Thursday, February 19, 2015

Putin in Budapest

About the only thing in the NYTimes report of the above visit is the following sentence : “Five bilateral agreements were signed.”

The rest of the report contrasts sharply with the contents of the Rusian/Hungarian press conference relayed in its entirety by RT:  first of all, the five bi-lateral agreements concerned energy, one of the touchiest subjects in Europe right now.  As in India, which Putin visited last week, Russia will build nuclear power plants in Hungary. But of more immediate relevance, it will allow that country to consume unused gas that was part of a previous use it or lose it deal.  Journalists’ questions about the South Stream pipeline were answered in detail, and Mr. Putin reiterated his conviction that there could only be a diplomatic solution in Ukraine.

The two leaders appeared comfortable in each other’s presence, and as for the Times assertion that the visit was an excuse to “bring the Russian President onto European Union soil”, it was contradicted later in the article by a reference to his visit to Serbia last October.  Noting the military parade and the awarding of a medal to the Russian president, the Times fails to inform its readers that Serbia is a Slavic country that has always had close ties to Russia, and that, unlike the West, Russia does not recognize Kosovo’s independence from Serbia, which it supported during the war.

The Times clearly wants its readers to think that Europe is still running scared of Moscow, when in fact what it is rightly running scared of is ISIS, the radical Islamist group that today warned Italy that it is only a hop, skip and a jump away - in Libya, the country that NATO attacks reduced to a failed state with two governments and a myriad of independent groups fighting each other.

Hungarians may not have the fondest of memories of the decades’ long Soviet occupation, but from having lived among them for five years during that time, I can attest that their fondest desire was to play the role of mediator between Moscow and Europe. Today I would wager that the only thing that trumps their desire to be recognized and accepted by ‘the West’ is their independent spirit.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Peter, Catherine, Vladimir: Russian Facts vs Fantasy

When today’s pundits talk about Russia as the greatest threat since Hitler’s Germany, it’s time for a look at Russian history.  

The first crucial piece of information in the present context is the fact that Russia began in Kiev.  Kievan Rus was “a loose federation[3] of East Slavic tribes in Europe from the late 9th to the mid-13th century,[4] under the reign of the Rurik dynasty. The modern peoples of Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia all claim Kievan Rus' as their cultural ancestors.” No rational discussion of the present crisis is possible without this knowledge.

Now picture the world’s largest landmass, (nine time zones to the US’s three), much of which lies in the same northerly latitudes as Canada, but, in a crucial difference, with access to the ocean only on its Eastern tip, while the areas bordering on southern seas are inhabited by Muslim peoples.  Add now that Russia is the seat of Orthodox Christianity, which in the 13th century was repeatedly attacked from the Roman Catholic and Protestant North and West. (Sergei Eisenstein made a famous film about the attacks by the Teutonic Knights, titled Alexander Nevsky.) According to Wiki, to the Orthodox Church and most princes, the fanatical Northern Crusaders seemed a greater threat to the Russian way of life than the Mongols, who protected and assisted Alexander Nevsky in fighting them.

Russia had been subjugated by Ghengis Khan’s  Golden Horde’s from 1223 to 1240, to which it paid tribute for another four hundred years. For more on the lasting impact of that subjugation see my book review of TIbor Szamuely’s The Russian Tradition (In a similar scourge, the Ottoman empire took over half of Europe, their advance only halted with an unsuccessful siege of Vienna in 1529. More on that later in this article.) 

Starting with Kievan Rus, Russia, Poland, the Baltic princes, Sweden and Iran fought each other for centuries, so there is no historical record of a specifically ‘aggressive’ Russia.  For hundreds of years, today’s Baltic countries, facing onto the northern sea, were Russian principalities, as were Ukraine  - and at times, Poland.  Following are excerpts devoted to Russia’s interactions with its neighbors, from the Wikipedia article on Russian history:

<blockquote>In the 15th century, the grand princes of Moscow went on gathering Russian lands to increase the population and wealth under their rule. The most successful practitioner of this process was Ivan III[41] who laid the foundations for a Russian national state. Ivan competed with his powerful northwestern rival, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, for control over some of the semi-independent Upper Principalities in the Dnieper and Oka River basins.[45][46]

Ivan refused to pay further tribute to the Tatars and initiated a series of attacks that opened the way for the complete defeat of the declining Golden Horde. Ivan and his successors sought to protect the southern boundaries of their domain against attacks of the Crimean Tatars and other hordes.[49] Although his long Livonian War for the control of the Baltic coast and access to sea trade ultimately proved a costly failure,[54] Ivan managed to annex the Khanates of Kazan, Astrakhan, and Siberia.[55] …. Through these conquests, Russia acquired a significant Muslim Tatar population and emerged as a multiethnic and multiconfessional state. Also around this period, the mercantile Stroganov family established a firm foothold at the Urals and recruited Russian Cossacks to colonize Siberia.[56]
At the end of Ivan IV's reign the Polish–Lithuanian and Swedish armies carried out a powerful intervention in Russia, devastating its northern and northwest regions.[60] During the Polish–Muscovite War (1605–1618), Polish–Lithuanian forces reached Moscow. The Seven Boyars, a group of Russian nobles recognized the Polish prince Władysław IV Vasa as the Tsar of Russia on 6 September [O.S. 27 August] 1610.[63][64] The Poles entered Moscow on 21 September [O.S. 11 September] 1610, setting the city on fire.[65][66][67] This "Time of Troubles" resulted in the loss of much territory to the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in the Russo-Polish war, as well as to the Swedish Empire in the Ingrian War.  Fortunately for Moscow, its major enemies, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and Sweden, were engaged in a bitter conflict with each other, which provided Russia the opportunity to make peace with Sweden in 1617 and to sign a truce with the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1619. Recovery of lost territories started in the mid-17th century, when the Khmelnitsky Uprising in Ukraine against Polish rule brought about the Treaty of Pereyaslav concluded between Russia and the Ukrainian Cossacks.

