Monday, July 27, 2015

High-Level French Delegation to Crimea signals "The Power of Impossible Ideas"

Right now, a delegation of French politicians and entrepreneurs is visiting the Crimea, to ascertain for themselves whether the referendum that brought the peninsula back to Russia was backed by guns or was a legitimate expression of the will of its people. The visit comes as failing French dairy farmers stop tourist traffic to Mont St Michel and parliament responds by voting massive subsidies. The unprecedented initiative illustrates Europe’s growing resentment of Washington-ordered commercial sanctions against Russia, which has retaliated in kind, and could be likened to citizen diplomacy, since it happened in defiance of the French Foreign Ministry.

In a book published in 2012, a mother of four from California documents the birth of an idea - citizen diplomacy - and its achievements over thirty years. Sharon Tennison has succeeded in melding documented milestones, illustrated by black and white photographs, with narratives worthy of a book of fiction. At a time when the threat of nuclear war between the US and Russia that first motivated her in the 1970s is again looming, her achievement is worthy of attention - and emulation.

When the US government asked hospitals to set aside beds for victims of a nuclear attack, Sharon was asked by Physicians for a Sane Nuclear Policy to speak to groups about the insanity of nuclear war. After writing to President Reagan, she was informed she had been ‘handed over to the State Department’, and when she and a group of friends visited the Soviet Consulate in San Francisco to request travel visas in 1983, the FBI tried to dissuade her from taking ordinary citizens to visit the Empire of Evil.

Since those early days, Sharon has taken about 2000 Americans to visit the USSR/Russia, and about 7000 Russians and other nationalities to the US for training in business and other fields, 6000 in business management training. Under Gorbachev, the Center for Citizen Initiatives (CCI) brought both AA and Rotary to the Soviet Union. The trips to Russia focus on bringing ordinary people together to talk about their lives, based on shared professional or personal interests. 

Anti-Russian propaganda suggests that the US media maintains Americans in a view of Russia that no longer corresponds to reality, painting the portrait of a drab and bureaucratic country. Unlike what went on during the Cold War, when Communist leaders were rarely singled out unless they banged a shoe in the Security Council. With US encouragement, Russia’s first president, Yeltsin, allowed the pillaging of Russia’s precious resources by oligarchs, yet anti-Putin propaganda is widespread at present, in the face of admittedly high ratings at home, which, it is suggested, simply mean that Russians like authoritarian governments. 

Tennison, though nearly eighty, continues her efforts, convinced, like most progressives around the world, that a nuclear war is on the Neo-conservatives’ table. To get an idea of what her powerful idea is all about, here is her report on a recent trip to Volgograd:

 Our group of 20 citizen diplomats was composed of several travelers who had NEVER been to Russia. For them the trip was a new travelogue with Russian faces, discussions, home visits, and businesses appearing every few hours for the entire trip. I think all would say it was a real eye-opening experience. For others who had been there one or more times, they were shocked at the physical changes in Russia and the Russian people since they last traveled there.  Several who have traveled to Russia multiple times over the past dozen years had kept up with Russia's progress, and were fascinated to see into small and large private businesses, think tanks, have frank discussions with many new Russians; even for these watchful observers, Russia is still changing for the better.  Last for me, it was intriguing to see how ordinary (and not so ordinary) Russians are faring under the US sanctions and the loss of European trading partners. Of course, depending on whom one talks to, one gets different points of view. The following represents the opinions of the bulk of those Russians with whom I spoke.

1.  The most startling fact for me is how well Russian people are withstanding being cut off from their normal long-standing markets and trading partners in Europe––and how they are faring since their ruble lost about half of its value in the past year. They were concerned about how long this period might last, but none registered serious fear or diffuse apprehension.  Unlike us, Russians have gone through so much worse in their past. This is apparently rather small by comparison.

2.  Next, how healthy and vibrant Russia looks today. Not in my 32 years of traveling around Russia has this country looked so prosperous and orderly.  It definitely doesn't look like an isolated country under sanctions. It looks like a healthy, robust place with a great deal of modernity present everywhere.                                        

3.  There is a definite pride in Russia's citizenry that I had not seen previously. Today Russians respect themselves and their country, as opposed to the former years when, when to one degree or another, they seemed burdened with insecurities and self-doubt.

4.  Russia's structures, from 18th century buildings to today's skyscrapers, are well kept these days. Unlike yesteryear, streets and sidewalks are clean.  We traveled by metros, minibuses, and cars inside these cities––and across the countrysides by train and occasionally by cars. Highways are finally in good shape, city streets also, and they are as well marked as ours––this is new. Pedestrians have the right away with traffic now! We saw few dilapidated houses, except for rows of original wooden houses in Volgograd.  Russia's villages are disappearing which is a great loss to those who still revere village life. Khrushchev's five-story apartment buildings are being razed with numerous elegant residential buildings going up in each city. I counted 19 cranes from one vantage point in Ekaterinburg.

5.  Beauty and Russian classicism "are back" in Russia.  Having survived the ugliness of the Soviet period, the bleakness and breakdown of the 1990s, Russian designers and architects have finally come upon classic styles for new building construction and decorating. 

