Friday, May 1, 2015

Tell me What you Watch and I’ll Tell you What you Know (written on April 9)

Rob Kall, the publisher of where I am a senior editor, disagrees with me on the value of foreign TV news, whether it be ‘Putin’s bullhorn’ or France 24, both available 24/7 in Philadelphia thanks to independent MIND TV, which also brings us NHK, the Japanese English channel that brings a far Eastern perspective on the news. I think the most misunderstood fact about ‘Putin’s Russia’ is the specific socialist tradition of pumping for peace.  It is well illustrated by a quote from The New Detente, a compendium of articles by government officials and academics from across Europe, who were inspired by German Chancellor Willy Brandt’s ‘Ostpolitik’ that was inaugurated in 1969.
Ostpolitik was a series of measures that aimed at transforming Western Europe’s standoff with the countries of Eastern Europe into cooperation.  Academics from across the Soviet sphere met regularly with counterparts in Western Europe - as well as some in the United States - to try to overcome the Cold War.  The book was put together by Richard Falk, former professor of international law at Princeton and UN rapporteur on Palestine, Mary Kaldor, a British peace activist and writer, and Gerard Holden, a member of the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam.  Contributors to this tightly packed four hundred page work include Adam Michnik, advisor to Lech Walesa, and seventeen other academics and peace activists from across Eastern and Western Europe as well as the Soviet Union.
The contribution by the Czech writer Jaroslav Sabata, a founding member, together with Vaclav Havel among others, of Chart 77, expresses the essence of the European peace movement that constituted the Central European zeitgeist at that time. The reason why I am quoting from it is because this zeitgeist continues to be ignored by American foreign affairs analysts at a time when nuclear war is more likely to become a reality than it was during the Cold War. And it is probably because this worldview drives RT’s choice of programming that the channel is vilified by those in charge of American foreign policy.
My own book Une autre Europe, un autre Monde actually foresaw the reunification of Europe that the contributors to this book still thought a long way off when it too was published in 1989, but what interests me is the uninterrupted emphasis on cooperation as opposed to war that has characterized the socialist movement from its beginnings in nineteenth century Europe.
<blockquote> The  main protagonists which took part in the negotiations that determined the new post-war status quo in Europe all made decisions based exclusively on the superpower principle. The fact that they were at the same time irreconcilable adversaries only underlined the fatefulness of the events of that time.  It is irrelevant whether, for instance, President Roosevelt sincerely believed all he said and wrote.  In his view, post-war peace was to be neither an American peace nor a Russian peace, or any other national peace.  It should have been a universal peace based on the cooperation of all nations.  He probably fully believed all this, just as he had been undoubtedly fully convinced he was acting in the interest of peace when he told Czech president Benes in 1928 to do all he could to avert a conflict with Hitler and a war with Germany.…Roosevelt was unable to prevent the post-war peace from becoming a peace of the large nations - an American and Soviet peace - just as President Wilson in 1918, despite his diplomatic ideas, had been unable to prevent his concept of the League of Nations from becoming a trap for the sovereignty not only of Czechoslovakia but of other nations as well.
….People are becoming ever more aware of the serious threat to our civilization.  Ever more frequently people speak of the need to create a new, more sophisticated civilization…The Czech philosopher Radim Palous [refers to] a transition from one epoch to another, of the temporary situation which separates the Euro-age from the ‘World-age’.  The new World Age to come will pay due attention not only to Man but to the Natural world as well.</blockquote>
Having spent six years living behind the Iron Curtain, first in Poland then in Hungary, I can testify to the fact that contrary to what Western publics have systematically been led to believe, this aspirational approach to world affairs permeated that world, as opposed to the ever threatening stance that has typified the United States since the Cold War.
The Soviet Union has been condemned both for the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, by which the new Bolshevik government withdrew a drained nation from the first World War against imperial Germany in 1918, and the Stalin/Ribbentrop Pact of 1939, which gave the country two years to prepare for Hitler’s invasion.  Reading Chris Hedges ‘Death of the Liberal Class’, I was struck by his description of the near-hysterical popular American attitude toward German-Americans during the first world war, and it occured to me that this hysteria morphed quite naturally into a similar attitude toward Communists after the Russian revolution. If Germans were bad because they were not democratic (and America entered the first World War in order, in Wilson’s memorable words ‘to make the world safe for democracy’), it followed that non-democratic Communists were even worse, because they came to power through revolution, a sort of double whammy.
Hitler spelled out his plans for conquest in a widely read book Mein Kampf (My Struggle), yet the descendants of the ‘democratic’ world’s diplomats who didn’t believe his threats of war, have systematically claimed they could not trust communists, whose rhetoric has consistently been about peace! (As World War I approached, Europe’s socialist parties affirmed that workers had no skin in the conflict between warring imperialists and that they should refuse to fight. Ultimately, they had to bow to their respective governments.)  Although it could be argued that the Soviet Union’s consistent pro-peace rhetoric serves the goal of overthrowing capitalism rather than a principled opposition to war, the consistent message of Marxist as well as other socialist currents has been that socialism is about enabling a supportive environment that allows every individual to live economic and culturally fulfilling lives. War is self-evidently contrary to this goal, unless it is thrust upon a nation by an aggressor.
From the first days of the Russian Revolution of 1917, the worldwide conflict has been about the many versus the few, and that conflict continues to this day. When the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics dissolved into separate sovereign states, Russia, with the ‘help’ of the West, adopted a market economy and a presidential system of representative government.  Contrary to assertions in the American media, it did not throw the socialist baby out with the bathwater: Russians still enjoy free medical care and university education, and government mandated pensions, like most of the developed world except for the United States.  And the developing world does its best to emulate this model.
As American oligarchs transformed hatred of imperial Germans into hatred of Russian and other socialists such as China or Cuba, they imposed the idea that socialism’s peace rhetoric could not be trusted because it was contradicted by calls for revolution.  The latest incarnation of this massive ploy is the claim - with no supporting evidence - that the Iranian revolutionary government cannot be trusted.  Although Iran has never invaded another country or initiated a war, its support for liberation movements such as Hamas or Hezbollah is equated with terrorism, and to boot, the West claims without supporting evidence that Iran has never kept its word.
Where does ‘Putin’s bullhorn come in, in all of this? Can it be ‘trusted’?  And what do other foreign government supported news channels bring to the news smorgasbord?
RT’s motto is ‘Question More’, and it seems to take a wicked pleasure in showing up America’s faults and failings. But that constitutes a small part of its offerings, and many Americans are on its roster.  Larry King has two programs, one in which he interviews media personalities, the other that features political interviews. Thom Hartmann is a progressive American icon, and his Big Picture features pushback discussions with conservative contributors as well as little known authors.  Abby Martin recently left RT after a three-year run of Breaking the Set, a hard-hitting rival to Democracy Now. Tuesday, Gary Johnson, former New Mexico governor and 2012 Libertarian presidential candidate, was interviewed on the four o’clock news. The news anchors are mostly American or British, but most of the reporters are Russian. And two remarkable Russian women interview a wide range of cultural and political figures: Sophie Schevarnadze, who I believe is the granddaughter of Gorbachev’s Foreign Minister, and Oksana Boyko whose questions are as complex as the answers they elicit. I don’t know of any tv personality who can hold a candle to her: she possesses in-depth and up-to-date political knowledge and holds her own with academics twice her age.  A recent guest on her program was Princeton’s Joseph Nye, and today’s guest, as news breaks that the deal could fall apart, is Dr Abbas Milani, the Director of Iranian Studies at Stanford University, to whom Oksana cedes no points. Finally, historian Peter Lavelle’s Crosstalk pits three knowledgable guests against each other in what are often acrimonious discussions of front-page news, and rounding out RT’s offering are documentaries on incredibly varied and newsworthy subjects from all over the world by international film makers, that you will not see on any American channel. 
I am not suggesting that Americans should get all their news from Putin’s bullhorn, but they are wrong to think they are broadening their news sources by watching the BBC: the British flagship channel is simply a more sophisticated rendition of Washington’s message.  Very differently, France 24 not only provides the French government’s take on national and international news. In addition to documentaries and reports, some of which are suggested by viewers around the world, it closely follows events in the twenty-eight—nation European Union. And as a former colonial power, France continues to be heavily involved in both Asia and Africa, and France 24’s coverage of Africa’s fifty odd countries is a must for anyone who wants to be informed about the wider world. Its debate programs involve both French and foreign participants, and although American journalists are frequent guests, ensuring that Washington’s message is heard, the debates can sometimes be quite hard-hitting.

