Tuesday, April 22, 2014

It's Not Just About Ukraine

As the situation on Europe’s Eastern frontier degenerates predictably, awareness of the millennial violent history between Poles and Ukrainians is indispensable to any understanding. The phrase ‘they share a long history’ does not come close to elucidating what is happening today.
Actually, the phrase most often heard is that Ukrainians and Russians share a long history, and this illustrates the fact that even news analysts haven’t a clue as to what is motivating the protagonists in this drama. Americans who have spent time among Western Euro-peans notice the vastly greater awareness individuals have of their country’s past than they do.  When it comes to Eastern Europe, you can safely double that.
As Ukrainians of East and West duke it out over their country’s future, a tortured debate in the Polish parliament has just culminated with a vote to qualify a World War II massacre of Poles by Ukrainains as ‘ethnic cleansing with genocidal elements’. The massacre took place in Volyn in the summer of 1943, under the leadership of a Ukrainian fighting force under the Neo-Nazi Ukrainian Nationalist Stepan Bandera who is the hero of the Right Sector now in charge of security under the putsch government in Kiev.
This was not the yearly remembrance, which occurs in July, but was directly related to the current situation in Ukraine, in which the Polish government continues to play a double role that goes back hundreds of years: seeking to once again hold sway over its Eastern lands, backed by a globalizing West eager to exploit them and represented for the cause by the EU.
 In its coverage of the vote, RT pointed out that a few years ago the then presidents of the two countries had declared the issue laid to rest, but that subsequently, the Ukrainian government had erected monuments to Bandera and his organization.
And yet, this relatively recent history does not explain Poland’s current role in the Ukrainian drama: it is related to the tug of war between Poles and Ukrainians for sove-reignty over the lands that lie between the contemporary Russian and Polish that began in the tenth century.  This applies also to the Baltics, which Washington says Putin might invade while he’s at it. The huge landmass to the east of the Vistula River has forever been in turmoil among  diverse tribes, then principalities, then nations. I’m not going to detail that history here, it’s easily available on Wikipedia, starting with Kievan Rus and following the links.
Doing that will help explain why globalization’s plans for Ukraine are not going to be that easy to implement.




Monday, April 21, 2014

Individualism is the Opium of the Masses


If you’re wondering why, as an Oped commentator wrote recently ‘the left contents itself with sending pathetic “take action!” emails, think about a specific difference between the U.S. and the rest of the world: Following on the revolutionary European tradition, most polities readily take to the streets when their rulers take kleptocracy too far.  In the United States, two traditions inhibit such action.  The first is the opprobrium attached to so-called ‘mob rule’ as opposed to the ‘democratic’ way of doing things, ‘through the ballot box’ (never mind if big money is dictating what people think and therefore who they will vote for).  
But there is another factor that surely plays just as important a role, and that is the cult of individualism.  Ubiquitous advertising promises that certain products will contribute to ‘the full development’ of the consumer’s faculties - or gifts - or abilities.  Whether it’s the latest lipstick or a $40,000 automobile, it’s guaranteed to ‘enhance’ one’s chances of ‘making it’- conquering the most beautiful woman or just simply get a job.  You have to demarcate yourself from the next guy by buying a ‘personalized’ variation of the latest model of whatever.  This is the modern equivalent of ‘divide and conquer’.
While Marx’s ‘opium’ of the masses, religion, supports community, the opium of individualism does the opposite.  How then to hope that Americans will ever ‘rise up’ against anything, or ‘storm’ anything, or ‘take back’ what has been stolen from them?  You have to be inclined toward ‘community’ as in ‘common action’ as in ‘united we stand’ to do that.
Not only do Americans, at 5% of the world’s population, consume 70% of its resources, we are leaving it up to the other 95% to save us from the looming planetary disaster caused by CO2, while spending billions to discover another habitable planet for the 1% to escape to.  As pointed out by Joel Kovel in Francis Goldin’s ‘Imagine Living in a Socialist USA’  without eco-socialism there will be no future.  And yet, instead of a nationwide progressive party that could steer government in that direction, we have a proliferation of separate groups each fighting for their own constituency, whether oil or prison pipelines, while the monster goes about business as usual. Until such a party exists, we will have only cries in the wilderness. 


Monday, April 14, 2014

Copycats and the Arrow of Time

I’ve often written about the application of the modern physics principle that the arrow of time is irreversible to world affairs and politics in general.  Today it is combined with copycat behaviors, thus becoming all the more important to understand

As Ukrainians pursue the historically-dictated split of their country, the West once again joining with Poland while the largely Russian-speaking East either becomes independent or joins again with Russia, using popular brute force not seen in Europe since the Second World War - or perhaps the Russian Revolution - European demonstrators fed up with Brussels and IMF imposed austerity are obviously thinking ‘We can do that, too!’

