who are 'civilized' in order to keep the world safe. A militant is, very often, a person just like you or me: Someone who watched while his/her loved ones died at the hands of invading troops; missile strikes; bombing raids and various other 'peace keeping' activities. Someone who decided enough is enough and joined those with whom, in saner times, they would never have associated. Now, they see no other option. So, now, we hunt them down and kill them too!

The United States has experienced many tragic shooting events over the years. On each occasion, people speak of the need to regulate access to various kinds of weaponry, though, usually, very little is accomplished. As Michael Shear, of The New York Times, explained of the response to the latest loss of life:

… the president’s call for gun control in the wake of the Connecticut shooting will run into tremendous opposition.

Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the firearm group, made clear the N.R.A. would not support the president’s call for gun control, recommending instead a “school shield” program of armed security guards at the nation’s schools as well as a national database that could track the mentally ill.

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” Mr. LaPierre said at a news conference that was interrupted by protests and allowed no questions from reporters.
( Michael Shear, New York Times, December 21, 2012 Even in Disarray, G.O.P. Has Power to Constrain Obama)

Fareed Zakaria (The solution to gun violence is clear, Washington Post Dec 20, 2012) has given a clear picture of the United States' internal problem of firearms related deaths:

The number of deaths by firearms in the United States was 32,000 last year. Around 11,000 were gun homicides.

To understand how staggeringly high this number is, compare it to the rate in other rich countries. England and Wales have about 50 gun homicides a year — 3 percent of our rate per 100,000 people. Many people believe that America is simply a more violent, individualistic society. But again, the data clarify. For most crimes — theft, burglary, robbery, assault — the United States is within the range of other advanced countries. The category in which the U.S. rate is magnitudes higher is gun homicides.

The U.S. gun homicide rate is 30 times that of France or Australia, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, and 12 times higher than the average for other developed countries.

4 The destabilization activities focussed on Iran have included insistence, since 2003, that Iran has an active 'nuclear-weapons program'. Seyed Mousavian of Princeton, explains:

Since 2003, after more than 4,000 man-day inspections, the IAEA has frequently declared the nondiversion. Not only the IAEA, but also the world powers confirm the "nondiversion" of the Iranian nuclear program toward a bomb. The U.S. National Intelligence Estimate's assessment in 2007 and 2011 concluded that Iran does not have an active nuclear-weapons program; there is no conclusive evidence that Iran has made any effort to build a nuclear bomb since 2003; and that the Iranian leadership has not yet made a political decision to build an actual weapon.

Iran does not possess any type of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and has signed all major international treaties repudiating the possession of weapons of mass destruction including biological, chemical and nuclear.

It is important to note that the disputes between the IAEA and Iran are centered on inspections beyond the framework of the SA, namely for Iran to accept the Additional Protocol (AP), a protocol that over 70 countries have not accepted, and to address the issues related to possible military dimensions (PMDs) which requires inspections beyond the realm of even the AP.

Nevertheless, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi recently indicated Tehran's readiness to cooperate on these demands. In return, Iran expects recognition of its legitimate right to enrichment under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the lifting of sanctions.

The West's highest priority in nuclear talks has centered on Iran's 20% enriched uranium. Since 2010 Iran has frequently proposed to stop 20%, capping its enrichment at 5% in return for fuel rods, but the West declined.
(No Evidence of Iranian Nuclear Weapons or VOA Bias, Wall Street Journal, January 23, 2013)

 5 For more on this see: CBC News Apr 18, 2011, U.S. admits funding Syrian opposition: Thousands staging sit-in vow not to leave until Assad's ouster. As the report says,

The U.S. State Department acknowledged Monday it has been funding opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad, following the release of secret diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks that document the funding.

(Also: Tony Cartalucci (Global Research, August 14, 2012) Libyan Terrorists Are Invading Syria)

 

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