Obviously, not everyone can spend their days channel hopping as I do, but the advantage of foreign television news is that it covers a broader spectrum than either the mainstream or the on-line press. And there is a distinct advantage to being able to balance out what our own government, under the guise of a so-called ‘free’ press, serves up, with what foreign governments want you to know about them. The cherry on the cake is that what individual foreign governments don’t want you to know about them is revealed by their respective adversaries.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Stupidest Stuff Ever, TPP, Contrasts and Capitalism with a Human Face

My apologies for having failed to post two weeks' worth of OEN blogs here.  I promise to keep this blog more uptodate:

Hillary’s Latest Embarrassment is About ‘Capitalism with a Human Face’  April 27

In the nineteen sixties the Czechs promoted what they called communism with a human face, until Brezhnev ordered Soviet tanks in.  Meanwhile, next door, the Hungarian regime was known as goulash communism: both of these efforts were about making communism more acceptable to the man in the street. Central planning, whose purpose was to make sure that wealth was relatively evenly distributed, carried with it a certain number of restrictions. Communist leaders lessened the limits on freedom of movement for professionals and intellectuals, for whom this was important, leaving the majority of the people satisfied that they would never have to worry about the basics.  
Under capitalism, the governing philosophy is that the system does not have to ensure that the basic needs of most citizens are met, however the Christian virtue of charity is admired. As globalization gobbles up the land, minerals and forests of the world, foundations like the Clintons’ devote part of their indecent fortunes to helping the victims of their rapacity, making sure children are vaccinated and bed nets supplied, or teaching women how to micro borrow, bringing them into a system which by definition can throw up few winners.
As the pundits exchange opinions about Secretary Clinton’s embarrassing role in her husband’s Global Initiative Foundation, they invariably mention the perception that the Clintons feel themselves to be above the law. In reality, they embody the new corporate state in which the wealthy are allowed live high on the hog as long as they make token gestures to the rest of humanity.  But while pundits focus on the sale of favors, the larger picture that should also concern us: neo-fascist parties are the popular version of the corporate state. They show that the hundred year old antagonism between Communism and Fascism that gave rise to the Second World War did not end with the defeat of Hitler’s Germany and Hirohito’s Japan:  this struggle will continue until humanity reaches a level of sophistication that renders it moot. The so-called clash of civilizations, though it appears to be about religion, is really about dignity, and dignity is also what the yearning for equity is about.
There appears to be no widespread recognition of the fact that capitalism’s human face obscures its rationalization of fascism.  Yet the legally elected president of Ukraine could not have been overthrown without the private fascist militias such as Right Sektor, whose leader Dmitri Yaros became the new government’s head of security. And without an unspoken acceptance of strong-arm techniques, we would not be witnessing fascism in such theoretically unlikely places as Israel and Norway.  Israel was meant to guarantee a home to a people that had been slaughtered en masse because of who they were, and Norway is one of the Scandinavian countries that represent the highest level of civilization attained by humans. Norway has an anti-immigration fascist movement, while some Israelis joined the thugs in the Maidan and recently others called for the death of Palestinians in a yearly march through Jerusalem’s remaining Arab neighborhoods.
What is most disturbing about the rise of fascism is not the existence of popular movements, but the use of the legal system to justify it or disguise it. In the late nineteen seventies a county court judge ruled that parading the swastika in Skokie, Illinois, would not constitute a deliberate provocation to the Holocaust survivors who lived there, and that neither the Nazi uniform, nor the printed materials the Nazis intended to distribute as they marched through the town, would ‘incite violence’. The United States’ legalistic approach to freedom of speech and of expression (as when you express yourself by marching under a Nazi banner…) has so thoroughly penetrated the rest of the world that thirty-five years after Skokie it is divided between “I am Charlie’s” and “I am not Charlie’s”.  Just as the American Supreme Court’s unquestioned authority allowed it to put over the absurd idea that corporations are people, the absolutist definition of free speech has infected intellectuals across the world, who righteously believe they stand between civilization and barbarism. As angry exchanges continue over the Charlie incident, I have not seen any media reports on the non-absolutist definition of free speech that emanates from the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights:
<blockquote> Article 10 – Freedom of expression
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.