According to the treaty, Russia granted protection to the Cossacks state in the Left-bank Ukraine, formerly under Polish control. This triggered a prolonged Russo-Polish War which ended with the Treaty of Andrusovo (1667), where Poland accepted the loss of Left-bank Ukraine, Kiev and Smolensk.[41]

Peter the Great’s first military efforts were directed against the Ottoman Turks. His aim was to establish a Russian foothold on the Black Sea by taking the town of Azov.[76] Peter still lacked a secure northern seaport except at Archangel on the White Sea, whose harbor was frozen nine months a year. Access to the Baltic was blocked by Sweden, whose territory enclosed it on three sides. Peter's ambitions for a "window to the sea" led him in 1699 to make a secret alliance with the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and Denmark against Sweden resulting in the Great Northern War.

The war ended in 1721 when an exhausted Sweden sued for peace with Russia. Peter acquired four provinces situated south and east of the Gulf of Finland, thus securing his coveted access to the sea. Russian intervention in the Commonwealth marked… the beginning of a 200-year domination of that region by the Russian Empire. In celebration of his conquests, Peter assumed the title of emperor as well as tsar, and Russian Tsardom officially became the Russian Empire in 1721.

By this time, the once powerful Persian Safavid Empire to its south was heavily declining. Taking advantage of the profitable situation, Peter launched the Russo-Persian War (1722-1723) in order to be the first Russian emperor to increase Russian influence in the Caucasus and Caspian Sea. After considerable success and the capture of many provinces and cities in the Caucasus and northern Persia, the Safavids were forced to hand over the territories to Russia. However, 9 years later they would be ceded back to Persia, as part of a Russo-Persian alliance against the Ottoman Empire.[77]

Catherine the Great extended Russian political control over the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and successfully waged war against the decaying Ottoman Empire[80] advancing Russia's southern boundary to the Black Sea. Then, by allying with the rulers of Austria and Prussia, she incorporated the territories of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, and during the Partitions of Poland, pushed the Russian frontier westward into Central Europe. Catherine waged a new war against Persia in 1796 after they had again invaded Georgia, expelling the newly established Russian garrisons in the Caucasus. By the time of her death in 1796, Catherine's expansionist policy had made Russia into a major European power. This continued with Alexander I's wresting of Finland from the weakened kingdom of Sweden in 1809 and of Bessarabia from the Ottomans in 1812.

After the Russian armies liberated allied Georgia from Persian occupation in 1802, they clashed with Persia over control of Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Dagestan, and also got involved in the Caucasian War against the Caucasian Imamate. To the south west, Russia attempted to expand at the expense of the Ottoman Empire, using Georgia at its base for the Caucasus and Anatolian front. In the 1828-29 Russo-Turkish War Russia invaded northeastern Anatolia and occupied the strategic Ottoman towns of Erzurum and Gumushane and, posing as protector and savior of the Greek Orthodox population, received extensive support from the region's Pontic Greeks. Following a brief occupation, the Russian imperial army withdrew back into Georgia.

In 1826 another war was fought against Persia, acquiring Armenia, Nakhchivan, Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan, and Iğdır.By the 1830s, Russia had conquered all Persian territories and major Ottoman territories in the Caucasus.[91] In 1831 Nicholas crushed a major uprising in Congress Poland; it would be followed by another large-scale Polish and Lithuanian revolt in 1863.</blockquote>

One can see this history as that of a conquering power, or more accurately, as that of powerful neighbors vying for control over various parts of the great Eurasian plain.  Europe was no different, the problem being the presence on a very small peninsula of some fifty different nationalities and languages, but Americans do not study either European or Russian history. When the US reluctantly entered the first world war, the common wisdom was that the Europeans couldn’t stop squabbling, and the same was true in spades with the Second World War.  Although Germany was fingered in both as the aggressor - and by the French as the aggressor in the war of 1870 - Russia was never seen as ‘the aggressor’ of the Eurasian plain.  And for Russians, the problem has always been that of encirclement and access to warm waters.

 Napoleon attempted to conquer Russia in the early nineteenth century, courting an ignominious defeat. In the early twentieth century, Russia lost a war with Japan over access to the warm water port of Port Arthur in southern Manchuria.  The West tried to roll back the Russian revolution in a war that lasted in various phases and fronts from 1917 to 1925 was invaded by Hitler in World War II, prompting it to hold on to the Baltic States and the countries of Eastern Europe that had been his allies. It was because of the history of attacks on Russia that Roosevelt and Churchill agreed at a meeting with Stalin in Yalta that Eastern Europe, through  which these attacks came, would be a Soviet sphere of influence after the war. (Notwithstanding today’s revisionist allusions, Russia did not ‘conquer’ Eastern Europe, but rather liberated it from the Nazi occupation.  Most historians now admit that without Russia, Germany would not have been defeated.)

