Saturday, December 10, 2016

Fidel in Moscow, 1964

Excerpted from “Cuba: A Diary of the Revolution:  Conversations with Fidel, Raul, Che and Celia Sanchez”, by Deena Stryker

January 24, 1964 
About a hundred people gathered on wooden chairs in the TV studio to hear Fidel report on his trip to the Soviet Union. At the door, ministers in their best olive garb greeted each other, chatting animatedly in small groups. Fidel stopped for several minutes to talk with President Dorticos as people stood to greet him, then he walked between the two rows of chairs as they applauded, arriving on the podium like a horse uncertain of whether he wanted to run.
A few minutes later, an aide went through the public asking if anyone could lend Fidel some paper. A young American woman married to an Italian technician offered her pad. Seated at the table in the middle of the podium, Fidel began to write diligently, indifferent to the fact that thousands of listeners had been watching Russian shorts for half an hour, waiting for him to come on the air. The movie theaters and clubs were closed, thus every Cuban could and was expected to be at the appointment with the “Lider Massimo.” Fidel wrote for about five minutes, while the ministers took their seats in the front row. Che wore his usual blue beret with the lone commanders’ star, instead of two on the lapels. There was also an Eric Von Stroheim look-alike. I asked my neighbors who he was. It was General Bray, who had fought in the Spanish Civil War and was an expert in guerrilla warfare. Fidel hired him in Mexico to train his troops for the 1956 invasion. Now, still dressed in olive green, he was retired from the Revolutionary Army.
As soon as Fidel began to speak, it became clear that he wasn’t his usual self. His face was shiny, and he often shook his head as if to dispel some discomfort. Either he hadn’t digested his dinner, or ten days of Russian food had got to him. He seemed desperate to be free of the camera. Halfway through the report he quoted a figure, then hesitated, obviously not knowing whether it was right, looking to one of the commanders seated among the public for confirmation. He spoke the same way as when he was huddled in the corner of a sofa, talking to one or two people. He would hesitate, look for the right words, doodle on the tablet, check to make sure he was following the plan. He’d stop in the middle of a sentence, letting it trail off, then land on the key word. There was no need for more except for the syntax. He’d scratch his head, taking the speaker as witness. Finally, during the last half hour, he seemed to revive, deciding he could speak a little longer. He’d already explained in detail the long-term sugar treaty with the Soviet Union and what it would mean for the Cuban economy. He didn’t say much about the Russian welcome, just a few short phrases, head down, in a soft voice. It might have looked as though he was trying to gloss over it, but perhaps some things are so obvious that to dwell upon them would betray their essence.
He began to talk about Panama, and obviously enjoyed making fun of the Americans. He said the situation was so clear that you could see right through American imperialism. You didn’t have to raise your voice; this was a dual you could fight from an armchair. The adversary was a mere skeleton. He said the Americans were trying to blame the Cubans for the events in Panama, but no one would believe that the Revolution, a child of five, could do more harm to a country like Panama, than the sixty year old grandaddy of American Imperialism. He said the counter-revolution was anachronistic, like a bathing suit from the 1880s.
“I remember yesterday, in the Tupolev, flying about fifty miles from the American coast. It was a clear morning, you could see Miami very well, and we were at the windows. Coming from a cold climate, so different from ours, we were eager to arrive in Cuba, to see the green, feel the sun and the warmth, and I was thinking about the people who had renounced all this and were condemned to live in an eternal winter, that of nature and of morality, because that place is a moral North Pole. I thought about them and about this whole business, and I thought: ‘You’re so wrong! But good luck in your misfortune.’” Then, adding: “That’s all I have to tell you,” and he rose and stepped down from the podium like a student who's been to the blackboard.
January 25 

I had dinner with Vallejo, who told me his version of the trip to Russia. It seems they played a lot, like kids on vacation, horsing around and competing with Nikita to see who was a better shot. “What vigor for a seventy-year old!” The Cubans were thrilled to discover the snow; they picnicked in the woods, with big fires. During Fidel’s first trip to Moscow, Nikita had pressed him to come in winter, and every so often, he would say to Vallejo: “What do you think? Should we go? It’ll be cold, won’t it? What do you say, shall we go?” And finally, they had enjoyed the cold, and Nikita had spent all his time with them. Last year, Fidel had said to me: “You’ll see what a fun guy Nikita is!” - as if he and I were common friends, bound to meet up some day. On the way back in the Tupolev, one of the commanders came out of the pilot’s cabin wearing a life jacket and yelling: “We’re going down!” There was a scramble to locate the life jackets under the seats.

