Monday, September 18, 2017

America First — or the First American — at the UN

Suddenly, it’s upon us. Our President, considered by most educated Americans to be “unfit for the job”, makes his debut in the world’s premier forum tomorrow morning.  The US media has been so focused his tweets, his approval numbers, the ‘Russia did it’ investigation, that this once-a-year event seems to have snuck up on them.  Or, no, wait a minute, it’s not that: it’s that the UN counts for beans in the minds of America’s news stalwarts.  In fact, they now refer to the United Nations General Assembly off-handedly as ‘UNGA’, which, when uttered, sounds like someone trying to talk through gritted teeth.
The Russian President will not be attending the opening of the UN season, which for most heads of state is a unique occasion to be heard. Vladimir Putin is heard by most of the world on many occasions (although not in the US), and he probably decided that his presence in New York would feed speculation about a possible meeting with Trump, which in turn would stir up speculation about Russia’s so-called interference in America’s so-called democracy.
Did President Putin deliberately choose this period to hold joint exercises with Russia’s neighbor and ally Belarus?  In any case, they are grist to NATO’s claim that Russia poses a threat to its neighbors, whom it ‘protects’ with troops and tanks stationed on their soil.
The news this morning is of the US and South Korea holding joint bombing drills in response to North Korea’s latest missile launch. What difference could there conceivably be between that exercise and Zapad, the Russian/Belarus drill? 
This brings me by a circuitous route, to the debut, last night, of Ken Burns’ series on the Vietnam War.  Burns is perhaps the most admired American documentarist and he has focused on American history. Burns could be said to have done it again, were it not for his failure to mention the Yalta Agreement between Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin which, at the end of World War II, divided Europe into two zones of influence, the East being allotted to the Soviet Union, the West to the US and fig-leaves Great Britain and France.
Flying in the face of these facts, Burns alleges that the Soviet Union ‘took over’ Eastern Europe, posing a threat to the Western half as well. In reality, the Soviet Union took all its troops home from the Eastern countries when Europe was reunited starting in 1989, while the US now has bases not only in Western but in Eastern Europe as well.  According to a 2012 Heritage Foundation report: “Today, the U.S. has approximately 80,000 military personnel in 28 main operating bases in Europe, primarily in Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and Spain.” Since then it has opened NATO bases across Eastern Europe, while even historically neutral Sweden is drawing closer to NATO, as it beefs up its military, causing President Putin to issue a warning last June.
Coming back to the UN, President Trump invited other leaders to a meeting to discuss reforms to the creaky but indispensable organization. According to a statement by National Security Advisor HR McMaster, Trump will seek to promote America, as well as ‘accountability and sovereignty’. Accountability clearly refers to the US demand that other countries contribute more money to the UN, while ‘sovereignty’ if it has any meaning at all in the UN context, can only be a sop thrown to the Russian President, for whom it is a basic principle. (Russia justifies its presence in Syria, at President Assad’s request, as a commitment to the country’s sovereignty, which is under attack by an (uninvited) foreign power, the US, as well as by ISIS and other terrorist groups.)

This afternoon MSNBC is speculating that contrary to every rational expectation, exposure to the premier legislative body in the world is moving Trump toward a more traditional presidency. That would only be a positive development if the American President had the power that theoretically goes with the office, as opposed to the deep state, and if Trump had not had the ill-advised idea of surrounding himself with generals.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Merkel Fourth Term Goes Unquestioned

