If you're enjoying the repeats of The Singing Detective -
- we now have The Singing President!
I've just come across this article by Michael Rosen from last year. It's still relevant and well worth a read.
Libraries have become one of the expendable, junkable parts of modern capitalism.
The main alibi in circulation supporting the closure of libraries is that they've become less popular.
We need to be sharp about how we defend the library service and indeed be clear about what we are defending and what we would change about it.
Libraries provide free books, magazines and newspapers to everyone. They are a free source of information about rights, facilities and leisure, and librarians provide what is in effect an advice service in relation to all this. In many places there is also free or cheap internet access, and free or cheap borrowing of CDs and DVDs, photocopying and the like. For many people in particular groups in society - such as children, new migrants, old people, the unemployed, sixth form and further education students - libraries are more than a "leisure facility". They are crucial to how they live and develop.
For socialists, none of this can be an optional extra. Central to our struggle for socialism has to be that every one of us has a right of access to knowledge, ideas and skills. The education system cannot and does not deliver this because even as it appears to offer that access it segregates, divides, discriminates and discards.
As a form of cheap, portable and physically durable entertainment and education, books still have the edge over the alternatives. E-books will certainly do most of the job if people can afford the "platform" to read them on. But for the moment, at least, for young children there is no substitute for the picture book.
An issue here is specificity and variety. The sum total of books offers a range of ideas and thought not available through the mass media. The library service offers everyone access to this, though we're reaching a point where many people aren't aware that it does.
As with everything else I've been describing, this needs librarians so that the space of the library can be used to expand the "socialisation" of reading - through talks, readings, book groups, advice "surgeries", the Summer Reading Challenge for children and the like.
The prevailing model for us as human beings is as private consumers, and libraries and reading are being squeezed into this model. By defending the job of every librarian and demanding improvements to the service we are also opposing the idea that the mind is little more than a shopping trolley. We are saying instead that we are social beings who can use reading, writing and talk as part of our struggle for a better society........................................................
Noam Chomsky continues to produce challenging articles, essays and books that give a very different world view to the mainstream dross that afflicts us through the majority of the media. Hats off to the Guardian for continuing to publish his work. If you want some perspective on what's happening in geo-politics - and everybody should - you have to read Chomsky.
'Losing' the world: American decline in perspective, part 1
US foreign policy 'experts' only ever provide an echo chamber for American imperial power. A longer, broader view is necessary
At the moment, we are failing to commemorate the 50th anniversary of President John F Kennedy's decision to launch the most destructive and murderous act of aggression of the post-second world war period: the invasion of South Vietnam, later all of Indochina, leaving millions dead and four countries devastated, with casualties still mounting from the long-term effects of drenching South Vietnam with some of the most lethal carcinogens known, undertaken to destroy ground cover and food crops.
The prime target was South Vietnam. The aggression later spread to the North, then to the remote peasant society of northern Laos, and finally to rural Cambodia, which was bombed at the stunning level of all allied air operations in the Pacific region during second world war, including the two atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In this, Henry Kissinger's orders were being carried out – "anything that flies on anything that moves" – a call for genocide that is rare in the historical record. Little of this is remembered. Most was scarcely known beyond narrow circles of activists.
A the scale of the US defeat in Iraq was becoming difficult to suppress, the government quietly conceded what had been clear all along. In 2007-2008, the administration officially announced that a final settlement must grant the US military bases and the right of combat operations, and must privilege US investors in the rich energy system – demands later reluctantly abandoned in the face of Iraqi resistance. And all well kept from the general population.
A close look at American decline shows that China indeed plays a large role, as it has for 60 years. The decline that now elicits such concern is not a recent phenomenon. It traces back to the end of the second world war, when the US had half the world's wealth and incomparable security and global reach. Planners were naturally well aware of the enormous disparity of power, and intended to keep it that way.
The basic viewpoint was outlined with admirable frankness in a major state paper of 1948 (PPS 23). The author was one of the architects of the "new world order" of the day, the chair of the State Department policy planning staff, the respected statesman and scholar George Kennan, a moderate dove within the planning spectrum. He observed that the central policy goal was to maintain the "position of disparity" that separated our enormous wealth from the poverty of others. To achieve that goal, he advised, "We should cease to talk about vague and … unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization," and must "deal in straight power concepts", not "hampered by idealistic slogans" about "altruism and world-benefaction."
