Friday, December 15, 2017

Betraying Lysistrata

The Parthenon in Athens
The comedy by Aristophanes originally performed in Athens in 411 BCE, is being betrayed by the women’s liberation movement, just as democracy’s latest iteration is unravelling.
Lysistrata was an Athenian woman who succeeded in bringing an end to a war with Sparta by getting her friends to deprive the fighters of sex. Twenty-one centuries later, newscasters and politicians mention nuclear war with North Korea as something that could actually happen, while they zero in on reports by the most powerful women the world has ever known that men have touched them at the wrong time in wrong places and in wrong ways.
Following upon accusations of inappropriate actions involving young women reaching back decades on the part of a judge running for the US Senate (and who is otherwise known for flouting his religiosity), women who had probably all but forgotten incidents that took place in their youth suddenly felt the need to speak out. But it’s one thing to want to stop a child molester from acceding to high public office, as in the case of Alabama Republican Judge Roy Moore, it’s quite another for the speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, to feel compelled to demonstrate her feminist bona fides by calling for the eighty-eight year old black civil rights leader and longest serving representative to resign for having paid off an accuser, then whipping up a campaign among her female colleagues to literally force pro-women’s rights comedian turned Senator Al Franken to do the same, in penance for mainly playful advances toward women, in order to show Alabama voters that the Democratic Party holds the moral high ground.
I have nothing but revulsion for Roy Moore and hope Alabamans reject the candidate the President is backing because of his need for enough Republicans to pass his atrocious tax bill.  But I can’t help thinking that some of the women who have come forth to indict various public figures, in the past failed to put ‘solliciters’ in their place and today are simply unable to resist a moment in the limelight. 
As for the leaders of the feminist movement, I accuse them of relegating the threat of nuclear war to the background of feminist concerns.  In the end, there is not that much difference between the ‘me’ era and the ‘me too’ campaign.  Both have conspired to make educated Americans  — whom I thought had the most ‘intelligence sophistication’ of any group in the world in the nineteen-seventies — the most gullible of any sophisticated group in the world.  Of course they wring their hands over the presence of a huckster in the White House, but the depth of their despair over a fact that is difficult to change appears to have prevented them from reacting to the existential threats that flow from it, starting but not limited to nuclear war.
I have not the slightest doubt that this paralysis is partly an outcome of the decades-long ‘me’ movement, fueled by a politically correct devotion to individualism that relegates threats to the survival of the species to the lowest rung on the ladder of priorities.  It was much criticized in its early days, and yet, as most negative social phenomena, it entrenched itself, aided by an media power. 

Now it could very well play the role of Nero’s fiddle.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Better Building Projects than Trump's

As if the China-Russia One Belt One Road (also known as the New Silk road) project to link Asia with Europe wasn't enough, now comes an invitation for the US to join in linking Siberia with Alaska, in a sort of reversal of the American purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867.

Read the story by Paul Goncharoff for Russia Insider:

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Only in America II.

Only in America will you see a president hail civil rights in the morning, and make an obviously more heartfelt appeal to vote for a known racist and child molester in the afternoon.
This poses no problem for Donald Trump, a consummate showman with years of television success under his belt. The speech he read to mark the inauguration of the Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Mississippi was clearly written by someone else, and Trump’s monotone delivery betrayed his alienation from the words he delivered.
Then, like a magician changing costume between numbers, in the afternoon the American president popped up like crabgrass in Pensacola, Florida, just across the Alabama border, to urge voters in that state to send to the Senate. Judge Roy Moore, a child molester with a record of anti-Black rulings who believes that Muslims should not serve in Congress. 

