Thanksgiving is a good time to remember that the vast majority of Americans migrated to the New World and that climate change is real.
This week, Americans celebrated Thanksgiving. In a time-truncated society where people get a mere 15 days off and where distances are gargantuan, this national holiday is one of those rare times when families get together and enjoy a leisurely meal. No wonder Americans have warm and fuzzy feelings for the holiday season.
The origins of Thanksgiving are shrouded in myth. As per legend, a ship called Mayflower with 102 Pilgrims—devout Protestants persecuted in Stuart England—sailed the Atlantic in 66 days. Arriving in the winter of 1620, barely half made it to spring. Squanto, a Native American who had once been kidnapped by an English sea captain and sold to slavery, paid them a visit. He taught these malnourished refugees how to grow corn, make syrup from the sap of maple trees, fish in the rivers flowing nearby and avoid poisonous plants. In November 1621, these colonists invited their native hosts to a feast, inaugurating a great American tradition of Thanksgiving.
The reality is not quite as squeaky clean as the myth. White Americans certainly have a lot to be thankful for. Native Americans have less reason for celebration. Fewer of them have survived north of the Rio Grande than south of it. Europeans arriving in America sought lebensraum or living space that the Nazis later craved in the 20th century. Even as Americans stuff themselves with turkey, few of them stop to think of the genocide of native populations, which enabled them to colonize a vast continent.
Europeans arrived in the New World as immigrants. Ironically, many of their descendants now oppose immigration and do not want to let in Syrian refugees. However, as John Oliver points out, this anti-refugee hysteria is nothing new. Once, the US turned back Jewish refugees even as Adolf Hitler was about to launch World War II. Many of the Jews who returned to Europe did not survive the war. Today, Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News is hell bent on turning back refugees. It is painting refugees as terrorists in a country that is now terrified of its own shadow. Perhaps many Americans subconsciously expect refugees to do unto them what their ancestors did to the Native Americans.
Apart from its dark past, Thanksgiving has an ugly underbelly. It is the time of an orgy of consumerism. Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, inaugurates the country’s Christmas shopping season. This year, sales have fallen but still total $12.1 billion and do not include online sales. Online shopping and sales that begin as early as Halloween are said to be two key reasons for the fall in sales this year. Despite the fall in Thanksgiving sales, shopping figures are clear evidence of extreme materialism. Americans buy far too much stuff. To be fair, so do the Chinese and the rich Indians, but no one can compete with the Americans who are in a league of their own.
For all its faults, the US strides the world like a colossus. Its national debt may be over $18 trillion, a touch more than its GDP of $17.5 trillion. It may have launched an illegal, irrational and idiotic war against Iraq. It may have suffered a civilizational fall by legitimizing torture. Its military might be plagued by pervasive post-traumatic stress disorder. Yet Hollywood and Harvard retain unrivaled luster in people’s imaginations from Shanghai to Sao Paulo. Tara Whitaker, an entrepreneur, financial analyst and historian, points out that the US might do well to gain a church even as its empire collapses. Some would argue that Hollywood and Harvard are the modern counterparts to the Roman Catholic Church. The cultural hegemony that Antonio Gramsci once talked about is now the prerogative of the US.
Others are copying the United States blindly. This is tragic. The 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 21) is about to kick off in Paris. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) admits that America has the highest per capita emissions in the world. At the heart of this malaise lies a broken system. Consumerism is the basis of much of urban society. People want more of everything, even if it is wasteful. The effect on the environment is catastrophic.
The year 2015 is the hottest since 1880. Apart from American politicians who believe that Mary was a virgin, others accept that climate change is real, man-made and highly dangerous. In Brazil, two dams collapsed after heavy rain, and a mudflow thick with toxic mining waste has now reached the Atlantic Ocean. Many are calling it the worst environmental catastrophe in Brazil’s history. Glaciers are melting in the Himalayas and the poles. As the world gets warmer, sea levels are rising and weather patterns are becoming more difficult to predict.