The Big Eight

If you trace the figure eight you see that it goes first one way then the other, to ultimately return to its point of departure.  This seems to be what is happening to world politics as 2016 comes to a close.
Similarly to what happened a hundred years ago, socialism is unable to stand up to the world’s 1%.  In the 1930’s, the German 99% become so frustrated that it backed a populist who brought on World War II.  
At that time, Europe’s Jews were blamed for the misery of the working class. Today, Europe’s populists are trying to save their Christian communities from an overwhelming Muslim influence, while in the United States, they are accused of stoking hatred of Blacks and Latinos. Although outwardly, the two Atlantic communities appear very different, they are both facing the fact that Caucasians are an ever smaller minority on the world stage.
Today’s European populists are not carbon copies of Hitler and Mussolini, and whether or not they would turn out to be as disastrous, if they were elected remains to be seen. As for the US, during the past century, it has been in the world drivers’ seat. Now, a hundred years after entering World War I to make the world safe for ‘democracy’, it has gone from defeating fascism to combatting a broad swathe of ‘others’. 
During that time, similar to what happened after the first world war, the European left has been too weak and divided to gain lasting benefits for the working class. From the nineteen-sixties to roughly the year 2000, the European Union was a worker’s paradise, compared to conditions in the US. To remedy this dangerous state of affairs, Wall Street power was brought to bear on Europe’s leaders, who caved to neo-liberalism. 
Outgoing French President Francois Hollande is the poster child of this phenomenon: a dyed-in-the-wool socialist whose entire career was spent in the upper echelons of the party, he was no match for the European World Bank and the IMF. Since the left represents a significant share of France’s electorate, Hollande’s heinous support for US-led destruction of secular Syria, coming after his predecessor, Sarkozy’s Libyan initiative, was one of the last straws for his voters.
History never repeats itself exactly, and unlike the modern left, the twenty-first century right is different in significant ways from the traditional right which, in Europe, tacitly supported Hitler.  The Manifesto of the New European Right, drafted in the late nineties primarily by the French philosopher Alain de Benoist, is unknown in the US, whose Alt Right reflects a laborious recovery from a polity based on slavery, but very familiar to Vladimir Putin, which is one of the reasons why one European right-wing leader after another has recently come out in favor of better relations with Russia: aside from emphatically supporting traditional families the new right sees the neo-liberal cultural model as a major threat.
Religion has always featured prominently on the European right: Catholic France has long referred to itself as ‘the elder daughter of the Church’, while Germany, as well as most of the countries to its east, has been peacefully divided among Protestants and Catholics. In the me-era, however, Europeans deserted their churches, leaving religion as a hollowed out rear guard that merely refuses to bless modernity, as epitomized in same-sex marriage.
Concomitantly, as part of the neo-liberal onslaught, the European bureaucracy in Brussels, determined to regulate every aspect of daily life (and not just food labels), has moved ever further from the people who live those daily lives. Europeans currently have a lot of resentment — more, I believe, than do Americans — so that when France’s Marine Le Pen, or Viktor Orban in Hungary denounce the increasing numbers of refugees from the Muslim world, people listen, because that presence is in addition to a myriad of other problems that start with 10% unemployment for workers, and continues with increasing red-tape for small businesses, which Brussels appears unable - or unwilling — to remedy.
Italy, which has had 70 Prime Ministers since World War II has just rejected the parliamentary reform package proposed by its young and dynamic Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi in an attempt to achieve some measure of stability. It would have cut the upper house of parliament by two-thirds, with 95 members elected by Italy’s regional councils and five designated by the President. Although Renzi entertains excellent relations with Vladimir Putin, his voters decided the proposal to replace Italy’s free-for-all with a more authoritarian regime, would put too much power in his hands.
In a double-header Sunday, when Austrians went to the polls, the question qA whether the populist candidate tipped to win was a member of the New European Right, or a follower of the Neo-Nazi far right that has buttressed the coup government in neighboring Ukraine since 2014. Ultimately, the vote went to the Green candidate, but that only throws the question to France, which will elect a new president next May, with Marine Le Pen a serious contender.
What Le Pen, Orban and Farage are saying is that they would be better able to deal with their respective country’s problems without Brussels regulations and refugee quotas that do not take into account either each country’s ability to produce or to swap centuries of Christianity for multiculturalism, in which immigrants practicing an entirely different religion are expected to adopt the host country’s customs. The hopelessness of this enterprise is confirmed by the fact that historically, it has indeed been the other way around.  What is uncertain is how far they agree with New Right’s take on equality, that seeks to avoid strife:
The French New Right upholds the cause of peoples, because the right to difference is a principle which has significance only in terms of its generality. One is only justified in defending one’s difference from others if one is also able to defend the difference of others. This means, then, that the right to difference cannot be used to exclude others who are different. The French New Right upholds equally ethnic groups, languages, and regional cultures under the threat of extinction, as well as native religions. The French New Right supports peoples struggling against Western imperialism. 
As for the United States, economic priorities made us a nation with built-in inequality four centuries ago, and the Ku Klux Klan that supplies much of the Alt Right’s credo couldn’t be farther from Europe’s New Right philosophers. 
When Barack Obama was first elected, Europe was a relatively predictable place that tacitly recognized the US as the world hegemon. This year, Great Britain voted to leave the European Union, against the American president’s publicly stated wishes that confirm its role as the US Trojan Horse in Brussels. All but thumbing his nose at the lame duck president, Nigel Farage, the colorful leader of the UK Independence Party, (UKIP) made a victory tour that started with Donald Trump. 
The President-elect knows nothing about the European New Right, but he shares the Russian President’s worldview that cooperation is better than confrontation. Soon he will discover that Vladimir Putin’s domestic policies correspond to those of his religious voters: defense of the family, religion and tradition, which are also shared by Hoffer, Le Pen and the rest of the world’s right. Alas, it is unlikely that he could impose a New Right philosophy on the ‘Alt’, which stood for ‘old’ as in ‘staid’ before it became ‘alternative’ and ugly.



Europe’s Coming of Age

Yesterday the New York Times published a front page article on growing European opposition to the US hegemony that Washington thought was forever.  It has apparently taken the daily of record several months to realize that there is more to the growing new right movement than France’s Marine LePen or Germany’s Frauke Petry of ‘Alternative for Germany (AFD). In typical US media fashion, it says nothing about the philosophical underpinnings of the European New Right, leaving Americans to assume it is a carbon copy — or the inspiration for — the American Alt Right.  To appreciate the extent of the Times’ misleading, see my then read on.