2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.</blockquote>

The difference between the European Convention on Human Rights and the First Amendment of the US Bill of Rights is that the latter fails to balance rights with responsibilities: Americans are told that because they are free to act, they are responsible for their own well-being, and herein lies the crucial difference between the American definition of freedom and the legacy of the French Revolution.  Why is the legacy of a violent, bloody revolution more nuanced than that of a country that came into being through a war of liberation?  Perhaps the difference lies in the emphasis the first American settlers placed on the individual’s right to converse with God, as opposed to the commitment of French revolutionaries to human/human solidarity.
The notion of solidarity is immanent in the conflict over Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons. As I was writing this, Meet the Press’s Chuck Todd talked to the creator of the cartoon Doonesbury, Gary Trudeau, for whom “some Charlie cartoons wandered into the realm of hate speech.”
Todd: “Are the victims responsible for the tragedy?”
Trudeau: “No, but I didn’t agree with the decisions they made, which brought a world of pain to France.  (A world of pain!  Such a down-to-earth notion!) I wouldn’t draw pictures of the prophet, but I’ve often drawn the Taliban, the PLO , etc., without provoking reactions.”
The supersession of individual sensitivities by legal decrees extends far beyond the definition of free speech. By replacing the conscience of individuals with legal pronouncements, cowboy capitalism, alias globalization, leads us to believe that what we are seeing is not really fascism, only something that looks like fascism — like the difference between its movie renditions and historical reality. Americans need to realize that the fanatic pursuit of power inevitably leads to the fanatic methods we are witnessing on the part of our government. No less, knee-jerk rejection of The Other spawns Hitler-worshipping parties that gradually will spread from Europe across the globe.  The Golden Dawn in Greece is the Empire’s arm against the Syriza Party, that stands up to international financial bureaucracies and private banks. And Angela Merkel’s German powerhouse needs the anti-immigrant Pegida Party as a counterweight to southern Europe’s rejection of northern Europe’s austerity medicine, boldly embodied in Spain’s Podemos Party, that could rise to power in December elections. 
When threatened, capitalism, the preserve of the few, reaches for the fascist fist in its battle against the many.  And because the arrow of time is irreversible, when a trend is well under way, it continues until it reaches a bifurcation point, which, in politics we call revolution.

Contrasting Attitudes Toward Minorities - April 23

In one of those frequent ironies that dot the world landscape today we can only be struck by these contrasting events: as America’s black population becomes increasingly organized and determined to confront police brutality toward its members, Europe’s leaders mourn the deaths of 1700 African migrants trying to reach its shores via the Mediterranean, the South African government chastizes its people for targeting immigrants and on the hundredth anniversary of the slaughter of 1.5 million Christian Armenians by the Ottoman Empire, Turkish President Erdogan lashes out at the Pope for calling it the first genocide of the twentieth century.
What do these strikingly different attitudes tell us about attitudes toward Otherness upon which political and religious systems rest?  While recently revealed American police reports refer to black demonstrators as ‘enemy forces’ and ‘adversaries’, mirroring not only recent police militarization but a heritage in which minorities are fair game, Europe’s politicians, though determined to limit African immigration, are forced by a heritage that goes from the French Revolution to the UN Declaration on Human Rights to deplore mass drownings and seek ways to avoid them.
This stark difference underlies the growing divide between Washington and those it took for granted as allies for three quarters of a century, mainly the Europeans.  But I also see a difference between mainstream America and the black majority population of South Africa that after only a few decades of rule, is already telling its less tolerant members that the bible says ‘Love they neighbor’ and ‘God loves us all’, while Australians have set up a grass roots campaign condemning the concentration camps their government has set up for illegal immigrants from Asia.
Clearly, the US is behind on this one, but our focus on elections has little chance of remedying attitudes that began with the first slaughter of Indians.

The TPP isn't Only US Worerks' fight  - April 22

The United States, which has invaded many countries with the excuse of protecting ‘American lives’ is leaving thousands of US citizens stranded in Yemen, as it descends into civil war.
RT is running a State Department briefing in which the usual suspect, an AP reporter named Matt, takes on a new, male briefer and elicits the following reply: “For fifteen years the US has been advising its citizens to delay travel to Yemen, and if they are in Yemen, to leave.”  Matt couldn’t get the briefer to admit that the US was telling its citizens that they are on their own.
Yesterday I wondered, in a tweet, whether these were Arab Americans, and it turns out that indeed, they are mostly Yemeni Americans. Today, pesky Russia has evacuated some of them by air.  
It wasn’t enough that Moscow gave asylum to Edward Snowden - or that the US ordered that the plane of Bolivarian President Evo Morales be denied overflight permission in Europe on suspicion he was carrying Snowden to Cuba - an incident that, among others, inspired Morales to reaffirm at yesterday’s hemispheric summit Latin America’s determination to reject once and for all American interference. Now, as knives are being sharpened to attack presidential candidate Hillary Clinton over Benghazi, we have her successor at State, John Kerry, leaving Americans stranded in an area that has repeatedly been declared ‘vital’ to American interests, in the midst of a civil war being fought by our proxy, Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, our client state Ukraine has declared both communist and fascist propaganda illegal, bringing in a priest to purify the vacated Communist seats in the parliament. The move was probably sparked by US pressure to tone down the fascist demonstrations of the Right Sektor whose muscle helped bring down the legally elected president last year, but if anyone - starting with Raul Castro - doubts that socialism is still anathema to the US government, they should think again. France 24 showed President Obama rubbing his eyes at the Panama Summit in a gesture of fatigue.  It couldn’t have been due to jet lag, and my strong suspicion is that he was simply out of his element in the summit’s pro-peace, pro-liberation and pro-people discussions.