As COP21 kicks off in Paris with pious homilies and good intentions, there is no hiding from the fact that the economic model that the US exemplifies has to be jettisoned. Even as the world frets about climate change, it is besotted with consumerism and its appetite for energy remains insatiable. Arvind Subramanian, India’s chief economic adviser, has come out with blazing guns against “the rich world’s move against fossil fuels.” Like many people from poorer countries, Subramanian suspects that rich countries are using environmental standards to keep poor countries down and out. The US and the rest of the rich world have to lead by example, learn to sacrifice and live more frugally. All talk of the environment will not go anywhere if the burden of preventing climate change falls disproportionately on the poor.
Many of the poor are already desperate and angry about injustice—perceived and real. They provide fertile breeding grounds for violence and terror. Drug wars continue in Mexico, and the murder rate in Latin American countries like Honduras, Venezuela and Brazil remains frighteningly high. In Mali, gunmen killed over 20 people. Another 12 were killed on a bus for the presidential guard in Tunisia. Palestinians are spontaneously attacking Israelis with primitive kitchen knives, and the latter are retaliating in a disproportionate manner.
Not only individuals but also states like Russia and Turkey have turned violent. Turkey shot down a Russian military plane, leading to a fierce response from the Kremlin. These two former empires with rampant inflation, slowing economies and rising unemployment have long been rivals. Turkey, a NATO nation, is opposing Russia in Syria. Now, both of them are upping the ante.
The Turkish-Russian spat appears mild in comparison to yet another mass shooting in the US. On October 2, Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday, The Guardian pointed out that the US had 994 mass shootings in 1,004 days. This week, Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit that provides reproductive health services, was attacked, leaving three people dead and nine others injured in the process. Earlier this year, anti-abortion activists had whipped up frenzy against it, accusing it of selling aborted fetal tissue for medical research. Far-right Christian fundamentalists who have taken over the Republican Party nearly caused a government shutdown.
Since 1977, there have been eight murders, 17 attempted murders, 42 bombings and 186 arsons against abortion clinics and providers in America. It is clear that the country has a homegrown terrorism problem. Fundamentalist Christians are attacking vulnerable health care providers to impose their version of medieval morality.
Finally, Argentina has voted in Mauricio Macri to be president. Macri is from a family of industrial tycoons and ran Boca Juniors, Argentina’s iconic football club. Macri was also the mayor of Buenos Aires and even his critics grudgingly admit he did a decent job. Now, his party controls the national capital, the provincial government of Buenos Aires and the national government. Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, the outgoing president, did not control the city or province of Buenos Aires. Along with her late husband, she dominated Argentine politics for over a decade. At least for now, the Kirchner era of cheap rhetoric with the politics of empty symbolism is over.
Macri has set out to restore some semblance of confidence to Argentina’s economy. The statistics agency will regain its autonomy after years of fiddling with the numbers. Exchange controls will go and so will punitive taxation of farmers. Alfonso Prat-Gay, a respected former central bank chief, will be finance minister. Lino Baranao, a competent chap who served Kirchner, will stay on as minister of science, technology and innovation production.
Macri understands that he is governing a country where health and education is free. Despite the poverty and inflation that plague Argentina, this is country that veers left. Hence, Macri is sticking close to the center. He faces two major risks. First, the congress can throw a spoke in Macri’s wheel. Second, Argentina has critically low foreign reserves. Additionally, Argentina has defaulted on its debt. The commodity boom is over and Argentina has no manufacturing or technology prowess.
The Kirchners have left a toxic legacy and Argentina is a mess. To access global capital markets, to curb inflation and to generate jobs, Macri needs “the hand of god” like Diego Maradona.
*[You can receive “The World This Week” directly in your inbox by subscribing to our mailing list. Simply visit Fair Observer and enter your email address in the space provided. Meanwhile, please find below five of our finest articles for the week.]
Downed Russian Jet Ratchets Tensions Between Ankara and Moscow
Russia has a number of options open to escalate the situation without taking direct military action.
Turkey’s downing of a Russian Sukhoi Su-24 on November 24, after it had allegedly violated Turkish airspace while carrying out offensive operations over Syria, has resulted in a sharp escalation of tensions between Moscow and Ankara. The plane crashed in an area known as Jabal al-Turkman in the Syrian province of Latakia, which has been the scene of heavy fighting in recent months between Syrian forces backed by Russian warplanes and local Turkmen militia, for whom Ankara has previously expressed solidarity.
