Saturday, July 22, 2017

R2P Turned Against Russia

Since Samantha Powers moved into politics under Barack Obama, coining the phrase Responsibility to Protect, it has been used by the US as a cover for invasion and regime change.

It is not the job of outsiders to 'protect' civilians from abuse by their own governments, yet the US professes to be doing it routinely, for example when it accuses Bashar al-Assad of 'killing his own people', when he defends his government against US-instigated rebellion.  At the same time it condemns Russia when it defends Russians living in other countries: according to Washington, Russia has no right to help Russian Ukrainians succede from a country that has been taken over by fascists --backed by the US.

Congress this week voted to give itself oversight over Russian sanctions in order to head off any decision by the President to lift those already in place. 

Sign in New York Subway, 1958
R2P is never mentioned anymore, lest people begin to wonder why it is deemed inappropriate to apply it to one's own citizens, and Russia continues to be accused to 'changing the postwar borders' and 'invading its neighbors', so frightening Europeans that they have accepted to host NATO troops and missiles. 






Friday, July 21, 2017

Three Stories 'Missed' by the US Media

If you're watching American television, you probably learned that President trump is worried that the special prosecutor wil discover his old tax returns --- and that OJ Simpson was granted parole.Maybe you also learned that a ten year old boy found some really old fossils.

But you didn't hear about Chinese and Russian ships patrolling the North Sea, off the coasts of Britain and Denmark - as thousands of NATO troops are massed on Russia's land borders with the Baltic States and in Poland.  Moscow and Beijing are using the same reasoning that the US uses when it sails in seas that are close to the territorial waters of other nations, such as the South China sea:: "Hey, these are international waters...."

Another thing you will not hear on US television is that the woman at the heart of Trump Jr.'s woes, the Russian lawyer Natalya Vesselnitskaya, claimed on RT that the American businessman David Browder (son of a former head of the US Communist Party, Earl Browder) set her up to contact Trump Jr. through intermediaries, and that he has had her investigated, including on a personal level, wanting to know whether she was married and has children. She has four children, and fears for their safety.  Browder made a fortune during President Yeltsin's heyday, when the future 
'oligarchs' gobbled up Russia's mineral treasures, then became a fierce critic of President Putin.

You will not know that a German NGO, "Defend Europe" is determined to take on the other NGO's that are rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean.  A spokesperson for the organization suspected of fascism explained to RT that they will help smugglers when their passengers are in danger, but they will then take them back to Libya. I will be surprised if violence doesn't erupt between the two groups.

Finally and not least, you can view President Putin's Q and A with high school students in Sochi on RT's website.  It goes on for several hours, with subjects ranging from the 'boring' curriculum for music students, to Bitcoin and colonizing Mars, and shows the Russian President is something of a polymath.  



                                                  Sochi Airport






Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Tomorrow's Blog: Maddow's Mishmash

A friend told me that last night Rachel Maddow described a totally new political order, focused on business rather than diplomacy. I had been planning to write about some-thing similar, so I was curious to hear what Maddow said.
It turns out that she was really distorting President Putin’s take on how world affairs should be conducted.  As I’ve written before, Putin favors power centers around the main players, such as the US, China and Russia, with Brazil in Latin America and South Africa for at least part of the dark continent.  Unfortunately, in Maddow’s telling, this became: “We believed there was a community of nations, we championed the international order where people play by rules which are in our interest (and the world’s interest).”   We’re not a community of Nations, we’re a bunch of competing agendas.”
Diplomacy has always been about business interests.  The difference now is that this agenda is out in the open, whereas during the twentieth century, it was wrapped in lofty-sounding words. When you appoint the former head of a major oil company as your Secretary of State, it’s not just because he has dealt with the Russian President, it’s because Donald Trump would like to get his hands on Russia’s mineral trove without subjecting the world to a nuclear war.
Getting back to Maddow’s obfuscation  — she’s really very good at hiding things behind cute tails about her staff’s reactions to events mixed with incomplete sentences — she cannot say that President Putin wants the world to be run collectively by the main regional powers, rather than by the US.  By not presenting that fact, which is spelled out in Putin’s speeches, she is not doing her fellow citizens a favor, because the failure of voters — and even the political class at large — to be aware of this, could lead to a nuclear holocaust.
The only reason why we should be glad we have Trump and not Hillary as President, is because the latter was channeling Dr. Strangelove. 

But it’s a powerful one.

P.S. Rachel may have overstepped her remit by insinuating that there is something not right about the Special Proscutor Bob Mueller, being informed of the name of the eighth person present at Trump Jr.'s meeting with the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.  I'll bet she gets a slap on the wrist.







