Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Today's Two-Fer: 'Me-Tarzan-You-Jane' Is Forever

The United States has had a long history of being ridiculed in Europe -- and perhaps in other parts of the world -- for its childish attitudes toward sex, especially in relationship to politics.  In nineteenth century Europe, an entire theatrical genre (theatre de boulevard) was built around veiled wives sneaking into their lovers' apartments and husbands hiding parlor maids in the bedroom closet.  America, at the time, was known for its Puritan ethic.

I was still living in France during the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky saga and never heard anyone agree that law-makers should have something to say about it.  That was in the mid-nineties, almost twenty years ago. Hillary Clinton lost the last presidential election, but affirmed yesterday to a major television channel that she was glad she stuck with her man -- from who she'd 'learned so much' (although not how to win an election).  However good Hillary is at indignation, in her personal drama she bowed to the reality of marital philandering.

The earth-shattering, life-threatening events the world is currently witnessing shouldn't leave the slightest crack in the news for testiminies of women who have taken the supine position (or whichever) on Harvey Weinstein's bed -- or casting couch.  The only difference between him and the rest of the male population, after all, is that he plays with bigger non-biological toys.

As the hysteria over Harvey Weinstein threatens to surpass Russiaphobia (sex probably being the only thing that could achieve that),  I can't decide whether the country is congenitally blind or whether the uproar  -- like the figurative lynching of black comedian Bill Cosby  -- is a case of Puritan reflux disease.  The heavyweights in the womens' liberation movement, which, to its credit, has inspired women across the globe to assert that they are different but equal, seem to think that although equality does not extend to biology itself, it does to the way it works.  Rape -- as well as semi-consensual sex -- will probably be the last thing to definitively separate us from apes -- and that may not happen until we become 'trasnshumans', wired with implants that make us half-human half machine.

While rape is a  crime,  the line  between consensual and non-consensual sex is often blurred, I  wonder why women today appear to have allowed the line that separates the 'no' that means 'yes'  from refusal to become blurred.  Shouldn't sexual liberation have eliminated that ambiguity?  It's really difficult to believe that so many women who have successfully climbed the corporate or entertainment ladder never had to contend with the advances of an older, influential man.   Whether they 'went along to get along' or successfully fended them off, they have remained silent until Bob Weinstein gave them a chance for displaced revenge.  As for the NewYork Times' Michelle Goldberg, who accuses Weinstein of only 'pretending' to back women's rights,  I'm not alone in considering that good sex is one of those rights.  The 'crime' of Weinstein and his ilk is that they are llikely to be failed purveyors of such.





Winning Friends and Influencing People

“How to Win Friends and Influence People” was the title of a highly influential book by Dale Carnegie published in 1936 and still read today by people seeking to improve their chances of success.  (The author was unrelated to Andrew Carnegie, the steel magnate, and in fact was the poster-child of the 'self-made man').

In 1936, the world was making its way toward World War II, in which the Soviet Union suffered the greatest casualties (27,000,000 ), and the Khruschev era that began in 1953 after the death of Stalin had all it could do to continue rebuilding and developing the country while avoiding nuclear war with the US over its promotion of the developing world.  After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Moscow was enrolled in the Western economic system, with disastrous results due mainly to the weakness of President Boris Yeltsin in the face of Wall Street greed.  So it wasn't until a younger, healthier, determined leader entered the Kremlin (a foreboding citadel whose first iteration was built of wood in the twelfth century), that space age Russia turned to the finer art of winning friends in a US-dominated world, from which all notion of solidarity and comity had been banished.  President Putin is not selling communism, but social democracy, in which social protections and cooperation are as important as entrepreneurship, and he is doing so by demonstrating these qualities in his relationships with other leaders, including those that would appear least likely to become partners. The recent visit to Moscow of Salmon the new, young King of Saudi Arabia, is a perfect example of how this works.

(Saudi Arabia and Russia are the world's largest oil exporters and recently, they agreed to cut production.  If the two countries move closer over time, whether via their shared oil interests or for other reasons, this would mark an unprecedented  shift in the world's most volatile region.  Recently it was revealed as part of the daily drip drip of US 'news' about ‘Russiagate', that acquaintances of Donald Trump had been negotiating with the Russians to build nuclear plants in Saudi Arabia, and the new King's visit to Moscow could well have been part of the country’s long-range preparations for the end of its oil bonanza. But why not turn to solar…?)

Fast forward to the press conference by the two country's foreign ministers, Sergei Lavrov and the younger but nearly as ubiquitous Adel al-Jubeir.  The event was broadcast live by RT, and after a few minutes of watching al-Jubeir read a few sentences from a prepared statement, followed by Lavrov speaking without notes in Russian for an equal length of time, I came to the conclusion that Russia’s Prime Minister was acting as consecutive interpreter for his guest.  He appeared perfectly at ease in Arabic and having been an interpreter myself on occasion, I admired his ability to carry out this task flawlessly. (Simultaneous interpreting presents a different set of challenges....)

Was Russia's top diplomat pinch-hitting for an interpreter who failed to show up, or had the press conference been organized this way from the start?  Either way, it is worthy of note that the Russians were not standing on ceremony, as other diplomats would surely have done, convinced that only when each side has its own interpreter can they trust the result.  This behavior fits into the larger picture of the Russian President's way of interacting with foreigners, in an informal manner that implies equality, rather than America’s, in which familiarity is not intended to erase inequality, but to emphasize it. 