Stupidest stuff Ever - April 12

The United States, which has invaded many countries with the excuse of protecting ‘American lives’ is leaving thousands of US citizens stranded in Yemen, as it descends into civil war.
RT is running a State Department briefing in which the usual suspect, an AP reporter named Matt, takes on a new, male briefer and elicits the following reply: “For fifteen years the US has been advising its citizens to delay travel to Yemen, and if they are in Yemen, to leave.”  Matt couldn’t get the briefer to admit that the US was telling its citizens that they are on their own.
Yesterday I wondered, in a tweet, whether these were Arab Americans, and it turns out that indeed, they are mostly Yemeni Americans. Today, pesky Russia has evacuated some of them by air.  
It wasn’t enough that Moscow gave asylum to Edward Snowden - or that the US ordered that the plane of Bolivarian President Evo Morales be denied overflight permission in Europe on suspicion he was carrying Snowden to Cuba - an incident that, among others, inspired Morales to reaffirm at yesterday’s hemispheric summit Latin America’s determination to reject once and for all American interference. Now, as knives are being sharpened to attack presidential candidate Hillary Clinton over Benghazi, we have her successor at State, John Kerry, leaving Americans stranded in an area that has repeatedly been declared ‘vital’ to American interests, in the midst of a civil war being fought by our proxy, Saudi Arabia.
Meanwhile, our client state Ukraine has declared both communist and fascist propaganda illegal, bringing in a priest to purify the vacated Communist seats in the parliament. The move was probably sparked by US pressure to tone down the fascist demonstrations of the Right Sektor whose muscle helped bring down the legally elected president last year, but if anyone - starting with Raul Castro - doubts that socialism is still anathema to the US government, they should think again. France 24 showed President Obama rubbing his eyes at the Panama Summit in a gesture of fatigue.  It couldn’t have been due to jet lag, and my strong suspicion is that he was simply out of his element in the summit’s pro-peace, pro-liberation and pro-people discussions.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

In Latin America, Will the US Ever Learn?

When France 24 reported today that at the Summit of the Americas Raul Castro’s speech was laced with humor, I remembered my first meeting with him in my room at the Havana Livre in late 1963 or early 1964 when he saw that I had been reading Frederick Engel’s Origins of the Family and Private Property and cracked ‘You’d better be careful or you might become a Communist’.  But reading the speech I found only stark reminders of the fundamental zeitgeist that separates Cuba  - and much of Latin America - from the United States.  Here are some excerpts that illustrate the chasm between two world-views of most developing countries and that of the US:

<blockquote> What do the tens of millions of marginalized people think about democracy and human rights? How do they feel about political models? What do they think of election laws? Is this the civil society that international governments and organizations take into account? What would they say if asked about the economic and monetary policies?

The signing by the heads of State or Government of the Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Peace Zone marked a historic step, and now provides a point of reference for our States’ relations with the rest of the world.</blockquote>

Referring to the status of Puerto Rico as a United States territory Raul Castro notes that “the (LatinAmerican and Caribbean) Community would be incomplete while Puerto Rico is not a member. The colonial situation of that country is inadmissible, and its Latin American and Caribbean nature are beyond dispute.

We reaffirm our concern for the huge and growing military expenses imposed on the world by the United States and NATO, as well as for the intent to expand the latter’s aggressive presence up to the borders of Russia, a country we are bound to by historical, fraternal and mutually advantageous relations. We state our vigorous opposition to the unilateral and unjust sanctions imposed on that nation.”

Referring to the lifting of the economic blockade, the Cuban president noted that the American president “could allow other sectors of the economy to do what he has authorized in the field of telecommunications with the clear objective of exercising political influence in Cuba.”

Then he went a step further, saying:

<blockquote> On the other hand, the spokespersons of the US government have clearly stated that the methods are changing but not the objectives of their policy, and insisted in actions that interfere with our internal affairs, something we will not accept. The American counterparts should not pretend to relate with the Cuban society as if a sovereign government did not exist in the Island. No one would even dream that the new policy announced accepts the existence of a Socialist Revolution 90 miles away from Florida.</blockquote>

The middle part of Raul Castro’s speech expressed unwavering support for Latin American issues and countries, making it clear that the consensus in what had long been seen as America’s backyard was that henceforth the Yankees would be expected to mind their own business.

President Obama’s speech, which preceded Castro’s, showed that as yet, no American president can afford to do other than seek to tone down Washington’s ingrained habit of telling other countries how to behave, condescending to them in its own behavior. 

While Africa and the Middle East descend into a long night of turmoil, struggling against under-development while repelling attacks from radical Islam, Latin America could emerge as a uniquely peaceful continent, if Washington could step back and allow it to pursue its variations on the Cuban experiment.  However, the temptation may be irresistible in the halls of power to try to make up for disasters elsewhere by seeking to reimpose a modified version of the Monroe doctrine, as illustrated by on-going threats to Venezuela, and which its President Nicholas Maduro denounced to Obama’s face.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Time to Revive the Domino Theory?