6.  It seems to me that Russian people have found their comfort zone.  They don't aspire to be like Americans or Europeans or anyone else.  They feel good about being Russian and belonging to Russia. I think this is due to finally settling into their "national idea" of themselves (a combination of classicism from the Tsarist era including the re-emerging Russian Orthodox faith, built-in social services from the Soviet era, plus a renewed sense of Russia's cutting edge scientists and the Russian nation rising in the world). They have been searching for "what" Russia would become since the 1980s and no doubt even earlier. They appear to have internally settled this issue for the present.

7. Russians are open and honest that they have a long road ahead of them, seeing that there is much to do to refine civic responsibility, law and order,  health care, social issues, democratizing issues and to get corruption under control.

8. Russians know they are a major country coming up in the world, yet one gets no sense that they are hungry for power.  They aspire to be part of a developing multipolar world, where nations cooperate as opposed to break into competing alliances. I agree, this is the only way that makes sense at this juncture of our world's evolution. Russians are still a modest people, and not given to grandiosity or exceptionalism, in private or in public.

9.  Russian people are still questioning what system will be best for them to develop.  Is it American Democracy? No.  Is it full blown Socialism? No.  Is it full Capitalism?  No.  Is it private sectorism?  Yes, definitely.   It is some combination of these with plenty of safeguards to support excellent education, culture, the needs of children, the disabled and pensioners, etc.  

10. Political system: They seem to still be searching for what's best for Russia ….  but are comfortable with their current trajectory at the moment.  Putin's approval rate in the Levada independent poll this week is  89%––probably the highest in the world for a head of state.  Are there those who dislike Putin, who think he should vacate the presidency and make room for someone younger without a KGB background?  Definitely.  Frequently they are the younger educated males in the major cities who believe that Putin is the root of all of Russia's challenges in the world. Those with whom I had long discussions have a lot of holes in their perceptions.  They are a thin minority but it's good for Russian society for them to exercise other points of view––even if most won't agree with them.

11. Personal freedoms:  Most Russians have the main freedoms that they cherish.  Remembering communism, they feel great that they can travel abroad at will, be safe in their homes, safe on their streets, choose any kind of work they wish, move wherever they want, educate their children as they please, read whatever they like, have whatever friends they wish, and they are glad to lead a normal life in Russia. There are Russians who push for more freedoms, they too are good for society. However, those who do such acts as desecrating the National Cathedral are not among them. Average Russians don't respect exhibitionism in any form.

12.What would Russians change, if they could?  First of all they wish for fewer taxes, less bureaucracy, less corruption and more incentives for private business.  They want a more highly organized and efficient society. They want to better understand how to innovate and instigate new levels of Russian production.

13. Russians want to build the great society for themselves and for anyone who comes there to live. They don't tolerate outsiders' ideas of how to build their country. They are frank …. if you come to Russia to live, you are expected to learn the language, live by Russian laws, work and support yourself. You don't go to Russia in order to change it. Russians themselves have the right to change Russia, but foreigners do not.

14. Russians want to help develop a more egalitarian world, one that supports growth and also takes care of societies' less advantaged peoples. 

15. Russians and their leadership in the Kremlin and elsewhere have ZERO interest in taking over more land.  Nothing would cripple them more quickly than having angry Estonians, Latvians or Ukrainians under their roof.  In addition, Russia has more land than they can use. They have more natural resources than they can extract and use/sell over the next 50 years. As far as Crimea goes, they and the Crimeans have understood themselves as the same people for centuries.  But for a drunk Khrushchev who gave Crimea to Ukraine without consulting the Crimeans in 1954, Crimea would have been part of Russia up to this day.  Rumors that Russia will take any of the Soviet space back into Russia, including Ukraine, are pure fabrications to benefit the objectives of those who are trying to reduce Russia's ability to be competitive in the world.

 Sharon Tennison

June 2015

Story to Watch, July 25, 2015

Yesterday, one of my favorite foreign news channels, probably France 24, reported that President Obama doesn’t want Great Britain to leave the European Union (not the Euro, which it never joined), although Prime Minister Cameron is planning to hold a referendum on the question. The reason for Obama’s opposition to something the Brits want is that it is through London that the US more or less controls Brussels.

But the more interesting question is why Cameron wants to leave the EU:  according to this news source, in broad strokes, he believes Great Britain never should have had to leave India, which it used to run. Updated to 2015 that means he thinks it should have close economic ties with the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) and the SCO (The Shanghai Cooperation Agreement, that includes most of the countries of Central and East Asia), which held a joint summit last week in a town in southern Russia that no one outside of Eurasia had ever heard of, Ufa.  (“Uffa", with the accent on the ‘u’ is Italian for fed up….)