As someone who lived in both Eastern and Western Europe for half a lifetime, I’d long ago given up hope that Europe would ever grow up. In a book published in the nineteen eighties, I urged France to take the lead in weaning Europe away from the US and its Cold War that, had it turned hot, would have been fought on European soil. Francois Mitterand, President at the time, didn’t even want to see Germany reunited, much less welcome the countries of Eastern Europe into the EU (at that time still the European Economic Community). It pains me to say that regarding these countries that had never managed to be part of the ‘West’, Mitterand was right - although for the wrong reasons. Since becoming part of the EU, Eastern Europe has led the rejection of Muslim immigrants, partly, perhaps, because it had been occupied by the Ottoman Turks for several centuries — proud to have been a bulwark between Islam and Western Europe.

The situation to which the Times article merely alludes, is now is the following: Hungary, a country whose origins hark back to vaguely defined areas of Asia, has led the erection of new walls against Muslims, initiating the turn of the entire ‘continent’ (actually the Eurasian peninsula), toward Russia, which under Vladimir Putin, is inventing a new type of nationalism that is more left than right. (  

A few months ago, after the US had twisted the EU’s arm to enact sanctions against Russia for ‘annexing Crimea’ and ‘invading Ukraine’, its monolithic adherence to ‘Atlanticism’ began to crack for the first time since World War II. French and Italian parliamentary delegations actually dared to visit Crimea, ascertaining that reattachment to Russia was indeed the will of the overwhelming majority, as expressed in a hastily organized referendum; but at the time, Europe’s ingrained obedience still dictated official policies, however much the sanctions hurt.

As Russia showed that it was a force to be reckoned with in Syria - and an ally that could be trusted by its legally elected president, Bashar al Assad, some rumblings could be heard off-the European stage: Europe should have its own army, and not be dependent on NATO (even as its military was obediently getting into formation for the drive up to Russia’s western borders). Finally, as 2016 draws to a close, the President of the European Commission, the highest body in the complicated EU edifice, Jean-Claude Junker (a former head of the tiny country of Luxembourg, where both French and German are spoken) has dared to say that Europe cannot survive without a strong relationship with Russia. As if on cue, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German Minister of Foreign Affairs, has been making ever louder objections to Washington’s heavy handed policies in Europe, proclaiming loudly that the EU is no longer dependent on American foreign policy and should defend its own interests, moving ahead with its own army.  (BTW, the Times article neglects to link President-elect Trump’s attitude toward NATO to the movement developing in Europe.)

Interestingly, Junker’s latest words about Russia, claiming that it is not a ‘regional power’
as President Obama has called it condescendingly, contradict Vladimir Putin’s calls for a ‘multi-polar world whose poles would be the US, Russia, China and India, ending US hegemony. In today’s world, fraught with the danger of the second cold war turning hot, labels are no minor detail. In my 1989 book Une autre Europe, un autre Monde , which only a small academic house would publish, I pointed out, as the US was installing Pershing missiles in West Germany against the wishes of the European peace movement, that any war with the then Soviet Union would be fought on European — not American — soil. 

Twenty-five years later, although Europe is whole, that war could happen: not because Soviet tanks threaten to come rumbling across the European central plain, but because the US has positioned thousands of soldiers, tanks, and the latest smart weapons, precisely among Eastern European countries that have repeatedly served as the invasion corridor to Russia. NATO encourages the three tiny Baltic nations — about whom I will write in an upcoming post - to clamor relentlessly that they are in danger of being taken over again by their immense neighbor, while Russia, in reality, is busy strengthening its relations across the Eurasian ‘continent of giants’.  My book made the point that Europe had nothing to fear from the Soviet Union because it too, was among those several giants that constitute Eurasia, rather than the potential victim of one of them.

It has taken three decades for the Europeans to realize that their partnership with a giant across the ocean makes no sense, and start thinking about their role among equals. (A quick look at book titles about Russia and its president on shows that most of the titles appear to be pro-Russian, while such books are almost non-existent in the US. Nor are any of President Putin’s speeches published by US media.  ]

His end of year address to the Russian Federal Assembly can be found here in English:

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

s Authoritarianism Really a Bad Thing? (Nov 20)


In 1944, against a groundswell of concern for the democratic process, FDR ran and won a fourth presidential term, because Americans did not want an untried leader in the midst of two wars. (Unfortunately, Roosevelt died soon after that election, leaving President Truman to formulate the disastrous American policy toward the Soviet Union that brought us Cold Wars I and II.)

Today, FDR’s presidency would probably be considered ‘authoritarian’: he pretended not to see Japan preparing to attack Pearl Harbor, so that shocked Americans would finally be willing to declare war on both Japan and Germany. He is famous for packing the Supreme Court, and although they were milder than would have wanted the Progressive Movement, he wrung workers’ rights and protections out of Congress by signaling to his advisors “Make me do it.” He is still revered today, while one of the polities that ranks highest on key governance criteria is Singapore, a tiny, multi-ethnic country led by the same man for four decades. 

After achieving independence from Great Britain, Lee Kuan Yew moved Singapore’s Third World economy to First World affluence in a single generation. According to Wikileaks: “Lee Kuan Yew's emphasis on rapid economic growth, support for business entrepreneurship, and limitations on internal democracy shaped Singapore's policies for the next half-century. Freedom House ranks Singapore as "partly free” and The Economist ranks it as a "flawed democracy", however the ruling party gets 83 of 89 seats with 70% of the popular vote, while in the mid-eighties, Gallup reported Singaporeans’ confidence in the government and judicial system among the highest in the world.

Although Singapore ranks among the top countries for "order and security", "absence of corruption", and "effective criminal justice,” gatherings of five or more people require police permits, and protests may legally be held only at the Speakers' Corner. Yet, this multi-lingual (English, Chinese and Hindu), country is among the top internationally in education and government supported health care. Although the system can only be classified as authoritarian, there is absolutely zero chance that a US president will declare that its leader “has to go”.  That is because like Europe, it combines entre-preneurship with socialist citizen protections.