Anyone watching a clip from a Putin-organized forum involving foreigners will notice that he is rarely standing alone on the podium, but is seated as part of a group. Russia Insider ran a video of the recent energy summit in which Putin told a joke whose message was that he didn't want to be the only panel member to be interrogated by the audience of business people from around the world attending the event. (Putin is often seen answering a question with a joke, while an American president will only tell a joke in public on the occasion of the yearly Washington correspondents’ dinner, where for a night he is cast in the role of a stand-up comedian.) 

Similarly, when Putin holds a press conference, he is usually seated in the middle of a long table together with the journalists rather than standing at a mike in front of them. When American presidents or high officials meet with journalists or foreign counterparts, it's very structured and controlled, and there can never be any doubt who is top dog. I’m convinced that Putin’s informal style, demonstrating his commitment to collegial relations between states, goes a long way toward making friends for Russia.

The Soviet Union too had a deliberate outreach policy, organizing meetings and fora to which  foreigners were invited, either as representatives of 'brotherly parties' or as 'fellow travelers': people who had a favorable attitude -- or even just an open mind - toward communism.  Under President Putin, Russian outreach reflects the fact that countries are turning away from the hegemon toward a cooperative international architecture, in which reciprocal respect is a matter of course.  The 19th International Festival of Students and Youth currently taking place in Sochi, in which President Putin dialogues with participants from 130 countries is bound to have a much greater influence than any number of bots on Facebook.


President Putin with Youth Panel, Sochi, 2017







Monday, October 16, 2017

President Putin Opens the 2017 Festival of Young People and Students in Sochi


This event has not been signalled on any of the mainstream media -- nor even on the blogosphere.  As I wrote yesterday, International Youth Festivals began in 1947, largely at the instigation of the Soviet bloc and its sympathizers in the United Nations.  It is ignored in the US (as was May Day, the worldwide worker's holiday, until Latino-Americans imported it from the struggles in their home countries).  This year is not the year when that could change, given the hysterical Russophobia that has taken hold in the US.  

The most important thing about this particular edition of the festival is that it has been organized by a man who is demonized by the American political class, but who generates global enthusiasm, especially among young people: he seized 'the moment' which has probably lasted a year or more, given the complexities of organizing this week-long event far from the Russian capital.

Thanks to the Russian President's website  http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news  I will be able to report on daily events in Sochi.  By doing this I hope ot show how different the Russian President's style is from that of Western leaders, which should in turn explain his popularity.  Here are the two speeches he gave on the opening day: see if you can imagine his words in any Western leader's mouth:


RT's Caleb Maupin (an American) reporting in Sochi


"Friends,
Let me welcome you all at the 19th World Festival of Youth and Students, a forum of the planet's youth, the most comprehensive one in history.

Some 30,000 participants, guests and volunteers from more than 180 countries across all continents have gathered here in Sochi. including young people from all across the vastness of Russia, from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok.

The first festival took place seven decades ago. Back then, young men and women just like you were united by the power of dreams and the belief that young people and their sincerity and kindness can break the ice of distrust and help rid the planet of injustice, wars and conflicts.

Back then, young adults of your age achieved a lot. They proved that barriers have no power against true friendship and that the warmth of human contact does not yield to political, ethnic, religious, cultural or any other differences.

Our country is proud to have hosted this world youth festival twice. In 1957, the 6th festival was warmly greeted by all the people of Moscow. In 1985, Muscovites gathered on the city’s streets and building rooftops to cordially welcome the guests of the 12th World Festival of Youth and Students. Now you can experience the hospitality and openness of the sports capital of Russia, the city of Sochi, a city of Olympic brotherhood and hope. Five rings, just like the five Festival chamomile petals, have become a symbol signifying the solidarity of all the earth’s continents.

I am certain that young people of all countries, nationalities and faiths are united by common feelings and values, by their yearning for freedom, and their hope to achieve happiness, peace and accord on our planet. By a desire to create and achieve greater things. And we will make every effort to ensure you achieve success.

The energy and talent of young adults possess astonishing power. Younger generations always bring innovative ideas to the world. You strive to try new things, engage in debate and display your ability to disagree with the status quo and how things are done.

Be bold. Create your own future. Strive to change the world and make it a better place. It is all in your hands. Just be sure to never look back. Meanwhile, the festival brotherhood will certainly help you bring your boldest and best dreams and plans to life.

I declare the 19th World Festival of Youth and Students open.
I wish you a happy journey!"

Later in the day, Vladimir Putin held a dialogue with participants:

"I have already seen some of you on stage today. Each of you has had an interesting life. Even though you are young, you have already achieved something in life as you have shown your worth, conducted yourself with dignity, benefiting both yourselves and the people around you. This is how it always goes: when you live and work for the benefit of others it always pays off in spades, as they say; this approach will always benefit you, stimulate, help you develop and make you more successful and evolve as an individual, and will open many doors for you.

First, I would to welcome you and express my hope that you will like it here in Sochi, in Russia; I hope you meet interesting people just like you and learn how they live and what they strive for and what they can offer, so that you can compare their experiences with your own abilities and plans. I would very much like it if you were to receive fresh ideas in this connection, which would inspire you to move forward.

