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






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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 http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/01/09/democracy-in-cuba-and-at-home/ 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 http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/4943/, 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.” http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/19/business/european-central-bank-protests-frankfurt.html

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: http://www.dw.de/rage-against-the-ecb-whats-blockupy-against/a-18321709:

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. 







Thursday, March 19, 2015

Iran as it Shows Itself and as Western Politicians Describe It

Separation  is a 2011 Iranian film written and directed by Asghar Farhadi,  who was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the world by Time magazine in 2012.  It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and became the first Iranian film to win the award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2012, with Fahadi invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In addition to several other international awards, Separation won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film.

It's too bad few Americans, and especially, our elected officials, watch foreign films. Although not many theaters show foreign films, most are available on Netflix, which by the fourth quarter of 2013, had 33.1 million U.S. subscribers. Watching Separation, Americans would become conscious of the gap between the official presentation of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the daily lives of its citizens, those the government of the US claims to be concerned about when it is not worrying about Iran’s ‘threat to the stability of the Middle East’.

What easily stands out as uniquely disturbing in this film is the chador that covers the heads of every female in sight, including kindergarteners. The drama hinges on the reluctance on the part of a lower-class married woman to be discovered cleaning the genitals of an old man afflicted with Alzheimer’s who wets himself. Before undertaking the chore for which she was hired, the woman feels compelled to call a religious hot-line to ask if the act will be considered sinful. Above all, her husband must not know.

In counterpoint to the religious drama is the quintessentially modern dilemma of populations living longer, and hence with incurable illnesses, is what sparks the film’s conflict: a thirtyish professional couple is split over the wife’s determination to leave the country, while the husband refuses to abandon his sick father to the care of an institution.

Much of the drama resulting from religious strictures is played out in hearings in front of a shirt-sleeved judge in a room crowded with other judges and their supplicants. Here, no religious overlay, simply, the law and its implications: will the bank clerk go to jail for refusing to post bail when accused of causing the death of his employee’s unborn child?

The scenes in hospitals and courts are reminiscent of 1950s Italy, as is the level of hysteria on the part of the two husbands, one a cobbler acutely aware of his social status, the other an educated prick whose sense of filial duty is not matched by strict adherence to the truth.

The apartment of the professional couple sports every modern convenience, including a large, colored refrigerator, and the streets are clogged with cars and motorcycles, however conspicuously missing are women in Western dress defying the basij, or moral police, whose job is to fine them if they dare to abandon the chador. It would appear that the film’s funders chose to present a flawless image of compliance.

Separation tells a humdrum story, however its ending is highly original.  The separated parents of an eleven year old girl are left waiting for her answer to the judge’s question as to who she chooses to live with.  It’s the same civilian judge who handled to accusation of murder against the unborn child, by the way, suggesting that the Iranian judicial system is a lot less structured when it comes to secular law than what religious rule appears to be, but it’s the fact that an eleven-year old is given a choice, as she would in the West, that is most interesting. I don’t know what reception a film that contrasts the lives of educated urban couples with the absurd realities imposed by a religious regime received in Iran, but the fact that it was entered into international competitions is telling.

Obviously, the film does not offer any insight into the ‘true nature’ of that religious regime from an international perspective, such as whether the Ayatollahs want to build a nuclear military capability, but it does suggest that Iranians face the same problems as the rest of the developed world, which they confront in similar psychological fashion, notwithstanding thirty-five years of religious dictatorship.

In this week's ‘Crosstalk’ on the infamous yet ridiculous letter from forty-seven Republican senators to Iran’s supreme ruler, RT’s Peter Lavelle accuses the US of referring to Iranians, as ‘those people’, seeing it as a sign of racism. I continue to wonder why not even progressive intellectuals emphasize that US policy is not a question of racism, but of the opposing political orientations of Shiites and Sunnis. Even Lavelle’s guest Hillary Mann Leverett, who teaches at the American University’s School of International Service and is an expert on Iran, failed to do this. I have long been convinced http://otherjonesii.blogspot.com/2013/07/the-us-chooses-capitalist-muslims.html  that U.S. Middle East policy makes perfect sense if the right/left matrix is applied: we support unconditionally all rulers everywhere who are pro-capitalist, and we oppose all those who, whether in civilian, military or religious garb, are trying to build social-democratic systems. Period.