Or should we be talking about ‘Go’, the ancient Chinese game whose goal is to have surrounded a larger total area of the board with one's stones than one’s opponent?
However we choose to characterize the stunning advance of ISIS across Syria and Iraq, or the criss-crossing web of associated and affiliated radical Islamist fighting and terrorist groups, it’s clear that the world game board looks like nothing that has hitherto existed.
Europe risks imploding as Greece’s progressive Prime Minister meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow after being rebuffed by Brussels over its debt, and by Germany, that was let off the hook for reparations to Greece after its occupation of that country during the Second World War.  While a month ago the fear was of a Greek ‘Grexit’ from the Euro, now the fear is that Moscow, backed by China, will step in to save Greece, setting a potentially serious precedent.
Explanations for this particular domino game lie mostly in the past: like Russia, Greece is an Eastern Orthodox country that has had a strong Communist presence for decades, and doesn’t see why its debt is more valid than that of Germany, which was forgiven by the international community after the war. While Angela Merkel entertains a special relationship with Moscow on behalf of her industrialists, she has managed to revive resentment of Germany in generations that were not even alive during World War II in a Greece that links Western Europe to Bulgaria - another Orthodox country - and Romania, both Russia’s neighbors around the Black Sea, risking serious cracks in Europe’s hitherto American-dominated ‘union’.
According to France 24 this morning, rather than lift sanctions on Greece that are part of Moscow’s retaliatory sanctions on European agricultural products, Vladimir Putin invited Greece to join the Turkish gas stream project that will bypass Ukraine to bring gas to Europe, bringing in a lot more money than would tomatoes.
Meanwhile, another game of dominos/go is being played out on the African continent between China and the US, while France, a former African colonial power, fights Islamists on several fronts, and in the Middle East, where American hegemony over precious oilfields is being eroded by ancient Shia/Sunni rivalries topped off with popular aspirations for reform/revolution.
Chess, anyone?

“Tell Me What you Read and I’ll Tell you Who You Are”

This is a famous quote, but most people don’t know that it was penned by a twentieth century French Catholic writer named Francois Mauriac, or that the famous century German philosopher, Martin Heidegger whose life span corresponds almost exactly to that of Mauriac said: Tell me how you read and I’ll tell you who you are.”  I don’t know whether this was an example of intellectual one-upmanship, but clearly, the act of reading was seen by both as fundamental to character formation.
While the US struggles with No Child Left Behind and mandatory testing, the evidence is mounting that this basic skill is not fostering curiosity, as shown by what Americans read, and how they read. The mainstream media has succeeded in its aspiration to severely limit American knowledge of other nations and peoples, thus leaving government and business free to interact with them solely in pursuit of their own interests. 
Having entered into a free on-line trial of the New York Times for a month, I received an e-mail inviting me to discover the ten most read stories of the week It was even more disheartening that what I had expected. 
During the week in which the US and five other major countries reached a historic deal over nuclear weapons with a country that has been ostracized for forty-five years, and during which yet another country in the Middle East descended into civil war, what were the most read articles published by ‘the newspaper of record’?
Admittedly, the list is based on its on-line readership, while most older readers still turn the pages over their morning coffee. On the other hand, on-line readers represent the generation that is about to inherit the most awesome responsibilities the world has ever known, so I think the list is worth pondering:
See the most emailed stories of the week

1. On Conquering Fear, David Brooks’ latest, centered on Moses and his nemesis, the Egyptian Pharaoh.

2. A review of a new mini series, Wolf Hall, set in the court of King Henry VIII

3. Review of ‘Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit’

4. Stunning views of earth from space

5. A retired Japanese fighter pilot warns Japan against revising its constitution to enable it to wage war again.

6. Mad Men and its love affair with 60’s pop culture

7. As quakes rattle Oklahoma, fingers point to oil and gas industry

8. Bigotry, the Bible, and the Lessons of Indiana

9. The Conscience of a Corporation by Timothy Egan, about Hobby Lobby

10. Review of the Broadway show Skylight.

While Brooks’ piece may be a sly way of telling Netanyahu to get a grip, together with the story about the World War II Japanese pilot who favors pieace and the finger pointing to the oil and gas industry, only three out of ten most read stories address the multiple crises threatening survival on planet earth!

In a  vivid confirmation of Chris Hedges indictment of politics as spectacle, Times readers are blissfully unaware that we may be heading for nuclear war with Russia over Ukraine; none of them care that Boko Haram assassinated another 175 Christians in Kenya, that the Palestinian Authority formally joined the World Criminal Court, or even that California, which provides most of the nation’s fruits and vegetables, has had to ration water in the state’s most severe drought ever, as global warming accelerates.

Tell me what you read and I’ll tell you who you are, tell me how you read and I’ll tell you who you are.  Is on-line reading a kind of shorthand, adorned with colorful pictures that draw attention away from the real world, allowing readers to remain in a bubble that floats above it, ready to burst at any moment?

Of all the articles, columns, videos and 
multimedia exclusives we offer each


Saturday, March 28, 2015

Space Anniversaries and Lost Chances

RT interviewed the first man to fly into space, a Russian, then the American who followed him a few months later.  At the height of the Cold War, on March 18, 1965, Alexey Leonov was the first human to expose himself to the rigors of outer space.  His exploit was followed  on June 3  by the American Ed White. Ten years later the two men shook hands in outer space, forming personal and familial ties that exist to this day — even extending to their children, who have studied in each other’s countries.

We are unlikely to witness a similar sentimental celebration in the US media, for the times, for the US, have changed dra-matically: In 1965 we were fearful of the Soviet ideology of socialism and its system of government, which developing nations viewed favorably, and which, if adopted in the US by some miracle of popular demand, would jeopardize the comfortable life-style of the ruling class. Today, the US no longer seeks to ‘contain’ a dangerous ideology, but to literally destroy a country via regime change and the subsequent carving up of its vast, mineral rich lands into easily manageable mini states, as part of its military/industrial/financial globalization of the world.