I want to thank you for coming here and to express my hope that this event will leave you enriched with additional knowledge and experiences, including an opportunity for you to experience Russia firsthand.

Our country is very wealthy, I mean primarily in terms of its culture, religion and traditions. We do not even know the exact number of ethnic groups living in our country – some say there are 160, others say 190. This is a true melting pot of cultures, history and religions, as all these people live together in a single country. There are many countries that have people of different ethnicities and languages, and we have representatives of such countries here today. Russia may not seem unique in this regard – but it is unique because our country has always been highly tolerant of other cultures, languages and faiths. It began its path as a multi-ethnic country and its underlying foundation has always been respect for its neighbors, for other nations, ethnicities, languages, cultures and religions. This has always been a fundamental part of the development of the Russian state.

It would be a great pleasure for me were you to feel this special atmosphere in Russia during your visit and then take these emotions back with you, and not just to keep, but also to maintain these new contacts and ties, which, I am sure, will be beneficial to you as you advance and progress further – not in your personal development, as I think you are accomplished individuals already, but in achieving new milestones and reaching new heights."

One of the. themes of the Sochi Festival is the future of technology, and the first person to speak was Afroz Shah, a young lawyer and environ-mentalist and environmentalist from India. 

Afroz Shah: "Very good evening to you, President Putin. It is a pleasure and an honor to meet you. I work in a sector, which is long forgotten in my country, picking up garbage from the ocean.

Mr President, we are all aware that marine litter is like a big problem. I needed to react to it. And I did not know how to react because I work as a lawyer in a court in India. We have seen laws in motion, policies in motion, regulations in motion. And I as a lawyer felt there are too many of them. What was required was ground action. And there seemed to be too few activists in my country. So I said I am going to use my two hands as my best tools. What a policy would tell you to do or what a law would tell you to do or what a court order would tell you to do I started doing before the court.

And I came to understand that if young people or people on the ground start to take care of the ocean as they should we will have a better and healthier ocean. What we do when we want to participate in a democracy is we vote and we pay our taxes. And after that we wait for our governments to act, saying that protection of the environment is the job of the government and the courts. But I think otherwise: We have litter and I am responsible for it. The state of this planet is my doing.

And I am a firm believer in what the great leader Mahatma Gandhi said. You do not need an NGO; you do not need a bank account. You can be the change yourself. This is how it should be, from bottom to top. It is an illusion to wait for policies to come, for regulations and laws to take effect. The laws, policies and regulations are supplements. They help to push the masses. But those who throw plastic into the ocean must be fully responsible for the protection of the environment. And that is what I do in Mumbai, cleaning up lakes, rivers and the ocean.

It is becoming a mass movement that gives a sense of belonging to our planet that we had lost. Our homes are our homes, our cars are our cars and our assets are our own assets, but when it comes to the environment, we just type on Facebook and Twitter. This is the problem now, and we do not know how to react to it. The solution is that everybody must put their hands to it. I always tell people: you have 168 hours in a week. Two hours you must commit to the environment, to connect and get back the sense of belonging that we have lost.

The fact that we are throwing plastic or litter into the ocean is the result of a mindset. This is not mine, but if you had to sleep on a bed full of plastic you would be horrified. You would make sure that everything is cleaned up. That approach must be applied to everything around you, your neighborhood, your ocean, your forest or your mountains. By cleaning the ocean we are doing precisely that. and what we want is to change our mindset.

People who are throwing plastic, litter, solid garbage, liquid garbage will have to come onboard and understand that this is not only the job of the government. We have to get connected there with a sense of belonging. This is what goes through my mind when I work there in Mumbai. And hopefully, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is backing me. I am loving it and I want my whole country to be clean, I want the oceans of the world to be clean and I am working for that.

Thank you, President Putin, for giving me an opportunity to be here. I must thank the organizers as well. They have been brilliant, I have been here for three days and I have never seen such zeal and energy that I see here. And hopefully, I will take a lot of it back to India."

Vladimir Putin: "To begin with, I am sure that you are aware of the special, trust-based friendly relations that have developed between Russia and India over the decades. I have very good relations with the Prime Minister of India. I know that he is concerned about the environment, and therefore you will certainly rally his assistance in this matter.

This is a growing problem, and it turns out that it does not have a simple solution, because environmental issues, including transitioning to the best modern technologies, are far from simple because the introduction of  modern technology calls for additional funding. Many countries,  and  particularly the developing economies, may not have these funds. This is the first element.

Secondly, unfortunately, to transition to modern technologies corporations must be forced to adopt these new technologies. This means that, first of all, the introduction of these technologies can cause many people to lose their jobs, and they should be offered new jobs. In other words, we need to consider how to assist these people in finding new employment. Secondly, we will have to divert resources to implementing these modern technologies. The companies say that this is an additional burden, which they may be unable to shoulder amid economic difficulties. Therefore, governments have to choose between contradictory decisions.


Ultimately, the future belongs to progress, and modern or cutting-edge technologies will eventually increase productivity and improve the environment in which we live.”







