Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Story to Watch: Retired French General Arrested

A former leader of France’s elite paratroopers was among demonstrators carrying small arms arrested in an anti-immigrant rally in Calais organized by the far-right Pegida Party that has spread from Germany across Europe.

Seventy-five year old legendary General Christian Piquemal, an admirer of General Marcel Bigeard who oversaw torture during the Algerian War, is a hero of France’s right-wing National Front Party, which is likely to react forcefully if tomorrow a judge orders him to jail, as required by new anti-terrorism laws. Tensions between the population of Calais and the thousands of migrants trying to cross the Channel to Great Britain could pit right against left in the capital and beyond .

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Piper’s Kampf

Donald Trump’s followers roared Thursday night when he claimed he had to defend himself when he was slighted.  (Fox News refused to replace Megan Kelley, by whom the Republican front runner felt offended, as moderator of a Republican debate.)
Most observers noted that behavior showed a level of susceptibility that jibed poorly with the image of a fearless leader.  Following upon Donald’s claim that he could shoot someone in broad daylight on Fifth Avenue without losing any followers, his continued success is more than slightly disturbing.
One of my children’s favorite recordings was The Pied Piper, that fourteenth century German legend of an itinerant musician who led a village’s children away, never to be seen again.  One version has it that only three children remained behind: one who couldn’t hear the music, another who couldn’t see the piper and a third who was lame. Replace the piper with Donald Trump and many white workers with a high school education turn out to be deaf, dumb and blind to the perils of his tune, ready to follow him anywhere. 
Now replace the pipe with a book, Mein Kampf and you have a prospect at least as terrifying as that of a village’s children led into the local river to drown: walls going to up protect a country whose drones rain bombs down on other nations.

Hitler’s ‘Kampf’ - or struggle - was to secure enough ‘room for life’ (Lebensraum) for the German people. Trumps’ struggle is to ‘make America great again’. Both involve seducing gullible masses and telling them to take what does not belong to them.  The roar of approval at Trump’s Thursday night event are chillingly reminiscent of those recorded at Hitler’s torchlight parades, as Oregon’s, among hundreds of militias, await a national leader.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

To Europe: Forget Bandaids! Be Proactive!

The trials and tribulations of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, billed by Time magazine as the most important person of 2015, have made me despair over the rapidity with which my beloved old continent is falling apart.

Rather than constantly repeating that "Germany is strong, and we can do this" (i.e., take in more refugees), Merkel needs to announce an entirely new European policy: "We will cut ties with the American administration intent on raping the third world, and invest the money in helping those countries get on their feet."

This is easier said than done, but the results of inaction are too dreadful to contemplate: instead of affording its people continuing well-being, the European Union will disintegrate into warring nation-states once again, this tie with a crucial new element: a growing minority of Muslims in what was once the bastion of Christianity.

The Union was founded as a reaction to repeated intra-European strife - mainly between France and Germany. But today France, Germany and the other 26 countries of the EU appear helpless in the face of thousands of non white, non-Christian, foreigners, although these amount to only 1-2% of its population.

In politics, dithering can be fatal, one of the reasons why naive voters are drawn to politicians who present themselves as 'strong men', who will inevitably take advantage of the dithering of democrats (see Hitler and the Weimar Republic). Europe is all the more dramatically caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place that the decisive action required to save itself is all but unthinkable: pruning ties with the United States, its savior in two world wars and its tutor for seventy. Brussels is accused by many Europeans of being dictatorial, however it has not given itself the tools to conduct a foreign policy independent of Washington, which in an interdependent world world crucially impacts the domestic arena.

US tutoring is threatening Europe's survival. The current generation of leaders has imbibed American leadership with its mothers' milk, taught in school that the Yankees liberated them from German occupation, and finally, after an initial period of resentment, utterly seduced by America's version of modernization. Not to mention how much easier it is to follow than to take initiatives. America's successive rescues probably convinced Europe's leaders, from Adenauer and Schumann on, that the fractious peninsula needs a strong, benevolent tutor to keep the peace. It did not occur to them that Europe would eventually pay the price for America's determination to rule the world.

The presence of a seemingly formidable neighbor - the USSR- on its borders, combined with Soviet hegemony over the Eastern half of Europe, sufficed to keep Christian-Democratic/Democratic -Socialist elites alternately in power, guided by American pro-consuls toward the fruits of progress. But insidiously, this was accompanied by the atrophy of European geo-political thought. (Suffice it to remember the widespread European opposition to America's war in Vietnam, compare to its attitude toward the bombing of Yugoslavia or the invasion of Iraq") On a continent of historically rambunctious rulers, only the Communists could be counted upon to warn of paths best not taken - in vain.