At present, ‘fears’ of Russian ‘aggression’ center on Poland, the Baltic states, and Moldova (Bessarabia), all of which were the locus of wars in centuries past. With the end of the Cold War, the Baltic States were let go, and the countries of Eastern Europe resumed the task of building independent polities they had started after World War I.  Rule by the Ottoman Empire from the sixteenth to the early twentieth century, had contributed in no small measure to their economic and political backwardness with respect to Western Europe.  I witnessed the psychological effect of that history first hand when I lived in Poland, then in Hungary, from 1965 to 1971.  Poland carries the added burden of having been literally carved up by its European neighbors no fewer than three times over the centuries.  All the European countries I have lived in had an acute sense of history, but none so much as Poland.  Poland’s current attitude toward the conflict in Ukraine is as much tributary of that history as it is of European Union politics, which is why it is so contradictory, ultimately coming down on the side of Ukraine, yet unable to resist bashing it at the same time.

This brings us to the crux of the fabricated dispute that currently risks turning into World War III, complete with nuclear weapons:  the accusation, repeated enunciated by President Obama and Secretary Kerry, that by respecting the referendum of the inhabitants of Crimea in favor of rejoining Russia, Vladimir Putin has arbitrarily modified the post-World War II borders.  The border between Crimea and Russia was modified in 1954 when Khruschev ‘gave it’ to Ukraine, which at that time was one of the Soviet Socialist republics that constituted the Soviet Union.  As the above history shows, Crimea had been part of Russia since the time of Catherine the Great, AND IT REMAINED SO AT THE END OF WORLD WAR II. So the return of Crimea to Russia cannot be construed as a modification of the borders agreed upon by the US, Great Britain and the Soviet Union, the latter maintaining a sphere of influence in Eastern Europe, while Great Britain retained an upper hand over Greece, preventing that country’s strong Communist Party from gaining power. 

Notwithstanding these historical facts, the Putin-bashing continues. On Fareed Zakaria’s GPS Sunday, Christa Vreeland, a journalist who is also a member of the Canadian Parliament, painted a picture of a struggling Russia, claiming that Putin had thought Yanukovich would bring the Ukraine into his Eurasian customs union and ‘all would be fine’.  But the coup put intolerable internal pressures on Putin, ‘his cronies were unhappy, the bourgeoisie destroyed. He didn’t want this crisis.’  We are expected to believe that without notoriously backward and corrupt Ukraine, Russia would be doomed! Apparently, Vreeland hasn’t heard of the BRICS, the Silk Road, and the deepening Russia/China alliance….

On the same program, Bill Browder, grandson of the one-time leader of the American Communist Party and (no small irony) Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of the investment fund Hermitage Capital Management, had this to say: ‘Putin is entirely rational but he has no morality. He will kill, start wars if it makes him wealthier, or saves him from being arrested.  He started a war in Crimea, and says the Ukrainian leaders are fascist nazis backed by US, provoking nationalist fervor.’  

To decide how much credibility to grant this man’s testimony, starting with his apparent ignorance of the weight of the Neo-Fascist Right Sektor and Svoboda parties within the Ukrainian government, notwithstanding the many videos featuring their thuggish behavior, I suggest you read the lengthy interview he gave to Barrons  in which he details his business dealings in Russia starting in the nineteen-nineties.  Readers will be familiar with the death of Barron’s lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in a Russian prison, but whatever the circumstances of that death, they do not change Barron’s participation in the rape of that country, which he relates with undisguised gusto. Claiming that he wanted Russia to become a normal country where ‘the valuations (of stocks) were the same as the West’, he is not talking about the rule of law.  And this is the man who accuses Putin of being an oligarch!

Finally, as France, Germany and Russia try to resolve the Ukraine crisis through diplomacy, Washington, oblivious to the fact that it is the Europeans who would be on the front-line in a war with Russia, continues to insist that it must ‘protect’ these allies from Putin’s ‘aggression’!  Possible presidential candidate and uber hawk ally of John McCain, Senator Lindsey Graham made the following astonishing statement a few days ago, referring to his colleagues who are against arming the Kiev government:  (They) “don’t see how arming those who are willing to fight and die for their freedom makes things better (my emphasis).”

On RT this morning, anticipating tomorrow’s crucial meeting in Minsk between Ukraine, Russia France and Germany, a retired  Deputy Ambassador to NATO and Ambassador to Germany, John Kornblum, echoing Victoria Nuland’s famous quip “F.. the EU!”, affirmed that ‘the real power lies in Washington’. But it doesn’t look like a convincing sign of power to claim, as Washington is currently doing, that Vladimir Putin suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome, a mental condition whose main symptom is an inability to read social cues!  Distancing itself from this latest ‘stupid stuff’, the psychiatric community is probably wondering why Washington failed to diagnose the severe alcoholism of Putin’s predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, to whom the Browders of this world are beholden.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

February 6, 2015: Charlie's Role in Hollande/Merkel Ukraine Peace Plan

To my readers:  I have just realized that I failed to cross-post the last half dozen of my blogs on OpedNews to this site due to several weeks of poor sleep.  First is the latest post, the others following in backward order.