Saturday, October 14, 2017

One World, Still Two Parades

Yesterday by happenstance I came across the announcement that the 19th International Festival of Youth and Students would be held in Sochi starting tomorrow. RT America had failed to publicize it — probably because of all the flack it’s getting in the US, including being threatened with having to register as a foreign agent.
Today, Saturday, thousands of young people in various ingenious costumes representing their countries paraded in Moscow prior to flying to Sochi on the Black Sea.  The first international youth festival was held in 1947. It is organized by the World Federation of Democratic Youth (WFDY), a United Nations-recognized international non-governmental organization, jointly with the International Union of Students, one of the various pro-Soviet bodies set up after World War II.
The fact that Russia is hosting the event (which does not come at regular intervals and is hosted each time by a different country) is yet another testimony to the fact that, far from being isolated, Vladimir Putin’s Russia is generating growing worldwide support.
Alas, on the same day that this event is taking place, thousands of young men in neighboring Ukraine are holding a torchlight parade in honor of the founders of the OUN, a fanatically nationalist party that killed Poles and Jews for Hitler during World War II in hopes of gaining independence from the Soviet Union. This demonstration could qualify as sentimental, were it not for the fact that in 2014, the grandchildren of those founders were the decisive, muscular force in the US-fomented ‘revolution’ against Ukraine’s pro-Soviet president, who then moved into key positions in the government.
During the French presidential election back in May and the equally crucial German election for chancellor that followed, I wrote that it was the situation in Ukraine that made the risk of right-wing victories in Europe all the more sinister.  Well, it just so happens that Austria goes to the polls tomorrow, in an election that could result in a right-wing, anti-EU, anti-immigrant coalition, a few hundred miles away from those parading Ukrainian nationalists.
All this brings us back insistently to 1936, when the Olympic Games were held in Hitler’s Berlin, while the Popular Front gained power in France for the first time, setting the stage for the central battlefield in World War II between France and Germany: it was the third time in less than a century that Europe’s twin powers had clashed, starting in 1870, then in 1914. Today, as the International Festival of Youth and Students takes place in Russia, in the venues built in 2014 for the Olympics, European fascism’s Ukrainian allies holda torchlight parade. 
Starting tomorrow, in the southern resort town of Sochi,  20,000 people between the ages of 18 and 35 from 150 countries will gather under the theme: “For peace, solidarity and social justice, we struggle against imperialism. Honoring our past, we build the future.” In addition to fun and games, concerts and sports events, they will discuss urgent political issues, including fighting xenophobia and movements for universal access to health and education.
Clearly, this formula harks back to the Cold War and the tried and true Soviet formula for winning friends and influencing people: invite them by the thousands into your home, again and again. The US countered by inviting future leaders and opinion-makers via the Fulbright scholarships, to enjoy the perks reserved for the one and a half percent, turning the world into two camps, each with its followers.
Today, however followers are increasingly deserting one camp and coalescing around the other. The latest contributors to that trend are President Trump’s abandonment of the Paris Climate Accords, which angered the entire world, and this week’s attempt to scuttle the anti-nuclear deal with Iran, which is shaping up as the final nail in the trans-Atlantic coffin. 

Ukrainian Nationalist parade




Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Maddow’s Two-Trick Poney

As Defense Secretary James Mattis tells troops to be ready for all eventualities regarding North Korea, Rachel Maddow is still banging on about Russian bots and Russian ads. But far from disrespecting the journalist’s obligation to privilege war and peace over trivia, she is, in fact, doing just that, by building a case against Russia: While RT’s Peter Lavelle and his pundits mock Washington for claiming that Russia is responsible for every little thing that goes wrong, she is accumulating evidence that will make Russia look responsible for US casualties in South Korea and wherever else our insane president drags us.
What the bots and the ads — only now being judiciously released to the public — are intended to show, is that it’s Russia’s fault that America has for President a ‘moron’ who has turned the White House into an ‘adult day care center’ and cannot be prevented from launching a crazy war. The Korean War ended in 1953, and since then the US has refused to recognize the regime that fought it to a standstill, making it a pariah on the world stage. Not only does North Korea have a legitimate grievance, the US pretends that it has not been interested in negotiating for sixty-four years — almost as long as the Nakhba. This only became an acute problem, however, when Kim Jong Un succeeded in building a weapon that could kill massive numbers of Americans.
Although there have been twelve presidents since the Korean War ended, none of them has been willing to accept “a peace of the brave”, and now this failure has become a handy excuse for striking Russia before turning against its ally China, the rising power. With Kim’s unwitting cooperation, Obama’s Pivot to Asia can now be seen as a counter-intuitive approach to eliminating both adversaries — the first step being getting rid of China’s protege, North Korea.  When Obama warned the new president that this little country would be his biggest problem, I wondered why. Apparently, Washington had decided that the time had come to reawaken this particular sleeping dog.


Monday, October 9, 2017

Who Carries the Nuclear Suitcase?

I am surprised that with all the speculation about war with North Korea, not a single journalist has raised the issue of the nuclear suitcase.  Every once in a while, someone will mention nervousness in Washington at the fact that an uninformed and unpredictable president could rashly take the country to war, but we have never seen anyone walking behind the President when he gets on Air Force I, carrying the suitcase containing the codes that enable him to launch a nuclear attack.  No day goes by without intense speculation about Donald Trump’s strategy toward North Korea: he claims he will never let our enemies know what is going to happen, keeping the rest of us in the dark as well.
After the President declared publicly that we are seeing ‘the calm before the storm’, leaving the media to guess whether he was referring to an attack on North Korea or the firing of his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson — as if the two could be put on the same level, the senator who first endorsed him, Bob Corker, declared that the White House has tuned into an adult day care center. Yet the media still has not mentioned the nuclear codes to which the president has — at least theoretically — sole access.