Today, ’authoritarianism’ is applied equally to the Saudi Arabian monarchy, where women are not allowed to drive, much less legislate, to China, where the Communist Party watches over the biggest ever economic miracle, and to Russian president Vladimir Putin. Interestingly, it was not applied to Dmitri Medvedev when he was President (Vladimir Putin serving as his Prime Minister).  Medvedev was referred to as ‘a man we can work with’ —and even as ’Our man in the Kremlin’.  At home, however, his ‘Atlanticist’, neo-liberal faction is referred to by Putin supporters, who cherish their social protections and believe the state should be in charge of a nation’s key sources of wealth, as a ‘fifth column’.

What was the state of Russia when Vladimir Putin succeeded Boris Yeltsin, America’s first ‘man in the Kremlin’?

Putin first won election in 2000, three months after Yeltsin’s resignation for ill health. At forty-eight, thanks to his steadfastness as a KGB officer, then as advisor on international affairs to the mayor of St Petersburg, as head of the KGB, then Prime Minister to Boris Yeltsin (a president famous for his drunken displays), Putin was his designated successor at a time when Russia was in a shambles.

Its crown jewels had been privatized at rock bottom prices to a group of men who became known as ‘the oligarchs’.  State employees weren’t getting their paychecks on time — if at all — and virtually nothing had been done to build a fair liberal —or social democratic — system ten years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.  (When Vladimir Putin declared that this event had been a catastrophe, he was not, as the Western press implies, alluding to the demise of Communism, but to the terrible social conditions in which rabid privatization left most Russians.)  
Putin is invariably tagged as a ‘former KGB officer’ by US journalists, who conveniently forget that the first President Bush ran the CIA for a year. The truth is that the Russian president’s wide-ranging jobs prepared him well for the challenge of reviving the largest country in the world, home to 160 ethnic groups speaking some 100 languages and practicing four different religions, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Islam—(estimates for this latter ranging from 5 - 14%).

The Western media claims that President Putin’s 80%+ ratings reflect a herd mentality, the result of centuries of autocratic rule under the Mongols (four centuries), the Tsars and the Communist Party.  In reality, unbeknownst to most Americans, today’s Russians enjoy individualist lifestyles, vacations abroad and the latest cars.

For twenty centuries, the lure of Athenian democracy (in which only free males participated) increased in tandem with the power of Kings.  But applying democracy has proved ever more difficult as populations and threats grew larger. As he prepares to leave office after eight years of Republican refusal to cooperate with his laudable projects, I suspect President Obama, like most other Western heads of state, secretly envies Putin his ability to get things done. 

When I was in Cuba in 1964, Fidel Castro was being billed in the US as a dictator. I asked then president Osvaldo Dorticos whether or not he agreed that it was risky to have a ‘king’, since one could never know whether inherited leadership would be good or bad. (The outside world did not know that the Cuban government was already experimenting with various forms of local democracy.) Today around the world, ‘the people’ are still impotent to prevent worsening economic conditions — and even war, which first fills the coffers of arms makers, then of  industry, needed to rebuild what war has  destroyed.  Yet Raul Castro has overseen a transition toward a form of national participatory democracy, and Putin appears to be encouraging the same approach in Russia. Meanwhile, in the West it becomes increasingly difficult to affirm that free and fair elections guarantee efficient government or popular satisfaction.

In the complex 21st century world, peace and prosperity are probably best achieved when strong central governments jointly deal with global challenges, while participatory local governments oversee domestic affairs. (Iceland, a country so sparsely populated that almost everyone knows everyone else, is successfully applying this system.)

Although he has been elected ‘fair and square’, Donald Trump may not make  it into the White House, whence he, together with Putin and Xi could move toward a multi-polar world organized along those lines. Guided by ‘an invisible hand’, thousands of people protest the neo-fascist, misogynist, racist president who defeated his neo-fascist rival preparing for nuclear-war against Russia, and whose backers, unlike the protesters, have the means to once again implement the ‘ultimate solution’ against an American president.

An American Phase Transition (Nov. 13)

After four days of unprecedented demonstrations across cities in the United States, the motives poked and prodded no one knows how they could be end. Whether or not President-elect Donald Trump makes conciliatory remarks, as suggested on a Sunday talk-show, at this point we can usefully see these demonstrations as systemic phenomena, whose mechanisms I outline in A Taoist Politics: The Case for Sacredness:
"Since ancient Chinese times, feedback has been conceived as the opposites Yin/Yang growing out of each other. The Chinese knew instinctively that change occurs as a result of each element in a dyad acting upon the other, as many contemporary scientists recognize.
Today we know that energy flows into a system organize molecules, creating work. Lack of energy eventually results in a state of “equilibrium” or “entropy,” where ‘work’ cannot happen. Ideally, as the ancient Chinese intuited, the flow of energy through a system keeps it ‘just far enough’ from equilibrium to avoid entropy, or death, allowing ‘work’ to happen. But any number of factors can cause that flow to increase, creating runaway instability. While a certain amount of instability is necessary for work to happen, too much instability takes the system so ‘far from equilibrium’ that it eventually reaches a threshold known as a bifurcation point from which it “dissipates” into a new state."
The anti-Trump demonstrations can be seen as energy flows that increase instability, but what state will it dissipate into?
"Living systems are open to their environment, from which, via feedback, they receive matter and energy and into which they reject waste. They can, in theory go on forever. Very differently, non-living, or mechanical systems inevitably run down because they are separated from, or closed to their environment and its sources of energy. 
The components of political “systems” include human, geographic, historical and cultural elements. Currently most political systems are “closed,” in that ‘the many’ are largely kept outside the deliberations of ‘the few’. Dictatorship, which seeks to maintain a status quo (“equilibrium,”) indefinitely, ends when revolution opens the system to the many that have been kept outside."
The anti-Trump demonstrations are rocking a country that has always boasted of its smooth transitions of power — corresponding to the ideal state of ‘equilibrium’.  But once energy flows accelerate, they cannot be stopped. (The genie cannot be put back in the bottle.) In some instances they lead to revolutions, but even when they do not, they must run their course, and things will not be the same when they end.
"Francis Fukuyama notwithstanding, history will not be “over” until humanity is. To avoid self-inflicted extinction, we need to see history as an unending series of disruptions and bifurcations that will never achieve “it’,” however hard we try. We can only influence processes, knowing that there is no final point, no perfect world that we shall be able to sit back and enjoy once we have created it. Aside from the intolerable dullness of such an eventuality, it isn’t going to happen." 
Anti-Trump demonstrators are the result of two things: sociologically, a ‘me’ generation expectation that everything must be the way they want it to be at all times; but politically, and more importantly, they stem from ignorance of the fact that Hillary Clinton also represents a turn toward fascism, not for domestic reasons but because her foreign policy aim is war with Russia, seen as the first impediment to continued US hegemony (China being the second). Washington’s Democrats may be savoring this moment, but those on the street are oblivious to the fact that had Clinton been elected, protesters against her wars would be treated much more harshly than those who opposed the Vietnam War, by relentless spying and a militarized police. 