Anti-communism will someday be recognized as one of the main factors having contributed to a widening North-South divide, preventing an ever more comfortable Europe from realizing that it could not remain forever aloof from the travails of the South. Remnants of -colonialism - even if in the form of paternalism - led it to participate in adventures in adjacent areas such as the Middle East and Africa led by an America protected by two oceans from blowback.

Instead of seeing the European Union - the second largest economy in the world - as an equal weight to an oil-rich but backward Middle East, and the three giants Russia, China, and India, with which it shares the Eurasian continent, for the first time in its history, Europe took on the role of junior partner with severely limited voting rights.

The failure of Europe’s leaders to assert their authority over foreign affairs, building a better partnership with Arabs and Africans than the disastrous one gifted them by Washington, is fast resulting in reverse colonization

Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Study in National Denial

Having spent a total of thirty years living in France, I have a Ph.D in the study of national denial: when I first arrived there as a child in 1948, France still ruled Indochina, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and a host of other third world countries. Britain had its Commonwealth, but France, as De Gaulle never tired of saying, had its ‘rayonnement’.  The seven foot tall general led the French resistance to German occupation from London, ruled France after the Liberation, then again in the late fifties when he designed the Presidential Vth Republic and steered France out of its North African colonies - and NATO.  De Gaulle was to twentieth century France what George Washington and Abe Lincoln combined are to the United Sates: a country’s enduring image of itself with a halo.
That image would not have been possible without a long line of Louis, starring the fourteenth, or Sun King, then the sixteenth, whose head was chopped off to give the people a voice, followed by the imperial Napoleon, Hitler’s ill-fated predecessor in invading Russia, and Merkel’s predecessor when it came to knocking Europe’s ‘crowned’ heads together.
Fast-forward to 2015: the Fifth Republic’s second socialist president, Francois Hollande, dubbed its least popular ever, faces recession, an avalanche of immigrants, and the looming dissolution of the European Union that neither France nor Germany can avoid without taking their heads out of the sands of America’s Empire.
The political class in France coped with their country’s terminal decline after World War II by mocking and denigrating the United States: Americans were loud and ignorant, and they were going to destroy Europe’s unique culture! The earliest modern graffiti was probably the popular slogan “US Go Home!” But by the early 1980’s, Fulbright and other government-sponsored programs having lured European decision-makers to the US for lavish stays among America’s best and brightest, even left-wing intellectuals found things to admire, while the rest of the country took to ‘Le Drug Store’ and the latest street memes.
For forty years, Europe had told itself that it shared the convictions of the superpower across the seas, even though liberte, egalite, fraternite implies solidarity, whereas the pursuit of happiness does not. Although each individual country had an array of left-wing parties, Europe was content to play off Washington and Moscow while clinging to the Atlantic Alliance just in case if the Red Army really was poised to strike - or to save itself from a soft takeover known as ‘Finlandization”. 
In the nineteen-eighties and nineties, instead of letting its myths go, France continued to claim a unique place among America’s subalterns - right behind Great Britain (“Perfide Albion”!). As long as Marianne, the symbol of France, was standing, English would never become the world’s lingua franca (franca….). The ‘Academie’ continued to Frenchify American words, while Arab youth adopted hip-hop and created a street language incomprehensible to Sorbonne/Harvard-educated  adults.
Today, Finlandization is alive and well. The current kerfuffle over the supply of gas from beyond EU borders feeds a dawning awareness among European economic leaders that they can have non-imperialist relations with Eurasia instead of subordinate relations with the hegemon overseas. But this piece is not about Europe, it’s about the US refusal - so similar to the one I witnessed in France for decades! - to admit that its time in the sun has passed, and to graciously, for the good of humanity -pass the baton to Eurasia.
The American version of National Denial does not involve cultural icons, but a commitment to full-spectrum dominance. This requires no-drama Obama to assure us that we are defeating ISIS and that Russia’s showing off of its latest hardware at its airbase in Latakia with a lot less formality than journalists get on US installations, is a desperate attempt to deny its isolation.
Faced with the daily, embarrassing proof of the failure of its campaigns against Iraq and Libya, compared to evidence that the Russia intervention requested by President Assad is moving the Syrian tragedy toward resolution, the US has adopted two tactics:  it paints Putin as a sort of Lone Ranger, getting himself into a ‘quagmire’ with no real allies other than China, Iran and the creepy Hezbollah, while touting the biggest trade deals ever, the TPP for the Pacific rim and the TTIP for Europe, as evidence of its military and economic dominance.
But these assertions are even easier to debunk than France’s ‘rayonnement’.
Washington claims the TPP accounts for 40% of the world’s GDP, but the math says otherwise: the US accounts for 17%, and even with Japan’s 4.6%, the other members only account for 10%, for a generous total of 28%. A statement on the TPP site reveals the deliberate obfuscation: “Through this agreement, the Obama Administration seeks to boost U.S. economic growth and support the creation and retention of high-quality American jobs by increasing exports in a region that includes some of the world’s most robust economies and that represents nearly 40 percent of global GDP. “
The Pacific region does represent nearly 40% of global GDP if China is included, but the purpose of the treaty is to exclude and if possible counter China, the world’s second largest economy, with 10% of GDP. Given this reality, the two mega trade deals pursued by the US, the TTP to the East, and the TTIP to the West,  are a desperate attempt on the part of the hegemon to preserve its status - an exercise in denial. 
In addition to aligning its ducks in the Pacific to counter China, it is crucial to the future of the US that Europe sign on to the TTIP, notwithstanding the new regional trade entities that Russia and China are creating across the Eurasian continent.
 Never completely identifying with Europe, while renegotiating its EU status, Britain has signaled its interest in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Should the EU, instead of joining the TTP, follow suit, adding its 18% of global GDP to China’s 10, Russia’s 1.8, India’s 2, Brazil’s 2.3, South Africa’s 350 (these latter part of the BRICS, the main upstart group organized around Russia and China) the result would be 32% versus 28% for the US-sponsored Pacific rim.
While France still claims all other cultures draw their creativity from her unique example, the US has emphasized its economic and military power.  However, its 900 plus bases worldwide can only be maintained if purse-strings permit. In a chicken and egg scenario, the US must appear not as the fairest of them all but as having the deepest pockets. As that becomes ever more difficult to pull off, it can only cry in the wilderness that “there is no alternative” to American leadership, painting its designated rival  as isolated. 
Evidence that America’s allies increasingly identify with President Putin’s approach to world affairs will be the subject of the third article in this series.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Merkel, Putin and the World Island