Whether or not by choice, the President is surrounded by generals, but we are not told which of them — the Secretary of Dense James Mattis or the National Security Advisor, H.R. McMaster — may actually have relieved the president of his nuclear responsibility.  

If it’s Stephen Miller, the one remaining Alt-Right firebrand who crafts eloquent speeches for the President, we would not know either.  The important news today is that a powerful Hollywood producer was fired from the company he founded for making women lie on his couch before giving them a job.
President Ronald Reagan with officer carrying nuclear suitcase 






Sunday, October 8, 2017

Spain, Germany and Beyond - Thoughts on Succession

2017 minus 1936 = 81, an untidy number, not even a prime number. 1936 marked the start of the Spanish Civil War, which resulted in a long hiatus for the Spanish left, as well as the failure of Weimar Germany’s left to prevent Hitler from preparing for war. 2017 sees the entry of the neo-fascist Alternative for Germany Party into the Bundestag for the first time since the end of Hitler’s war — and the near simultaneous refusal of Spain to recognize the overwhelming vote for independence organized by Catalonia’s left-leaning government, provoking a rarely seen massive general strike.
The main issue in Germany’s election was Merkel’s welcoming of almost a million Muslim immigrants in 2015, whom many Germans  do not want to see in their midst, while for the Catalonians, just as for their cousins the Venetians who dream of leaving Italy, and the Corsicans who for decades have campaigned — at times violently — to leave France — it is about their culture, their language and history. Although all of these are left-wing movements, economics is the icing on the cake. Catalonia’s Republican Left Party, founded in 1931, was outlawed by Francisco Franco after he won the Civil War in 1939, re-emerging only after his death in 1975. Coincidentally, that was the year in which West Germany became a founding member of the G6 Economic Forum, thanks to its new economic might.
History may not repeat itself, but its left/right cycles come pretty close to doing so. In 2017, once again the left in Spain’s leading region is defeated, as it was in 1939, at the dawn of World War II, while in Germany, Neo-Nazis enter the Bundestag for the first time since that war ended.
Were it not for the Neo-Nazi controlled government in Ukraine, Germany’s AfD Party would be of no more concern than France’s National Front, whose leader, Marine Le Pen, ran unsuccessfully for President. But the EU leadership, in thrall to neo-liberalism, however much voters rebel against its austerity, continues in its assigned role in America’s campaign to bring down Russia’s popular president, Vladimir Putin, by manipulating Ukraine. (Rachel Maddow claims that Russia wants the world to ‘fall apart’, but as usual, she is wrong. Russia is not interested in acquiring more territory, much less, as some claim a propos Ukraine, has it the revanchist objective of putting former Soviet Republics back under Russian rule.)  
 When American journalists avoid consuming any direct information emanating from the Russian President — including, of course, his speeches — their intellectual tools are likely to be limited to 1940’s cliches. Vladimir Putin has repeated over and over his conviction that the 21st century world would be a more peaceful and prosperous place if it were administered by the half dozen strongest regional players acting in concert — referring to this as a ‘multipolar world — rather than by a unique hegemon that provokes hostilities around the globe in the name of profit. He also knows that such a condominium can only be effective if coupled with ‘local democracy’, which is what regional independence movements are seeking. (In contrast to this democratic matrix, globalism is a honey-pot for the few. Anti-globalists are not against international trade, but they believe that it should not determine the color and density of the many’s lives.)
Even though Washington claims that Russia is interfering in its elections, after supposedly tipping the US scales away from Hillary, for its own good, the EU needs to counter America’s anti-Russian campaign as well as its globalist agenda. In order to arrest the disaffection of its citizens, the EU needs to encourage local autonomy within the condominium context espoused by the Russian president. 
The US pursues hegemony at all costs — surely, we would be able to ‘afford’ universal healthcare if we stopped using taxpayer money to generate private profits from war! — while Russia and China are experimenting with various forms of social-democracy, that combines capitalist incentives with government protections, and encourages local government.

A Sequel to 'Suspicion Rules'

It must seem incredible to most foreigners that the United States has managed, via its 'democratic process' to saddle itself with an entirely unpredictable and untrustworthy president, and yet, with its 'laws-based' system, it seems incapable of getting rid of him.

In a previous article  http://www.otherjones.com/2017/10/suspicion-rules-in-land-of-free.html, I emphasized how easy it is for Americans to become the subject of investigations by the FBI.  What is becoming clear at present is that fidelity to 'the rule of law' and 'the constitution', can also be used to prevent desperately needed political processees from taking place -- or succeeding.

In the particular case of President Donald Trump, the political and legal systems appear more interested in ferreting out some sort of 'interference' by Russia in the election that brought him to the White House, than in finding the most expeditious way of removing him from the presidency in order to save the world from incineration.  America's pretence of  'playing according to the rules' haunts us now, as we try to figure out how to make 'the rules' result in his impeachment.

