Leapfrogging from the Sahara to Germany: |
What Does "Progress" Mean?
By Bernard Weiner, Co-Editor
The Crisis Papers
April 19, 2005
Going from wealthy,
solidly infrastructered Germany to poor, developing Morocco stimulates
culture shock in major proportions. I was in Deutschland to address a
meeting of Democrats Abroad-Germany, and to join the celebration for my
mother-in-law's 90th birthday; though the German economy, along with most of
the rest of the world these days, is sluggish, still the country exudes
enormous financial strength and stability, with a huge middle class doing
The kingdom of Morocco, on the other hand, while much better off than a good
many Arab states, is still struggling to find its way to economic growth and
modernity while remaining true to its ethnic, tribal and Islamic character.
The middle-class, so important in economic and cultural/political
development, is slowly growing, but probably not fast enough to really help
the situation in a major way.
shepherding of camels, goats and sheep, nor agricultural and mineral
exports, nor tourism can be expected to do it all, though Morocco is
attracting more and more international tourist attention, with low prices,
friendly people, exotic locales, beautiful landscapes and oases, little
worry about Islamist extremists. We rode camels into the Sahara and slept
either on the dunes or in Berber tents -- which, I can verify, leak like
sieves during sandstorms. In the southern part of the country where I was,
there was no animosity toward Westerners, indeed many locals (most of whom
speak French, based on the many decades of French-protectorate influence)
voiced great sympathy for Americans living under George Bush.
THE RIPTIDE OF ALIEN CULTURE
This disparity between
rich and poor countries reflects a social/political phenomenon with which
I've become all too familiar in my trips abroad in the past several years.
In the rural areas of mainland Greece and Crete, in the Southeast Asia
countries of Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, in North Africa's Morocco, and
probably equally true in many ways for Asia's emerging
industrial/technological giants China and India, the same dilemma confronts
That is, how can one
reach "first-world" status without being sucked totally into the undertow
that is the prevailing international culture sweeping across the globe --
largely Western/America-based, aided greatly by the ubiquity of cell-phones
and satellite dishes -- and without having to go through the worst excesses
of the industrialization cycle?
This desire for modernity
and status -- symbolized by the desire for big-ticket technological items
such as cars, for example -- brings with it the toxic pollution that seems
to certify for them a developing culture on its way to someday playing in
the same league with the advanced nations of the world.
Is there a way to
leapfrog over the worst of industrial/technological development -- the
pollution, the corruption, the social cruelty -- without having to repeat
the mistakes and unfolding history of the developed world? So far, I see
little evidence of such a positive pattern, as each region and developing
nation rushes headlong into its own industrial revolution, in order to get
to the 21st-century dream of riches and world status as quickly as possible.
In doing so, it pays a heavy social, political and environmental price.
RAMIFICATIONS OF "PROGRESS"
Many of these developing
countries and regions repeat the pattern of chokingly-polluted urban/rural
areas: filthy, particulate-filled air that can't be breathed healthfully,
water that often is undrinkable without boiling (if even available), the
dumping of garbage and sewage everywhere and anywhere, streets that are
constantly clogged with vehicles, many of them emitting noxious and toxic
diesel fumes. But all this tends to be regarded by officials as a
perhaps-regrettable but necessary stage in the development process that
leads to modern "progress" and world-class status.
Friends who visited China
recently reported that even in the countryside, far from the big cities,
they rarely were able to see the sun, so choked was the sky with smog and
particulate matter; but the Chinese citizens they met, even the most
"enlightened liberals," couldn't wait to get a car of their own. It is often
the same syndrome at work in Bangkok and Chiang Mai and Hanoi and on and on.
implications of such attitudes are many and scary: Where will the oil come
from to fuel those millions of new vehicles? And who will control those
energy sources, and at what war-cost? Is the U.S., assuming it can secure
the oil/gas fields of the Greater Middle East and Caucuses, prepared to take
on China in a military showdown over energy?
I don't know the answers
to those questions about the developmental dilemmas facing these struggling
countries and the policy/military ramifications of energy control. But those
major problem areas need to be dealt with rationally, and rationality is not
much in evidence in the Bush Administration, which aims to straddle the
globe like an arrogant Colossus, grabbing what it can get. And woe be unto
those who get in their way: they might well sic mad-dog John Bolton on you,
a fate worse than death.
Millions of Americans are
living and working in foreign countries -- and desirous of voting absentee
in their home states in the general elections. The Bush Administration, with
bureaucratic overkill, made it very difficult to register and vote abroad in
2004, as it did with targeted populations inside the U.S. as well.
But thousands in Germany and perhaps hundreds of thousands worldwide, waded
through the required paperwork and managed to cast their ballots for Bush or
Kerry. To date, there still has not been a breakdown of those votes. Nearly
six months after the election (!), we still have no idea if those votes were
counted, how many ballots were cast, and the actual totals for each
candidate. This is intolerable inefficiency, or worse.