As the American media continues to accuse Vladimir Putin of being an autocratic ruler who is reelected under questionable circumstances,  it finds nothing to criticize in the fact that Angela Merkel is about to be reelected for a fourth term. The subhead to a recent Politico article admits that “it’s getting hard to imagine Germany and Europe without her.”
Vladimir Putin won his first presidential election in 2000, after being chosen by an ailing Boris Yeltsin to replace him. Is a difference of five years in power all that meaningful?  Russophobes will retort that it isn’t only a question of time but of system. And yet, while accusing Putin of being an authoritarian — if not an outright dictator (dictators as defined by the US having been known to win elections…), even America’s brightest pundits would be hard pressed to define Merkel’s power. This would require knowing not only how the German system works officially, but the ins and outs of its backstage. The Politico article, like a New Yorker piece several years ago, does not hide its admiration for a woman who rose from being an East German chemistry Ph.d to head Europe’s most powerful country, finishing off a trail of unhappy male counterparts along the way. 
In March of this year the same journal reported with obvious glee that Senator John McCain was accusing Rand Paul of ‘working for Vladimir Putin’ when the Senator from Kentucky tried to foil a vote on Montenegro joining NATO.  (That tiny Balkan country was the only piece of European real estate remaining outside of NATO with the exception of Sweden, Monaco and Lichtenstein, even though President Reagan’s Jim Baker had promised Gorbachev that in exchange for him allowing Germany to be reunited, NATO would not move one inch beyond that country’s eastern border…)
Angela Merkel did not even try to prevent NATO from engulfing continental Europe, yet she is (rightly) seen as indispensable.  As for Vladimir Putin, polls taken around the world indicate that a majority of citizens view him as the only adult in the room when it comes to international affairs. Simultaneously, the evidence in a newly released poll, from Pew, suggests that the percentage of people in the 65 nations that WIN/Gallup had polled in 2013 who saw the US as being ‘the greatest threat to peace in the world today’ would be even higher today.”
To round off this comparison, it is indispensable to mention that Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin may be the only two world leaders to be fluent in each other’s language. As was usual in the past, the two leaders could take advantage of their ease in communicating to conspire against their neighbors; but times have changed: together, Merkel and Putin are slowly but surely pulling Europe away from the Atlantic, toward being a full member  of Eurasia. 
For Politico to be without bias, it would have to confess that ‘it’s hard to imagine the world without these two leaders.

Today, France 24's technical editor presented an automobile whose energy is symbiotic with that of the owner's home, while RT's documentary today focuses on the ways people get into debt.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

BRICS Under the US Radar

As the ninth annual BRICS gathering, held this year in China, comes to an end, it’s time to point out that this acronym, which stands for five nations that represent some 23% of the world’s economy and 43 % of its population, is almost totally absent from the Western media. Yet the very fact that 43% of the world’s population only accounts for 23% of its wealth should make the ‘developed world’ take notice.
In what may seem like a contradiction, the reason why it has not done so in the eleven years since the organization’s founding, is that the BRICS embody the world’s challenge to American hegemony.  Most Americans have never heard of the word, let alone being aware that it stands for Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa.  
Coincidentally, as I write this, Peter Lavelle’s Crosstalk on RT is discussing this very issue and specifically, who stands to gain from the US refusal to acknowledge the growing list of international economic organizations centered around Russia and China. Dmitry Babich commented that the US doesn’t even notice the Eurasian Economic Union, while Marc Svoboda asserted that Russians and their allies actually want to be decoupled from the West.  Svoboda also mentioned that Iran and Egypt had both accepted invitations to the BRICS meeting, foreshadowing the possibility of a gradual healing of the Sunni-Shia rift. (For a discussion of this issue see my, and
Dare I suggest that when Emanuel Macron, France’s new under-forty president invites the two Libyan heads of government to meet in Paris, he is following Vladimir Putin’s example? The problem with that initiative was that it was done without Italian involvement, despite the fact that, as one diplomat put it, Italy is the “European member state that has the most granular understanding of the situation on the ground.” Apparently, Macron needs to be more attentive to the Putin style.
For decades the US dictated the behavior of the world community but since Vladimir Putin acted on the socialist principle of non-interference in Syria by assisting the government under attack by the US and its proxies, the US is no longer seen as the ‘indispensable nation’, as Obama liked to say, and that in fact, it is responsible for much of what is wrong with the world.  
As populations increasingly notice how differently from their American counterpart the Russian and Chinese Presidents interact with the world, the BRICS, the Eurasian Economic Union, the Shanghai Development Bank and the various other ‘peripheral’ international institutions will become household words. (As I was writing this, Kiril Dmitriev, the head of Russia’s Direct Investment Fund was telling RT’s Lindsey Graham about deals with Japan and South Korea….)

Photo Xinhua

P.S. Thursday, September 7: On the heels of the BRICS meeting in China, Russia, China, India etc., are meeting with hundreds of world business and political representatives at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok — including representatives of both Koreas. Discussion of the Korean crisis was headlined.