The New Paradigm: Good, Better, Best Versus Enough (Oct 31)

The world is entering a new paradigm: The fault-line is no longer only between left and right, but between a relatively small group committed to globalization and the rest. And among the rest, between Caucasians, and the larger, honey-colored world. America’s determination to impose neo-liberalism on the entire planet puts it at odds with two other nuclear powers, Russia and China, as well as with many other nations, who aspire to a multi-polar world in which the haves are prevented from riding roughshod over the ‘have-nots’.
For almost four centuries America prospered by insisting that more is never enough, laboring to spread this idea across the globe. Good, better, best has been its Trinity, requiring that individuals strive to ‘do better’ in order to be able to afford ‘the best’. In turn, producers claim that their  ‘stuff’ is ‘ever better’, until it gets to be ‘the best that money can buy’. As third world populations risk everything to gain access to more ‘stuff’, a few people are beginning to realize that more is not necessarily better. But it may be too late. 
The West toyed with the idea of enabling underdeveloped societies to prosper so their populations would not emigrate, but instead of putting its money where its mouth was, it continued to invade and plunder the south. (America’s forefathers wisely put the military under civilian control, but by the 21st century that precaution no longer sufficed, because civilians make weapons.) Wars are no longer fought for territory - or even ideals - but in service to the almighty bottom line. As a result, large numbers of people continue to leave familiar places for once prosperous destinations that are losing opportunities for work. Aside from growing Islamophobia, civilization’s latest ways of ‘doing’ — for those entitled by birth to ‘do’ — prevents gainful employment for all. In a grotesque example of helplessness, the French government sought to open a holding facility for refugees three kilometers from the Versailles Palace, touching off a storm from citizens who insist that venerating Louis XIV’s palace is more important than feeding the hungry.
Actually, there are two levels of conflict: in individual countries, between the 99% and the 1%, and across the world between Caucasians and the others, who vastly outnumber them. Across the North, the absence of jobs forces the 99% to demand a basic income for all, while the 1%, realizing the earth cannot be saved from climate change, make plans to leave it for another planet, abandoning the 99% to its fate.
As for the relatively small number of honey-colored peoples who manage to reach their shores, the implicit message of the Caucasians has been: “You have to become like us because we’re better.” But while ‘multiculturalists’ believe immigrants can and should adapt to their new homes, nationalists, - also known as post-moderns or the new right — while upholding equal rights, reject the policy of assimilation, because homogenous societies tend to be peaceful while melting pots all but guarantee strife between different races and religions: 

These contrasting views obscure the fact that the only way to prevent the planet from becoming inhospitable to humans is for the world to embrace a steady-state economy, in which we produce only what we need, recycling as much as possible. Unlike the desperate pursuit of ‘more’, only it can prevent humans - guests on the planet after all, — from wrecking the place.

Story to Watch: Dilma A First Step (Aug 31)

The impeachment of the Brazilian President marks a first in a series of successful steps the US is taking to bring the world back under its firm direction.  Why?  Because the largest country of the American southern hemisphere is also one of the BRICS, the largest emerging countries that came together starting in 2006, adding South Africa in 2010, in order to encourage commercial, political and cultural cooperation. In June 2012, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa pledged $75 billion to boost the International Monetary Fund (IMF), on condition it implement key reforms. Since this did not happen, during the fifth BRICS summit in Durban, South Africa in 2013, members agreed to create a global financial institution intended to rival the IMF and the World Bank, which hitherto had been developing countries’ main sources of funding.
In 2016, with the world still in dire economic straits, the BRICS represent a significant challenge to US global dominance. US activities aimed at weakening Russia and China have almost become routine, and while the countries of Africa as well as the continent’s colonial history, are far too diverse for one country to stand out, very differently, since the Cuban Revolution, Latin America has organized itself into several independent organizations, including Mercosur and ALBA. The Neocons in Washington have pounced - or created — the first occasion to weaken Brazil, as membership in other Russia/China led clubs, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization foremost among them, grows. Most recently, Iran has been invited to join the SCO, as has Turkey, in the wake of the failed coup to oust President Erdogan.
Simultaneously with these developments, European leaders are increasingly daring to balk at signing the TTP, while grumblings grow louder in Asia against the TTIP.  Clearly, Washington has to take down whoever it can, to shore up neo-liberalism, starting with Brazil’s left-wing president, a seventy-year old woman, while continuing the transformation of Europe’s welfare state into an obedient neo-liberal puppy. 

