The Superpower Conundrum: The Rise and Fall of Just About Everything

(Image: Hawaii Independent)

By Tom Engelhardt

The rise and fall of great powers and their imperial domains has been a central fact of history for centuries. It’s been a sensible, repeatedly validated framework for thinking about the fate of the planet. So it’s hardly surprising, when faced with a country once regularly labeled the “sole superpower,” “the last superpower,” or even the global “hyperpower” and now, curiously, called nothing whatsoever, that the “decline” question should come up. Is the U.S. or isn’t it? Might it or might it not now be on the downhill side of imperial greatness?

Take a slow train — that is, any train — anywhere in America, as I did recently in the northeast, and then take a high-speed train anywhere else on Earth, as I also did recently, and it’s not hard to imagine the U.S. in decline. The greatest power in history, the “unipolar power,” can’t build a single mile of high-speed rail? Really? And its Congress is now mired in an argument about whether funds can even be raised to keep America’s highways more or less pothole-free.

Sometimes, I imagine myself talking to my long-dead parents because I know how such things would have astonished two people who lived through the Great Depression, World War II, and a can-do post-war era in which the staggering wealth and power of this country were indisputable. What if I could tell them how the crucial infrastructure of such a still-wealthy nation — bridges, pipelines, roads, and the like — is now grossly underfunded, in an increasing state of disrepair, and beginning to crumble? That would definitely shock them.

And what would they think upon learning that, with the Soviet Union a quarter-century in the trash bin of history, the U.S., alone in triumph, has been incapable of applying its overwhelming military and economic power effectively? I’m sure they would be dumbstruck to discover that, since the moment the Soviet Union imploded, the U.S. has been at war continuously with another country (three conflicts and endless strife); that I was talking about, of all places, Iraq; and that the mission there was never faintly accomplished. How improbable is that? And what would they think if I mentioned that the other great conflicts of the post-Cold-War era were with Afghanistan (two wars with a decade off in-between) and the relatively small groups of non-state actors we now call terrorists? And how would they react on discovering that the results were: failure in Iraq, failure in Afghanistan, and the proliferation of terror groups across much of the Greater Middle East (including the establishment of an actual terror caliphate) and increasing parts of Africa?

They would, I think, conclude that the U.S. was over the hill and set on the sort of decline that, sooner or later, has been the fate of every great power. And what if I told them that, in this new century, not a single action of the military that U.S. presidents now call “the finest fighting force the world has ever known” has, in the end, been anything but a dismal failure? Or that presidents, presidential candidates, and politicians in Washington are required to insist on something no one would have had to say in their day: that the United States is both an “exceptional” and an “indispensible” nation? Or that they would also have to endlessly thank our troops (as would the citizenry) for… well… never success, but just being there and getting maimed, physically or mentally, or dying while we went about our lives? Or that those soldiers must always be referred to as “heroes.”

In their day, when the obligation to serve in a citizens’ army was a given, none of this would have made much sense, while the endless defensive insistence on American greatness would have stood out like a sore thumb. Today, its repetitive presence marks the moment of doubt. Are we really so “exceptional”? Is this country truly “indispensible” to the rest of the planet and if so, in what way exactly? Are those troops genuinely our heroes and if so, just what was it they did that we’re so darn proud of?

Return my amazed parents to their graves, put all of this together, and you have the beginnings of a description of a uniquely great power in decline. It’s a classic vision, but one with a problem.

A God-Like Power to Destroy (more…)

We must rely on science to inform us about climate change and its causes

The existence or non-existence of climate change and global warming can only be determined by empirical observation and interpretation of data. These activities are scientific in nature, not religious. Scientists have been collecting and interpreting the data for many years. Studies analyzing the data have been published and reviewed in peer reviewed professional journals for many years leading to consensus in the community of climate scientists that due to human activity, climate change and global warming have been occurring at an accelerating rate since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

Science consists of asking questions and forming theories that answer those questions that can be proven or disproven. Religion, on the other hand consists of asking questions that cannot be answered by empirical observation. Instead, answers ultimately depend on faith. For example, we cannot prove the existence or nonexistence of God.

Climate change deniers generally base their doubts on religious ideas such as a belief in God’s stewardship of the planet and his promise to preserve it until he returns. However, religious ideas by their very nature cannot prove or disprove the existence of climate change or global warming and they cannot identify a cause.