National Review Calls Bernie Sanders a Nazi

Just when I think my fellow Americans are beginning to get their political categories straight, a fellow journalist proves me wrong. For years I have been lamenting the lack of political literacy among American policy-makers, while assuming that even compliant journalists have been educated as to the differences between socialism, social democracy, communism and nazism. I'm wondering how many journalists will read the article in the National Review by Kevin D. Williamson titled: "Bernie's Strange Brew of Nationalism and Socialism”

This is the latest example of a journalistic method that avoids analysis by twisting definitions, or mixing unrelated issues. In the 1970s I identified this tactic in a NYT review of Michael Harrington's Socialism that picked on things such a poor proof-reading to denigrate the book's ideas, and it is still a trusted technique.

Williamson calls Bernie's focus on the outsourcing of jobs to third world countries 'nationalism', a blatant misuse of the word. The Norton Dictionary of Modern Thought defines it as: (1)"The feeling of belonging to a group united by common racial, linguistic and historical ties, and usually identified with a particular territory. (2) A corresponding IDEOLOGY which exalts the NATION-STATE as the ideal form of political organization with an overriding claim on the loyalty of its citizens

Personally, I think it's a shame that Bernie has to pander to his industrial base by criticizing outsourcing, because socialism calls for the international solidarity of workers, who are everywhere exploited. But international solidarity corresponds to a higher level of class consciousness than that prevalent among American workers educated to believe in the survival of the fittest through competition, so I am glad Sanders knows he cannot win an election unless he stands up for American workers.

One of the most iconoclastic characteristics of the Cuban Revolution has been its consistent demonstration of international solidarity, as evidenced by sending troops to fight for the liberation of the African nation of Angola, as well as by being the first to send doctors to the continent's Ebola-stricken countries decades later. After fifty-six years of revolution, most Cubans take international solidarity for granted.

Moving on, the author, devoid of ideological literacy, can only rely on small details to make his point: the bumper-stickers of the attending public are more likely to say "PEACE than the more popular COEXIST. (Actually, he should have said 'the more sophisticated Coexist', but never mind.) This is followed by "'half-literate' denunciations of CORPORATE OLIGARCHY" with nothing to back up his claim.
Williamson does identify a clever ploy by Bernie's handlers: reserve a venue too small for the expected crowd so that pictures will give the impression of an overflow audience. How wicked is that!

Similarly, Bernie calling his listeners 'brothers and sisters' is hardly a typical socialist meme. The writer recognizes this, saying 'you get the feeling that after a couple of beers one of these characters is going to slip up and let out a 'comrade'. Yo Williamson, 'brothers and sisters' is black talk, whereas no part of the American public has embraced the term 'comrade' (maybe the Black Panthers?).

A woman in the audience says her husband has been trying to get her to move to a 'socialist country' such as Norway. "which of course is not a socialist country; it's an oil emirate". Throw in a colorful allusion, however nonsensical. Although Norway exports oil, like the other Scandinavian countries and the rest of Europe, it is and has been a parliamentary social democracy for decades. (The aim of the Troika is to destroy the European welfare state, starting with Greece.)

Then there's the inevitable bait and switch: suddenly you realize that Williamson, while ostensibly still talking about jobs, is now referring to trade deficits, saying ours is relatively the same with Canada as with China, as if that were relevant.

Next he interviews a Bernie volunteer who studied in Germany and wonders why the US can't have a similar system, "that interposes the government between employers and employees -- for example, mandatory paid maternity and paternity leave: I ask myself: 'Why do they have these nice things, and we can't?' I ask him to answer his own question, and his answer is at once familiar and frightening: 'Germany is very homogeneous. They have lots of white people. We're very diverse. We have the melting pot, and that's a big struggle.'"
Sure, it's easier to educate a homogeneous population to the advantages of social democracy than a heterogeneous one; easier to have workers sitting on company boards when they share the same culture and education. Bernie can't hope to "recreate the Danish model in New Jersey or Texas", but that doesn't mean we can't have more equality in the US. Actually, the young man's comment about immigration is also incorrect: Germany has had a large Muslim minority for decades, as has France, about 10% of their respective populations.What this article shows is how difficult it is going to be for American workers
to demonstrate solidarity with workers across the world, and Bernie is to be commended for not renouncing solidarity with immigrants, even though he has to stand up for American jobs. Implying that immigration is a challenge for leftists, Williamson quotes an article in the New Republic demanding that progressives oppose Obama's immigration reforms; but one can hardly call that publication 'leftist'.

(As for being able to identify a leftist or a conservative, an idea which Williamson mocks, I remember following American election results at the Paris Embassy, and looking around at the members of the expat audience, it wasn't hard to figure out which were what.)

Williamson trashes the community in which Bernie is speaking, calling it "the perfect setting for the mock-religious fervor that the senator brings to the stump." Then he criticizes Bernie's pronunciation, using the word 'oligarchy' as an example, accusing him of the "need to tick off every progressive box". But this is hardly surprising given the buyers' remorse Obama has generated. US vs THEM is only a no-no in the minds of so-called 'objective' journalists for whom class warfare is a conspiracy theory.

Back to criticizing the Scandinavian welfare state, the problem is that it is consensus-driven, leading to "crushing conformity that is imposed on practically every aspect of life." Williamson fails to admit that it is also "a stabilizing and moderating force in politics, allowing for the emergence of a subtle, sophisticat-ed and remarkably broad social agreement that contains political disputes". Bernie's politics, however, are the polar opposite of Scandinavian: "He's got a debilitating case of Tea Party envy.”