Touching scenes between the chosen heroes of either side, which in the sixties illustrated a commitment to respecting and seeking to understanding those who choose different forms of government, are no longer found in the American media. Although space missions today involved participants from many countries, they are no longer held up as examples of mutual understanding, but rather, sadly, to show that everyone is on the same globalizing page. Astronauts are expected to gain as much experience and knowledge as possible for the companies that finance their trips.  It’s no longer about cumbaya, but about turning space into advantages for either side to exploit competitively.

And yet, if you watch today’s RT story live or on-line, you will see that a good chunk of the narrative of the fifty-year old event is about the friendship between the cosmonauts’ families that endures to this day, notwithstanding America’s determination to see Russia as an enemy, not, supposedly for ideological reasons, but because it has not accepted our definition of democracy: elections for governing bodies that are mere fig leaves for the global control of everything.

While the former enemy has adopted a Western style of government — labelled ‘democracy’  it has rejected globalization.  Efforts to demonize Russia show that in today’s world ’democracy’ is not about elected ruling homelands, but world rule by oligarchs, as on-going mass anti-austerity protests across Europe testify, including the latest one at the shiny new European Central Bank in Frankfurt. Nuland’s “f the EU” really meant “f democracy,” and nothing illustrates that more clearly than her determined efforts to wrench Ukraine away from its centuries-long association with Russia. (By the way, RT is currently showing a documentary about  the status  Crimea going back centuries.)

Whatsa Democracy?

Democracy has got to be the most overworked and under-defined word in the English language these days - in fact, in any language, given that memes spread across the planet faster than the speed of light.  The more ruthless and rash the United States becomes in its determination to rule the world, relying increasingly on the power of words, the greater the urgency of unmasking its use of the word ‘democracy’ as a farce.

According to the conventional ‘wisdom’, if all citizens above a certain age - usually eighteen or twenty-one - are entitled to vote for representatives in a country’s law-making bodies, they are living in a democracy. But if the US were really serious about defending democracy, it would not claim that Cuba, for example, or Russia, fail the test.  These two countries, together with a long list of other nations, are not considered members of the ‘club of democratic nations’. In the case of Cuba, there is only one political party, and in the case of Russia, the President wields too much power and elections are suspicious. Yet, as reported by Medea Benjamin at Cuba has pioneered decentralized democracy, and Putin has long enjoyed an approval rating in the eighties!

In reality, democracy is less about elections than about who actually writes the laws. Russia is not a beltway sanctioned democracy because when situations require it, Putin tells the elected members of the Duma what laws to pass, behaving like a dictator. The United States is a democracy because our President can’t do that: but is it preferable for lobbyists to tell the Congress what laws to pass, while ‘think tanks’ take over the job of writing them from our elected representatives? Is a country that relies on military might, intervening wherever its commercial needs are not being satisfied to impose ‘regime change’ a democracy, when a large majority of its citizens oppose such policies?  Is it a democracy when most of the assets are in the hands of a small minority? Or when only half the population has access to medical care?

Across the world, kids are taught that countries should be democratic, and as they grow up they judge their own and other countries by the accepted definition of the words:’free and fair elections’, a ‘free’ press, the ‘rule of law’ implemented via a system of ‘checks and balances’, meaning that the judiciary is independent of both the executive and the legislative branches of government.  But countries can boast all of these achievements, and not really be democratic, in the sense of responding to the needs of the majority of its citizens. 

The word ‘democracy’, which, as every school child knows, was coined by the Greeks over two thousand years ago, means ‘the people’ hold the power.  In actual fact, only male citizens, not women or slaves, could express their opinions publicly and vote in ancient Athens, yet politicians the world over claims that if every citizen has a vote, the system is democratic. During the eighteenth century Enlightenment, in a world (i.e., Europe) in which population growth made direct participation impossible, autocracies became constitutional monarchies, a relatively benign form of rule from above, of which Great Britain is the poster-child: although she appoints the Prime Minister, the Queen has no power, but can only hope for the best. Other constitutional monarchies include the Scandinavian countries, which are social democracies that are sometimes ruled by conservatives. The Scandinavian constitutional monarchies are considered to be the most advanced countries in the world. 

An important requirement for a regime to be considered democratic is that it is entirely in the hands of ‘civilians’ who tell the military what to do. If a military man gets himself elected in a ‘free and fair election’ (for example, President Al Sisi of Egypt), he is not a dictator, even though his former military buddies can be expected to spring into action at the slightest threat to his rule.

Non-constitutional monarchies such as Saudi Arabia and the other countries of the Persian Gulf do not even pretend to be democratic. They are not among the long list of ‘our dictators’ such as those of Africa - or until recently, Myanmar - or, going a bit further back, the caudillos that ruled America’s ‘back yard’ until an enduring Cuban revolution persuaded the rest of the continent to resist American oversight. The Persian gulf monarchies occupy a unique niche located on vast reserves of oil. American officialdom never refers them as ‘democracies’, and stations planes and ships on their soil to protect their feudal rulers when their people, such as Yemenis or Bahrainis, rise up demanding democracy.

What about the countries of Eastern Europe, held for decades under Soviet, shall we say, guardianship?  Now they’re ‘free’ and you won’t find anywhere a bunch of people more committed to the American definition of democracy. The Poles, in particular, are so committed to American style democracy that they are itching to go to war with ‘Putin’s Russia’.  The Baltic nations are so committed to democracy that everyone is target practicing while Neo-Nazis parade through the streets, in a page from Nuland’s Ukraine.