The US is trying very hard to persuade the Western world that President Vladimir Putin wants to recreate the old Soviet Union and also retake the countries of Eastern Europe that became Soviet satellites at the 1945 Yalta conference between Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin.
What is never mentioned is the background for the Yalta decision: the fact that Eastern Europe was/is seen by Russia as the historical corridor from which Western attacks have come: the Teutonic Knights, Napoleon, then Germany, twice.  (Ghengis Khan’s Mongols came from the East and ruled Russia for four centuries….) Centrally located, Germany has historically been the dominant influence in the  region east of the Alpine barrier which, for the Russians, has been an open back door.
Having fomented two world wars in thirty years, a twice defeated Germany ultimately became the de facto leader of the European Union (however much France would like to believe in its equal role). Considering the current transformation of the Russia/German relationship, we can, for all practical purposes substitute ‘Germany’ for Europe.  
As a KGB agent, Putin was stationed in East Germany, where Angela Merkel lived until the age of 35, when Germany was reunited. The two leaders are fluent in each others’ language.  When in March, 2014 Merkel (Time’s 2015 person of the year) remarked that Putin was “living in another world”, Washington took the quip for more than it was worth, failing to realize it could be interpreted in many different ways.
The remark came on the heels of a long economic crisis brought about essentially by Europe foolishly following Wall St., and before it became the dumping ground for the victims of Washington’s intrusive policies around the world. The momentous arrival of up to 1,000,000 refugees in one year has led to a ‘European Awakening’: the old world’s movers and shakers - in particular its business community, but also, more cautiously its political leaders - are at last giving themselves permission to turn toward the European peninsula’s natural ally, the country that dominates the Eurasian continent geographically. 
The Eurasian land mass was designated by the early 20th century British geographer Halford Mackinder as “The World Island”, a notion that was dusted off to great effect in Natylie Baldwin and Kermit Heartsong’s Ukraine, the Grand Chessboard and How the West was Checkmated. This fascinating book shows that Mackinder’s affirmation that "Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland and who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island”, inspired the Neo-cons to detach Ukraine from Russia.  They did this by getting the EU to back the deposition of the democratically pro-Russian President in 2014.  

The location of Ukraine, bordering on Poland, Bela Rus, Slovakia and Romania clearly marks it as the final lap of the invasion route from Eastern Europe to Russia, hence its strategic importance, aside from its minerals and black earth farmland, to the World Island theory. 