February 6, 2015: Charlie's Role in Hollande/Merkel Ukraine Peace Plan

France 24 hosted a really interesting discussion today about laicite, that included an American working in France and delved into the crucial difference in the two countries’ definition.  That same channel interviewed Franz Walter Steinmeier, a prominent German Social Democrat who was Angela Merkel’s Vice Chancellor from 2007-2009.  He appears from time to time on European news channels when they want to present a knowledgable and balanced progressive opinion, and today he expressed the dominant European view of the Ukraine crisis, which is that Kiev should not be given weapons, as Washington is eager to do.  France24 news covered President Hollande’s twice yearly news conference at which he announced an ambitious plan to tackle radical Islam and Islamophobia that starts in kindergarten, involves immigrant families, and culminates in a ‘national service’ program for adults.
These various news items are strongly linked. The really big news on France 24 is the plan for resolving the crisis in Ukraine drafted by France and Germany, to be presented today in Kiev and tomorrow in Moscow.  As John Kerry stood side by side at a press conference with ‘Yats’ repeating accusations of a Russian invasion (with Yats offering his glasses to anyone who cannot see the tanks supposedly rolling across the border), Merkel and Hollande were on their way to succeed him, both literally and figuratively. The leaders of Europe’s two major powers appear to have made up their minds that the US engineered coup in Ukraine (as in Nuland’s ‘Fuck the EU!’) is threatening Europe’s survival, and hence that the time has come for them to declare their independence from Washington once and for all.  The coupling of Hollande’s domestic plan to counter both the Islamic threat and the threat to France’s Islamic community (a threat which is mirrored in Germany) with the French/German plan for Ukraine suggests they have come to the realization that the American coup in Ukraine failed to take into account Europe’s real threat, which is not Russia, but Islam, after decades of poor immigration and assimilation policies vis a vis Africa and the Middle East.
Those of us who have despaired of Europe’s post-war passivity have seen in Syriza’s electoral victory in Greece a sign that the left is at last coming to life again. But until Europe cuts the umbilical cord with Washington, a reinvigorated left will achieve little.  The EU/US alliance could have gone on indefinitely as long as it was about jointly running the rest of the world (with Europe as a very junior partner). But as illustrated by the linked arms and grim faces of Europe’s leaders after the Charlie massacres, Europe realizes that its survival is now threatened, not by Russia or China, but from within, and not only by banksters, but by neighbor turning against neighbor in mutual fear and mistrust.
I recommend following today’s and tomorrow’s meetings in Kiev and Moscow on France 24, where Europe’s position will be given pride of place, as well as on RT, which will feature the Russian position, as the strands of post-war status quo in Europe begin to be cautiously pulled apart. The American media, meanwhile, continues to headline the ‘fear’ of the Baltic states of being once again absorbed into a Russia that with its nine time zones, is looking east to China and the lands on its southern rim.

As Hollande and Merkel, the Socialist and the Conservative, embark on their journey to Europe’s east, their plan not only excludes Ukraine ever becoming part of NATO. According to France 24,  it revives Vladimir Putin’s previously rejected suggestion that Ukraine should be allowed to trade both with the European Union and the Eurasian Economic Union.  The two European leaders arrived in Kiev as the American proconsul was leaving.

February 1, 2015: How About an American Donbass Brigade?

A number of second generation Muslim immigrants to Europe are  leaving to fight with ISIS, because ‘assimilation’ has left them feeling unwelcome in those countries.  American second or third generation Ukrainian immigrants are fighting for a Neo-Nazi government in Kiev because their parents or grandparents, bringing with them a fervent devotion to an anti-Semitic and anti-Russian Nazi hero, were made welcome here and flourished.   

Victoria Nuland is only the most visible member of a Ukrainian diaspora that infiltrated the system of power. Notice that I do not say “the corridors of power’ which refers mainly to the foot soldiers of each party, most of whom know little about anything beyond their shores.  No, I mean that the actual system of power in the United States was infiltrated by members of Stepan Bandera’s Neo-Nazi Ukrainian Party that fought alongside Hitler to exterminate Jews and Russians in Ukraine.  These World War II  ‘refugees’ were whitewashed by the FBI in order to serve as American spies against the post-war Soviet bloc. Some of them - or their descendants - are probably still on the ground, but the decisive fight to make Ukraine a member of the European Union is being waged in Washington.  

As George Eliason has testified many times on this site, America’s neo-conservatives as well as Republicans are heavily stacked with Neo-Nazi donors, activists and organizers, which is why it was so easy, as Victoria Nuland admitted, to prepare a decisive action in Ukraine that overthrew the legally elected pro-Russian President. News about the US/Russia crisis still invokes the March 2014 referendum in which the inhabitants of Crimea, which was given to Ukraine in 1954 by Khruschev without them being consulted, voted to return that land to Russia, righting through democracy a previous undemocratic action by a ‘totalitarian’ government that was an adversary of the US.

Has anyone given any thought to setting up an American Donbass Brigade - maybe spearheaded by Iraqi Veterans Against the War, who are against ‘unjust’ wars - to fight alongside those in eastern Ukraine who reject the Neo-Nazi coup government in Kiev?