For these reasons, politicians who question climate change and global warming by relying on religious ideas are merely proving their own ignorance. Their opinions are irrelevant and should be disregarded.

Resource: Can Religion and Science Coexist?

The Roundup for July 4th, 2015

A fitting song for today.

Greece And The Giant Grexit, Day 5

A new poll found 44 percent of Greeks favoring “Yes” and 43 percent favoring “No”

– Greece is on the edge of collapse with capital controls implemented and shortages across the country

– Greek banks dismissed a report saying they were looking into a “haircut” of deposits

Part one with professors John Weeks and Ozlem Onaram on the Greek referendum and the troika’s response

International Politics

Overall

Part two of two with former CIA analyst Ray McGovern and former Sergeant Bryce Lockwood on Israel’s attack against the U.S.S. Liberty 48 years ago

– France declined to offer Julian Assange asylum after reviewing his request

– A coalition of former British officials, along with other Britons, called for the U.S. to release Shaker Aamer from Guantanamo Bay (more…)

Saturday Art: ‘Tea Time’ by Jean Metzinger – Beginnings of Cubism

File:WomanWithFlowers1920 - MetzingerLegoûter.jpg

Cannot find a picture of just the right side painting, sorry.

(Picture courtesy of Philadelphia Museum of Art at wikipedia commons.)

The beginning of the movement in art called Cubism is sometimes ascribed to the display of the painting above right, by theorist and artist Jean Metzinger.   Building  on Cezanne’s later paintings, it left behind the style of perspective that made a two dimensional canvas give the illusion of another dimension, and presented many surfaces at once.

The original concept startled and inspired Picasso, Braques, Gris and several other esteemed artists of the day, and discernibly influenced their painting of that time.

Tea Time is an oil painting on cardboard with dimensions 75.9 x 70.2 cm (29.9 x 27.6 in), signed Metzinger and dated 1911 lower right. The painting represents a barely draped (nude) woman holding a spoon, seated at a table with a cup of tea. In the ‘background’, the upper left quadrant, stands a vase on a commode, table or shelf. A square or cubic shape, a chair or painting behind the model, espouses the shape of the stretcher. The painting is practically square, like the side of a cube. The woman’s head is highly stylized, divided into geometrized facets, planes and curves (the forehead, nose, cheeks, hair). The source of light appears to be off to her right, with some reflected light on the left side of her face. Reflected light, consistently, can be seen on other parts of her body (breast, shoulder, arm). Her breast is composed of a triangle and a sphere. The faceting of the rest of her body, to some extent, coincides with actual muscular and skeletal features (collar bone, ribcage, pectorals, deltoids, neck tissue). Both of here shoulders are coupled with elements of the background, superimposed, gradational and transparent to varying degrees. Unidentified elements are composed of alternating angular structures, The colors employed by Metzinger are subdued, mixed (either on a palette of directly on the surface), with an overall natural allure. The brushwork is reminiscent of Metzinger’sDivisionist period (ca. 1903–1907), described by the critic (Louis Vauxcelles) in 1907 as large, mosaic-like ‘cubes’, used to construct small but highly symbolic compositions.[8]

The figure, centrally positioned, is shown both staring at the viewer and gazing off to the right (to her left), i.e., she is seen both straight on and in profile position. The tea cup is visible both from the top and side simultaneously, as if the artist physically moved around the subject to capture it simultaneously from several angles and at successive moments in time.

“This interplay of visual, tactile, and motor spaces is fully operative in Metzinger’s Le Gouter of 1911″, write Antliff and Leighten, “an image of an artist’s model, semi-nude, with a cloth draped over her right arm as she takes a break between sessions […] her right hand delicately suspends the spoon between cup and mouth.” The combination of frames captured at successive time intervals is given play, pictorially, in simultaneous conflation of moments in time throughout the work. The Cézannian volumes and planes (cones, cubes and spheres) extend ubiquitously across the manifold, merging the sitter and surroundings. The painting becomes a product of experience, memory and imagination, evoking a complex series of mind-associations between past present and future, between tactile and olfactory sensations (taste and touch), between the physical and metaphysical.[9]