Low-level tensions have been simmering since the start of Russia’s intervention in Syria in September, with Turkey having repeatedly complained of airspace violations by Russian jets. The tensions have threatened to spill over into existing areas of cooperation between the two countries, including the major Turkish Stream gas pipeline that is intended to deliver gas to Europe while bypassing Ukraine. This sudden and dramatic escalation of tensions has posed concerns for the future… Read more
Reframing and Preventing American Gun Violence
Right-wing groups say that having good guys own and carry guns protects them from bad people. That is false.
On an average day, 85 Americans die and more than 200 are rushed to the emergency room due to gun violence. An average week brings one shooting at a school and one shooting by a toddler. The implicit or explicit threat of gun violence has intimidated African American students at the University of Missouri, legislators, active citizens, mothers, black churchgoers and Muslim community members.
Similar countries’ rate of homicides using firearms is about 20 times lower than in the United States. Household firearms in just five weeks kill 3,400 Americans, the same number who have died from terrorist activity since 2001. Since 1968, 1.4 million Americans have died from gun violence. Since 1776, 1.4 million were killed in all wars (both recent tweets by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.)
After the Umpqua Community College shooting in October, President Barack Obama bemoaned the “routine” coverage of mass shootings. Yet Americans are reinvigorated… Read more
A Conversation With Yasir Qadhi on Paris, Terrorism and Islam
In this edition of The Interview, Fair Observer talks to Yasir Qadhi, one of America’s most influential Islamic theologians, clerics and intellectuals.
The attacks in Paris highlight the deep complexity and uncertainty that surrounds the 21st century. War and terrorism seem to be ubiquitous, and the competing narratives of politicians, pundits and experts have only further obfuscated our understanding of these situations. In the week since the Paris attacks, however, there has been a torrent of commentary focusing almost exclusively on the effects of Daesh (the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State or ISIS), and how it might impact on foreign policy and security. Yet there has been almost no conversation about the root causes that drive such violence and extremism in Europe or the Middle East.
Until that conversation has been exhausted, this kind of terrorism will inevitably become part of the status quo. As a result, the recent epidemic of terrorism linked to Daesh in France, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey is hardly coincidental and should be… Read more
Resolve, Not Rhetoric, Will Defeat the Islamic State
Can the Islamic State be defeated from the air alone? The answer: no, it cannot.
It is impossible to understand, let alone read, the torrent of commentary, analysis and just plain venting that has followed the unspeakable tragedy in Paris on November 13. No one could be blamed for simply tuning out. How much human suffering inflicted for apparently wanton cause can one person tolerate?
But confront the tragedy of Paris—and let us not forget Ankara, Beirut, the skies over the Sinai, and Baghdad—we must.
Throughout our history, humanity has had to confront evil as perpetrated by one against another. On a grand scale over sometimes-inordinate periods of time, good—or something better than the evil it opposed—has usually prevailed.
Whether one chooses to attribute that to divine providence or mere survival, triumph of good over evil has been the case. But it is only true when the forces of good take concerted, determined action, with all the sacrifices that may entail, to confront evil… Read more
China is Losing its Southeast Asian Friends
While China has been gaining territory in the South China Sea, it has been losing amity among its allies in Southeast Asia.
Territorial spats between China and its Southeast Asian neighbors over Beijing’s infamous “nine-dash line” dotted across the South China Sea have substantially soured the mood of its allies.
China’s insistence to play by its own rules, especially in the case of the Spratly, Paracel and Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, has put Beijing at loggerheads with virtually all littoral countries in the region and, farther afield, with the United States. As a result, the fact that China has chosen to go its own way regarding territorial claims has become a burr under the saddle of many of its once loyal allies.
Malaysia provides a particularly good example of China’s alienation of its friends over the South China Sea. China’s incursions in Malaysia’s territorial waters have increased in frequency since 2009, when it began to more stringently adhere to the informal “nine-dash-line” area established in 1947. For many years, Malaysia considered itself… Read more
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.