Williamson fails to note - if he is aware of it - that the Scandinavian states were not born with consensus: they had a haughty upper class and workers had to fight for small gains at the turn of the twentieth century, the welfare state coming into full bloom only after the second world war, as it did more gradually and less systematically in the rest of Europe. As for the countries of Eastern Europe, it has often been pointed out many workers there regret the loss of the protections they enjoyed under the 'Soviet yoke.'

But now comes the coup de maitre: the identification of 'the traditional bogeymen of conspiracy theorists, "from Father Coughlin and Henry Ford to Louis Farrakhan, Wall Street, etc". The radical political language of the 1970s and 1980s spoke of a capitalist conspiracy or a conspiracy of bankers (a conspiracy of Jewish bankers, in the ugliest versions), a notion to which Sanders pays ongoing tribute with the phrase 'rigged economy.'"

Notice how Williamson sidesteps the issue of money in politics: "Bernie swears to introduce a constitutional amendment reversing Supreme Court decisions that affirmed the free-speech protections of people and organizations filming documentaries, organizing Web campaigns, and airing television commercials in the hopes of influencing elections or public attitudes toward public issues." Apparently, Citizens United was all about the innocent making of documentaries and the "hope of influencing elections". A distracted reader might be tempted to agree that corporations are people and thus, as Williamson claims, the court's decision that they are not is the equivalent of repealing the First Amendment.

Finally, the writer returns to his shtick about national socialism, lumping together Venezuela's former socialist president Hugo Chavez, Julius Rosenberg who with his wife was famously executed for passing information to the Soviet Union, and Julius Streicher, a prominent Nazi propagandist prior to World War II! At a time when American workers are becoming aware that European workers have a better deal than they do, in a bid to derail campaigns for meaningful change, conservative writers resort to an old tactic: equating socialism with fascism. It's frightening to think that the average American reader of this screed is likely to buy it hook, line and sinker - and rarely has a popular expression been so appropriate!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Tunnel Vision (July 11)

Yesterday, while American eyes were on Athens and Brussels - as far as overseas news is concerned -  in a town named Ufa in central Russia, the leaders of the BRICS countries (Russia, China, India, Brazil and South Africa) were meeting those of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO),  that gathers Russia and China with the countries known collectively as the Stans - Kirgistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakstan - was adding Pakistan and India to its number, and taking the occasion to review with the President of Iran the progress of its nuclear talks with the P5+1.  
Yesterday, while American eyes were on Athens and Brussels - as far as overseas news is concerned -  in a town named Ufa in central Russia, the leaders of the BRICS countries (Russia, China, India, Brazil and South Africa) were meeting those of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO),  that gathers Russia and China with the countries known collectively as the Stans - Kirgistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakstan - was adding Pakistan and India to its number, and taking the occasion to review with the President of Iran the progress of its nuclear talks with the P5+1.  

Soros: Right Analysis, Wrong Strategy (July 17)