Though less radical than Metzinger’s 1910 Nude—which is closely related to the work of Picasso and Braque of the same year—from the viewpoint of faceting of the represented subject matter, Le goûter is much more carefully constructed in relation to the overall shape of the picture frame. “Not only was this painting more unequivocally classical in its pedigree (and recognized as such by critics who instantly dubbed it ‘La Joconde cubiste’) than any of its now relatively distant sources in Picasso’s oeuvre,” writes David Cottington, “but in its clear if tacit juxtaposition, remarked on by Green and others, of sensation and idea—taste and geometry—it exemplified the interpretation of innovations from both wings of the cubist movement that Metzinger was offering in his essays of the time, as well as the paradigm shift from a perceptual to a conceptual painting that he recognized as now common to them.”[10]

The quite atmosphere of Tea Time “seduces by means of the bridge it creates between two periods”, according to Eimert and Podksik, “although Metzinger’s style had already passed through an analytical phase, it now concentrated more on the idea of reconciling modernity with classical subjects”.[11]

A preparatory drawing for Tea Time (Etude pour ‘Le Goûter’), 19 x 15 cm, is conserved in Paris at the Musée National d’Art ModerneCentre Georges Pompidou.[12]

(snip)

Pictorial space has been transformed by the artist into the temporal flow of consciousness. Quantity has morphed into quality, creating a ‘qualitative space’, “the pictorial analogue”, write Antliff and Leighten, “to both time and space: temporal heterogeneity and the new geometries.” In accord with this view of pictorial space, Metzinger and Gleizes encouraged artists to discard classical perspective and replace it with creative intuition. “Creative intuition is manifest in an artist’s faculty of discernment, or ‘taste’, which coordinates all other sensations.” Antliff and Leighten continue, “As we have seen Metzinger celebrated this faculty in Le Gouter, and Apollinaire advised artists to rely on their ‘intuition’ in The Cubist Painters (1913).”[9][28]

Metzinger’s interests in proportion, mathematical order, and his emphasis on geometry, are well documented.[10] But it was his personal taste (gout in French) that sets Metzinger’s work apart from both the Salon Cubists and those of Montmartre. While taste inTea Time was denoted by one of the five senses, it was also connoted (for those who could read it) as a quality of discernment and subjective judgement.[10] Le gouter translates to ‘afternoon snack’ but also alludes to ‘taste’ in an abstract sense. This painting, writes Christopher Green, “can seem the outcome of a meditation on intelligence and the senses, conception and sensation. The word in French for tea-time is “le goûter”; as a verb. “goûter” refers to the experience of tasting.[24]

(more…)

Democrats and Republicans are headed in opposite directions

Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are improving in the polls while everyone else appears to be treading water. Sanders has been drawing large crowds with his common sense populist message and he has raised $15 million in the past two months. The Huffington Post is reporting that he is rising in the polls in Iowa and starting to catch up to Hilary Clinton. He likely has a broader base of supporters than she does even though she has raised $45 million. For example,

His campaign reported receiving 400,000 contributions during the past two months from 250,000 total contributors. Nearly 87 percent of the total amount raised during the quarter came from the donors who contributed $250 or less.

According to the Clinton campaign, 91 percent of its donations were $100 or less in value. But they declined to say how many individual people contributed to Clinton’s campaign.

In addition, the media appears to be laying off the false accusation that he cannot be elected because he is a socialist. That old red-baiting maneuver worked 30 years ago, but it doesn’t appear to carry much weight today. All this is good news for Sanders and progressives as we head into the July 4th weekend.

Meanwhile, Trump’s hate message about immigrants from Mexico appears to be gaining traction among white Republican voters who hate LGBT people, same-sex marriage and the immigrants. The silence from most of the other Republican candidates reflects unfavorably on the Republican Party. The other candidates are not helping their brand by refusing to criticize his appeal to hatred and prejudice.

Therefore, the Democrats and the Republicans are headed in different directions and that is good news too.

Have a safe and happy July 4th weekend.

The Roundup for July 3rd, 2015

Hooray, it’s Friday!

Greece and The Giant Bailout, Day 4

– The International Monetary Fund admitted Greece needed 60 billion euros, in the next three years, and major debt relief to survive

– German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel: Alexis Tsipras is a threat to the “European order”

Remember that time Greece forgave Germany’s debt?

– There are two sides in regards to the Greece crisis: Those for Greece and those against. We must side with Greece

– The Independent Greeks, a party in the coalition government with SYRIZA, are angry with Tsipras’ recent decisions and protesting against SYRIZA

– Previous Greek prime ministers called for a “Yes” vote on Sunday; Of course, the elites who caused this mess in the first place would decide to side with the bourgeoisie

– Greek Financial Minister Yanis Varoufakis: If Greece votes yes, then I will resign (more…)

Over Easy: Friday Preview

L'Oiseau Bleu by Metzinger
L’Oiseau Bleu by Metzinger

(Picture courtesy of steynard at flickr.com.)