Often overlooked is the fact that Mackinder’s theory reflects the early twentieth-century colonial worldview according to which power rests with a white, mainly Christian center, to be exercised over a darker, tribal or Muslim periphery. Reprised by Zbig a century later, it remained a colonial theory, the only relevant difference being that a neo-liberal America rather than a ‘north’ that also included Europe, was now in charge..

The Neo-con commitment to permanent US leadership requires the world to believe that the threat lies with Russia. But just as crucial is the fundamental difference in world outlook between the US and an increasingly vibrant and relevant ‘south/third world’, led by Russia and China, with India close behind. Contrary to what the United States ceaselessly affirms, the challenge is neither commercial nor military, but philosophical: the colonial template is being challenged by the Eurasian-led affirmation that great powers must rule the world cooperatively.
The only solution Washington sees to this uncomfortable truth is to saddle Russia with its own motivation. The crisis engineered in Ukraine was intended to prevent Russia and China - the two powers that geographically dominate Mackinder’s World Island  from successfully organizing the globe on a collegial rather than colonial basis.
Two years after agreeing to engineer the so-called Maidan Revolution, an economically weakened Europe struggles with a refugee crisis that puts into question its very borders. As Russian speaking Eastern Ukrainians’ continue to defy Kiev, Brussels tries to gently back away from the Neo-Nazi monster it unwittingly helped empower. Still not daring to openly defy orders from Washington, it renewed sanctions against Moscow for six months, while its businessmen and academics trek to Moscow to mitigate the harm.
As the Europeans edge up to the Russia/China Silk road, the second part of the Heartland Theory is being confirmed: the British Isles have indeed become "outer islands”, while increasingly, the America’s are "outlying islands”. Merkel’s comment that Putin was living in ‘another world’ could refer to the World Island, which Europe is finally recognizing as its home.

Note:  The second article in this series will confront the phenomenon of ‘national denial’.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

In Defense of Strong Leaders

Obama’s shockingly dismissive statement about ISIS today, combined with Turkey’s on-going antics vis a vis Russia illustrate the limits of democracy in the 21st century.

Not only the men and women in the street, but also our movers and shakers, still believe Churchill’s clever phrase that democracy is the worst system of government with the exception of all others. We all know that change is threatening, painful even, but I’m not seeing the slightest hint that intelligent, sophisticated, educated twenty-first century men and women are aware that democracy’s merits have been largely negated by the nature of modern life.

Not only is one man one vote a sham in the presence of big money. Government’s ability to ensure a measure of equity among competing claims is nullified by the claims of its most powerful backers; and what makes the democratic process totally ineffective is the ability of these backers’ hand-picked representatives to thwart any rare good decision taken by the commander-in-chief.

The President might just as well spend all his time on the golf course instead of pretending that the Oval Office is where the fate of the world is decided. Though well-wined and dined at the Paris Climate Talks, Obama cannot commit the Congress appointed by his oligarchs to accept the final agreement as binding. If that tragic failure doesn’t persuade skeptics of the superiority, in today’s world, of leaders who can call the shots over those who must be thankful for a few crumbs from the high table, the proof will be provided by World War III or an irreversible climate crisis.

Putting aside the fact that all the countries whose dictators we have toppled are much worse off than before, the evidence is increasingly difficult to ignore that Vladimir Putin and Xi Jin Ping are able to get a lot more done for the good of their people than any ten leaders of parliamentary democracies. 

This doesn’t mean that all authoritarian leaders are good, but it does imply that a leader who is informed, intelligent and caring of others and can issue orders that will be executed is more effective than one who must constantly play a power game with hundreds of opponents - or worse, who tacitly agrees to do the bidding of the 1%. Putin is excoriated in the West for having told the Russian oligarchs that they could make all the money they want as long as they stay out of politics. We are told he is depriving the average citizen of a voice, when in reality, he is making sure the oligarchs needs don’t win out over the 99%.

The world created by technology and money has become so complex that leaders almost have to be polymaths  to get a handle on the problems they’re elected to solve.  But they must also have good judgement and prioritize the needs of the many. The American press routinely mocked Fidel Castro for his five-hour speeches, when in fact these speeches educated the Cuban people to a level of political awareness Americans can only dream of. With their dismissive attitude the US press avoided drawing attention to the detailed knowledge Castro had of every area he discussed. American leaders, in contrast, rely on ‘advisors’, which is why they can only speak in general terms, and have little chance of being able to get their legislators, aided by their own advisors, to follow them.