January 31, 2013: What Syriza Owes Iceland
In 2011, three years after the start of the 2008 stock market crash, an online transcription of an Italian radio program about Iceland’s ‘silent revolution’ caught my attention.  Iceland was the first country to essentially go bankrupt in 2008, but the story was mentioned only in passing in the press, after which this little-known Nordic European country went off the radar again..
That’s because the last thing the financial world wanted was for Iceland to become an example, as one European country after another fell victim to the banksters pranks, imperiling the Euro, with repercussions for the entire world.
What happened in Iceland, a country of 320 thousand, with no army, located between the North Atlantic and the Arctic Ocean, that put it back in the news?  The country’s banks had been privatized in 2003, and they immediately set about attracting foreign investments. In a typical example of a Wall Street inspired financial system that led to disaster, they did so by offering on-line banking whose minimal costs enabled them to offer relatively high rates of return. The accounts, called IceSave, attracted many English and Dutch small investors. 
Five years of this pure neo-liberal regime made it one of the richest countries in the world. But as investments grew, the banks’ foreign debt increased.  In 2003 the debt was equal to 200 percent of GNP, in 2007, it was 900 percent, and the 2008 world financial crisis knocked down that house of cards. The three main Icelandic banks, the Landbanki, the Kapthing and the Glitnir, went belly up and were nationalized, while the Kroner lost 85% of its value with respect to the Euro.  At the end of the year Iceland was basically bankrupt.
Contrary to what we might think happened next, the result of this crisis was that the people of Iceland recovered their sovereign rights. The FMI and the European Union wanted to take over Iceland’s debt, claiming this was the only way for Iceland to repay it, in particular to Holland and Great Britain, who had promised to reimburse their citizens. The foreign financial community was pressuring Iceland to impose drastic measures, similar to those it succeeded in imposing in Greece Italy, Spain and Portugal, to allow this to happen. Even after a social democratic coalition negotiated a two million one hundred thousand dollar loan, to which the Nordic countries added another two and a half million, protests continued, eventually forcing the government to resign.
Elections were moved forward to April 2009, however the resulting  left-wing coalition, while condemning the neoliberal economic system, immediately gave in to the demands of the international economic community that the country pay off a total of three and a half million Euros.  This meant that each Icelandic citizen would have to pay 100 Euros a month (or about $130) for fifteen years, with 5.5% interest, a total of 18 thousand Euros, to pay off a debt incurred by private parties vis a vis other private parties. 
What happened next was extraordinary. The idea that citizens had to pay for the mistakes of a financial monopoly, that an entire nation must be sacrificed to pay off their debts was given the boot. Confronted with a massive general protest, Iceland’s representatives went over to the side of those they were supposed to represent but hadn’t been. The Head of State, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, refused to ratify the law that would have made Iceland’s citizens responsible for its bankers’ debts, and accepted calls for a referendum.
Popular pressure transformed the relationship between citizens and their political institutions: 
Of course the international community only increased the pressure on Iceland. Great Britain and Holland threatened dire reprisals that would isolate the country.  Their bankers pressured the Icelandic people as they went to vote, threatening to block any aid from the IMF, which would withdraw its previously granted loan.  The British government threatened to use classical terrorist methods, freezing savings and checking accounts of Icelanders in its banks. As Grimsson said: “We were told that if we refused the international community’s conditions, we would become the Cuba of the North.  But if we had accepted, we would have become the Haiti of the North.”
In March 2010, the results of the referendum were 93% against the debt being paid by Iceland’s citizens.  The IMF immediately froze its loan, but the revolution would not be intimidated.  With the support of a furious citizenry, the government began to investigate those civilly and penally responsible for the financial crisis.  Interpol put out an international arrest warrant for the ex-president of the Kaupthing, Sigurdur Einarsson.  The other bankers implicated in the crash fled the country.
In this effervescent climate, the banks were re-nationalized and a process of direct participatory democracy eventually gave Iceland a new Constitution that would free the country from the exaggerated power of international finance and virtual money. Twenty-five citizens were to be elected from among 522 adult candidates, recommended by at least 30 people, and belonging to no political party, to write the constitution on the internet. It didn’t quite happen that way, with everyone able to follow the drafting on-line, although some constituent’s meetings were streamed on-line and citizens were able to send in comments and suggestions.  However, the process was a lot more open than that of a handful of politicians in smoke-filled back rooms. (Now you know why Jullian Assange has important friends in Iceland, and why  the country was considered as a possible refuge for Edward Snowden.) 
Update January 2015: Iceland recovered from its terrible financial situation in record time, in ways just the opposite of those generally considered unavoidable, Margaret Thatchers There is No Alternative, or TINA).  It opted not to be saved by the IMF or the World Bank, and refused to sacrifice its sovereignty to foreign interests, choosing instead to reinstate its citizens’ rights.
While the crisis was reaching its tipping point in Iceland, in 2011, the people of Greece Italy, Spain and Portugal which, like most of the world had still not recovered from the 2008 economic crisis, were also told that the privatization of their public sector was the only solution to the debts their relatively weak economies had accumulated.  But as part of the European Union, these countries did not have the luxury of taking matters into their own hands, although draconian austerity soon resulted in unemployment between 25 and 50%.  
Greece was the first country to break out of the situation: last week voters installed a forty-year old Prime Minister who campaigned on a promise to abandon the austerity imposed by Greece’s creditors and cut the debt in half, obtaining a longer period for Greece to reimburse its creditors. I doubt this would have happened had Iceland not dared, in 2011, reaffirm that the people’s sovereign will should take precedence over any international agreement.  That news had been slow getting out, but my relay of the Italian report on Daily Kos went around the world.  Now, a week after Syriza’s win in Greece, Spain’s Podemos Party is staging massive demonstrations, and we can expect similar uprisings in Italy and Portugal, leaving Angela Merkel, the IMF and the European Bank ponder the future of the Euro.  

January 27, 2015 The West's Latest Putin Snub - And Dirty Trick

RT hasn't mentioned it yet, but yesterday, Standard and Poor downgraded Russia's status to junk!

That's got to be a whammy, however you look at it and I'm anxious to see how Pepe Escobar will spin it (no offense, Pepe!).

As if this economic bashing wasn't bad enough, today, both RT and France 24 devote large amounts of time to the 70th anniversary commemoration of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp BY THE SOVIET ARMY. But it turns out thatVladimir Putin was not invited.