This is a short Over Easy to give pups a conversation shelf and introduce tomorrow’s art post about Jean Metzinger and his significant contribution to cubism.

Hope you are enjoying the summer, it’s been messy a lot of places and my sympathies to Hawaiians and Oregonians suffering the extraordinary heat there.  We’re staying out of the heat of the day, here, as much as possible but the ‘tube’ or London Underground, can be a trial.

We’re not doing ourselves any favors.    The Brits’ austerity takes aim at the very operation that is needed for the future well-being of the planet.

‘The UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) faces cuts of 90% to its staff budgets within three years, threatening the government’s ability to tackle climate change and move the energy supply to cleaner sources, according to an expert analysis.’

Forging into the future wasn’t supposed to indicate an attack on same.   Oh, my.

 

Late, Late Night FDL: Anarchy In The U.K.

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain – Anarchy In The U.K.

As an Uke afficionado, I’d been following this British High Court case…

The Ukulele Orchestra Of Great Britain (UOGB) has won a High Court ruling against a rival group which it accused of trading off its reputation.

The group challenged the German-based United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra (UKUO) over the similarity in name.

It argued the German group had copied its format and fans were getting confused between the two.

The judge agreed and said its “passing off” claim had succeeded.

The legal battle kicked off last September when the UOGB filed a claim for trademark infringement as the UKUO was preparing for its first tour of the UK.

In his initial ruling, Judge Richard Halcon sided with the German group, agreeing that it was not in competition and adding the British group should have mounted a legal challenge earlier.

Made up of British musicians, the UKUO was founded in 2009, while the UOGB has been going since 1985.

But in his ruling on Thursday, Judge Halcon said he was satisfied “the United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra’ misrepresents to a substantial proportion of the public in this country who recognise the Ukulele Orchestra Of Great Britain’ as the trade name of a particular musical group”.

He added: “I am also satisfied that this has caused damage to the Ukulele Orchestra Of Great Britain’s goodwill, particularly by way of loss of control over the Ukulele Orchestra Of Great Britain’s reputation as performers.”

‘Unique show’

The case was brought by the founder of the UOGB, George Hinchliffe, who told the court he was approached in 2009 by a German producer who wanted to franchise the band in Germany.

The request was turned down, but Erwin Clausen, director of Yellow Promotions, set up the United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra, promoting a similar style of musical comedy.

Mr Hinchliffe said: “We have worked hard for 30 years to create a unique show and the court has now recognised that copycat musical performances cannot trade off the reputation of established groups.”

Mr Hinchliffe added: “We have an international and celebrity fan base who have stood by us and who will be very pleased.”

Seriously, I like the both of’em, so where’s the real harm here…?

What’s on your mind tonite…?

WikiLeaks Performs Valuable Service By Liberating Key Documents from Lesser-Known But Still Major Trade Deal

WikiLeaks TISA graphic

In the past two days, WikiLeaks has released drafts from a lesser-known trade agreement being negotiated between 52 nations called the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA). The publication comes just before the next round of negotiations, which will begin on July 6.

The “Core Text” of TISA, as well as chapters from negotiations on “Electronic Commerce,” “Telecommunications Services,” “Financial Services,” and “Maritime Transport Services,” were published.

WikiLeaks describes the “Core Text” of the agreement that they released from the “largest ‘trade deal’ in history” a “modern journalistic holy grail.” The media organization is not exaggerating.

Edward Alden, who used to be a reporter for the newsletter Inside US Trade, wrote in a post for the Council on Foreign Relations that WikiLeaks’ sources are “impressive.” Alden recalled how he worked in the “pre-digital age” to “encourage leaks of trade negotiating positions. “But, with the exception of the Clinton administration’s proposal for the NAFTA labor and environmental side agreements in 1993, we rarely got our hands on the texts themselves.”

In a time when corporations are being aided by governments, which are negotiating sweeping trade deals like TISA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with complete secrecy, WikiLeaks has ensured that governments do not finish negotiations without the public having some idea about this conspiracy unfolded behind closed doors.

Deputy US Trade Representative Michael Punke previously described TISA as an agreement that “would encompass all service sectors and modes of supply and impose a high standard for liberalization.” By liberalization, Punke means deregulation.