Pick Your Fascism (Sept 1)

I was sure Donald Trump would get a bounce from his lightening trip to Mexico:  he would show that he can walk and chew gum at the same time, compared to a Hillary who would have planned the visit to a foreign president for months.
I was right about the bounce, but it’s clear that it has a whole other meaning: the meeting with the Mexican president forced Trump to show the dangerous side pundits have been warning of: vindictive, brutal, and playing to supporters who worship these traits.
Little more than a month separates American voters from the chance to pick which form  of fascism they will embrace: Hillary’s version that will, whip so-called allies into line and if ‘necessary’, nuking recalcitrant nations like Russia, to advance the goals of Wall Street, or Trump’s cruder incarnation at the point of citizens’ guns. 
But even more stunning has been the reaction of the morning’s tv anchors: usually quick to make the most of any hint of ‘breaking news’, as if fascism could only happen elsewhere, to other naive people.  Joe and Mika smoothly followed their cool comments on the night’s events buy announcing Trump’s next appearance at a black church, while CNN, as if nothing extraordinary was begging for a headline, announced that next week they will do a close-up on both candidates.

Is this how it happens? 

Honing in on Putophobia (Sept 13)

Though it may not make any sense to continue dissecting the US media’s take on Vladimir Putin, one is driven by indignation and amazement.
The panic in the US over the Russian President has reached such a pitch that September 11th’s Sunday Times devoted both an oped and a lengthy front-page story to the ‘former KGB officer’ (as if one of our most respected presidents, George Walker Bush, had not been head of the CIA!).
Dispatching the Oped first, it falls back apologetically on a brief history of American attitudes toward the Soviet Union and Russia, claiming that our present confusion is justified because “neither the US nor Russia knows what kind of power ‘it’ intends to be.  Painting an adversary as a mystery goes back a long way with Russia, and is now the default mode, and as for finding out what kind of power Russia wants to be it’s called ‘a multi-polar world’ and has been described over and over by Vladimir Putin.
Still leaning on the historical crutch, Ross Douthat claims that under George W Bush, the US became a ‘revolutionary’ power, preaching liberalism (!), while Putin now seeks to ‘destabilize’ the Western order, including through tacit support for Donald Trump.’
Conjuring up a word with sinister connotations, Douthat refers to the Russian annexation of Crimea (ignoring the overwhelming popular vote) as an ‘Anschluss’, and a ‘shadow war against (unidentified) neighbors’..  Compounding his show of ignorance, he suggests that if China is in the long run the bigger threat, the US should try to adopt ‘wary cooperation’ with Russia.  Apparently, Douthat has not heard that China and Russia are ever closer military and economic partners…. 
On now to the front page article: occupying half an inside page it shows this writer’s ignorance in the second paragraph, where he fails to identify the para-Olympian who raised the Russian flag as a Belo-Russian, referring to him misleadingly as ‘a pro-Putin athlete’ (Bela Rus is a Russian ally, but it’s verboten to divulge that Russia has allies.)
In the third paragraph, Putin is referred to snidely as ‘caring father of his people’: Indeed, a video currently available on the web from his first year (2000) as president shows him announcing an important social program, whose progress is plotted in speeches and interviews ever since. The writer, Andrew Higgens, goes on to say that Putin “projects an image of towering strength”, although he is below average height. This impression is confirmed in the recent photo of Putin and Obama shaking hands at the G20, Obama much taller, but leaning forward in what a Russian journalist called an ingratiating attitude, while Putin calmly stands his ground looking him in the eye. In a ridiculous quote, the famous chess master Gary Kasparov says: “Putin is a strong leader in the same way that arsenic is a strong drink”(sic)…”Praising a brutal KGB dictator, whether you like Obama or hate him is despicable and dangerous.” (That KGB reference again…)
The next paragraph grudgingly admits Putin’s domestic support, (suggesting there must be something wrong with the Russian people), and among international leaders “scattered” across Europe (always that belittling choice of words), going on to specify inaccurately that these are all right-wing politicians like Trump. (Apparently Higgens has never heard of the ‘new (European) right’ which has little in common with America’s ‘Alt right’.)
Surprisingly, the Times longer doctors the facts about Crimea, stating that the Russian President ‘annexed’ it (without pretending he invaded it), but without signaling the largely Russian population’s 80-plus percent support for this in an internationally monitored referendum, or mentioning that in the nineties, the Kosovars were permitted to leave Serbia via a similar referendum.
According to the Times, Mr Putin “stirred up and armed a pro-Russian rebellion in eastern Ukraine”, failing to mention that a US-backed coup had brought neo-Nazis to power in Kiev. This brings us to the crux of America’s ‘Russian Problem’, title of fore-mentioned oped: Utter lack of knowledge of Russian history, that facilitates biased reporting. When will the Times’ readers be told that Russia lost 26 million in the war against Nazi Germany to the US’s 400 thousand?  American history books fail to acknowledge the greater role played by Russia in defeating Hitler, however, a recent French historian points out that Europeans knew it at the time, but have had their memories blurred by a Western-oriented media.)
Higgens grudgingly acknowledges Russia’s commonality of interests with the US in terms of destroying ISIS, while failing to signal how long it has taken the US to agree, going on to state in a non-sequitur that Putin has “often faltered” in terms of keeping the promises he made before being elected in 2000. Accurately reporting that many of the oligarchs he promised to rid the country of had been ‘driven into exile’ or ‘cut down to size’, Higgens fails to identify one of the most crucial differences between the Russian and American presidents, namely, Putin’s ability to tell his oligarchs that they can continue their business activities as long as they refrain from meddling in politics!  The Times’ version: “They do not dare challenge the Kremlin” makes it sound sinister instead of being a loyal warning. The US president can’t even dream of imposing a similar rule, and that’s why he  has lost the world popularity contest to Putin.
Never mentioning the annual International Economic Forum held in St Petersburg - Russia’s historical showcase - Higgens says Russia’s economy is stuck in the doldrums, having failed to diversify (one wonders why all those international businessmen come to the forum, one of many international gatherings hosted by Putin each year). Simplistically, an ‘economy on the ropes’ forces Putin to ‘turn toward international affairs’ to maintain his rating.  Seeming to disparage “patriotic fervor”, Higgens warns that Russia’s claim to be an indispensable (where have I heard that word before?) player on the world stage have made world leaders ‘deeply wary’. He accuses Putin of having ‘inserted’ (another negative word) Russia not only into Syria but into that ‘even more intractable Israel-Palestinian conflict, describing Russian diplomats as “working frantically” (sic) to organize a meeting in Moscow between Bibi and Abbas.
Intent on echoing President Obama’s description of Russia as a ‘regional power’ by President Obama, Higgens accuses it of exercising its power ‘beyond the narrow (sic) confines of the former Soviet Union”, as if Russia were not the largest country in the world, covering nine time zones, with 14 neighbors!
Higgins mentions a Russian journalist who is “effectively barred from publishing in Russia” having to live ‘mostly’ in France.  In the ultimate put-down (perhaps the one clever idea), she “granted Putin an indisputable asset that appalls Moscow intellectuals but delights Donald Trump: “People elected him,” in a comment similar to Hillary Clinton describing Trump voters as a ‘basket of deplorables’. 
In what must be the own goal of the year, the article concludes on a diagnosis of America’s Russia problem: “Mr Putin’s popularity..has made him a seductive figure for Western politicians and electors, who often pine for decisive action and a more secure world, free from the uncertainties created by immigration, insecurity and economic globalization.”


