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The Democratic Malaise
Globalization and the Threat to the West

Charles A. Kupchan, Foreign Affairs
… It is not by chance that the West’s crisis of governability coincides with new political strength among rising powers; economic and political vigor is passing from the core to the periphery of the international system. And while the world’s most open states are experiencing a loss of control as they integrate into a globalized world, illiberal states, such as China, are deliberately keeping a much tighter grip on their societies through centralized decision-making, censorship of the media, and state-supervised markets. If the leading democracies continue to lose their luster as developing countries chart their rise, the unfolding transition in global power will be significantly more destabilizing. Conversely, a realignment of the international pecking order would likely be more orderly if the Western democracies recouped and provided purposeful leadership.

What is needed is nothing less than a compelling twenty-first-century answer to the fundamental tensions among democracy, capitalism, and globalization. This new political agenda should aim to reassert popular control over political economy, directing state action toward effective responses to both the economic realities of global markets and the demands of mass societies for an equitable distri­bution of rewards and sacrifices.

The West should pursue three broad strategies to meet this challenge and thus better equip its democratic institutions for a globalized world. First, when up against state capitalism and the potent force of global markets, the Western democracies have little choice but to engage in strategic economic planning on an unprecedented scale. State-led investment in jobs, infrastructure, education, and research will be required to restore economic competitiveness. Second, leaders should seek to channel electorate discontent toward reformist ends through a progressive brand of populism. By pursuing policies that advantage mass publics rather than the party faithful or special interests, politicians can not only rebuild their popularity but also reinvigorate democratic institutions and the values of citizenship and sacrifice. Third, Western governments must lead their electorates away from the temptation to turn inward. As history makes clear, hard times can stoke protectionism and isolationism. But globalization is here to stay, and retreat is not an option.

About Charles Kupchan.

Dr. Kupchan has served as a visiting scholar at Harvard University’s Center for International Affairs, Columbia University’s Institute for War and Peace Studies, the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, and the Centre d’Etude et de Recherches Internationales in Paris; he is currently a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Dr. Kupchan was Director for European Affairs on the National Security Council during the first Clinton administration. Before joining the NSC, he worked in the U.S. Department of State on the Policy Planning Staff. Prior to government service, he was an Assistant Professor of Politics at Princeton University. He is the author of “The End of the America Era: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Geopolitics of the Twenty-first Century” (2002) …
(January/February 2012 issue)
A thinker from the elite Council on Foreign Relations gives a very different take on policy than has been the norm for the past 35 years.

The journal “Foreign Policy” is published by the Council on Foreign Relations, considered to be the nation’s ‘most influential foreign-policy think tank.’

Most of the essay is behind a paywall at Foreign Policy. A version is available online.

Republican Climate Hawks Sighted in New Hampshire

New Hampshire’s GOP Voters Speak Out About Climate Change

(4 January 2012)
Recommended by Kevin Drum who writes: “Hey, did you know there are still some Republicans who believe that climate change is real? There are in New Hampshire! Our own James West has video proof below. Enjoy.”

Iowa: The Meaningless Sideshow Begins

Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone
… It takes an awful lot to rob the presidential race of this elemental appeal. But this year’s race has lost that buzz. In fact, this 2012 race may be the most meaningless national election campaign we’ve ever had. If the presidential race normally captivates the public as a dramatic and angry ideological battle pitting one impassioned half of society against the other, this year’s race feels like something else entirely.

In the wake of the Tea Party, the Occupy movement, and a dozen or more episodes of real rebellion on the streets, in the legislatures of cities and towns, and in state and federal courthouses, this presidential race now feels like a banal bureaucratic sideshow to the real event – the real event being a looming confrontation between huge masses of disaffected citizens on both sides of the aisle, and a corrupt and increasingly ideologically bankrupt political establishment, represented in large part by the two parties dominating this race.