Quite aggressively TISA seeks to establishes rules that would tie the hands of TISA governments, preventing them from being able to craft their own regulations to protect people from exploitation by businesses or corporations. And, the very rules, which have been adopted since the 2008 economic crisis, to protect against future financial meltdowns would likely come under attack as a result of this trade deal.

Ben Beachy of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch put together an analysis [PDF] of the “Financial Services” chapter and found sweeping rules for “market access,” which “would expose governments to legal challenges before extrajudicial tribunals for banning risky financial services or products, such as the complex derivatives that fueled the financial crisis. The same rule threatens proposals to limit the size of banks so that they do not become ‘too big to fail.'”

Yet another rule opening up the world to financial risk would challenge policies, which prevent banks from being able to “hold consumers’ deposits from engaging in hedge-fund-style trading of high-risk securities.” It would be prohibited to restrict “financial inflows—used to prevent rapid currency appreciation, asset bubbles and other macroeconomic problems—and financial outflows, used to prevent suddent capital flight in times of crisis.”

“Despite increasing concerns about data privacy, sparked by revelations of the US National Security Agency’s dragnet spying, TISA would require that financial firms be permitted to transfer consumers’ personal financial data overseas, where it could be exposed to unwanted surveillance,” Beachy warns.

In some instances, TISA countries may have to roll back regulations if they were inhibiting the business of a foreign firm. (more…)

Legal Organization Representing WikiLeaks Submits Report for UN Official’s Review of Whistleblower Protections

CCR Logo
Center for Constitutional Rights Logo

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), a legal organization based in New York which represents WikiLeaks and its editor-in chief Julian Assange, has submitted a report to help United Nations Special Rapporteur David Kaye complete his review on the global issue of whistleblowers and the protection of sources.

Kaye serves as the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The review addresses how human rights law should protect journalists from having to disclose their sources and how whistleblowers are or are not protected, especially after exposing human rights violations, corruption or other abuses.

Part of the review includes a kind of survey of all governments in the world asking them how journalists are protected from being compelled to reveal sources and how whistleblowers are afforded protections. It also asked for non-governmental organizations to share their views and studies.

CCR is uniquely positioned to provide insights, given that it represents a media organization which has endured an ongoing and unprecedented investigation by the United States government into the publication of documents provided by US military whistleblower Chelsea Manning.

The legal organization asserts in its submission [PDF], “States have an obligation to protect whistleblowers, a vulnerable group that faces systematic stigmatization as a result of exercising fundamental rights to access and obtain information.”

State governments also “have a positive obligation to promote freedom of expression through cyber laws, and must not use technical violations to punish whistleblowers,” CCR argues.

“There is a serious risk that cyber laws will displace secrecy laws as a tool to prosecute whistleblowers on basis of their activities accessing and obtaining information. In the United States, the cases of Chelsea Manning, NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, and WikiLeaks reveal the application of “unauthorized access” computer laws to punish whistleblowers and publishers.”

The legal organization adds, “Today significant amounts of access to information, particularly by whistleblowers, is enabled by computers. Whistleblowers must not be punished for using a computer to blow the whistle. Cyber laws sanctioning whistleblowers or sources who already have access to computers, purely based on their intent to blow the whistle, raise serious problems for freedom of expression.”

The US government has prosecuted whistleblowers for violating the Espionage Act and disseminating information. In these cases, the intent of the whistleblower does not matter to prosecutors and judges. What matters is that a secrecy agreement was breached.

CCR kept close watch as the court-martial of Manning unfolded, even bringing a lawsuit on behalf of media organizations and journalists (including this one) to force the US military to be more transparent and make court-martial records available to the press. It struggled against secrecy, but one military court denied a request for relief, a military appeals court claimed to lack jurisdiction, and a federal court refused to hear the case. Finally, the military decided to start publishing documents to an online “reading room” that the press and public could access.

As an example of how whistleblowers are vulnerable to abuse, CCR recalls how UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Méndez decided “Manning was subject to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment while detained in pretrial custody.”

Manning wrote about her time in pretrial detention in Kuwait:

“At the very lowest point, I contemplated castrating myself, and even – in what seemed a pointless and tragicomic exercise, given the physical impossibility of having nothing stable to hang from – contemplated suicide with a tattered blanket, which I tried to choke myself with,” she recounted for The Guardian. (more…)