Currently, Ukraine is the big democracy story. Victoria Nuland, former Bill Clinton aide and still, as she was under Hillary Clinton, Assistant Secretary of State for Eastern European Affairs, almost single-handedly fomented a coup against the President of Ukraine, Victor Yanukovich, who had been elected in 2010 in internationally recognized ‘free and fair’ elections. The majority of Ukrainians who demonstrated in the Maidan for weeks in 2013-14 simply wanted to live in a ‘more democratic’ country, while Nuland’s goal was to chop off a piece of Russia’s ‘near abroad’. Battalions of thugs who, according one of their leaders, Dimity Yaros, http://Exclusive: Leader of Far-Right Ukrainian Militant Group Talks Revolution With TIME, had been training for the job for months in Western Ukraine (the part that borders on Poland which borders on the Baltic states…) were brought in to settle the matter.

When the Ukrainians found themselves living under a much worse regime than the one they had helped to overthrow, those in the East, many of whom, as a result of history and geography were mainly ethnic Russians, were appalled: the Ukrainian Nazis the new leaders used as their shock troops were the descendants of those who had helped the Germans kill thousands of their forebears during the second world war. When Yaros and his buddies, as well as former presidential candidate Yulia Timoshenko, unabashedly called for the elimination of ‘Jews and Russians’, eastern Ukrainians refused to participate in the presi-dential election, organizing referenda in Donetsk and Lugansk that created two breakaway entities known as Novorossiya. Kiev responded with military force to kill them or force them to move to Russia, abandoning Ukraine’s vast stores of coal and most of its industry to the Kiev regime.

It would have been unthinkable for Vladimir Putin not to support the breakaway republics, as they are called, given the Soviet Union’s World War II losses to Nazi Germany, estimated at 26,000,000 (compared to 70,000,000 for all of Europe and fewer than 500,000 for the United States). And yet, that measured support is presented as an aggression by the country that carried out the coup in Kiev! America’s leaders promote ‘democracy’, and ‘regime change’ in the same breath, and far too many voters fail to see the contradiction. Apparently, ‘democracy’ is about what happens inside a country, not whether it is the victim of outside manipulation, and Americans have been led to believe that democracy is only word they need to know when it comes to judging politics. Ideology is a foreign notion to be shunned, thus Americans do not have the knowledge that would cause them to be shocked when fascist militias are used to shore up a ‘democratic’ regime. 

Unlike the United States, Europe is steeped in ideology. The European Union represents the highest level of civilization the world has achieved, its almost thirty countries functioning as democratic welfare states, with parties from the far left to the far right participating in the political fray. Worried that Americans might eventually demand the same six week vacations and free medical care enjoyed by Europeans, the Wall Street-led military/industrial/financial complex engineered an economic debacle that has brought the welfare state to its knees. Combined with the presence of ever larger Muslim minorities, the situation is driving Europe into the arms of new fascists similar to those who clubbed their way to power in the Maidan.

This leads to an impertinent question: If allowing all citizens to vote fails to prevent power from residing in the hands of a few, should the word ‘democracy’ be used as the criterion for proper government? Socialists of all stripes insist that it isn’t enough for democracy to be ‘political’, giving each citizen a vote. It must also be ‘social’, ensuring that the needs of all are met. They are opposed by ‘liberals’ who would like us to believe that guaranteeing ‘equality of opportunity’ suffices to ensure the well-being of all. Increasingly around the world citizens are coming to the conclusion that ‘democracy’ as the sole criterion of government is a God that has failed. 

In 1949, six eminent writers, the Americans Louis Fischer, Stephen Spender, and Richard Wright, the Hungarian-British Arthur Koestler, the French Andre Gide and the Italian Ignazio Silone published a book on their conversion to and subsequent disillusionment with communism, titled The God that FailedWhat is interesting about this book is that Fischer called the moment in which some communists or fellow-travelers decide not just to leave the Communist Party but to oppose it as anti-communists ‘Kronstadt’.  ‘Kronstadt’ was a 1921 military rebellion during the young Soviet Union’s struggle against Western armies seeking ‘regime change’. In bold below are Kronstadt’s demands that are still being made today across the ‘democratic’ world: 
1 Immediate new elections to the Soviets; the present Soviets no longer express the wishes of the workers and peasants. The new elections should be held by secret ballot, and should be preceded by free electoral propaganda for all workers and peasants before the elections.
2 Freedom of speech and of the press for workers and peasants, for the Anarchists, and for the Left Socialist parties.
3 The right of assembly, and freedom for trade union and peasant associations.
4 The organization, at the latest on 10 March 1921, of a Conference of non-Party workers, soldiers and sailors of Petrograd, Kronstadt and the Petrograd District.
5 The liberation of all political prisoners of the Socialist parties, and of all imprisoned workers and peasants, soldiers and sailors belonging to working class and peasant organizations.
6 The election of a commission to look into the dossiers of all those detained in prisons and concentration camps.
7 The abolition of all political sections in the armed forces; no political party should have privileges for the propagation of its ideas, or receive State subsidies to this end. In place of the political section, various cultural groups should be set up, deriving resources from the State.
8 The immediate abolition of the militia detachments set up between towns and countryside.
9 The equalization of rations for all workers, except those engaged in dangerous or unhealthy jobs.
10 The abolition of Party combat detachments in all military groups; the abolition of Party guards in factories and enterprises. If guards are required, they should be nominated, taking into account the views of the workers.
11 The granting to the peasants of freedom of action on their own soil, and of the right to own cattle, provided they look after them themselves and do not employ hired labour.
12 We request that all military units and officer trainee groups associate themselves with this resolution.
13 We demand that the Press give proper publicity to this resolution.
14 We demand the institution of mobile workers' control groups.
15 We demand that handicraft production be authorized, provided it does not utilize wage labour.

Like today’s voters, the Kronstadt recruits - demonstrating as citizens - wanted more bread and less control.  But the similarities end there. Although the rebellion was put down militarily, Lenin recognized that their demands echoed those of the population at large, and replaced what today we call ‘austerity’ with a less punishing New Economic Policy that lasted until 1928. The fledgling communist state was probably saved by recognizing that it had to respond to the workers’ demands, while today’s ‘democratic’ European and American governments insist on maintaining crippling austerity.