Meanwhile, the White House announced that President Trump has invited a group of countries —  minus Russia! — to discuss reforming the UN.  He should have had a look at the General Assembly’s voting record: it seems unlikely that the world will accept even greater US leadership of the organization.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Korean Spiderweb

How do you take the most powerful country in the world to war with a tiny but obstreperous country on the other side of the world without informing the public of the reasons for that nation’s ‘misbehavior’?
The American media has failed to note that the North Korea crisis just happens to coincide with the meeting of the BRICS in Xiaman, a resort island in Southern China, in the same general geographic vicinity.
Further, no mention is made of China’s One Belt One Road infrastructure project which will link Asia to Europe: surely China doesn’t need a nuclear showdown with a participating country. 
For the first time, today MSNBC has acknowledged that North Korea’s goal is to head the reunification of the peninsula. But it still has not yet mentioned the fact that the Korean War ended without an armistice, the North, since 1953, considered an outlaw regime in the West, although it is recognized by the former ‘Soviet camp’ and is a UN member.  
The conventional wisdom that Kim Jong Un is developing nuclear technology in order to not end up like Saddam Hussein or Ghaddafi is only half the story.  As sabers begin to rattle in Washington, this lack of information is unlikely to be remedied. The Korean leader may be acting like a spoiled child: in reality, he is a child who has decided that the only way to get attention is to pee in the sand pile.
The danger is that President Trump and his generals may not be inclined to pass up the opportunity to impress China with their latest weapons and strategies, aware that together with Russia, it poses a threat to American hegemony.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

France’s Controversial New President

French voters accuse President Emanuel Macron of a plethora of crimes ranging from spending tax payer euros on make-up and ordering extra large frames for the official portraits that hang in government offices all over the country. But biting scorn has greeted his claim to be ‘Jupiterian’.
I no longer live in France — where I spent about thirty years in several tranches — and I condemn Macron’s subservience to neo-liberal anti-labor dogma. But I believe the French should applaud Macron’s ‘Jupiterian’ efforts to tackle problems that threaten the future, not only of France, but of Europe.
He can be gently chided for believing that he will succeed where others gave up before trying (one can almost hear a Trumpian ‘I alone can fix this’) when he convenes Mediterranean leaders to hammer out a policy on immigrants (instead of criticizing the Schengen Agreement’s open borders), but I applaud his efforts with Angela Merkel to give the European Union a finance minister and budget. (The failure of the Euro is ascribed, among other things, to the fact that each country has its own economic rules.)
Scarcely noticed by the French press, Macron initiated his tenure by inviting the leaders of the two nuclear powers that have a say over Europe on state visits. He showed his acumen by welcoming the Russian President to Versailles, which on the occasion of the 300th year anniversary of Peter the Great’s visit, and by displaying to the American President the tomb of Napoleon at Les Invalides, where he was given full military honors. 
Macron came out firmly in favor of the Iran nuclear treaty, which it signed, but which Trump opposes, and has also made climate change a priority. (Americans are hoping that the hurricane disaster in Houston, Texas, convinces Trump that climate change is real, causing him to rejoin international efforts to mitigate its effects, as Macron plans a first follow-up meeting on the first anniversary of the Paris Climate Agreement in December.)
Macron is likely to get Trump’s support (however formal) in  his efforts to convince other European leaders that the influx of Africans and Middle Easterner poses a real threat to Europe, and The French President wants to put a High Commissioner for Refugees in charge of asylum requests,  iin order to distinguish between economic migrants and refugees, believing that another 800,000 people are ready to embark from Libya.

The French President also believes in talking to both Assad and his opponents, but refuses to take sides between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and specifically between Sunnis and Shias — or between Israel and Palestinians.  However, he will not visit the Middle East until next spring.

Seeing France “in the (Jupiterian) center” of Vladimir Putin’s “multipolar” but unstable world, he would continue the country’s existing alliances without ruling out “circumstantial cooperation”.  Finally, aware of the danger that the EU could implode due to citizen dissatisfaction, he wants to organize ‘democratic conventions’ during which they would be asked for input.

France’s ‘little Jupiter’ may have bit off more than he can chew (partly due to the fact that his counterparts in Europe are mostly dinosaurs), but at this point in his brand-new presidency, one has to give him a chance: the last time France had a Jupiterian leader was under Charles de Gaulle, whom many have emulated but none have successfully followed.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Sebastian Gorka’s Hungarian Ties and a Growing EU Split