Kennan was referring specifically to Asia, but the observations generalize, with exceptions, for participants in the US-run global system. It was well understood that the "idealistic slogans" were to be displayed prominently when addressing others, including the intellectual classes, who were expected to promulgate them.
The plans that Kennan helped formulate and implement took for granted that the US would control the western hemisphere, the Far East, the former British empire (including the incomparable energy resources of the Middle East), and as much of Eurasia as possible, crucially its commercial and industrial centers. These were not unrealistic objectives, given the distribution of power. But decline set in at once.
In 1949, China declared independence, an event known in Western discourse as "the loss of China" – in the US, with bitter recriminations and conflict over who was responsible for that loss. The terminology is revealing. It is only possible to lose something that one owns. The tacit assumption was that the US owned China, by right, along with most of the rest of the world, much as postwar planners assumed.
The "loss of China" was the first major step in "America's decline". It had major policy consequences. One was the immediate decision to support France's effort to reconquer its former colony of Indochina, so that it, too, would not be "lost".
In the case of Vietnam, the concern was that the virus of independent development might infect Indonesia, which really does have rich resources. And that might lead Japan – the "superdomino" as it was called by the prominent Asia historian John Dower – to "accommodate" to an independent Asia as its technological and industrial center in a system that would escape the reach of US power. That would mean, in effect, that the US had lost the Pacific phase of the second world war, fought to prevent Japan's attempt to establish such a new order in Asia.
The way to deal with such a problem is clear: destroy the virus and "inoculate" those who might be infected. In the Vietnam case, the rational choice was to destroy any hope of successful independent development and to impose brutal dictatorships in the surrounding regions. Those tasks were successfully carried out – though history has its own cunning, and something similar to what was feared has since been developing in East Asia, much to Washington's dismay.
Similar procedures have been routinely followed elsewhere. Kissinger was referring specifically to the threat of socialist democracy in Chile. That threat was ended on another forgotten date, what Latin Americans call "the first 9/11", which in violence and bitter effects far exceeded the 9/11 commemorated in the west. A vicious dictatorship was imposed in Chile, one part of a plague of brutal repression that spread through Latin America, reaching Central America under Reagan. Viruses have aroused deep concern elsewhere as well, including the Middle East, where the threat of secular nationalism has often concerned British and US planners, inducing them to support radical Islamic fundamentalism to counter it.
The concentration of wealth and American decline
Despite such victories, American decline continued. By 1970, US share of world wealth had dropped to about 25%, roughly where it remains, still colossal but far below the end of the second world war. By then, the industrial world was "tripolar": US-based North America, German-based Europe, and East Asia, already the most dynamic industrial region, at the time Japan-based, but by now including the former Japanese colonies Taiwan and South Korea, and, more recently, China.
At about that time, American decline entered a new phase: conscious self-inflicted decline. From the 1970s, there has been a significant change in the US economy, as planners, private and state, shifted it toward financialization and the offshoring of production, driven in part by the declining rate of profit in domestic manufacturing. These decisions initiated a vicious cycle in which wealth became highly concentrated (dramatically so in the top 0.1% of the population), yielding concentration of political power, hence legislation to carry the cycle further: taxation and other fiscal policies, deregulation, changes in the rules of corporate governance allowing huge gains for executives, and so on.
Meanwhile, for the majority, real wages largely stagnated, and people were able to get by only by sharply increased workloads (far beyond Europe), unsustainable debt, and repeated bubbles since the Reagan years, creating paper wealth that inevitably disappeared when they burst (and the perpetrators were bailed out by the taxpayer). In parallel, the political system has been increasingly shredded as both parties are driven deeper into corporate pockets with the escalating cost of elections – the Republicans to the level of farce, the Democrats (now largely the former "moderate Republicans") not far behind.
A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, which has been the major source of reputable data on these developments for years, is entitled Failure by Design. The phrase "by design" is accurate. Other choices were certainly possible. And as the study points out, the "failure" is class-based. There is no failure for the designers. Far from it. Rather, the policies are a failure for the large majority, the 99% in the imagery of the Occupy movements – and for the country, which has declined and will continue to do so under these policies.