The frustration of our senators and representatives should elicit tears of compassion, given the amount of time (and taxpayer money) they have invested in this charade.  Every tweet, every word dropped from the Hated Leader's lips, are dissected ad nauseum for clues as to where he is taking the most powerful nation on earth, in a field day for pundits that dwarfs all others. Never mind that the rank and file are left to worry whether they will wake up the next day to news that North Korea has hit Los Angeles -- or that our own Dear Leader has hit Pyongyang.  (It is apparently vital to let Americans know that the president told his secretary of State not to waste his breath trying to negotiate with Kim Jong Un, while passing over the despair of our military leaders  at the idea that he could destroy North Vietnam.)

When yesterday, after hosting military families at dinner, Trump hinted that 'this may be the calm before the storm' the media was left wondering whether he planned to fire Tillerson, or attack 'Little Rocketman' -- almost as if the two held equal weight.

But hey, 'the people' have spoken, forget Hillary's disappointment, we are a 'democracy'.  (When Hitler was in power, Germans didn't tell themselves they were a democracy, but like us, they had been ordered to respect the 'political process'...)

We can only hope that behind the media version of events, clear-headed actors are putting in place the 'legal' and/or  'constitutional' means to remove Donald Trump from the White House -- currently referred to as a chaotic kindergarten -- before the irreparable happens.  The grounds for impeachment of the president defined in the Constitution are limited to  “treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanors.” ... treason consisting only in "levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort." However, the desperate attempt to prove the Trump campaign's 'collusion' with Russian efforts to influence the election could be seen as the only conceivable crime that could be made to fit that definition.  The problem is that at the same time, this witch hunt sets the country back domestically three quarters of a century, to the period of McCarthy, while risking World War III with the other nuclear superpower.Image result






Friday, October 6, 2017

‘Exceptional’ America

In the United States ‘respect for’ and ‘fidelity to’ a two hundred year document trumps common sense and respect for human life. Few people note that you cannot have freedom without responsibility.  The ‘freedom’ to carry a gun was cleverly deduced by the firearms industry from the settlers’ commitment to defending themselves against any enemies ‘foreign or domestic’ — and later to prevent slaves from running away.
Similarly, the ‘needs’ and ‘rights’ of manufacturers of weapons of mass destruction take precedence over the ‘responsibility to protect’ civilians, regardless of pretense.  

These ‘exceptional’ United States, founded to defend ‘freedom of conscience’, that is, the right to believe in God in one’s own way (the existence of God being uncontested), morphed, in the short span of two hundred years, into a land in which the salute to the flag and the national anthem, whether kneeling or standing, is inseparable from the ‘right’ to possess firearms of any and every caliber, an assumption that incidentally goes far toward explaining why, in the American mind, ‘foreigners’, being others with a capital O, are most often equated with ‘enemies’.

While sold under the pretense of ‘hunting’ or ‘self-defense’, firearms are increasingly used to express anger by taking the lives of strangers — ‘others’ with a small ‘o’ — as in church or school shootings — or even concerts — as in the Paris Bataclan nightclub or on the Las Vegas strip.  (The Bataclan massacre was carried out by recognized terrorists, while ordinary Joe’s filled with their own hatreds have mental or emotional problems.)

‘Exceptional’ America cares mainly for white people, but will in the sacred spirit of equality massacre them when they mix with browns and blacks.


‘Exceptional’ America obeys the injunction to ‘buy more’ with fervor equal to that of its founders who prayed more.  How an entire country travelled from one commitment to the other is for historians and psychologists to discern: television hosts, however generously rewarded, are clearly not up to the job.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Suspicion Rules in the Land of the Free


The Russia probe is making a lot of Americans unhappy for one reason or another: either because they are convinced that Vladimir Putin is an enemy who must be taught a lesson, or because they know the deep state is fabricating a case for war.
One thing I never hear mentioned, however, is the fact that political issues turn into legal issues much more often in the US than perhaps anywhere else.  I have lived in half a dozen foreign countries for a total of half my life, without encountering a similar phenomenon.  
The United States’ founding by people escaping religious prosecution by a powerful ruler all-but guaranteed a suspicion of everything foreign. It could only be reinforced by our geographical location on the far side of a great ocean:THEY were ‘over there’, in places from which WE had happily escaped, determined to do things differently.
But was it inevitable that government would still be opening investigations at the drop of a hat four centuries later?
The first thing the circumstances of our founding led to was a suspicion of all that is foreign. Our geographical location on the far side of a great ocean contributed to that turn of mind: But did we succeed in that effort? ‘Different’ did not so much  lead to ‘more just’ as to an almost maniacal determination to track down the tiniest clue in order to arrive at a conviction. A twentieth century phrase that become a mantra in the twenty-first was “What did X know and when did he/she know it?”  Knowledge has become a liability.  Take the case of Donald Trump, Jr: US legal principles required him to alert the FBI when he received an invitation to meet with someone who could offer ‘dirt’ on his father’s presidential opponent Hillary Clinton!  The nation’s media anchors, one by one, declared solemnly that this is what they would have done: it would have been their duty as citizens.  
Why? Because presidential candidates are barred from accepting any aid from a foreign government. This is especially counter-intuitive given the importance we attach to having allies,  who are bound by stringent treaties to come to our aid in the case of an attack, but NOT to aid an anti-war candidate to come to office (not because the candidate is anti-war, but because  allies, by definition, are ‘foreign’).