As the White House trembles lest Sebastian Gorka, the second in a far-right trio to be booted — or having ‘resigned’ from the White House, again gain access, here’s his backstory.
Gorka was born in London to Hungarian parents who fled during the 1956 uprising against Soviet occupation. Unlike most of his peers, however, he came to Hungary as a college student, and subsequently worked there. He claims that the fascist medal he wears was given to his father for bravery against the Soviets The above linked article, however, suggests that the medal is having a second -  or even a third life. (The caption on the photo showing Gorka sporting the medal at Donald Trump’s inauguration ball fails to point out that the suit to which the medal is pinned is a black, embroidered tunic typical of the outfit that had traditionally been worn by upper-class officers of the Hungarian military).  
Hungary is a small country in the heart of Europe that has managed to maintain a reputation for uniqueness, starting with the fact that the Huns, who arrived from somewhere beyond the Ural mountains in the eighth century, spoke a language seemingly unrelated to any other. Centuries later, Hungary was the junior partner in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy that succeeded centuries of wars and occupations by the Ottomans that left Eastern Europe under semi-feudal regimes. It was a Hungarian, rather than a German or an Italian, who first elaborated the doctrine that became known as fascism. 
In 1919, inspired by the Russian Revolution, Hungarian Communists set up a Government of Councils (or Soviets). It was rapidly put down by  Admiral Horthy, who then became the regent of Charles IV - a king destined to never sit on the throne. One of the first things Horthy did was to found the Vitezi Rend for heroism, and in line with the country’s long-standing tradition of anti-Semitism that brought thousands of Hungarians to the US, including my paternal grand-parents, he set up quotas for Jews in the professions long before Hitler condemned them to death. Toward the end of the war, the Hungarian government, in alliance with Hitler, killed or deported to concentration camps thousands of Jews, Roma and Serbs.  Under the Communist government that came to power with Soviet Liberation, fascist leaders were tried as war criminals, but anti-Semitism never completely died out. 
In the late sixties, as the country was undergoing rapid modernization, letters from listeners of English language short-wave programs suggested, as one of my colleagues put it, that most foreigners believed the Hungarians “still cooked meat under the saddle”. In 1968, the government took the daring step of loosening central control of the economy, and began to  dream of Hungary as a bridge between East and West. (1968 was also the year of the Paris Spring against De Gaulle and Czechoslovakia’s “socialism with a human face”, which was put down in a bloodless Soviet intervention.)
Hungary’s dream came true in 1989, after Gorbachev visited the embattled East German Communist leader Erich Honecker, and discretely let it be known that he would not oppose a peaceful reunification of Europe. In August, as thousands of East Germans were vacationing at Hungary's Lake Balaton, the government quietly opened its frontier with neutral Austria, through which thousands promptly fled. By November, the Berlin Wall was being dismantled. 
In 2004, Hungary joined the European Union, but instead of bolstering  the country’s liberal values, this association led, in 2010, to a victory of Viktor Orban’s right-wing Fidesz Party, bolstered by a parliamentary majority four years later. Fast forward to NBC’s reporters, who were able to interview members of the revived Vitezi Rend, proud of the organization’s heritage. 
Until now, the Western press has focused on Prime Minister Orban’s refusal to accept the country’s mandatory quota of refugees from the war-torn Middle East and Africa, building fences and corralling those who managed to slip through onto non-stop trains to Vienna. Few Americans are aware that the Hungarian Prime Minister also supports Vladimir Putin — and vice versa. This would seem to suggest that the Russian President is a fascist; but as with Marine Le Pen in France and other right-wing European parties, Putin’s support is about traditional values and thus purely tactical, the far-right’s politics of hate are anathema to him. From what I can glean from exchanges with my ex-husband, however, a US-style media campaign has resulted in anti-Orban Hungarians lumping the two together, which is unfortunate. 
One thing, however, is certain: the European Union failed to overcome the  psychological separation between East and West that began with four hundred years of Ottoman occupation and should have ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall.  During the Cold War the countries of Eastern Europe longed to become part of the West, but after the fall of their Communist regimes, Western Europe dragged its feet. At a EU conference in Brussels in February 1990, three months after the fall of the Berlin Wall, I was one of the few speaking up for rapid integration. The following year, Hungary, Poland, and the Czech and Slovak Republics, formed a political and cultural alliance known as the Visegrad Four (after a town on the Danube), to boost their chances. 
They did not succeed until 2004, and by 2015, when massive African and Middle Eastern immigration into Europe began, they had still not internalized the EU’s lofty principles. Viscerally incapable of welcoming Muslims, they defend their Christian faiths (whether Protestant or Catholic) with much greater determination than Western Europeans. In 2016, they formed the Three Seas Group, that includes all the countries from the Baltic to the Adriatic and the Black Sea, to boost economic cooperation — and oppose a common front against immigrants. Recently, faced with threats of fines by Brussels, they raised a counter demand, as  follows:
 The heavy reparations demanded from Germany after World War I having led to the rise of Hitler, after World War II, the Allies had taken a different approach, betting on the inculcation of democratic ideals to ensure that Germany would never threaten its neighbors again. The Germans became the wealthiest and most virtuous people in Europe, as illustrated during the Cold War by Chancellor Willy Brandt’s overtures to the east (known as the Ost-politik) and by the population’s consistent anti-war stance. Now, the beneficiaries of that Ost-politik are demanding German reparations for World War II! 