A great way to verify the extent to which an ‘authoritarian’ ruler like Vladimir Putin is more effective than President Obama could ever hope to be, is to compare their State of the Union addresses. The US media scarcely mentions Putin’s, while passing over Obama’s lightly, since any comparison would disadvantage the US. Putin’s shows himself to be in full command of a broad range of issues while Obama can only refer to his, as he did in today’s short, monotone report on the US campaign against ISIS, that won’t reassure anyone planning to travel for the holidays. 

Here’s a link to Putin’s December 3, State of the Union http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/47173. The examples I’ve chosen testify to the democratic socialist nature of the Russian ‘regime’, which incidentally explains why the US is determined to bring it down.

Putin sets the stage by saying:  “Of course, life is ever changing, and given current complications, our responsibility for people’s welfare only increases.”  (When was the last time you heard an American President take responsibility for the average American’s well-being?)

Putin spells out his concerns with respect to education and health care, areas that US congresspeople tell us we cannot afford to fund:

“Russian schools, higher and professional education, and support for children’s creativity should be aligned with the country’s future, the requirements of young people (and) of the economy in the context of its prospects. These guys will have to resolve ever more complicated tasks and should be prepared to be the best. They should become not only successful in their careers but also simply decent people with a firm moral and ethical background.”

Announcing that in 2016 Russian healthcare will complete its transition to an insurance-based system, Putin warned:

“ It’s the responsibility of insurance companies to uphold patients’ rights, including in situations where they are refused free medical care without a reason. If an insurance company does not do this, it should be held accountable, including being banned from working in the compulsory medical insurance system. I ask the  Government to ensure stringent oversight in this regard.”

He then noted:

“For the first time in Russia’s history, many high tech operations are carried out without a waiting list. The mandatory medical insurance mainly supports healthcare institutions around the country, where financing is a matter of concern …I propose a special federal contribution to enable high-tech operations to be carried out, with necessary legislation to be adopted during the spring session.”

The Russian president added:  “But people must not suffer while we make these decisions. We must ensure continuous financing of high-tech medical care, including with direct support from the federal budget until this decision is made.”

Imagine how different life would be in the US, if our President could utter such words and be heard!

All well and good, the reader will say, but what about democracy?  In today’s world, where decisions have repercussions far and wide, only local government is small enough to be responsive to citizen input.  And there is where each individual can make a difference. When it comes to saving the planet from a climate meltdown, or from World War III decisions must be hammered out at the highest level between national leaders who are able to knock the heads of big energy and big weapons together when they get home.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Don't take Your Eyes off Europe!

The bombs are falling in Syria, refugess are streaming out of Syria, there is hunger and despair in Africa as well as across the Middle East, but it would be a mistake to take our eyes off Europe.

The 'miracle' of the European Union is fast coming to an end, after a seventy-year run (from the time of the Coal and Steel Community that bound historical enemies France and Germany in 1951), as its nearly thirty countries revert to their longer history of feuding.

On CNN, Fareed Zakaria had barely finished chiding Poland, which he referred to as the EU's economic poster child, for emulating its neighbor Hungary in a turn toward 'illiberal democracy', when France 24 announced the stunning results of national regional elections: the anti-immigrant right-wing party the National Front polled its highest yet electoral score of 30%, leading in six out of thirteen regions, leaving both centrists and socialists in the dust at around 20% each. Never has the French ruling class been so frightened.

At every election cycle of the last four decades, France relives the same drama: the centrists and socialists refuse to cooperate in order to deprive the far-right of run-off victories, and that is how the National Front has grown from decade to decade, starting with Jean-Marie LePen’s surprise win in municipal elections in a town near Paris in 1983. It is no exaggeration to say that the National Front’s continuous growth has cautioned similar movements across Europe, after entering the European Parliament in 1984.

This information may seem irrelevant to most Americans, but they would be wrong to ignore it. As Donald Trump solidifies his lead the more threateningly he speaks, the media must remind voters of the rise of Hitler almost a century ago, while covering the rise of the extreme right in Europe.

Vladimir Putin is no fascist, however many politicians and pundits think they are smart by brandishing that accusation: he is a democratic socialist, as his speeches and actions make clear. And as the world moves toward another left/right confrontation under guise of religious or civilizational' wars, it is he who is on the right side.

Without the participation of the Soviet Union, the US would not have defeated Nazi Germany. Now, fearful American voters must not believe that fascism is the only way to beat ISIS.

Above all, they should not believe that an American Hitler, though high in the Republican polls, is the magic bullet.