On the day the Japanese parliament voted to break with the country’s postwar decision to forbid its military from fighting in foreign lands, I saw George Soros’ article in the July 9th New York Review of Books, anticipated this event. Soros admits that the Neo-con Project for a New American Century has been a disaster, but oblivious to the new face of Eurasia, he believes the US can lure China away from Russia and that doing so would prevent World War III.  
 Maybe it’s what the French would call Soros’ ‘professional deformation’ - constantly thinking about finance - that accounts for his tunnel vision, but it is astonishing none the same. Although he has penned several articles on the crisis in Ukraine (all of which reflect the official US policy of blaming Russia), in his latest article the very real threat of World War III lies with China rather than on Russia’s doorstep.
Soros finds a devious way to admit the main defect of US foreign policy, attributing it to disagreement between Democrats and Republicans, but it is a major admission nonetheless: “Both parties continued to emphasize American sovereignty, but they rarely agreed to subordinating it to international obligations.”  He fails to note that what most starkly separates Russian and American foreign policy is that the former seeks to emphasize cooperation and negotiation, while the latter is a hammer in eternal search of a nail.
Soros also admits that the Neocons “persuaded George W. Bush to attach Iraq on grounds that turned out to be false, causing the US to lose its supremacy.”  (Thank goodness, a battle may be shaping up in DC between the Neo-cons and a more rational foreign policy group.) He even (falsely, but never mind) equates the Neocon project’s life span (ten years) to that of Hitler’s Third Reich (which was twelve), but fails to note the serious resurgence of Nazism across Europe.
Soros opposes Neo-con followers of economic “Rational Choice Theory” who believe that military power is supreme, to “a much more subtle compromise between international governance and national self-interest”, but his conclusions are astonishing in light of recent developments in Eurasia, from China’s new Silk Road to its food distribution hub serving Russia, not to mention the BRICS bank involving China, Russia, India, Brazil and South Africa and whose aim is to assist third world development without requiring quid pro quos.
Latching on to China’s desire for its currency, the renminbi, to be granted Special Drawing Rights (SDR) in the IMF, Soros wants the US agree to this without asking for anything in return, noting that “the relationship between two great powers is not a zero-sum game: one party’s gain is not necessarily a loss for the other”.  Instead, he suggests extending cooperation on climate change to “other aspects of energy policy and to the financial and economic sphere” in order to supposedly “remove the threat of a military alignment between China and Russia” and thus “greatly diminish the threat of a global conflict”. Apparently, Mr. Soros doesn’t know that for the first time, Chinese troops marched in the Moscow parade celebrating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.  
To bolster his stance, in an obvious reference to the Crimea referendum, Soros alleges that Putin’s Russia has replaced the rule of law with the rule of force, while China, though not always respecting the rule of law, ‘respects its treaty obligations’, a thin branch upon which to rest a major foreign policy change. 
Soros does recognize that the US and China have very different political systems, the former based on the idea of individual freedom, the latter “harnessing the talents and energies of its people in service of the state”.  He appears to ignore the existence in China of dozens of billionaires as well as a rising middle class whose passion for automobiles clogs roads and increases pollution.  (In a well-researched radio feature, Moscow-Beijing Express, The Saker 44 Days Radio Sinoland, Russian “Oligarchs” versus Chinese Billionaires, 2015.7.5 Jeff Brown documents the US consistently referring to Russia’s ‘oligarchs’ while calling the same category of individuals in China ‘billionaires’.) 
Soros notes that the US “would like China to adopt its values, while the Chinese leadership sees them as subversive”. (The idea that individual freedoms enable Americans to subvert the state has never been so questionable, but that may have escaped the Chinese leadership…) Toward the end of his article, Soros does admit that “China has more in common with Russia than with the US” in that both “consider themselves victims of America’s aspirations to world domination”. However he believes the US should “make a bona fide attempt at forging a strategic partner-ship with China” involving both cooperation and tit for tat bargaining.  Returning to finance, his central interest, the hedge fund billionaire calls for the US to grant China special drawing rights in the IMF and also, to include it in the TPP instead of deliberately excluding it from this important economic arrangement. If these good faith efforts should fail “the US would then be fully justified in developing a strong enough partnership with China’s neighbors that a Chinese-Russian alliance would not dare to challenge it by military force”.

Without the momentous change in Japan’s military doctrine that just occured, Soros’ strategy would be unthinkable. And although it brings to mind the Japanese defeat of Imperial Russia in 2005, it is less convincing than the author’s financial success.

Neo-Nazis to Kiev: Drop Dead! (July 12)

Until now the Western press has succeeded in fugding the role played by Right Sector and other Neo-Nazi militias in the overthrow of a democratically elected president in Ukraine last year. But if they expected the groups would gradually integrate civil society and put away their chains and clubs.[tag]

Those of us who have been trying to expose the role played by these private militias whose hero is Stepan Bandera, a Ukrainian nationalist whoa fought alongside Hitler in the second world war, helping to slaughter thousands of Poles and Jews, have met with feigned incredulity on the part of the mainstream press, which at most is willing to admit the presence of the proverbial 'few bad apples' among a population yearning for democracy. Insults levied at govenrment officials and threats against Jews and Russians proferred openly (in Ukrainian....) have been passed over in consistent silence, while opinion writers at best treat them with the indulgence generally accorded to wayward children.

However, as reported since yesterday by RT, Right Sector fighters used Kalashnikovs, RPG-7 and grenade launchers to the duke it out with a local strongman in Western Ukraine (the pro-European part of the country), putting locals in danger.

As of today Right Sektor is on alert across Ukraine, and those gathered in Kiev are demanding the resignation of the Interior Minister, just as, in 2014, they demanded the resignation of the democratically elected president.

The EU Parliament Applauds Tsipras (July 8th)

July 8th, 2015 will go down in history as the day the European Parliament came to life.  I will not pretend there have never been similar sessions, for I honestly don’t know.  What I do know is that it is often criticized as not being a real parliament, even though its members are elected.  The power in Europe is concentrated in the hands of the Commission that is made up of unelected representatives from the individual countries.
Today RT showed Alexis Tsipras entering the parliament to the accompaniment of robust cheers, with a broad swathe of representatives holding up “NO” signs.  Although there were also sounds of disagreement, the overall attitude of the chamber was in favor of Greece, and some delegates minced no words in criticizing Germany for its harsh stance.
  The fact that Marine Le Pen was among those who took the floor to defend the left-wing Greek government is not surprising: her far-right National Front Party has been using the Euro crisis to gain support from disillusioned left-wing voters.  

Spain’s Podemos Party helped Greece’s Syriza in its election campaign, together with members of the Portuguese and Italian new left parties, and the hard-line taken by Germany and France is all about these countries: if the European Union offers relief to Greece, these other southern countries would ask for the same indulgence.  If they deny relief to Greece, forcing it to leave the common currency, the other southern countries with troubled economies would eventually do the same thing and it would be over for the Euro.   It can seem ironic that the parliament finally coming to life should lead to the dissolution of the European system, but it is precisely because the economic union was not accompanied by a political union that this would happen.  Indeed, Tsipras’s speech declaring austerity to be not a Greek problem, but a European problem.