To assuage its fear of ‘the Other’, the young republic turned to the law: The Alien and Sedition Acts were four bills passed by the 5th United States Congress and signed into law by President John Adams in 1798. They made it harder for an immigrant to become a citizen (Naturalization Act), allowed the president to imprison and deport non-citizens who were deemed dangerous or who were from a hostile nation (Alien Enemy Act of 1798), and criminalized making false statements that were critical of the federal government (Sedition Act of 1798).[ In 1917, Congress passed the Espionage and Aliens Act intended to prohibit interference with military operations or recruitment, to prevent insubordination in the military, and the support of United States enemies during wartime. in 1918 it passed another Sedition Act, to cover a broader range of offenses, notably speech and the expression of opinion that cast the government or the war effort in a negative light or interfered with the sale of government bonds. Specifically, it forbade the use of "disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language" about the United States government, its flag, or its armed forces, or that caused others to view the American government or its institutions with contempt. Those convicted under the act generally received sentences of imprisonment for five to 20 years. The act also allowed the Postmaster General to refuse to deliver mail that met the standards for punishable speech or opinion. The act applied only to times "when the United States is in war." 
A century later, the United States viewed with unmitigated contempt countries that passed similar legislation, from the commanding heights of its “war on terror”, and R2P.
The progressive movement that began with the fight against slavery encountered that foundational fear when the Russian revolution toppled the Tzar.  When President Franklin Roosevelt declared that robber capitalism left too many people out in the cold, the corporate-owned media conflated his New Deal with socialism, socialism with ‘foreign’ and ‘foreign’ with ‘Red’. In 1938, Congress created the infamous House un-American Activities Committee, unleashing a witch hunt against suspected Communists ‘beholden to a foreign power’ that became known as McCarthyism — and has been resuscitated following the election of Donald Trump.  
In HUAC’s days, only Americans suspected of approving socialism were tracked down, losing their jobs. Today, if you question Russophobia, you are considered ‘un-American’, even if you are the President of the United States!
In days gone-by it was an oxymoron that nations should try to get along with one another through diplomacy instead of resorting to war.  War was a last resort, and even then, it had to be approved by the fifteen member United Nations Security Council.  Slowly, almost imperceptibly, in Washington, war was anointed as a means of ‘saving’ foreign civilians from evil leaders. On the heels of this innovation came a determination to prevent another nation from seeking to influence the voters’ choice of an anti-war candidate for President. The task was facilitated by the existence of legislation going all the way back to the country’s founding: foreigners bad!
The lengths to which the American judiciary AND the Congress - whose designated task is legislation - are going at present to uncover any ‘collusion’ (a synonym of ‘cooperation’ which however has a negative connotation) on the part of US citizens with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, are all the more astounding that the United States — like any other country — is faced with major real problems ranging from crumbling bridges to runaway health care costs, to racial tensions and wars without end.
Our ‘best and brightest’ devote the greater part of their time and energies to investigating even the lowliest members of the Trump White House in an effort to establish criminal behavior associated with America’s self-defined ‘adversary’. And the way they go about it is, I believe, also unique: they ‘drill down’ to the tiniest details in their effort to build a case against someone.  It occurs to me that in doing so, prosecutors go beyond an individual’s conscious decisions, into what may well often be simple reflexes or even “mindlessness”, using small fragments of reality to build castles in the sand.
The people’s representatives consider that it is right for them to parallel the investigations being carried out by the nation’s judiciary — which is ‘independent’ of both the ‘executive’ (the Presidency) and the legislative (Congress), as long as their activities do not affect those of said judiciary, care being taken by both sides not to trample on each other’s turf.
I’ve written in my memoir about the day-long ‘interview’ I was required to have with two FBI agents when, after spending  a dozen years in various countries located ‘behind the Iron Curtain, an Assistant Secretary of State had the unconscionable idea to hire me.  That was almost fifty years ago, and today, even a lowly policeman who happens to be a Muslim, can be put through a much more damning ordeal.
The September 11th (sic) issue of the New Yorker magazine tells the story of a Muslim American who was considered an outstanding member of the New York Police Department until someone decided that as a Muslim he had to be doing something wrong. Not only was he fired after a judge ruled he was innocent of ridiculous charges fabricated against him (having an affair with a French colleague), he can no longer get any city job, and is back to driving a cab to support his American family, as he did when he first arrived as an immigrant twenty-five years ago. 
The details of the investigations carried out by various departments of ‘New York’s finest’ should give every American pause, as they mimic the current wave of Russophobia investigations involving public figures: no one is safe. 
P.S. It turns out that if Jared Kushner had discussed touchy issues in the presence of White House employees, they could have problems.
If he discussed such issues with the President without a lawyer present, he could have problems!




Monday, October 2, 2017

Las Vegas, Middle East

Will I be vilified if I ask how many Americans thought about our victims across the Middle East and elsewhere as they listened to the testimonies of horror from Las Vegas?

Gun control will be front and center of pundits' analysis, but will there be no other thoughts?