Let’s put it this way. What feels more like a real news story – Newt Gingrich calling Mitt Romney a liar for the ten millionth time, or this sizzling item that just hit the wires by way of the Montana Supreme Court:

HELENA — The Montana Supreme Court restored the state’s century-old ban on direct spending by corporations on political candidates or committees in a ruling Friday that interest groups say bucks a high-profile U.S. Supreme Court decision granting political speech rights to corporations…

A group seeking to undo the Citizens United decision lauded the Montana high court, with its co-founder saying it was a “huge victory for democracy.”

“With this ruling, the Montana Supreme Court now sets up the first test case for the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit its Citizens United decision, a decision which poses a direct and serious threat to our democracy,” John Bonifaz, of Free Speech For People, said in a statement.

Now that is real politics — real protest, real change. Exactly the opposite of the limp and sterile charade in Iowa. This caucus, let’s face it, marks the beginning of a long, rigidly-controlled, carefully choreographed process that is really designed to do two things: weed out dangerous minority opinions, and award power to the candidate who least offends the public while he goes about his primary job of energetically representing establishment interests.
(3 January 2012)

Obama’s Pentagon Strategy: A Leaner, More Efficient Empire

Medea Benjamin and Charles Davis,
In an age when U.S. power can be projected through private mercenary armies and unmanned Predator drones, the U.S. military need no longer rely on massive, conventional ground forces to pursue its imperial agenda, a fact President Barack Obama is now acknowledging. But make no mistake: while the tactics may be changing, the U.S. taxpayer — and poor foreigners abroad — will still be saddled with overblown military budgets and militaristic policies.

Speaking January 5 alongside his Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the president announced a shift in strategy for the American military, one that emphasizes aerial campaigns and proxy wars as opposed to “long-term nation-building with large military footprints.” This, to some pundits and politicians, is considered a tectonic shift.

… The truth is that the Obama administration’s “new” strategy is more of the same — a reaffirmation of the U.S. government’s commitment to militarism for the all the usual reasons: to promote American hegemony and, by extension, the interests of politically connected capital. And U.S. officials aren’t shy about that.

Indeed, throughout the strategy document the ostensible purpose for having a military — to provide national security — repeatedly takes a backseat to promoting the economic interests of the U.S. elite that profits from empire. Repositioning U.S. forces “toward the Asia-Pacific region,” for instance — including the stationing of American soldiers in that hotbed of violent extremism, Australia — is cast not just as a means of ensuring peace and stability, but guaranteeing “the free flow of commerce.” Maintaining a global empire of bases from Europe to Okinawa isn’t necessary for self-defense, but according to Obama, ensuring — with guns — “the prosperity that flows from an open and free international economic system.”

Of course, that economic considerations shape U.S. foreign policy is nothing new. More than 25 years ago, President Jimmy Carter — that Jimmy Carter — declared in a State of the Union address that U.S. military force would be employed in the Persian Gulf, not for the cause of peace, freedom and apple pie, but to ensure “the free movement of Middle East oil.” And so it goes.
(7 January 2012)

Harder for Americans to Rise From Lower Rungs

Jason DeParle, New York Times
… Americans enjoy less economic mobility than their peers in Canada and much of Western Europe. The mobility gap has been widely discussed in academic circles, but a sour season of mass unemployment and street protests has moved the discussion toward center stage.

Former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, a Republican candidate for president, warned this fall that movement “up into the middle income is actually greater, the mobility in Europe, than it is in America.” National Review, a conservative thought leader, wrote that “most Western European and English-speaking nations have higher rates of mobility.” Even Representative Paul D. Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican who argues that overall mobility remains high, recently wrote that “mobility from the very bottom up” is “where the United States lags behind.”

Liberal commentators have long emphasized class, but the attention on the right is largely new.

“It’s becoming conventional wisdom that the U.S. does not have as much mobility as most other advanced countries,” said Isabel V. Sawhill, an economist at the Brookings Institution. “I don’t think you’ll find too many people who will argue with that.”

One reason for the mobility gap may be the depth of American poverty, which leaves poor children starting especially far behind.
(4 January 2012)
I think I’ve been reading stories about the decline in US social mobility for years. Republicans had argued against the idea then, so I guess the news is that they are changing their minds. -BA