Monday, July 6, 2015


Last week France 24 reported that China had bought 45 Airbus  A330’s, acquiring half a chunk of the Toulouse airport while they were at it, and planning to open a second production plant in China for the plane’s interiors.  Chinese pilots are already being trained in France, to the tune of 100,000 Euros each, paid by Beijing, and China expects to order over 5,000 jetliners in the next 20 years.
But the most significant event was the French trade minister inviting his guests to invest more, and come to live in France - in Chinese! When you consider how annoyed the French have always been at having to speak English, insisting on making it sound like French, the sight of a Paris high official rolling Mandarin off his tongue with seeming pleasure is nothing short of extraordinary.  It puts the finishing touches to an image I coined in the nineties eighties when I was writing ‘Une autre Europe, un autre Monde’ the book that foresaw the reunification of Europe, which I defined as ‘the Eurasian peninsula’.
While we periodically hear of Chinese and Russians acquiring real estate in Europe, China isn’t waiting for the Silk Road and its high-speed Beijing-Berlin rail line to put productive chess pieces - or should I say Go pieces - in place. 
I still believe Europe will become Muslim, but one can imagine it taking its softer, Balinese form…Oh, to be a fly on a Gobelins tapestry fifty years from now!


UKRAINE, Zbig’s Grand Chessboard and How the West was Checkmated, is a long title for a book, but this book could have no other. In an outstanding example of collaborative writing, it provides an incisive account of the strategy elaborated in the nineteen-nineties by Zbignieuw Brzezinski for ensuring permanent US domina-tion of the world, strategy which is being implemented today. Neither academics nor journalists, Natylie Baldwin and Kermit Heartsong are among a growing cohort of political writers and analysts who are passionate about contemporary history.  
Natylie Baldwin focuses on Zbignieuw Brzezinski an academic who has occupied high level political positions going as far back as the Carter administration. The plan Zbig published in 1997 (The Grand Chessboard) explains why Ukraine should be separated from Russia, as is happening today. This strategy is based on a turn-of-the-century theory by British historian Halford Mackinder that he who rules the Eurasian heartland rules the world (see by Alfred McCoy). 
Thanks in part to this book, contemporaries will become aware of both the heartland theory upon which America’s post Cold War policies are based, and the rationale for those policies as expounded by Zbignieuw Brzezinski and the Neo-cons who are highly influential in the Obama government. As the US ramps up its threats against Russia, the nation that geographically dominates the Eurasian heartland, it is important for Americans to understand that these threats are part of a plan intended to ensure that America continues as the unchallenged world power of the twenty-first century. 
Zbig and other neo-Conservatives took Mackinder’s geopolitical insight about the Eurasian heartland and married it to a political theory by two German political philosophers. Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss claimed that men are evil and need to be dominated, and that the best way to do this is to unite them against a common enemy. That is why the disappearance of the Soviet Union failed to yield a peace dividend, but was promptly followed by the creation of another enemy, Muslim Fundamentalism. Americans wondering what they can do to bring change to their country need to be aware of the long-term nature of the Neo-Conservative project, which Baldwin spells out in detail. 
In the second part of the book, Kermit Heartsong places the Ukrainian takeover within the long-term plan to carve Russia, which spans nine Eurasian time zones, into several small states ruled by compliant leaders. Details of US involvement in a series of color revolutions starting in the nineties and intended to de-link Russia from its ‘near abroad’, according to Zbig’s Grand Chessboard theory, make Ukraine part of a master plan that is never mentioned in the media from which most Americans get their news. After reading this book you will know that Washington politicians are neither ignorant nor stupid, but driven by the conviction that America’s ‘exceptionalism’ entitles it - and even requires it - to rule the globe, justifying America’s key foreign policy goal, which is to prevent any other nation from rising to superpower status and to use every means, both military and diplomatic, in pursuit of that end (see The Wolfowitz Doctrine).
 The most troubling part of this plan is the deliberate decision to embrace Nazi methods, starting most visibly with the use of Neo-Nazi thugs to unseat Ukraine’s democratically elected president. Svoboda and Right Sektor leaders, whose heroes fought alongside the Germans, assassinating Poles and Jews during World War II, could never sit in any European parliament. Yet the followers of the World War II nationalist Stepan Bandera occupy ministerial posts in Kiev, accounting for the Poroshenko government’s bellicose attitude toward the mainly Russian inhabitants of its Eastern provinces and Ukrainian Jews. 
The last part of this remarkable book contrasts the West’s anti-Putin propaganda to the realities of the joint leadership of the BRICS countries by the Bear and the Dragon (Russia and China), as they cooperate to transform the Eurasian heartland into the world’s new economic hub, edging out the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency, upon which the American empire rests.
I hope this primer for understanding the twenty-first century will be translated from Lisbon to Vladivostok.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Two Deadlines, Same Demand (July 1)