Americans have often been reminded that they haven't faced war on their soil since the mid-nineteenth century Civil War -- especially when they appear indifferent to the fatalities their military actions cause.  That is one reason why nine-eleven was such an awakening.  But as evil-doers gain access to military grade weapons that can kill many in a second, and the carnage comes ever closer to resembling a war-zone, will the sole focus be on gun control -- or will a significant number of voters, when they hear testimonies of those who survived the massacre in Las Vegas, think to themselves:  "This is what it must have felt like to members of Muslim wedding parties that we bombed from the air....?"

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Crimea, Kosovo, Catalonia, Corsica and Kurdistan


Just three years after a citizens’ referendum returned Crimea to Russia, from which it had been separated for sixty years, the people of Catalonia, Spain’s largest province, will vote to leave that country.
And just as the international community has decreed that the Crimean referendum was a fake, Spain’s Prime Minister felt compelled to declare that the vote could’t possibly take place, that it would be illegal, that independence, in his words, could only be ‘a pipe dream’ for the country’s richest province.
Clearly, national governments don’t like losing land and people, however when it suits the international community, some communities are permitted to become independent. In 1999, after NATO destroyed Yugoslavia, whose constituent republics were inhabited mainly by diverse groups of Slavs, after a prolonged crisis that culminated in a referendum, the Albanian majority in Kosovo, which had been part of Serbia, was granted statehood.
  Almost twenty years have passed since then, and the world is coming to a different frame of mind. Russia and China have become an item, leading other major non-western countries to form the BRICS, drawing Brazil, India and South Africa into an alliance that spans the globe, while local independence movements signal a move toward decentralization.  
The European Union, about which much criticism is heard, pioneered the idea that problems should be solved at the lowest possible level, to which it gave the name of subsidiarity. This has encouraged unemployed college graduates across Europe to reinvent themselves in abandoned rural villages, creating cyber versions of sixties communes.
As citizens around the world invest themselves in politics close to home, they are increasingly aware that the big picture requires a different kind of leadership from the one that purports to represent the idea of democracy. Taking its cue from ancient Greek city-states, the Western world evolved into parliamentary systems that partly diluted the power of kings to make war on each other: those of ‘the people’ who had the means and could take time away from earning a living, ultimately got to sit in august chambers and argue over whose constituencies should be favored in any given issue, leaving the ‘silent’ majority to hope their ideas might prevail in a future ballot.
In recent years, electronic communication has enabled minority populations within nation-states to bring decision-making closer to home — but when even that failed to bring a fairer distribution of obligations and benefits, some decided they would be better served if they had power at their own ‘national’ level. Although not many leaders have recognized the inevitability of such an arrangement, the size of the two countries which together are challenging American hegemony, China and Russia, has made it inevitable that power vis a vis the outside world has accrued to ‘the top’, under what the US calls ‘authoritarian’ regimes. 
What this means is that in an atomic age, matters of human survival are wisely left in the hands of unquestioned authority, rather than on the endless jockeying for power among interest groups in so-called representative democracies, whose major achievement has been to prevent wise kings from being followed by tyrants. The power of ‘authoritarian’ rulers is also renewed periodically by their citizens, while preserving the governing process from being watered down by ‘compromises that favor the demands of backers.
Turning now to Crimea, Kosovo and Catalonia, the Crimean referendum, long on its Russian population’s minds, became a matter of life or death when a Western managed coup brought anti-Russian Nazis to power in Ukraine, while the Kosovo referendum enabled Albanians, a non-Slav people whose language is unrelated to any other, to no longer be ruled by Slavs.  
The Catalan case is different from that of both Albanians and Crimeans. The area known as Catalonia was long contested between France and Spain, and Catalonians, like most Europeans, have an acute sense of history, which contributes to their determination to achieve independence.  Their language, Catalan is related to French, Spanish, Portuguese and Occitan, which was formerly spoken in southwestern France, Northwestern Italy and northern Spain, thus they see themselves as equal to these cousins who have long had states of their own. (Similarly the Corsicans sought independence from France after World War II, gradually obtaining greater autonomy. Like the Catalans, they have their own language, and an acute sense of history, aided by the fact that Napoleon was Corse.)
If the Catalonian referendum returns a high percentage for succession, the chances of Scotland holding a second referendum will increase. The first one, held in 2014, elicited promises of greater autonomy from the then British Prime Minister, which were soon forgotten. With Great Britain exiting the European Union, Scotland is likely to again seek independence in order to remain in Europe.
As for the Kurds, a people spread over a contiguous area divided among four national states, Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran, they have gone about earning statehood by providing some of the best fighters in the war against terrorism — including female battalions, unhappily becoming part of the standoff between the US and Russia in the Middle East.  They rule a significant area in Northern Iraq and have planned a referendum for tomorrow which, however, is not seen as the first step toward a state that would include the three other Kurdish areas, as both the host states as well as Russia and the US have reservations about the idea. 
Finally, in recent times, several Americans states have birthed successionist movements, the farthest advanced being that of California, with the campaign called Calexit, and the most recent being that of Texas. This past week, Rachel Maddow discovered  that the founder of Calexit, Louis Marinelli, has been living in Russia for the past several years. Oblivious to the complementary roles played by ‘authoritarian’ governments cooperating at the international level, and decentralization, also known as local democracy, she sees this as proof that President Putin is trying to dismember the United States.