Aside from their questionable rationale, seventy years after the fact, with Sebastian Gorka gone, I wonder how President Trump will react to the demands against formerly fascist Germany from today’s fascist-leaning East European governments.


Saturday, August 26, 2017

When Democracy Backfires, reprinted from New Eastern Outlook

The US media focuses on the fact that President Trump failed to win the popular vote, although he did manage to rake up more delegates to the Democratic Convention than Hillary Clinton. Clinton believes a ‘Russian intervention’ in some unspecified way, skewed the results of the election. (That ‘intervention’ is the focus of an investigation by a Special Prosecutor. The last time such a person was employed in Washington was when Bill Clinton’s’ sex life was deemed an appropriate reason for impeachment. The Congress ultimately failed to gather enough votes to evict him from office.)
During the 2016 campaign, progressive journalists like myself warned that Trump would ultimately lead to fascism, but we didn’t realize he would do so with the help of his voters.
We imagined a police state, but what we have (so far) is a demonstration of how ‘democracy’ can be a God that fails. As with Hitler, enough poorly educated people voted for Trump to bring him to power ‘democratically’. That having been accomplished, it’s not so much that he is able to pursue policies that most educated Americans reject, it’s that he can work up huge crowds who dream of ‘taking back their country’ …. by any means.
Yesterday Trump spoke to one such crowd in Phoenix, Arizona, suggesting he might pardon a racist sheriff who forced his inmates to live in tents under 110 degree heat and was finally slapped with contempt of court charges. More importantly, but somewhat confusingly, the President threatened to shut down the government over the border wall, although it’s not clear what role the government would play in preventing it from being built, since he claims that Mexico would pay for it.  
President Trump goes from one non-sequitur to another, but what is most alarming is that his based doesn’t seem to hold against him his failure to deliver on key campaign promises, believing that the fault lies with Congress (which came up one vote short to pass so-called health care ‘reform’) or with the media, which ceaselessly criticizes him. Notwithstanding the media’s failure to report any story that is inconvenient to the government, America’s fractured left wing has been unable to bust its lock on the American people. Ironically, it is Trump who is accomplishing that feat in the name of a populism whose boundaries with fascism are uncertain. 
Just as the media literally ‘made’ Trump the candidate, while mainly backing Hillary, since he was elected, it has been relentlessly trying to ‘unmake’ him, succeeding only in looking worse than ever. Today, it alternates coverage of Trump’s events with coverage of Hillary Clinton’s book explaining why she lost the election, focusing on how her ‘skin crawled’ when Trump paced back and forth behind her during one of their televised debates. Clips of those moments suggest that Trump was being discreet, leaving her the spotlight.
Meanwhile, at a rally in Reno, Nevada, Trump focused on veterans, emphasizing a tribute to the American Legion, a right-leaning organization founded in 1919 to defend veteran’s interests, by signing a bill mandating shorter waiting times for veterans to get answers to appeals. That “psychological operation” illustrates the path that Trump is charting toward fascism: it involves an alliance between active duty and former military, and the minimally educated, pro-military civilians who constitute his base.
Added to this disquieting picture is the fact that thirty-one states allow citizens to openly carry a handgun, some without a license or permit. Different states have different restrictions, but all 50 states allow people to purchase guns.  Hitler’s voters didn’t have guns, but they had the SA, also known as the ’brown shirts’, not to be confused with the SS, which broke off from it to surveil and kill citizens at will in Germany and German-occupied Europe. In the US, that job is likely to be carried out by an amalgam of militias such as those seen in the protests in Charlottesville.  
When history repeats itself, it does so under many different disguises. The question at this point is whether the Neo-Cons and their Deep State will succeed in toppling Trump, using accusations of collusion with Russia, before he gives his voters free rein. Or whether fascism will be served to us as ‘law and order’ by a Vice-President who has moved up after Trump is impeached or forced to resign for ‘inability to govern’.

More worrying for the world at large is the fact that the man who insisted during the campaign that America should not be the world’s policeman, agreed to increase US troop levels in Afghanistan, hiding the country’s vast mineral potential behind the magic word ‘security’. The generals who convinced him to do this also regard Russia as an enemy, following the Neocon playbook. Although the American public is no more in favor of continuing war in Afghanistan than it would be in favor of war with Russia, it’s difficult to see how ‘one man, one vote’ will prevent that from happening.