Alexis Tsipras has defied predictions of capitulation, asking Greeks to vote “NO’ in Sunday’s referendum in order to get a better deal from Europe’s financial leaders.
 Iranians and Greeks, in two distinctly different crises, express the same demand: to be treated with dignity and respect.  This is not an unusual attitude among the majority of the world’s inhabitants, but it is unacceptable to its masters. For the Iranians, the lifting of economic sanctions depends on allowing the world’s leaders to know everything going on in its military bases, as part of it accepting to scale down its nuclear program. For the Greeks, a return to relative normalcy from the brink of default is hostage to continued austerity that would enable irresponsible banks to recoup their losses. In 2011, Iceland pointed the way to a dignified response to the first crisis of the 2008 meltdown, jailing its bankers as its people refused to be stuck with the bill. Apparently its isolated geographic location has kept it from acting as an example for Europe, but then again, Europe has changed considerably since 2011.  Austerity imposed on its southern tier has given a decisive boost to the progressive movement.  
Tsipras’ expected capitulation would have been a victory for Europe’s neo-liberal agenda aimed at dismantling the welfare state.  According to RT - and this makes sense - the Troika’s goal is regime change in Greece, eliminating the loudest voice on the European stage in favor of people’s democracy, as oppose to bankers’ rule. If they succeed, Europe’s financial masters will have dealt a significant blow to the rising people’s movements across the European south in Spain, Portugal and Italy. However, their success could boomerang: as thousands of African and Middle East refugees and migrants flood into Europe, far-right parties will play the financial and social strain to the hilt, until they succeed in replacing neo-liberal rule with new and improved nineteen-thirties fascism. 

The Real Reason why They Don’t Want Greece to Leave the Euro (June 29)

In all the recent coverage of the negotiations between Greece and the EU over an insurmountable debt, only once did I hear the fact that other European countries have declined - or were still waiting to join - the Euro. It turns out there are seven of them, leaving only eighteen countries that use the European currency: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain.  If we take away the smaller countries, that leaves essentially Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain, seven all told.

The non-Euro countries are not all midgets; they include Sweden and Denmark, Poland and the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Croatia and Bulgaria.  If Greece joins them, it’s not the numbers that will be significant, but the geographic location of these non-Euro countries.  Essentially, they will include all the former Eastern bloc countries, plus two Nordic countries. With Russia and China standing by to offer assistance via the newly created BRICS bank and the Eurasian Economic Union, what we are seeing is Europe essentially reverting to a division we thought long overcome.

The difference between the satellite countries under Soviet control and those same countries today is that as members of the European Union they are free to choose whether to adopt the Euro or not.  But perhaps more significantly, what is to stop them from joining the Eurasian Economic Union?

During the Cold War, Washington touted the danger to Europe of what it called “Finlandization”, a soft takeover through trade.  (Finland, that shares an important border with Russia felt it had to tread carefully in the foreign policy area when that border belonged to the Soviet Union, hence the origin of the word ‘Finlandization’.)  By mindlessly implementing an aggressive  Wall St-inspired neo-liberal policy focusing on privatizations, the EU courted the 2008 disaster, and by implementing the corresponding remedies that hark back to Margaret Thatcher’s TINA (there is no alternative to austerity), it planted the seeds of its demise, leaving Russia as Europe’s savior.  

Perhaps it is no coincidence that the Eastern bloc countries are joined by two Nordic countries, which have the most advanced social-democratic systems.  As I have written before, and as confirmed by Natylie Baldwin and Kermit Heartsong in Ukraine Checkmated, as well as by the Saker, Putin’s ‘managed democracy’, which the US calls ‘authoritarian’ is a form of social democracy.

While the media continues to spew accusations of aggressive Russian military moves that have no basis in reality, and to warn that a Grexit could lead to the breakup of the Euro, as if Greece would be the only member of the European Union outside the common currency, signaling a rush to the exit, smart investors will take note of the opening of the BRICS development bank whose aim is to function very differently from the IMF vis a vis the needs of its client countries.  

Europe on the Skids (June 28)