Seen uniquely through the (convenient) lens of the aggressive takeover of the US embassy in Teheran that followed the 1979 Iranian Revolution, as opposed to the ideology that infused that revolution, the US has consis-tently emphasized the ‘lawlessness’ of the regime run by clerics, instead of  the secular ideas that contributed to its victory.  No one ever quotes Jean-Paul Sartre, who frequented the Iranian socialist theoretician Ali Shariati http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ali_Shariati during the latter’s exile in Paris, as saying that if he were not an atheist he would be a Muslim, based on the aspirations of Ayatollah Khomeini’s Revolution. That the country is ruled by religious - and often retrograde - laws does not change the fact that the revolution had a political ideology, that of improving the lot of ordinary people, as illustrated by the popularity of two-term president Ahmedinejad. 

When American politicians carry on about Iran backing ‘terrorists’ such as Hezbollah, and evil dictators such as Bashar Al-Assad, they are either ignorant or deliberately taking advantage of the public’s ignorance. Hezbollah is a Shi’te militia that is believed to command the allegiance of about a third of Lebanese voters. (According to Wikipedia, in 2010, a survey of Lebanese Muslims showed that 94% of Lebanese Shia supported Hezbollah, while 84% of the Sunni Muslims held an unfavorable opinion of the group. Surely, this cleavage is not about the conflicting beliefs of two sects of the same religion, but about ideology.) 

In Syria, Assad’s party is the Arab Socialist Baath Party. There are no mullahs in this constitutionally defined secular state (with, by the way, a French school system, inherited from the days of the French Mandate). Until the West backed protesters in 2011, this country, which has the same volatile mix of Sunnis, Shi’as, Christians, Druze and Kurds as Iraq and Lebanon, took pride in the peaceful co-existence of its diverse populations. However, in today's world, it does take a strong ruler to achieve that, as shown by the similar situation that obtained in Iraq before the US invasion toppled Saddam Hussein. (Not to mention Yugoslavia under the twenty-seven year rule of Tito. The country collapsed after his death into half a dozen warring entities. Although he invented his own version of socialism and together with Nasser, was a founder of the Non-Aligned Movement, Tito was viewed benevolently by the West because he was the only member of the Comintern to break with Moscow.)

Americans’ dire lack of knowledge about other countries, other systems of government and other religions has culminated recently not only in the sophomoric Republican letter to Ayatollah Khamenei, but in a plethora of statements by what passes for political leadership in the West, accusing Shi’a Iran of backing the Sunni extremists ISIS and Al Qaeda! Fred Fleitz, a Senior Fellow with the Center for Security Policy , a right-wing ‘think tank’, did just that on this week’s Crosstalk . (It’s possible that the politicians making these ridiculous statements really do know the difference between Sunnis and Shia, but deliberately spread falsehoods, counting on the public’s ignorance and the fact that it’s easier to believe in the aggressive-ness of a dictatorship, than a ‘democracy’, even if most ‘democracies’ today, are under the dictatorship of corporations.

I went to the CSP’s website http://www.centerforsecuritypolicy.org/ and found that its president and founder is Frank Gaffney, a former Assistant Secretary in Reagan’s Department of Defense who remained active in extreme right organizations. In an hour-long interview, the center’s Vice President for Research, Claire Lopez, a former undercover CIA agent and author of the book What Makes Teheran Tick provides the background for the now ubiquitous Republican claim that Iran backs Sunni extremists such as Al Qaeda. Although Persia converted to Shiism in 1501, according to Ms Lopez, it has a history of Sunni extremism, and has always been virulently anti-Semitic. The fact that Iran and Al Qaeda both oppose the anti-Palestinian policies of the state of Israel makes them allies. And since Israel equals ‘the West’, Iran is bent on destroying the US. (Ms Lopez admits that we are fighting side by side with Iran in Iraq, but cautions that cooperation should go no further.)

Interestingly, the first of four fifteen minute interviews with Ms Lopez focuses on the presence of a woman with close family ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, Huma Abedin, first in the Clinton administration and subsequently, as assistant to Hillary Clinton. (Although the Clintons dismiss this as conspiracy theory, according to discoverthenetworks.org, Huma’s mother is head of the women’s section of the MB…)I had noted this extraordinary fact in the above linked article, and am glad that it is finally getting the attention it deserves, even if by the right instead of the left of the American political spectrum. But maybe that’s because, as our entire foreign policy shows, there is presently no real left in America.

P.S. I've been mentioned in a blog by George Eliason, OEN's correspondent in Donbass, about journalists considered as 'bad' by the government of Ukraine.

PP.S.  Needless to say, all the sources mentioned by Eliason are recommended by this writer.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

In Europe, the Arithmetic of Otherness and Sovereignty

The Other is not only the person who speaks a different language and owes allegiance to a different nation. He is any person we cannot bring ourselves to admit is right - especially if he criticizes us. 