How petty can the 'great' of this world get!

(Meanwhile, Russia's foreign Minister Segei Lavrov is hosting talks in Moscow between some of the parties involved in the Syrian civil war.....)

January 25, 2015: Will Syriza's Victory Move Europe Left?

The political pendulum swings ever from left to right and back again, in all countries and at all times, and today it swung to the left in Greece. What is different about this victory however, in a European Union that is, after all, only twenty-two years old, is that it is the first time that a national party has enjoyed boots-on-the-ground support from similar parties from other European countries. Campaigners came from Spain, Portugal and Italy, the other austerity-ridden southern countries, but also from Germany, which is Europe's paymaster, but also the home of a powerful new left party, Die Linke.

Where did this new left-wing impetus come from?The significant rise in right-wing representation in the European parliament in 2014 rang alarm bells across the continent. Also in 2014, two referenda were held, both of which failed, undoubtedly convincing voters to turn to the left. One was for Catalan independence from Spain, the other was for Scottish independence from Great Britain, in which the conservative leader David Cameron made last-minutes promises to voters, backtracking as soon as the results were in.
And then cane the stunning electoral success of France's National Front Party under Marine Le Pen at a time when information about the Nazi character of the government the West brought to Ukraine was beginning to seep out of a closely guarded European press. Then the Charlie tragedy boosted Europe's increasingly assertive far-right, fanning the flames of Islamophobia, finally motivating a flagging left to reassert itself. For the first time, campaigners from across Europe's left came to Greece to support Alexis Tsipras's campaign to become the new head of government. The country where Northern Europeans love to vacation because of its carefree sun and surf atmosphere, repeatedly overspent its budget in pursuit of the American social model. What has made Syriza different from Europe's traditional left-wing parties is its espousal of sustainable growth as opposed to consumerism as a way of life, and that is why it has garnered the support of other new left European parties.
These parties may eventually supplant the continent's traditional left-wing parties, those based on the working class, with its strong, century-long trade union tradition. They too defend workers, but they also reveal the emptiness of the American-inspired 'dream' that took over Europe, gradually but relentlessly, after the Second World War, culminating in the 2008 financial crash that threatened the very survival of the Welfare State with draconian austerity. The question now is whether the Davos Summit that started the week, planned for the possibility that by its end, Greece would have a government capable of actually exiting the Washington-backed Euro.

January 23, 2015: Two Hawks and a Bear

As Ukrainian’s coup-installed president Petro Poroshenko, looking every day less like a cuddly Chocolate King and every day more desperate, carries out the genocidal plans of his Prime Minister (State’s Victoria Nuland’s protege ‘Yats’ and his Hitler worshipping Right Sektor supporters), two American ‘experts’ have weighed in on how and why the Russian bear needs to be contained.

The indefatigable George Soros, whose money magic leaves him plenty of time to weave spells in the corridors of power, corridors of the Europe he fled as a boy, cannot be expected to view with anything but disdain those who Russia today, but having been passed over for a top government position in one of the Baltic countries, has been filling the pages of the New York Review of Books with his prescriptions for saving Ukraine, that could lead to World War III.  In this, his second recent article in the New York review, dated February 5th, he calls on Europe to poney up the funds needed to save Ukraine, on pain of being wolfed down by the Russian bear before it can say ‘Garcon!’

Surely it is no coincidence that the prescriptions of the little Hungarian refugee who became one of the world’s riches men should be carried out virtually in lock-step with the article’s publication.  Here is his recipe for ‘Rescuing Ukraine’:
A Russian default would be more than the US and Europe bargained for, so they need to balance the sanctions against Russia with assistance to Ukraine on a much larger scale.  Sanctions are a necessary evil because neither the EU nor the US wants to goto war with Russia, however Russia’s deflation, it turns out, is bigger than anticipated, ‘helping to turn the threat of deflation in the Eurozone into reality.’

And here’s Soros’s bait and switch: “By contrast, all the consequences of helping Ukraine would be positive.  By enabling Ukraine to defend itself, Europe would be indirectly defending itself. Moreover, an injection of financial assistance to Ukraine’s economy would help stabilize its economy and indirectly also provide a much-needed stimulus to the European economy by encouraging exports and investments in Ukraine.”  Russia’s troubles (sanctions) and Ukraine’s progress (thanks to European help) would persuade President Putin to give up as a lost case his attempts to destabilize Ukraine.

I am neither an economist nor a military strategist, but the plan of a world famous financier seems incredibly simplistic. No wonder, as Soros admits, “the European leadership does not seem to be moved by these considerations.”  Is it because they have other fish to fry, or they just don’t trust the math?  None of the above. The problem, according to Soros, is that the poor stupid Europeans don’t realize that the great Russian Bear is determined to swallow them whole for breakfast. (In another astonishing warning, he accuses the Europeans of not realizing how important Ukraine is to the stability of the Euro, as are ‘Greece and Ireland’…….)

Even taking into account Soros’s childhood in Hungary during first the German then the Soviet occupation - born in 1930, he left Hungary in 1947 and made his way to England eventually becoming the poster child for a rags to riches story worthy of a modern Dickens - one is hard pressed to account for his enduring animosity toward Russia.  (After all, as his Wikipedia biography touchingly recounts, as a thirteen year old he was asked to deliver notices requiring Jews to report for Nazi deportation, before the Russian army liberated Budapest - but never mind, as my Russian grandmother used to say…..)