It’s the end of June and all across Europe schools are letting out for the summer.  Families long ago planned their four-week summer vacations down to the last detail (winter vacations are devoted to skiing, with schools organizing cheap deals, either over Christmas or during spring break).
But Europe, where I’m betting high-speed trains still run on time, municipal parks continue to be rigorously tended, and solidarity is still the byword, is experiencing a crisis unseen and unimagined since the Second World War. Hoping to blend solidarity with the defense of secularism, France banned the burka a couple of years ago, and although it’s considering building two thousand more mosques, or turning some churches over to Islam, that ten percent of its population that emigrated from North Africa and the Middle East have remained outsiders, and some are influenced by a deadly ideology.
Heightening fears, tens of thousands flee war-torn Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Libya via perilous voyages across the Mediterranean, the separate countries of the EU are unable to agree on how many each should take in, leaving Italy, the place where most refugees land, holding the bag. The most glaring case is that of Hungary, whose right-wing government plans to build a four-foot high wall along its border with non-EU Serbia, reminding critics that walls had been built before (although the Cold War wall was on the Austrian border….)
Meanwhile, Greeks have been emptying ATMs all week and the government ordered banks and the Athens stock exchange to remain closed tomorrow. Declaring negotiations with the international financial system over, leftist Prime Minister announced a referendum on whether to accept its ‘humiliating black-mail’.  By turning over the decision to the Greek people, Tsipras is not only refusing to betray his election pledge to end austerity, he is implementing the decentralized, people-oriented politics he hopes will spread across Europe. 
At the other end of the political spectrum, a couple of years ago a virulent anti-Muslim Norwegian killed almost a hundred socialist young people vacationing on an island, accusing them of supporting multiculturalism. This week, in what could be a copycat act, an Islamic terrorist killed almost forty people on a beach in Tunisia. On the same day a disgruntled Muslim father of three in France beheaded his boss and tried to light up a gas factory, and an ISIS follower bombed a Shia mosque in Kuwait. Anti-Muslim sentiment has risen in Europe and in the US, with the Dutch parliamentarian Gert Wilders publicly defying Muslims to react to his postings of cartoons mocking the Prophet, claiming the right to free speech.  
That incident barely made it onto US news channels, which continue to focus on the fallout from the shooting of nine Black worshippers in a South Carolina church by a young white racist, and the better-late-than-never decision by mainly Republican southern politicians to remove the Confederate flag from public buildings. Alternately, the media wax ecstatic over Supreme Court decisions saving Obamacare from the ax and allowing same sex couples to marry across the land. 
After 9/11, the news was of nothing else for months, but responsibility for the attacks was laid exclusively at the feet of ‘others’. Fourteen years later, Americans still see the rest of the world as ‘others’, while the rest of the world begins to question America’s Otherness, especially its so-called ‘exceptionalism’.  Europeans increasingly wonder whether the marriage they thought was made in heaven (sic), is leading them ever closer to hell: having escaped the Cold War unscathed, will their lands yet be the battlefield upon which the US fights Russia? Or will Wikileaks evidence that the US spies on ‘allies’ far beyond what is customary at last give its leaders the spine they need to loosen the ties that bind? 
Not unrelatedly, French taxi drivers are in an uproar over competition from the Uber app: they pay hefty licensing fees, not to mention taxes, to drive a cab, while Uber gives every car driver a chance to make a fare. This is just one example of the kinds of threats the TTIP represents to the much cherished European way of life, where almost everything is regulated so that no one takes unfair advantage, goes hungry or without medical care.
At this point, it’s hard to know which is the bigger threat to Europe: US designs on Russia, unbridled capitalism or the unrelenting spread of Islam to which American actions in Africa and the Middle East contribute, but which arithmetic also shows is unavoidable.

P.S. Last-minute from France 24: France's most prestigious graduate school, Polytechnique, admits thirty Chinese students out of a class of one hundred.Figures for other top French schools are similar.

Down to the Wire for Greece

Alexis Tsipras today called an emergency meeting of his cabinet after a week of failed negotiations with Greece’s greedy creditors, as the Greek people continued to demonstrate for him to do the impossible: remain in the Euro while enabling them to continue to survive.
A week ago a group of thirty-five eminent European, Russian and American economists and analysts spent four days together in Delphi, Greece, to discuss the Greek crisis.  They drafted the Delphi Declaration (a reference to the Greek oracle thought to predict the future), calling on European politicians to ‘do the right thing’ vis a vis the country that invented democracy. 
Among the Greek participants were Gerasimos Arsenis, Εconomist,  former minister of Economy, of Finance, of National Defense and of Education, ex-UN official and ex-director of UNCTAD:The two faces of the Greek crisis”, Dimosthenis Georgopoulos Economist, sociologist, political scientist, Secretariat on Industrial Policy, SYRIZA:  “Greece, Ukraine, wider Middle East; Alternative Paths-Transitions from Neoliberalism to Disastrous Capitalism”. 
Among the participants whose names will be familiar to OEN readers, were Dr. Paul Craig Roberts, former Treasury Secretary in the Reagan administration: “Propaganda Reigns in the West”, James K. Galbraith, Lloyd M. Bentsen Jr. Chair in Government/Business Relations at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, The University of Texas at Austin and Michael Hudson,Professor of economics, University of Missouri (Kansas City), President, Institute for the Study of Long-term Economic Trends: “The Needed Reforms. or, Recovering the Socialist Policy Agenda. Taxing away economic rent-seeking”.
Other participants included Samir Amin, Economist, President of the World Forum for Alternatives, Giulietta Chiesa, President of the Alternative Association, which campaigns for the EU to exit NATO, Adriano Campos, Member of the national leadership of the Portuguese Left Bloc: “Portugal , Five years of austerity. What alternatives?”, Steffen Stierle Εconomist, ATTAC Germany, assistant to the parliamentary group “Der Linke”: “The European Union – A field to fight for social rights and justice?”  Boris Kagarlitsky Director of the Institute for Globalization Studies and Social Movements: “How the struggle around Ukraine determines the development of the European crisis” 
(Sergei Glaziev Academician, senior advisor to the President of the Russian Federation on Eurasian integration, was prevented from attending by EU sanctions, but was present via Skype).
 As this partial roster shows, the Greek crisis has engaged the minds of major economists and social scientists, and no matter how it ends, it will effect the future of Europe and of the world.