Europe was the driver of much that happened in the world for five hundred years. Without Europe’s kings eternally squabbling among themselves, the New World would have continued to be ruled by Indian tribes, Asia would have come into its own much sooner, the war in the Pacific averted, as imagined by Kim Anderson in The Year of Rice and Wine.  As for Africa, who knows where it would be today, had it not been carved up among Europe’s competing powers in the last century? 

Aside from pre-Enlightenment religious differences, Europe’s internal conflicts can be partly ascribed to the fact that more than thirty peoples, with different languages and histories, share the Eurasian Peninsula’s ten million square kilometers. (The only other comparable region is West Africa, with eighteen states in an area of six million kilometer however this region is home to a relatively homogeneous population.) Even if we consider only those language families that correspond to political entities, there are the Romance languages: French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese; the Scandinavian: Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and Dutch; the Slavic: Serbian, Slovak, Croat, Bulgarian, Polish, Czech. German and English, and outliers like Romanian (that harks back to Latin), Greek, Albanian and Hungarian, that comes from somewhere in the Ural Mountains together with Finnish.

After World War II, France made heroic efforts to ensure that French would remain the language of diplomacy, confirming France’s ever-Gaullian rayonnement, however English easily became the undisputed continent’s - and world’s - ‘lingua franca’. Unfortunately, a common language has not significantly improved intra-European relations, its millennial tradition of disunion now characterized by the separation between a more relaxed but poor south, and a North that prides itself on efficiency. The conditions grudgingly accepted by Greek’s creditors have enraged the plurality that put the Syriza Party in power to end austerity, raising the specter of Greece’s exit from the Euro. Should this happen, it is likely to be followed by other countries suffering from World Bank imposed hardship, namely Spain, Portugal and Italy, whose left parties actively supported Syriza’s campaign, prefiguring a Europe united along class lines facing an American-inspired bureaucracy (in which however the dominant language is French….).

However crucial this issue may seem today, it is dwarfed by the problem of Muslim immigration. Over the last century, Europe transformed traditional African cultures, in which everyone had a roof and could grow food, into suppliers of the superfluous, and now it is powerless to stop large numbers of those living in the poverty of semi-development from migrating to the place where the superfluous beckons. France and Germany each count 10% of Muslims, and even in the Nordic countries, Muslims account for about 5%.  America’s failure to take into account the histories of other countries is equalled only by its inability to acknowledge challenges that America does not share: with a Muslim population that represents only 1%, although it calls for a global effort to ‘defeat terrorism’, it cannot accept that it is more important for Europe to deal with its Muslim problem than to wrestle Ukraine out of Russia’s orbit. 

Since the end of World War II, when ‘the Allies’ defeated Hitler’s Reich, America has literally taken over Europe with a combination of soft power (starting with Coca-Cola), and relentless warnings of an imminent Soviet, then Russian, invasion. Hitler had laid out his plan for world domination in a book he wrote while briefly in prison, Mein Kampf, or My Struggle.  (After being banned for seventy years in Germany, a heavily annotated version is now going on sale, while the original version has always been available in the U.S…). The Europeans failed to take Hitler’s plan seriously, and the lesson they learned from  World War II subsequently made them all the more attentive to American warnings of a Soviet, then Russian invasion of their territory. (The fact that the Soviet Union lost 26.6 million in that war, making it viscerally war-averse, has consistently been swept under the West’s carpet.) 

Today the European welfare state represents the highest level of human civilization, and while energetic individuals may still see America as ‘the land of the free’, developing world governments seek to emulate the European system, and this does not sit well with a United States determined to impose its competitive model. Most recently, seeing its quest for “full spectrum dominance” threatened by a Russia/China condominium, Washington has not thought twice about throwing its European ‘partners’ under the bus, fomenting a war in Ukraine that could lead to nuclear war with Russia with Europe in the front lines. During the Cold War, the US was content to maintain Europe in a state of constant alert, and Europe’s leaders paid lip service to America’s playbook, knowing deep down that Soviet tanks were not about to roll across the European plain. Now however Washington demands that Europe actually join a conflict with its Eastern neighbor, and Europe’s leaders are refusing, partly because the presence of Muslims has impacted the daily lives of their citizens.

Germany’s population grew by 300,000 during 2014, largely due to immigration, and the leaders of the German Party Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West) appear to believe, as does those of the National Front in France, that sheer determination can prevent the Muslim minority from growing. In what is clearly a right-wing response to the European left’s successful backing of Greece’s Syriza Party in recent elections, yesterday Pegida held a rally beyond the borders of Germany, in Great Britain, in effect bolstering that country’s UKIP Party.