 Only in America do newscasters working for privately-owned media so faithfully deliver the government’s message as to be mistaken official spokespersons. The problem comes when they have to deliver two contradictory messages in the same breath. Luckily, they can always fall back on the first snowstorm of the season or the California wildfires to avoid reporting that the president’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, with no corresponding announcement for the Palestinians, has put the fear of God in our allies.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The World Passes the US By

Now that RT is no longer available on television in Philadelphia, I watch more France 24 than before, when I divided my TV-watching between those two and MSNBC. The difference in offerings never ceases to amaze me, but while ‘Putin’s bullhorn’ tended to focus on non-typical Russian subjects and America’s failings, France’s English language channel concentrates heavily on the Middle East and Africa.
Although many people are vaguely aware of China’s growing presence in Africa, without France 24, we wouldn’t know that it now welcomes African students. The Chinese have long been suspected of being allergic to Black people, but this report suggests that the government has made a decision in favor of color blindness - the students interviewed largely deny having encountered racism.  Add to this that the One Belt One Road transportation project linking China and Russia to Europe will also have an African spur, and it becomes clear that in the post American era, Russians, Arabs, Orientals and Blacks are determined to work together.
This may seem like a contradiction with respect to President Vladimir Putin’s oft-heard criticism of multiculturalism, directed at Europe’s efforts to integrate Muslims. (Not to mention President Trump’s efforts to ‘whiten’ America, most recently by declaring that Haitians, who were welcomed on a ‘temporary’ basis after the 2010 earthquake, will have to leave by 2019…) President Putin’s position is that different ethnic groups should live in harmony with each other, each within their own borders. Today’s Russia, or rather the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) includes nine of the fifteen former member states of the Soviet Union, most of whose people are Muslims. (For reasons which are not entirely clear, Russia fought two wars to keep Chechnya under its control, and it has been a hotbed of terrorism. However its policies vis a vis the other Muslim states on its southern border as well as vis a vis a multi-racial world contrast with America’s.)  
While the US is mesmerized by ‘Russiagate’, Vladimir Putin draws to Moscow — or the Black Sea resort of Sochi — one national leader after another, offering Russia’s mediation in Africa and the Middle East. Most recently he received Bashar al Assad, as well as the President of Sudan, while the Saudi King (with a 1500 person retinue) was in Moscow in October, Netanyahu having been there in March. Seven rounds of detailed Syrian peace talks involving the opposition have taken place in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, under President Putin’s leadership.
Vladimir Putin and International Footballers

Meanwhile, notwithstanding criticism from readers about a recent article that reflects the current Russophobia, Harpers magazine’s forum on the nuclear clock, which is currently at two minutes to midnight, while evoking a possible nuclear attack by North Korea, informs us that “the Russians have rehearsed the use of nuclear weapons” without mentioning the buildup of NATO troops on its European border to which these preparations respond. 
When Americans decry their choice of President, rather than blaming Russia, they should consider themselves lucky that there is at least one adult in the room, and that is Vladimir Putin. Alas, the Russian could be running a race against time, as he gathers around him the leaders of the majority of the planet .

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Sign This Petition about Guns

One of my readers, Molly Cruz, sent me this link about requiring gun owners to take out insurance for every gun they own.  May it will motivate insurancer companies to back better gun control!

America’s Chief Putin Basher

Russian intellectuals who are dssatisfied with their president for one rason or another -- often simply because he has been reelected by Russian voters so many times -- can be assured of a well-paid career in the United States: the American publishing world has a limitless need for Putin-Bashers. 
Masha Gessen is a Russian-born writer whose family emigrated to the United States in 1981.  She returned to Russia as an adult in 1991, becoming Russia's leading LGBT rights activist, in particular opposing a law that made it illegal to proselytize homosexuality to minors.  As the editor of a popular-science journal, in September 2012 she refused to send a reporter to cover an event about nature conservation featuring President Putin, who she accused of exploiting environmental concerns. (If only our presidents did as msuch! ) After she tweeted about her firing, Putin phoned her saying he was serious about his nature conservation efforts and offering her her job back, which she rejected.
A few days later, she was appointed director of Radio Free Europe’s Russian Service based in Prague. Shortly after her appointment was announced, more than 40 journalists were fired, and several weeks after Gessen took over, the station lost its Russian broadcasting licence.  By 2013 Gessen feared the government would take away her children because she was gay, returning to the US, where she had already published anti-Putin articles.