One factor is the offshoring of manufacturing. As the solar panel example mentioned earlier illustrates, manufacturing capacity provides the basis and stimulus for innovation leading to higher stages of sophistication in production, design, and invention. That, too, is being outsourced, not a problem for the "money mandarins" who increasingly design policy, but a serious problem for working people and the middle classes, and a real disaster for the most oppressed, African Americans, who have never escaped the legacy of slavery and its ugly aftermath, and whose meager wealth virtually disappeared after the collapse of the housing bubble in 2008, setting off the most recent financial crisis, the worst so far.
The imperial way: American decline in perspective, part 2
The US's presumed right to impose its will on the world, by force if necessary, has not changed. But its capacity to do so has
In the years of conscious, self-inflicted decline at home, "losses" continued to mount elsewhere. In the past decade, for the first time in 500 years, South America has taken successful steps to free itself from western domination, another serious loss. The region has moved towards integration, and has begun to address some of the terrible internal problems of societies ruled by mostly Europeanized elites, tiny islands of extreme wealth in a sea of misery. They have also rid themselves of all US military bases and of IMF controls. A newly formed organization, CELAC, includes all countries of the hemisphere apart from the US and Canada. If it actually functions, that would be another step in American decline, in this case in what has always been regarded as "the backyard".
Even more serious would be the loss of the MENA countries – Middle East/North Africa – which have been regarded by planners since the 1940s as "a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history". Control of MENA energy reserves would yield "substantial control of the world", in the words of the influential Roosevelt advisor AA Berle.
The Iranian "threat" and the nuclear issue
Let us turn finally to the third of the leading issue addressed in the establishment journals cited earlier, the "threat of Iran". Among elites and the political class, this is generally taken to be the primary threat to world order – though not among populations. In Europe, polls show that Israel is regarded as the leading threat to peace. In the MENA countries, that status is shared with the US, to the extent that in Egypt, on the eve of the Tahrir Square uprising, 80% felt that the region would be more secure if Iran had nuclear weapons. The same polls found that only 10% regard Iran as a threat – unlike the ruling dictators, who have their own concerns.
In the United States, before the massive propaganda campaigns of the past few years, a majority of the population agreed with most of the world that, as a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has a right to carry out uranium enrichment. And even today, a large majority favors peaceful means for dealing with Iran. There is even strong opposition to military engagement if Iran and Israel are at war. Only a quarter regard Iran as an important concern for the US altogether. But it is not unusual for there to be a gap, often a chasm, dividing public opinion and policy.
Why exactly is Iran regarded as such a colossal threat? The question is rarely discussed, but it is not hard to find a serious answer – though not, as usual, in the fevered pronouncements. The most authoritative answer is provided by the Pentagon and the intelligence services in their regular reports to Congress on global security. They report that Iran does not pose a military threat. Its military spending is very low even by the standards of the region, minuscule, of course, in comparison with the US.
Iran has little capacity to deploy force. Its strategic doctrines are defensive, designed to deter invasion long enough for diplomacy to set it. If Iran is developing nuclear weapons capability, they report, that would be part of its deterrence strategy. No serious analyst believes that the ruling clerics are eager to see their country and possessions vaporized, the immediate consequence of their coming even close to initiating a nuclear war. And it is hardly necessary to spell out the reasons why any Iranian leadership would be concerned with deterrence, under existing circumstances.
The regime is doubtless a serious threat to much of its own population – and regrettably, is hardly unique on that score. But the primary threat to the US and Israel is that Iran might deter their free exercise of violence. A further threat is that the Iranians clearly seek to extend their influence to neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan, and beyond, as well. Those "illegitimate" acts are called "destabilizing" (or worse). In contrast, forceful imposition of US influence halfway around the world contributes to "stability" and order, in accord with traditional doctrine about who owns the world.
While the principles of imperial domination have undergone little change, the capacity to implement them has markedly declined as power has become more broadly distributed in a diversifying world. Consequences are many. It is, however, very important to bear in mind that, unfortunately, none lifts the two dark clouds that hover over all consideration of global order: nuclear war and environmental catastrophe, both literally threatening the decent survival of the species.
Quite the contrary. Both threats are ominous, and increasing.