The World Turns: Columbus, Luther and Putin (Aug 18)

Five centuries ago, the age of the West was born when an Italian nerd went looking for the Orient across the Atlantic, bumping into America. Notwithstanding its internal conflicts, the Old World initiated wars of discovery and conquest in the new, facing West for the first time.
 In the late nineteenth century, shortly after celebrating its centennial, America took over the Philippines and Hawaii, and in the 20th century it teamed up with Britain and France to weaken China, plying its population with opium. After winning two World Wars in Europe and also defeating Japan, linking two oceans, the US looked down on a world that suddenly seemed full of ‘others’. Alongside Peace Corps do-gooders, corporations and banks enrolled the Pentagon in efforts to turn them into good global citizens. This did not mean building their lives and their countries according to the UN Charter, but turning away from each ‘other’ toward ever more ‘stuff’.  
There is nothing in the house that Jack built that cannot be counted in coin, or turned into coin. There is always a buck to be made somewhere, new professions are born every day, as living is made easier, sometimes ridiculously so. In today’s America, you can hire someone to pack and unpack your house when you move, receive a dinner recipe along with the precise amount of each ingredient needed to prepare it, drop-off toddlers in centers open 24/7 instead of hiring a baby-sitter, and when you want to book a hotel, Trivago, a modern Aladdin’s lamp, allows you to click on the cheapest price. One of the few ‘industries’ that doesn’t involve fewer human interactions is the care of the elderly: if you can afford it - and there’s an insurance policy you can pay into during your active life for that - when you’re too old to cruise from one resort to another, you can be cared for in your own home by someone who will become your only companion, as your children and grand-children show up perfunctorily for major holidays.
While these innovations were taking place in the North (usually referred to as ‘the West’), brown people hop-scotched around wars and revolutions, their populations growing exponentially. It all happened so quickly that the current generation remembers things that were once free, such as water, as the free pleasures of proximity disappear down the elevator shafts of high-rises. They never know when their leaders will incur the displeasure of new overlords, who will resort to bombs, or drones, or at the very least false flag operations, stimulating unrest which, cleverly manipulated, will pave the way for new leaders to open their lands to more methodical plunder.
The competition between capitalism and communism during the Cold War saw each side recruiting followers in the Third World, but after the Soviet Union collapsed, most of them lined up behind the West. Now its leaders are wondering how they could have brought so much misery upon their people. As Wall St. puts the finishing touches to its destruction of the European welfare state, brown people are reshaping the Old World to their beliefs and customs, instead of adapting, forcing European parliaments, normally occupied with matters of war and peace, finance and health care, to legislate on women’s clothing. Only a hundred years ago in the West, the veil signaled a woman above reproach; now it is seen as anti-social: the hidden face could be that of a terrorist - in any case, what is she thinking behind her burka? I believe some of the women on European streets bundled up in robes console themselves for not being allowed to wear jeans and short hair, knowing they are irritating former colonial masters.  
While France and Italy bar the burkini (a full-body swim suit) from their beaches, citizens of Pisa try to stop a mosque from being built near the Leaning Tower, while the German government advises citizens to stockpile food and water in the event of a major terrorist attack. (The last time this sort of advice was issued was in the days of ‘duck and cover’. Apparently, Europeans experience the influx of Muslims almost as traumatically as the US experienced the nuclear threat.) After a fire in a refugee center, an RT reporter embarrassed conservative Germans by asking whether they realized they shared many of the same values as Muslim immigrants. Although Germany has been importing Turkish workers for decades, they did not.
Partly as a result of this failure, the world is undergoing a tectonic shift from West to East. For the past few years, Erdogan facilitated the sale of ISIS stolen oil and cared for its wounded, thinking they would help him recreate the Ottoman Empire. Now he is poised to join Russia in the fight against terrorism, trading in Turkey’s sixty-five year long NATO membership for the lead Muslim role in a community that stretches from the Bosphorus to the Pacific Ocean, and includes a large swathe of Muslim countries inhabited by Turkic peoples. 
Five hundred years after Martin Luther invented individual freedom and sanctified profit, the world turns toward the east, reinstating religion and responsibility in politics. Orthodox Christianity again plays a major role in Russia, China has rehabilitated its ancient Taoist and Confucian sages, and now preparations are under way for the Sunni Erdogan to visit Teheran, the capital of Shia Islam, as Islam’s warring cousins prepare to join the same organization. 
In the face of the Russian President’s two-fer, US arms-makers tout future sales to a world steeped in conflict, but Washington is removing its missiles from Turkey’s Incirlik air base, (one of the Air Force’s many ‘homes away from home’) to avoid running into the new Russian guests. 