In the same year that the Russian revolutionaries took power, the American President Woodrow Wilson made the agonizing decision to enter the first World War that was devastating Europe, against Germany. One sentence from the speech he made to the American Congress to request a declaration of war, became a watchword: ‘to make the world safe for democracy’. If you read the speech, which can be found at, you will see that Wilson was referring specifically to the fact that Germany was not a democratic country, that its attacks on unarmed merchant vessels bringing supplies to European countries at war would not have been possible had it been a democracy, because ‘the people’ would not have tolerated such an immoral action. In Wilson’s mind, the phrase that became famous with a different meaning seems to have meant: ‘We have to go to war with Germany to make the world safe for democracies such as ours, which would never carry out such immoral attacks on civilians as are being carried out by an undemocratic Germany.’  It did not, at the time, mean what it was later taken to mean, i.e., ‘The US has to rule the world to make it safe for the financial/industrial complex, to rule’. Under the pretext of ‘bringing democracy’ to a country, the US modifies its entire political structure in order for it to serve the financial/military/industrial complex.  

The most extreme form of that reorganization is embodied in the two major trade agreements that the US is trying to impose on the Pacific and European worlds, the TPP and TAFTA.  As a telling example of the scope of these agreements, they would establish a framework for the re-privatization of the one of the European Union’s most significant features: free health care for all.

Notwithstanding the vast cultural and political differences between ‘Kronstadt’ and ‘Occupy’, the commonalities are striking. The austerity imposed on citizens by the world’s bankers to recoup losses created by their own reckless behavior has pulled the left out of decades of disarray. Parties like Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain are fomenting a modern equivalent to the Kronstadt rebellion. All over Europe, demonstrating has become an almost full-time occupation. Last week, as the European Bank’s new 1.27 billion dollar headquarters was being inaugurated, thousands of protesters from across Europe staged a violent protest in Frankfurt. According to the NYT: 

“The 600-foot-high tinted-glass tower is a more potent symbol of the central bank’s power than the generic gray high-rise in central Frankfurt that it previously occupied… In his speech Mario Draghi, president of the bank, acknowledged that Europeans “are going through very difficult times.” As a European Union institution “that has played a central role throughout the crisis, the ECB has become a focal point for those frustrated with this situation,” Mr. Draghi said in prepared remarks. “This may not be a fair charge — our action has been aimed precisely at cushioning the shocks suffered by the economy. But as the central bank of the whole euro area, we must listen very carefully to what all our citizens are saying.”

Fischer’s reference to Kronstadt was about Lenin’s repression, but Draghi was admitting that ‘austerity’ is modern Europe’s ‘Kronstadt’ and that the people will only put up with so much. According to a detailed report by the German Deutsche Welle news service:

Blockupy isn't some rag-tag little group of anarchists. It's a leftist alliance composed of more than 90 organizations from across Europe - some big, some small - that have united in opposition to what Blockupy calls "the European crisis regime”. Some of the bigger member organizations include the activist group Attac, founded in 1998 to advocate a financial transaction tax; the German political party 'Die Linke' (The Left), which currently has a little over ten percent of the seats in the national parliament; and even Germany's second biggest union, Verdi, which has over two million members.

Syriza, the leftist alliance party that won Greece's national election in late January, is also a Blockupy member. But in contrast to the earlier, mostly mellow protests, there was a distinctly violent element on Wednesday, reflecting the political polarization that has built in the eurozone after four years of harsh cuts in government spending and astronomical unemployment in Greece and other troubled countries.

The organization describes itself as a broad Europe-wide movement whose aim is to "build democracy and solidarity from the bottom up". It's against the economic policy stance of most current eurozone governments, which Blockupy describes as 'austerity,' or a push for balanced budgets at the expense of the poor and middle class.

When it became apparent in 2010 that Greece would not be able to refinance sovereign debts coming due, the Troika bought large amounts of Greek sovereign bonds from the private banks and institutional investors holding them - thereby largely holding investors harmless, though it did impose a partial 'haircut' on some of Greece's creditors in March 2012. The Troika's intervention effectively prevented Greece from having to declare bankruptcy. It also transferred the risk of Greek bond defaults or any additional 'haircuts' away from the owners and creditors of banks or investment funds, and onto European taxpayers.

In exchange for refinancing a substantial chunk of Greece's debt, which currently stands at about 175 percent of GDP, the ECB - as one of the country's three main creditor institutions - has had an important say over the list of structural reforms and budget cutbacks the Greek government has been required to agree to in exchange for the Troika's refinancing support.

This, then, is the face of 21st century ‘democracy’ defined as a system based on ‘free and fair elections’. At the same time as the European left is finding its feet after a long decline, in the United States, after decades of worker passivity, the black community is helping the left finally overcome America’s suspicion of foreign ideologies. For more than half a century, since the days of McCarthy, the mainstream media has successfully claimed that ‘Americans are not interested in foreign affairs’ to justify keeping its coverage to a minimum. But social media campaigns are international, and they have gradually widened American awareness of what the rest of the world is thinking and doing. In a stunning innovation, Ferguson’s Black Lives Matter has coupled its fight for justice with that of the Palestinians of Gaza, and more of these alliances are sure to follow. 

If there is any hope that the United States is not headed for irrelevancy, it rests with a long overdue transformation of America’s definition of democracy from ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ to ‘liberty, equality, fraternity’ as expressed by the French Revolution - and every revolution since. Thomas Jefferson wrote: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” And long before him, Aristotle wrote: “In a democracy the poor will have more power than the rich, because there are more of them, and the will of the majority is supreme.  

As long as ‘democracy’ is defined as one man, one vote, that will not happen.