Left-wing leaders may realize that the math does not support this platform, but they cannot say so, anymore than American politicians can appear to approve socialism. The math is as follows: Not counting Russia, Europe has a population of half a billion which is declining, while the number of Africans, currently one billion, is expected to reach four billion by 2100. And while Europe is steeped in a two thousand year old Christian tradition, Christians having largely supplanted animists, 60% of Africans are Muslims.

France in particular is experiencing increasing tension not only between its Christian majority and its Muslim minority, but between Muslims and its Jewish community (the largest in Europe and the third largest in the world, while still only accounting for 1% of the country’s total population). With both anti-Jewish and anti-Islamic incidents on the rise, the number of French Jews emigrating to Israel doubled over the last year, swayed by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s claim that they are safer there (which contradicts his claims of devastating Palestinian attacks). President Francois Hollande tried this week to broker a reconciliation between the leaders of the Jewish and Muslim communities at a public event, but was largely unsuccessful. http://www.france24.com/en/20150223-france-jewish-crif-dinner-muslim-boycott-hollande/ 

What element could possibly intervene, over time, to prevent Europe from gradually becoming Muslim, as African populations migrate northward? Islam is the fastest growing religion worldwide, attracting a significant number of lapsed Christians and Jews, not to mention young people in search of meaning, who unfortunately often end up joining ISIS. Mainstream Christianity, Islam and Judaism worship the same God, diverging in the identity of his prophet, rituals, customs, holidays, and especially, different attitudes toward sex, with Islam still following doctrines prevalent in Christianity not that long ago. 

Although the math tells us that Europe will gradually cease to be Christian, and co-existence between two religions that have different attitudes toward daily life will take decades to achieve, it does not have to involve a knock-down drag-out continent-wide war, similar to the Thirty Years war that pitted Catholics against Protestants between 1618 and 1648. In fact, it is beginning to dawn on some observers that Islam is going through a process similar to that of the Christian Reformation.

Here are excerpts from a piece I published in June, 2012, on my website ‘Otherjones’:

With the election of the Muslim’s Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi as President of Egypt, the broader meaning of the Arab Spring can now be perceived. It makes Islam a crucial player in the worldwide jockeying for power between religion, liberalism and social democracy.  

Tunisia, the country that launched the uprisings that are shaking the Arab world, elected a President who ran on a human rights platform, and rules under a coalition with a left-leaning Islamist party and a social democratic party;

After Muammar Ghaddafi, a maverick who evolved his own version of socialism, was ousted, a National Transition Council was supposed to lead the country to a Western type democracy. It is opposed by both youth and religious groups, the former demanding greater transparency, the latter vying for a greater role for religion.

In Kuwait, divisions between an increasingly Islamist parliament and the Western-allied ruling family have worsened in recent years. In February’s parliamentary elections two-thirds of the seats were filled by opposition leaders vowing to expose high level corruption. After two ministers resigned in the face of scrutiny, the constitutional court dissolved parliament.

In all the Arab countries undergoing revolutions or regime change, the public is no longer a relatively illiterate mass. Muslim populations are increasingly educated, they watch TV, go on-line and use cell-phones. In the twentieth century, when the United States and the Soviet Union were vying for influence, the Arab countries largely chose non-alignment, but they also had a socially oriented Arab unity movement, which faced off against fundamentalist tendencies such as the Muslim Brotherhood. In Egypt this latter seemed to want to be all things to all people, promising Sharia law, bikinis, democracy and human rights, resulting in a return to Mubarak-stye outright military rule. 

Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Syria endured a succession of military coups which led to the rise of a Muslim Socialist Party, the Ba'ath. In 1963, a group of disgruntled Alawite officers, including Bashar’s father, Hafez al-Assad, helped the Ba'ath Party seize power. Under the Alawites, Syria has been under secular socialist rule, a fact never mentioned in the mainstream media. That is why it is supported both by Russia  and Iran.

All this is a reflection of the jockeying between religion, socialism, liberalism and various combinations thereof. It may not be an exaggeration to say that Islam is undergoing a crisis similar to that which began for Christianity in the sixteenth century, when Martin Luther publicly rejected Catholicism, and Protestantism was born in an effort to ‘reform’ it. The subsequent European wars of religion lasted for over a hundred years, but had few repercussions on the outside world. Today, the failure of the Western media to provide information about Islamic history results in a severely limited view of an upheaval that affects the entire globe. In a region that has been almost monolithically religious for fourteen hundred years, secular, socialist and liberal ideologies have paved the way for a reformation - or modernization of Islam, as emphasized in an RT interview of Tunisia’s foreign Minister on June 30 rt.com/programs/interview/tunisia-political-change-abdessalem/. The West needs to recognize this trend instead of fixating on the terrorist behaviors - comparable to the European Religious Wars - that accompany it.