Soros insists that although the Yanukovich government failed to bring the country up to par so it could proceed with the association agreement drawn up by the EU between 2007 and 2012, ‘it has gone through a revolutionary (sic) transformation since then, so that the EU could “adjust the process accordingly,” lamenting that “its cumbersome bureaucratic processes do not allow for that.” Instead, it decided that given Ukraine’s previous poor track record, the IMF and the European Union have decided that it must show proof of  “clear evidence of deep structural reform, not as an inducement, but as a precondition for receiving assistance.”

From this perspective, continues Soros “the successful resistance (sic) to the previous Yanukovich government on the Maidan, and later, the Russian annexations of Crimea and the establishment of separatist enclaves in eastern Ukraine are incidental…seen as temporary external shocks.” If you think Soros is suddenly becoming rational, think again.  This is his lead-in for a long diatribe about the resurgent Russian bear poised to swallow Europe, facing a Ukraine inhabited not by nazi type stormtroopers who, in 2015,  dump unwanted politicians in dumpsters in front of crowds, but by young people who, having studied abroad, dis-dained corrupt business for think tanks, academia, and NGO’s.  Soros imagines that the new Ukrainian civil servants will be able to radically reduce their own numbers, who will miraculously find jobs in the private sector, allowing those remaining in government jobs to be better paid. 

Alas, removing obstacles to successful big business would require large infusions from the EU that its own rules prevent. After identifying six ways the Europeans could manipulate its own rules and those of the financial sector, Soros ends with this warning: “Europe needs to wake up and realize that it is under attack from Russia. Assisting Ukraine should be considered as a defense expenditure by the EU countries. Framed his way, the amounts currently considered shrink into insignificance.  For if Ukraine fails, Europe will be left on its own to defend itself against Russian aggression.”

To clinch his argument, Soros affirms that the sanctions and the body bags have made Putin vulnerable, and that Poroshenko challenged him by ‘renouncing his obligations under the Minsk agreement to the separatist areas, on the grounds that Putin failed to respect the cease-fire.’ Soros believes that “Russian” troops will be withdrawn from Ukraine and the cease-fire implemented ‘in the near future”, on condition the sanctions are maintained.

Curiously, Soros admits that if serious reforms are not underway in Ukraine by April 15th, Putin could argue that his problems are due to the hostility of the Western Powers. (But were he to fall, admits Soros, he could be succeeded by ‘an even more hardliner, like Igor Sechin or a national demagogue.’

Soros affirms that if Europe would only rise to the occasion and help Ukraine become a land of promise, Putin would not be able to blame his troubles on the East and would have to either change course or ‘stay in power through brutal repression, cowing people into submission’. Then, contradicting the previous paragraph he affirms that “If he fell from power, an economic or political reformer would likely succeed him. Either way, Russia would cease to be a potent threat to Europe.”

Concluding with an urgent plea for Europe to help Ukraine, Soros  announces that the IMF is to make its fateful decision on Ukraine at a board meeting on January 18. Is it pure coincidence that the Kiev renewed its offensive in eastern Ukraine during that same week?

But wait, there’s more. Having heard that Howard Fineman is now Editor-in-Chief of Huffington World, I checked it out.  Turns out it’s published in collaboration with ‘Project Syndicate’ a German think tank.  On the day I looked it up, the lead article was by Joseph S. Nye, a name that was familiar to me, but whose bio I didn’t know.  Born in 1937 Nye is:

<blockquote> an American political scientist and former Dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He currently holds the position of University Distinguished Service Professor at Harvard University[1] where he has been a member of the faculty since 1964. He is also the co-founder, along with Robert Keohane, of the international relations theory of neoliberalism, developed in their 1977 book Power and Interdependence. Together with Robert Keohane, he developed the concepts of asymmetrical and complex interdependence

The 2011 TRIP survey of over 1700 international relations scholars ranks Joe Nye as the sixth most influential scholar in the field of international relations in the past twenty years.[4]

In October 2014, Secretary of State John Kerry appointed Nye to the Foreign Affairs Policy Board.[8]  He is the chairman of the North American branch of the Trilateral Commission.[15] Nye has also consistently written for Project Syndicate since 2002. </blockquote>.

It’s difficult to imagine an American  political analyst with more clout.  Yet Nye’s Huff article, published on  September 3, 2014, is titled “A Western Strategy for a Declining Russia”.  It’s a wonderful illustration of the notion of the ‘Ivory Tower’ that has extended from academia to the higher reaches of government:

<blockquote>: While the West must resist Russian President Vladimir Putin’s challenge to the post-1945 norm of not claiming territory by force, it must not completely isolate Russia, a country with which the West has overlapping interests concerning nuclear security, non-proliferation, anti-terrorism, the Arctic, and regional issues like Iran and Afghanistan. Moreover, simple geography gives Putin the advantage in any escalation of the conflict in Ukraine.</blockquote>

As if China were not poised to take over the US as the largest economy in the word, as if it had not signed a multibillion dollar energy deal with Russia, as if the BRICS didn’t exist, Nye asserts that “Putin’s illiberal strategy of looking East while waging unconventional war on the West will turn Russia into China’s gas station while cutting off its economy from the Western capital, technology, and contacts that it needs.”

Nye spends a paragraph musing on whether a Russian decline would cause more disruptions than that of the Austro-Hungarian or Ottoman empires, ignoring the widely recognized decline of the United States.
Among Russia’s liabilities, ‘Putin’s bullying behavior has sown mistrust; few foreigners watch Russian films and no Russian university was ranked among last year’s global top 100. (It was Nye who  invented the phrase soft power in the late 1980s, and apparently he still coddles that idea.)