I was here to talk to the Munich chapter of Democrats Abroad. The group,
comprised of about 300 activists during the runup to the November election
is significantly smaller now, in the post-election depression that set in
after Bush was declared the victor. But the meeting room was packed with
savvy Dem activists, still determined to fight the Bush Administration's
reckless foreign and domestic agenda and anxious to reform the Party from
within to make sure that the next time out, the Democratic candidate would
Actually, they agreed with my supposition that the Democratic candidate
probably was victorious in 2004, but that election fraud, made oh so easy by
the lack of verifiable ballots in so many computer-voting precincts, may
well have led to Kerry's supposed defeat. Indeed, statisticians have
determined that Bush had only a million-in-one chance to defeat Kerry in a
honest vote, given the numbers and exit polls in Ohio, Florida and
Pennsylvania (See Crisis Papers co-Editor Ernest Partridge's "Means,
""Shut Up!" They Explain",
and other essays on this question listed here).
The point I was making to the DA group, who readily agreed, is that it
doesn't matter how much the Party is reformed and how many new voters they
can register this year or how many Dem issues resonate with the citizenry --
none of that matters if the voting and vote-counting systems continue on in
their present state of corruptibility, controlled by far-right Republican
corporations with a lock on the secret software that tallies the ballots.
I told them about having sat the previous week in the Sahara dunes with two
professional New Zealanders, well-versed in international politics but
appalled and almost unbelieving when I described the current voting system
in the States. How can you Americans let that happen?, they asked, as I
described how, under the so-called Help Americans Vote Act, Congress had
approved the easily-tamperable voting procedures.
The DA group seemed eager to take up my suggestion that the first priority
right now is to get out from under that our currently-mandated voting and
vote -counting system by calling for paper ballots counted by hand, as is
done in so many other first-world countries, most notably Canada and France,
with few if any problems.
Movements are afoot along these lines in America, but you barely hear about
them in the corporate-controlled mass media, and there appears to be
lethargy on this issue among leading Democrats and ordinary citizens.
Certainly, the Republicans are quite happy to do nothing in the way of
electoral reform, since they benefit by the current cooked system.
LIGHTING THE ELECTORAL-INTEGRITY KINDLING
The key is to build up the fire of indignation in the citizenry through
constant repetition of how backward and corrupted our voting system is, more
worthy of Mugabe's Zimbabwe than of the supposed leader of the free world,
and get this issue on the front pages and into the TV news cycle. We
desperately need to get the situation corrected at least by the time of the
2006 midterm election, when Democrats, given a free and honest
vote-counting, easily could take back the House. (When I left the States
several weeks ago, Bush's rating were down in the low-40s.)
The Democrats Abroad -- led in Munich by such stalwarts as Jeffrey Ely,
Susan Diezduszycka-Suinat and Kimberly Kistler-Grobholz -- also were eager
to take the long view about what it would take to counteract the decades of
infrastructure-building by far-right Republicans. It's important, they
agreed, that Democrats spend their time and money and energy on setting up
opposing media outlets, think tanks, and so on to counter those funded by
rightwing billionaires over the past several decades.
We simply must have our infrastructure in place, both to help swing the
population away from the so-called "conservative" (read: extremist) point of
view that tends to dominate our political discourse these days, and to help
build the cadres of savvy politicos from the grassroots up ready to take
over when critical mass is achieved and the far-right Republican machine
It's a massive project, one that will take great dedication and resources,
but we have no other choice but to begin that heavy lifting now, if we have
any hope of extricating our party and the country from the grip of avarice
and corruption and power-hunger that currently dominates the Republican
HITLER BOOK AND MOVIE
I recommended to the Democrats Abroad that they get ahold of Sebastian
Haffner's illuminating book "Defying Hitler," written in the '30s inside the
country about how the Nazis came to achieve full power in Germany. Here's my
review of it, "Germany in 1933: The Easy Slide Into Fascism."
Obviously, America 2005 is not Germany 1933, and Bush is not Hitler, but the
history of how the Nazis slowly sliced away the freedoms and rights of the
German population, to the point of total dictatorial rule, has lessons to
teach us as the U.S. extremists of the far-right take us further down the
road to an American brand of effective one-party, authoritarian domination.
I wish I had seen "Downfall," the movie about Hitler's final days in the
bunker, before I gave my DA talk. There are even more scary parallels in
that film, which I saw upon my return to San Francisco.
What we are shown in the film, which is based on documented fact, is a
megalomaniacal leader (played brilliantly by Bruno Ganz) who is incapable of
accepting any blame or responsibility for failed policy, and who is
delusionally bereft of any sense of reality, preferring his grandiose
fantasies of changing the world by force of will and exercise of military
He pretends to represent, and care for, Germany's people, but he's willing
to take the whole country down with him when he goes -- even blaming the
citizens at the end ("they elected me") for buying into the whole
militarist/patriotic belief-system that led to such ruin.
Sound like the behavior of anyone you know?
Copyright 2005 by Bernard Weiner