For the first time since the end of the Second World War, faced with America’s demands that they commit their military to the battle for Ukraine when their home fronts are increasingly the theatre of both terrorist attacks and anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish violence, Europe’s leaders are tempted to exchange their junior partnership with the US for a Eurasian future among equals. Although Russia has been at war off and on with Chechen insurgents since the early nineteenth century, the leaders of Europe know that it is a multi-ethnic nation that has successfully integrated the 14% of Muslims that make up its population. In a post-Charlie world, Hollande and Merkel cannot be indifferent to the fact that Vladimir Putin has supported moderate Islam by aiding modernization among Russia’s Muslim neighbors, the countries on its southern border, known as the Stans (Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgystan,  Tajikistan, and Kazakstan) as well as in the Caucasus region that includes Chechnya, North Ossetia, Ingushetia, Dagestan, and Azerbaijan.  

Nor is it any coincidence that it should be Angela Merkel to lead Europe away from the American fold toward a Eurasian Commonwealth. According to a recent portrait in The New Yorker, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/12/01/quiet-german this drab little woman ended the careers of more than one veteran male politician in the course of her rise, and Washington was ill-advised to bug her cell-phone. It is often noted that Merkel speaks Russian; overlooked is the fact that for several decades, Russian was the lingua franca of the satellite nations of Eastern Europe that have traditionally been in Germany’s sphere of influence. While Merkel epitomizes these nations’ pro-American penchant, like everything irrational, that penchant is subject to bitter disappointment. Older readers will remember the disenchantment of American supporters of Stalin’s Soviet Union; that of European Fulbright beneficiaries vis a vis their American benefactor will have a much greater impact.

Notwithstanding its conquests and achievements, seventy years after the defeat of Nazi Germany, a Europe of carefully tended landscapes, cathedrals and museums, is scarcely less fragmented than during the nineteen-thirties. While right-wing parties rise alarmingly in the polls, an official left mesmerized by the United States confronts a base that increasingly rebels against World Bank/IMF-imposed austerity and supports Palestine against America’s ally, Israel. While for the United States, Otherness requires regime chance, a Europe in which the divide between Christianity and Islam is becoming increasingly violent preaches acceptance of Otherness. And while the United States ‘war on terrorism’ takes place outside its territory (or ‘homeland’), Washington’s fabricated crisis in Ukraine prevents them from dealing with a situation that threatens their own ‘homelands’.

Amidst the fragile truce on Europe’s marches between a Ukrainian regime that is beholden to Neo-Nazi militias and civilians who identify with Russia, Vladimir Putin was in Budapest recently, signing an agreement for two nuclear power stations and another that will enable Hungary to use leftover gas from a previous contract. Disregarding this confirmation of Russia’s impeccable record as a supplier, and undoubtedly following a Washington-inspired script, a German commentator on RT, mindful of Prime Minister Orban’s refusal to endorse sanctions against Russia, accused him of putting Hungarians ahead of Europe. But it is likely to take more than one generation for Europeans to put Europe first.  As I write in A Taoist Politics from which the quote at the beginning of this article is taken: 

There is one more thing that needs to be said with respect to sovereignty: it must not be confused with allegiance. On one side are national decision makers, who are sovereign vis à vis their counterparts in other nations, and on the other are subjects, who owe them allegiance. When states join together, as in the European Union, there arises a question of sovereignty of last resort, which refers not only to the power of governments to make decisions vis à vis other governments, but also to the citizen's obligation to obey them. 

It is precisely in questions of last resort that the citizen's allegiance is crucial: without it, there can be no state. Hence, when a group of states decides to unite, allegiance must pass from each individual state to the mega-state. For how can a state which no longer mints money, commands its own army or raises taxes constitute the principal seat of sovereignty, that of relations with other sovereignties that commands last resort allegiance? In the event of war between the European Union and a country outside it, citizens would have to obey the Union, otherwise it would cease to exist.

The otherness that evolved from chief, to prince, to king, to nation, is today ever more abstract - and ever greater. As nations have become weaker, their power challenged by other entities, whether multi-nationals or terrorists, the threat posed by otherness has become as acute as in the most primitive of times - or the most authoritarian. The North clings to the illusion of the absolute sovereignty of its Nation-states, with the United States, the most powerful, distant other playing a role similar to that of kings in the past vis a vis princes. 

At a time when otherness and sovereignty are its supreme challenges, the question is whether Europe’s leaders will emancipate themselves from American vassalage in order to deal successfully with otherness.