Nye claims the Russian population is declining, actually, though that happened after the brutal shock of the 1990’s, it is now recovering, with a substantial gap between men dying at around 64 and woman at 76, due to alcoholism. As of 2013, Russian total fertility rate of 1.707 children per woman[ was the highest in Eastern, Southern and Central Europe, and its infant mortality is down to 7.6 as opposed to the U.S.’s 5.2 and Sweden’s 2.7. 

What’s really interesting is that Russia’s population density is 22 per square mile, making it one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world, with plenty of room to spare as population pressures increase in other parts of the world. Calling it an industrial banana republic, Nye admits that with reform and modernization Russia would ‘surmount its problems.  Though the west is constantly hearing about the scandals associated with running Russia’s big oil companies, Nye never mentions its vast stores of mineral wealth.  Not only oil, but gas.  Oil reserves were estimated on 1st January 2012 at 28.7 billion tons, and natural gas reserves are about 68.4 trillion cubic meters. These figures make Russian raw material reserves globally significant. It is among the top ten of world “oil countries” and its gas reserves are the second or third largest based on actual estimates of Iran or Qatar reserves. 

Further according to Wikipedia

<blockquote> in 2005, Russia ranked among the leading world producers or was a significant producer of aluminum; arsenic; asbestos; bauxite; boron; cadmium; cement; coal; cobalt; copper; diamond; fluorspar; gold; iron ore; lime; lithium; magnesium compounds and metals; mica, sheet, and flake; natural gas; nickel; nitrogen; oil shale; palladium; peat; petroleum; phosphate; potash; rhenium; silicon, sulfur; titanium sponge; tin; tungsten; and vadium.</blockquote>

And yet, according to Nye: “Putin lacks a strategy for Russia’s long-term recovery and reacts opportunistically – albeit sometimes successfully in the short run – to domestic insecurity, perceived external threats, and the weakness of his neighbors. Russia has thus become a revisionist spoiler of the international status quo that seeks to be a catalyst for other revisionist powers. But an ideology of anti-liberalism and Russian nationalism is a poor source for  the soft power that the country needs to increase its regional and global influence. Thus, the prospects that a Russian-led Eurasian Union can compete with the European Union are limited.”

Pegging everything on his notion of soft power, Nye concludes on a somber note that should give us pause:  “Whatever the outcome of Putin’s revisionism, Russia’s nuclear weapons, oil and gas, skills in cyber technology, and proximity to Europe, will give him the resources to cause problems for the West and the international system. Designing and implementing a strategy that contains Putin’s behavior while maintaining long-term engagement with Russia is one of the most important challenges facing the international community today.”

Bottom line, Putin is a trouble-maker, but not exactly an existential threat to Europe, or any other area of the world.  So why is the West spilling blood on Russia’s doorstep?

Nye’s analysis is typical of the fantasy world Washington’s foreign policy establishment  has built up over the decades as the anti-Russian ethos of European refugees such as Kissinger, Brzezinski and Soros melded with America’s westward ho tradition (nowhere more in evidence than in the Ivory Towers of the Northeast), of thinking it can invent the world.

January 24, 2015
After Charlie’s Ironies, the Saudis’

Just days after President Obama laid out his plans to defeat ISIS, a Wahhabi fundamentalist 'state', he sends Vice-President Biden as standard bearer of America's 'grief' at the death of the king that funded it. The irony of this assignment was not lost on RT, that today is running clips of Biden just a few months ago castigating the Saudis for funding ISIS.

That Saudi Arabia should be funding ISIS, an entity that makes news by beheading hostages, is only logical. It punishes criminals the same way, and is currently administering one thousand lashes to a blogger, its 'humanity' evident in the decision to administer the punishment at the rate of 20 lashes a week.

Meanwhile, moving along a continuum, the U.S. has just meted out five years to Barret Brown for working with Anonynous to "investigate private government contractors working in cybersecurity, intelligence and surveillance", as reported by Amy Goodman click here.

Oh, and as the cherry on that particular cake, the new chief of the US Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), Andrew Lack, told the New York Times that "We are facing a number of challenges from entities like Russia Today which is out there pushing a point of view, the Islamic State in the Middle East and groups like Boko Haram," Needless to say, RT is having a field day with that and though I can't document this, Western journalists, and even the State Department have had to condemn Lack.

Turning now to Yemen, where the Houthi minority succeeded in forcing the US-backed government to resign, it would be incumbent upon serious journalists to point out that the Houthis constitue Yemen's Shia minority, nealry half the population, that they are supported by neighborning Iran, even as the US seeks to contain Iran's nuclear activities, having found nothing wrong with the Saudi's - or Israel - having the bomb.

Why are the Yemeni Shia important? Because the Arab world, having had an aborted spring, appears to be moving toward a knock-down drag out Sunni-Shia conflict, of which ISIS is the spearhead, its capital, Raqaa, located in Syria, wbose president, Assad, is supported by Iran, upon whom the US counts in its efforts to defeat ISIS, before it eventually gets rid of Assad, whose only eventual successor is likely to be a Sunni.

If this sounds like a vicious circle, it really isn't: the Shia represent the Muslim left, from Iran with its 1979 Revolution, to the Shia Alawite Assad and his Baath (Arab Socailsit) Party, to Hezbollah, Hamas and the Shia minorities in the various Gulf monarchies......

As the gilded 1% meeting in Davos feign to discover the worldwide 'problem' of inequality, there's really nothing new under the Muslim sun.