Ever since the end of World War II, in which Communist and Socialist parties across Europe played a major role in resisting and undermining German occupation, trade unions have provided the left with a strong backbone, allowing workers to demand and obtain benefits American workers cannot even imagine.  Their resilience continues to be seen every day on images of demonstrations across the European continent against levels of unemployment that hitherto had not existed in the welfare states.

European workers are also well aware of the role militarism plays in diminished social welfare, as EU countries have allowed themselves to be increasingly co-opted by Washington since 9/11.  Although Vladimir Putin correctly noted the similarity between Kosovo’s right to independence and that of Crimea, the crisis in Ukraine is different from the nineteen-nineties war in Serbia.  Serbia lay in the heart of a Europe that was merely in the process of becoming united.  Ukraine’s only claim to belong to a united Europe lies in its long history of being part of Poland; but it has an even longer history of being part of Russia.  As for today’s Europeans, the fact that Ukraine looms as a putative relative inevitably dares them to show that they are just as capable of putting their bodies where their convictions are.

So much for the copycat aspect of the situation.  As for the irreversibility of the arrow of time, this refers to the fact that once a trend is set in motion, it continues until it reaches a bifurcation point, when it can ‘dissipate’ (in the language of physics) to something different.  What direction bifurcations take is unpredictable, but is usually influenced by previous history.  Translated, this means that as revolts gather steam, the likelihood of them being stopped through negotiation or compromise is slight because each side is propelled inexorably forward.  Revolutions and wars are the most obvious examples of bifurcations.  



Friday, April 11, 2014

Turning Point

Today may mark a turning point not only in two places that have been in the news these days - Venezuela and Ukraine - but also in the larger political story of our times.

In Venezuela, President Maduro negotiated with his opposition on TV. In Ukraine, Prime MInister Yatsenyuk promised his obstreperous polity more autonomy, backing down from a threat of force to evict Eastern Ukrainians from government buildings they’ve been occupying for the last week demanding referenda.

Some will say I’m seeing what I want to see, but but I prefer to identify trends rather than small discrete victories.  And time will tell: I believe these are markers in the slow but certain turn of civilization away from two hundred years of large political systems and toward the real people’s power that coincidentally is dictated by the looming climate crisis. 

In a world that exhibits an increasing diversity of ideas, ideologies, and religions, in which desperate southern peoples still risk life and limb for what they believe will be a better life in the north, those hitherto on the fringes of their respective societies - the Greens, the students, the women, the minorities that exist in every land - are becoming the dominant voices, no longer waiting to be heard by the powerful, but taking matters into their own hands.  In order to survive, governments, like those of Maduro and Yatsenyuk, must adapt to that new reality.  These two men represent diametrically opposite philosophies, but tellingly, both are dealing with the same new world.




Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Fascism: Which Flavor Do You Prefer?

News that another far-right European party has garnered about 20% of the vote in parliamentary elections, as just happened in Hungary, is increasingly deja vue.  The banalization of Fascism across Europe is matched only by its pugnacity in Ukraine.  But are not revelations about the transfer of Hitler’s accomplices to the U.S., there to nurture a Neo-Conservative movement relatively recently out of the closet even more disturbing? (http://zcomm.org/zmagazine/operation-nazifi)
And what to make of the philosophy said to be behind Vladimir Putin’s ‘Eurasian’ plans, the work of the nineteenth century Berdyaev, refurbished by one Alexander Dugin, who seeks to create a Fourth Political Theory, after liberalism, communism and fascism?

As I’ve written before, governing the sheer number of people on the planet appears all but impossible without the use of force, yet totalitarianism continues to be most loudly condemned by those practicing it: the United States spies on the entire world, including its so-called allies, it assassinates its own citizens without a trial in its determination to rule the world.  Even worse, though no one seems to notice, it consistently supports fascist-like political actors, ranging from Al Qaeda to Al-Sissi (http://otherjonesii.blogspot.com/2013/07/the-us-chooses-capitalist-muslims.html).

I’m tired of reading the same lament over and over: “How can our rulers be so stupid?”  If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck, but if it systematically implements fascistic policies, it’s not fascism, it’s that 
‘they’ don’t get it.  Really!

Moving on to the once and forever enemy, Russia/the Soviet Union/Russia, Putin may or may not be another fascist disguised as defender of the common man.  It is clear he is against globalization, but should we not be concerned at rumors that he seeks to reconstitute - not the old Soviet Union but a new entity englobing the same area, this time in the name of a ‘Eurasian’ ‘difference’ from both Europe and Asia? (http://carnegieendowment.org/2013/08/06/eurasian-union-myth-imitation-or-real-thing/ghpt?reloadFlag=1)

The one interesting thing about this rumored project is that its theorists affirm similarities between the traditions of Russian Orthodoxy and those of Islam.  An interesting idea, as the Arab Springs degenerate into more of the same, that I will investigate.  On the surface, it would appear they are referring to common social attitudes.