In a March 2014 article for the Los Angeles Times, Gessen described Putin as "a playground bully." While other world leaders "have generally tried to convince themselves and others that they were good people fighting the good fight," according to Gessen, Putin "has no positive spin for his aggression — or his actions in general," having created a political culture in Russia "based on the assumption that the world is rotten to the core," and "that all governments would like to jail their opponents and invade their neighbors, but most political leaders, most of the time, lack the courage to act on these desires." Gessen suggested that "For American culture, which relies heavily on a belief in the fundamental goodness of humanity," Putin's world view is “impossible to absorb.”

Also in March 2014, Gessen claimed in The Washington Post that Putin's popularity had only  been restored thanks to the Sochi Olympics and the invasion of Ukraine, which played on the longstanding notion "that Russia is a country under siege, surrounded by enemies and constantly on the brink of catastrophe and that “the only way for Putin to continue shoring up his popularity was to escalate the war effort," painting "the Western/fascist/Ukrainian enemy as ever more dangerous, which means that he is not interested in a peaceful solution or an exit strategy that would allow him to ‘save face.’(!)

In fact, to this day, no evidence has ever been presented to buttress the claim that Russia ‘invaded Ukraine”, or to explain why its troops are only to be found in the Russian-speaking people’s republics of Donetsk and Lugansk that the US-backed coup government has threatened.
Although the Russian President clearly stated his opposition to US hegemony in a 2007 speech to the Munich Security Conference, proposing instead a ‘multipolar world’ in which the regional leaders such as Russia, China, India, South Africa, Brazil and the US would cooperate to ensure global peace, Gessen describes  this as "Russia remaking itself as the leader of the anti-Western world". 

This characterization is the template on which is built the US-led demonization of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.  On November 22, Gessen was interviewed on the popular news show Morning Joe by Mika Brzezinski, the daughter of the recently deceased former national security advisor Zbignieuw Brzezinski, former politician Joe Scarborough and other journalists, about her latest book “The Future is History”. All of them down-played America’s aggressive policy toward Russia.

When Scarborough asked “What do Russians want?” echoing a familiar American complaint, John Heilemann wondered what Western failures had allowed President Putin to gain such power. To which Scarborough replied off-handedly:  “it wasn’t because we expanded NATO and got Russia nervous about militarism,” exactly reflecting how the US downplays what is in reality a highy dangerous situation: the US afailed to respect its promise to Gorbatchev, who agreed to dissolve the defensive alliance known as the Warsaw Pact, that we would “not move one inch beyond Germany’s eastern border”. One by one we integrated the countries of Eastern Europe into NATO, which, with tanks and a full offensive panoply faces Russia’s Western border, from the Baltic to the Black Sea, complaining when Russia responds to this aggressive stance by holding maneuvers inside its borders!

True to a well-polished script, the assembled talking heads on Morning Joe agreed that the collapse of the Soviet Union had been, (as Vladimir Putin has lamented), “a huge shock”. However, for the Russian President the reason for that shock was economical —the Soviet Socialist Republics, whose economies had been integrated, ceased to exist, causing both political and economic hardship, while in the American version, according to Heilemann: 

“They didn’t want to become just another European state. That’s what they mean when they say we didn’t treat them with respect. They suffered a loss of empire like the Brits and the French, who were able to soften the blow.”

According to another guest: “When Obama called Russia a regional power, it was insulting but expected: “the West doesn’t take us seriously.”

