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A song of angry men

Pinchas-LandauIt is one of those Junes when the sheer pace of events leaves you gasping for breath. June is not unique in attracting this kind of concentration of both dramatic and genuinely important developments, but it seems to have some inbuilt advantages over other months — notably its clement weather, at least in the northern hemisphere.

Even the domestic arena has been irrepressible, with nary a day passing without a new scandal breaking or, at the least, a new twist in an old one. The underlying theme is that the behavioral norms of politics, business, finance and public life generally that had been accepted, winked at or simply ignored for many years — are suddenly unacceptable. The sordid saga of the presidential election, with its long list of discarded wannabes who were eliminated along the way, by ‘revelations’ of things (allegedly) done long ago, is simply a reflection of this fundamental change in the attitudes and mores of the general public. Beyond specific details, nothing new has been revealed — other than the critical fact that the rules have changed, the goalposts have been moved and what used to be acceptable and even unremarkable is now totally unacceptable and its ‘discovery’ will trigger an instant, but prolonged, storm.

Following the local news this week has been an exciting pastime, but even if the careers of an entire generation of politicians are now effectively ended — and probably of many army officers, as the misnamed Harpaz affair rumbles relentlessly on — that is not a national crisis, let alone a disaster. Indeed, it may even be a blessing. But what has been happening elsewhere around the world is far more earth-shaking, with potentially huge consequences for entire nations.

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Frankly, it’s hard to know where to begin. Mention should be made, if only in passing, of the fallout from the coup in Thailand last month; of the ongoing tensions in both the East and South China Seas as China flexes its muscles in deliberate, calculated aggression against Japan, Vietnam and other countries; and, of course, of the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, which witnessed a resurgence only yesterday (Thursday) as the Ukrainians claimed/ reported that a rebel convoy, including tanks and armoured personnel carriers, crossed the border and was being engaged by Ukrainian forces.

Until this week, it has seemed that China’s bullying behavior towards its neighbors had made that region the world’s most dangerous — after all, it is clear that no-one in the West will stand behind Ukraine if Putin gets really nasty, whereas the US is obligated by treaties to support Japan, South Korea and the Philippines. But that assessment must now be reviewed, as the good old Middle East reasserts its claim to be the nastiest and potentially most problematic part of the planet.

Most people, even those plugged in to current events, are surely stunned to find that — out of the blue, as it were — Iraq is falling apart, again. President Obama surely is. He must have believed that he had put Iraq behind him and was on the way to fading Afghanistan, too. Yet now he is being dragged back in to George Bush’s war, to rescue the Iranian-backed Shi’ite government of Iraq from the threat posed by an al Qaeda-linked Sunni force. If that is clear, then remember that the US is supporting, arming and training other, slightly-less-extreme, Sunni extremist groups on the other side of the (imaginary/ non-existent) Iraq/ Syria border, to help them fight against the Iranian-backed Alawite (quasi-Shi’ite) regime in Syria.

Now, ISIS (as the said al Qaeda calls its putative Sunni state stretching across Syria and Iraq) has captured Mosul, triggering the occupation by the Kurds of Kirkuk, and is threatening to march on Baghdad. The Iraqi army is in total disarray, and ISIS has captured one or more Blackhawk helicopters and other advanced US military equipment in Mosul — as well as cleaning up over $400 million dollars from the vaults of the banks in this important Iraqi city.

If you don’t remember these place names and the geography, ethnicity and anthropology of Iraq, you must have been born after 2000 or been visiting Mars between 2003-2008. But here’s a hint: it has to do with oil, the price of which has risen some five dollars a barrel this week alone, to the highest for June since — goodness me, 2008. Check it out.

There is more, much more, but one further example will suffice. Back in the civilized, developed world, in the wake of the European Parliament elections, in which the peoples of Europe told their liberal elite that they really, really, don’t like the EU and the whole European vision thing, across the pond some people finally woke up. In a Republican Party primary election in Virginia, the House Majority leader Eric Cantor was defeated — an unprecedented event — by an unknown Tea Party candidate, David Brat. Cantor outspent Brat 5-1, which would normally ensure victory, with hefty contributions from Goldman Sachs, Blackrock and the rest of the Wall Street elite — the people and institutions who actually run the United States.

The theme is the same everywhere, although the style differs by nation, culture and circumstance. People, most people, THE people, are beyond fed-up. They are very angry and they are demanding change, in most cases radical or even revolutionary change. It’s early days yet, and there’s no knowing (think Syria) how things will turn out, but one thing’s for sure, everywhere. It ain’t gonna be pleasant.




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