Ultimately, though, climate change aiding, we may be seeing the end of ideologies, with peoples across the globe realizing that they they have other fundamental notions in common: the rejection of Big Ideas backed by Big Guns, for the Big Business successors of nation-states. As organized revolts against militarized governments become increasingly difficult, the trend is shifting toward small groups that trust the individual authorities of their members to organize their lives.







Friday, March 28, 2014

Maidan: Occupy on Steroids

While the Right Sector threatens the Ukrainian government it brought to power for killing one of their own, others in Maidan Square are planting vegetables. (Who knew the climate at that latitude would allow it in March?)
Along with the green shoots shown on RT, this is the first real indication the outside world has that not all the demonstrators who brought down a corrupt but democra-tically elected government are wing nuts.  Among those planning to remain in he square until they are satisfied that Ukraine has an honest government are perhaps more ‘Occupiers’ than we thought.  

As long as Tea Partiers fail to agree that the community owes solidarity to its members I will be leery of lumping them together with Occupiers. However it is becoming increasingly clear from rumblings around the world - and even in Muslim nations such as Turkey and Tunisia - that the decentralization meme is spreading: the realization that people have to take charge of their lives, not as individuals pitted against other individuals, but as communities.


The shadow of Fascism that has been lengthening across Europe will not be erased by armies in the service of capital, since capital is complicit in its rise.  But it may not be entirely unreasonable to hope that it could be obliterated by individuals thinking for themselves  - and hence truly free - working together.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Obama in Chocolate Factory Earning his Keep

Yesterday I happened onto France 24 just as it was airing President Obama’s speech to a select group of Belgian students  in the presence of the king and queen and government officials at the Palais des Beaux-Arts, a fancy theatre.  He started by saying: ‘What’s not to like in a country famous for its chocolate and beer?”
It was the old Obama, the one we loved and admired when he ran for his first term, the Obama of Dreams from my Father, a brilliant intellectual who knows where the major capitals are - yet caring, and funny.  You could tell he was happy to once again be in front of a young audience that could respond to his message with enthusiasm.  It was a message that glossed over centuries of strife to emphasize the noble documents they spawned but did not always follow, giving rise to the most powerful military alliance the world has ever known.

Here in the capital of EuroNatoLand, he lectured the next generation of leaders about the meaning of freedom and democracy, and the need to defend those values lest they be taken away by - essentially - the same country their parents were taught to fear all during the Cold War.

But the only enemy tanks Belgium and the rest of Western Europe have known were not Russian, but German, and every European youth has been taught what that meant. And because of that history, European youth is largely pacifist (unless you count the resentment, among the lower classes, of Muslim immigrants).  

Of course this lengthy speech was not broadcast in the United States, but you can read it here http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/transcript-president-obama-gives-speech-addressing-europe-russia-on-march-26/2014/03/26/07ae80ae-b503-11e3-b899-20667de76985_story.html  and still catch the French debate that followed online at http://www.france24.com/en/20140326-the-debate-obama-europe-pivot-part-one-ukraine-crimea-nato-diplomacy-defence/. (The French channel also documented the enormous number of security vehicles and personnel accompanying the president on the American taxpayers’ dime, conjuring up a Hollywood  rendition of Cleopatra’s trip to Rome.)

Here are some of the more outrageous claims the President made, perhaps thinking that Europeans are as ignorant as Americans of world events: 

“We did not claim or annex Iraq’s territory. We did not grab its resources for our own gain (sic). Instead, we ended our war and left Iraq to its people in a fully sovereign Iraqi state that can make decisions about its own future.“ Never mind that Al Qaeda was not inIraq before we invaded, while now it controls parts of the country, together with parts of Syria.

“NATO only intervened after the people of Kosovo were systematically brutalized and killed for years.” NATO bombed Serbia without a UN mandate, while Obama accuses Russia of not getting UN permission to hold a referendum in Crimea.

“We are confronted with the belief among some that bigger nations can bully smaller ones to get their way — that recycled maxim that might somehow makes right.” Give a Professor of Constitutional Law a little chocolate and beer and he’ll say anything to earn his keep.  

Obama ended his speech by linking individual and national responsibility in a magisterial sweep from respecting gay rights to being strong in the face of conflict and corruption, calling for freedom to triumph over tyranny, ‘for that is what forever stirs in the human heart.”

Such an ending could not fail to stir enthusiastic applause.  But I could find no mention of the speech today in either the Belgian or French press.