But Gessen claims that: “We shouldn’t exaggerate the role of West: the tragedy of Russia’s past is so enormous that things could never have been different,” leading to the presentation of her book.  “I was trying to figure out how people turn away from democracy: we thought Russia was just going to be democratic because what else would it be? We didn’t realize that people can choose not to have democracy, they can have reasons to turn away from freedom.  The corrupt Yeltsin regime brought social and political anarchy, leading many to want someone stronger. Russians didn’t reckon with the past state terror, instead people wanted to go back to an imaginary past that was simpler,” implying that Vladimir Putin took advantage of these sentiments, going so far as to make it acceptable, as a strong man, to admire Stalin.

Although Joe and Mika’s guests reflected the official American narrative, it’s clear that Gessen’s role in helping to form that narrative is very much linked to her personal situation, as illustrated by this quote: “When Putin says he’s protecting ethnic Russians in Ukraine, he means he is protecting them from the many terrible things that come from the West," notably gay rights. Russians believe the the West "is literally taking over, and only Russian troops" can protect Ukraine from "homosexuals marching in from Brussels.”’

Asked about President Putin’s consistent level of support in the high eighties, Gessen claims:  “86% is not a public registering its opinion.” Continuing in her role as chief anti-Putin activist, Gessen announces for February 2018 the publication of Never Remember: Searching for Stalin's Gulags in Putin's Russia.”