Three Mice, a Horse and a Serpent (Sept 18)

I had a heated discussion with a woman of Lithuanian descent the other day on the subject of the ‘Russian threat’ to her country of origin, where she has friends and family.  She claimed the Baltic countries are desperate to be spared another Russian takeover like the one that happened in 1939, only ending in 1991 as part of the events that led to the implosion of the Soviet Union.
 When I asked her what Russia could possible gain from the addition of three countries whose total real estate, 67,574 mi², together constitute scarcely 1% of that of Russia’s 6.602 million mi², she claimed that the Baltic states had Baltic Sea oil.  When I pointed out that Russia has more oil than almost any country in the world, as well access to the Black Sea at Kaliningrad, and that it also has the ability to prospect in the Arctic, she claimed that the Baltic countries were ahead of Russia in terms of high tech. Unable to cite a single example, she fell back on  ‘Russia is massing troops on our borders.” When I pointed out that this was a perfectly legitimate response to the massing of NATO troops on Russia’s border, she refused to listen, continuing to repeat that Russia ‘threatens’ her country.
Curious as to whether history could account for such blindness, I went to Wikipedia, where I learned that  the origins of the Baltic peoples are very mixed, while its history involved Sweden, Germany and Poland and Belarus. After the 1939 Molotov/Ribbentrop pact divided Europe into spheres of influence, the Baltic countries were invaded by the Russian army and re-baptized as Soviet Socialist Republics, in which the predominantly independent farming population resisted collectivization.
This is where the story gets  really interesting: When Hitler took over the Baltic states as part of its invasion of the Soviet Union, similar to the takeover of the Ukraine, the populations of all these countries believed the Germans would free them from Soviet domination and agree to their independence. All were sorely disappointed. Both the Soviet Union and Germany practiced deportations and mass killings. and the latter re-occupied the Baltics in 1944, under the terms of the Potsdam Agreement In 1989, the Baltic states initiated a series of events that would be repeated in Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Bulgaria and culminating in the dissolution of the Soviet Union.  
Twenty-five years later, it’s difficult to see any grounds for Baltic fear of a Russian takeover, given the Russian government’s ever closer cooperation with China in just about every area of significance, including the One Belt One Road project that is linking the Pacific with Europe via Central Asia. I believe the Baltics are crying wolf because they want to finally be considered part of Europe (aka the West), not to mention the attraction of NATO funding and materiel. The idea that these three tiny countries have anything to offer Russia is ludicrous, while Russia, on the other hand, is acutely aware of the role they played in the past, together with Poland Belarus and Ukraine, as transit routes into its territory.

In the game currently being played out, the Baltics states are like three mice who, through fear of an herbivore horse, allow themselves to be swallowed by a serpent. 

A Media in-Between

In the nineteen forties, as the US was fighting on two fronts, a popular song encouraged Americans to “Accentuate the positive, Eliminate the negative, Latch on to the affirmative, And don't mess with Mister In-Between.”
Contemporary journalists are mostly too young to have heard that song, but it aptly describes what they’ve been taught to do: Being mostly negative, international news is simply not covered, giving Americans the impression that beyond the United States is a no-man’s land — unless a government is (nonsensically) killing its own people, requiring us to ride in on a white horse and save them.
Since the revival of the Cold War, journalists have honed their craft so finely that by adding or dropping a word here and there they convey an impression of righteousness when actually, barbarism (to borrow a wrongly used expression from our ambassador to the UN, Samantha Powers) is running rampant.
Recently, NATO’s ever greater presence on Russia’s western frontier - the one taken throughout history by Europeans thinking they could take it over — is reported as “aggressive moves by Russia toward the tiny Baltic states, it’s planes daring to fly over the tanks we’ve massed on its border!”
The technique has been refined since 2014, when the US organized a coup in Ukraine (just as we had decades ago in Chile and Honduras, and as we tried to do in Georgia in 2008).  Having installed a neo-fascist government in Kiev, complete with swastika flaunting militias, we accuse Russia of invading its neighbor.  No mention of Eastern Ukraine’s Russian speakers’ visceral horror of a Neo-Nazi regime, stemming from the fact that Ukrainian nationalists fought alongside Hitler’s troops in the hopes of gaining independence from the Soviet Union. The Right Sector and similar groups today are free to operate across Ukraine according to the same ideology their “Banderisti" grandfathers defended, and they proved they haven’t changed in 2014 by killing ethnic Russian Ukrainians, as they did during the war, along with Poles and Jews, upping the ante by burning some alive.

Evidently ‘forgetting’ the number of times the US landed troops in a foreign country, ostensibly to protect American citizens living there (Grenada in 1983, Panama in 1989), the US media, followed obediently by the rest of the Western press, is messing with a negative of its own fabrication, creating an ‘in-between’ that leaves readers wondering how they got presidential candidates with the highest ever negatives.