Friday, November 24, 2017

Only in America

(Re-posted from
While the Yemenis wonder whether the Saudi Crown Prince will ever stop bombing them with American weapons, and the President threatens to take on North Korea, the US media mainly talks about the sexual harassment of women by powerful men. 
It all started with testimonies that a judge running for the US Senate from the fiercely Republican state of Alabama. had tried to seduce teenagers in the past. His accusers were rapidly followed by a complaint against a famous Democratic comedian turned Senator, followed by similar revelations about a famous television personality, Charlie Rose. Like broken records, the testimonies of women who were molested years or even decades ago, alternate with opinions as to the offenders’ proper punishments, superseding everything else going on in a world that the United States claims to lead.
The only mitigating factor is that the back story is more complicated than in other cultures, touching on both religion and politics. In the nineteen fifties, in boys’ fathers’ spacious cars parked in secluded places, American teenaged girls allowed themselves to be ‘petted’, and the onus was on them not to ‘go too far’. In the sixties, the women’s liberation movement and the hippies brought ‘free love’ to communes and suburbia. Although the women’s liberation primer, The Second Sex, published in 1953, was written by French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir, it produced a much more robust feminist movement in the US than in Europe. 
In Europe, a tradition of extra-marital sex had been immortalized in nineteenth century ‘boulevard theatre’, and pre-marital sex owes more to the pill than to reactions against religious strictures. In France and Italy, Catholicism famously ‘forgives’ while in Lutheran Scandinavia, the films of Ingmar Bergman deftly revived a pre-Christian paganism. 
While in Europe, feminism was associated with the socialist tradition, in the United States, sexual liberation has been largely a reaction against the Puritan religious tradition that excluded include sophisticated love-making. During the years when I lived in various European countries, many women were attracted to the tall, athletic build of American men, however they were never viewed as great lovers. The predatory behavior of the Bill Clintons and the Roy Moores are just as surely a response to Protestantism’s emphasis on sin which, among today’s young has led to an excessively casual attitude toward sex. 
Combining this hamstrung ethos with the traditional of being ‘a nation of laws’, in America, the law’s representatives are expected to be above reproach when it comes to sex.  It’s ok to allow lobbyists to help write laws, but a sex scandal spells the end of a political career, as it nearly did with Bill Clinton over a dalliance with an intern. When he was impeached (but not condemned) my European friends were in hysterics at the lengths to which the United States goes to subject both sex and politics to the law, and I would bet that our latest sex scandal has them rolling in the aisles. It’s true that several European women have joined the ‘me too’ movement with accusations of sexual harassment, but I like to think it’s more ‘Who the hell do you think you are?’ than ‘How disgusting!’
After ten days of non-stop talk about ‘unwanted sexual advances’ and ‘sexual assaults’, I’m amazed at the righteousness of it all. The mature woman who came forward to accuse Judge Roy Moore of trying to seduce her when she was fourteen is referred to as having been ‘a mere child’ at the time. Yet in 2015, women aged 15 to 19, had a birth rate of 22.3 per 1,000 compared to the mean average across all age groups of 16 per thousand in 1990.
As for the sophisticated, witty comedian turned Senator, Al Franken, his sin was to have kissed a former newscaster for real during an act for US troops, and to have groped her while she slept. Although Franken photographed the gesture as an obvious prank, and is known as a defender of women’s rights, not only did he feel compelled to apologize profusely, he requested that the Senate ethics committee ‘investigate’ him. 
Once over the shock of that ‘auto-critic’, I naively thought Franken’s female colleagues would forgive him, but every congresswoman interviewed called for him to resign, in a lack of both Christian spirit and sensuously motivated indulgence — not to mention political judgement. As the nuclear clock reaches two minutes to midnight, like their male counterparts, female lawmakers focus on peccadillos rather than on the fact that our nuclear suitcase is in the hands of a president declared unfit by a team of psychiatrists. How can these women consider themselves ‘liberated’, if they are still mainly concerned about sex? 
My own experience of sexual harassment is limited to being passionately kissed by an American Russian expert in his government office, and being propositioned by a fellow futurist in my Paris apartment.  However, when I was six months pregnant in Cuba, where it’s always summer and even pregnant women dress accordingly, I was walking down the Malekon when a group of young men coming toward me began to point jokingly.  By the time they came abreast I was seeing red: I grabbed the nearest one by the shoulders and slammed him into a light pole, silencing his companions. And I still believe that when harassed, women should literally hit back. When harassment occurs in the workplace, I believe that if women as a group switched from fearful acceptance to loud condemnation, their positions would remain safe and so would their dignity.
That said, it will be more difficult for America to shield unwanted sexual behavior from a ubiquitous recourse to investigations. The scandal over Judge Moore’s refusal to quit the Senate (race even though he was removed twice from the bench for questionable sexual behavior and early in his career was banned from a local mall for soliciting teenagers), promoted the media to rerun a 2005 tape of Donald Trump bragging to a newsman about how easy it was for a celebrity to grab women anywhere on their body. For days, the president insisted he was ‘leaving it to the people of Alabama’ to decide whether to support Moore’s run. Finally, knowing that Alabamans respect him for his public religious gestures, such as insisting that the ten commandments be displayed in front of his courthouse, he prioritized having enough votes to pass his tax and health care reforms. A few black pastors condemned Moore’s behavior, while one white pastor claimed that since Mary was a teenager when she became the mother of Jesus, whose father was an adult, to fault an adolescent girl for having sex with an older man was tantamount to blasphemy ….
Twinned with the country’s religious zeal is the legacy of the long-time head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, J. Edgar Hoover, who used America’s legacy of suspicion to keep compromising files on every American politician, (including JFK), creating a culture of investigations that views sexual harassment in legal terms, even if the perpetrators cannot easily be ‘proven’ guilty in a court of law.
 During forty-some years living in half a dozen other countries, I never witnessed either a religious obsession with legality or a political obsession with foreign countries. While ‘Russiagate’ (so named after the Watergate scandal that cost Richard Nixon his presidency), centers on the prohibition against candidates receiving anything from a foreign country, when various French presidents were accused of receiving campaign funds from African dictators, it was they who threatened to sue their accusers…. 
As I have written elsewhere, it was America’s founding as a revolt against another country that resulted in the US psyche becoming permanently suspicious of foreigners. When Russians offered Donald Trump Jr. ‘dirt’ on Hilly for his father’s presidential campaign, according to the law, echoed by the media, he should have righteously alerted the FBI so it could pounce on the foreign sinners! 
Perhaps it was inevitable that five hundred years later, a country founded on draconian religious principles should view the law as an all-embracing crusade…