UN Foyer

Macron's Latest and the Depths of US Suspicion

The new French president's latest effort to pass for Napoleon, Louis XIV snd General de Gaulle all at once by publicly chastizing the general in charge of the French army, who complained about budget cuts, suggests that the thirty-nine year old isn't yet successfuly channeling the greats, giving the French yet another occasion to mock him.

Along the Northeast corridor, however, the mood is somber: turns out that President Trump had a one-on-one conversations without an American (and fully vetted) translator!  That he had to rely on the translation rendered by Putin's translator during the conversatio (which took place in full view of the nearby guests at the G20 dinner.  Obviously, the Russian had to have been playing tricks on Trump, putting words in his mouth that he had never proferred, and dressing up Putin's! Never mind that translators the world over have a code of ethics (not to mentiont he fact that Vladmir Putin is not totally ignorant of the English language...) 

Pretty soon Americans who eat borscht will be on an FBI watch list....


Sunday, July 16, 2017

Story to Follow: The Macron Method

Today, France 24 reported on President Macron's reception of Israeli Prime MInister Benjamin Netanyahu, with whom a number of international leaders have little patience.  Given France's large Jewish community, its new president could hardly afford to pick up where his predecessors left off.  Instead, he used the same technique as with Presidents Putin and Trump: an invitation to an important site (Versailles for Putin) or event (Bastille Day for Trump), inviting the Israeli Prime Minister to commemorate the infamous Vel d'Hiv Roundup on on July 16 and 17, 1942,. during which over 13,000 Jews that had been rounded up by the VIchy government police were sent to concentration camps, many never to return.  Like one of his predecessors, Jacques Chirac, he declared the government of the time fully responsible for the atrocity.

It's clear that Macron's method for making France once again an important world player is first of all to flatter his counterparts by bestowing upon them significant historical/cultural gifts, in the manner of a Jupiter, to which he is mockingly compared by the French media.  

The following morning, Monday, July 17th:  Perfidious Marianne!

RT announced that the Brits are accusing Macron of trying to steal London's place as the world's financial center when they exit the EU!  He's obviously determined to put France back on the map, as well as treating major foreign leaders as though he were their equal...


    Paris Panorma with Pantheon and First High-Rise

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Height of Media Dishonesty

Today's Wall Street Journal includes a story detailing the Finn's fear of Russian invasion.  Nowhere does the article ention the fact that NATO has massed troops on Russia's Western border, from the Baltic to the Black Sea.

Below is a NATO map showing the locations of its troops on Russia's Western borders.





I'm sorry if these maps make some people feel uncomfortable, but it's necessary for Americans to face the fact that their country is doing everything it can, via NATO, to intimidate Russia, while pursuing a robost media campaign to make them believe that it is Russia that is threatening its neighbors.  Neither Sweden nor Finland are NATO members, but they know they have to be good allies all the same.  Sweden recently announced it was institutiing a draft, and according to the above article, Finland is frantically building underground shelters.



















Friday, July 14, 2017

“Security”: An American Obsession

Although I didn’t vote for Donald Trump, I can feel for his family, as the media doggedly tries to get them out of the White House by invoking an obscure law stating that political candidates may not accept favors from foreigners.  
As I recount in my memoir, Lunch with Fellini, Dinner with Fidel, in the nineteen seventies, when I became a speech writer of the assistant secretary of State for cultural affairs (the branch that most notably administered the famous Fulbright Scholars Program), I was required to get a security clearance in order to be formally hired. I had been working for from an office outside the Department of State for the former president of Americans for Democratic Action, Joe Duffey, a political appointee who was thrilled to have someone who had spent two years in Cuba chronicling the revolution on his staff.
Cmdt. Ramiro Valdes, Cuban Security Minister
1964, 
Months after my application had been submitted, the office of personnel had still not ruled on my hire: they finally said I needed a security clearance, and an appointment was made.  I met with two officials — I guess they were from the FBI but I don’t remember that fact impacting me in any particular way at the time — in a small room in the State department with no window.  The furnishing consisted of three chairs and a square table.  One of the officials asked me questions, while the other observed me.  I had spent six years living in two East European countries (Poland and Hungary) and told them I had nothing to hide, answering every question promptly and calmly.  The meeting lasted all day, but weeks later the clearance hadn’t come and I was coming to the end of a temporary contract.  Finally I called the officer in charge of security and told him he could have me followed, tap my phone, read my mail: I had nothing to hide.  Finally, he asked me if I would take a lie detector test.  Blithely, I said: “Sure!”
While waiting for the test to be scheduled, several friends told me I had been foolish to accept: they were so easy to manipulate!  I called the head of security again and asked him whether I would get the clearance if I passed the test.  He said yes. I took the test, not sensing anything untoward, but still, the clearance didn’t come.  Finally, at the end of my tether, I called the head of security again, who began to waffle.  Enraged, I said, “I’m calling the Secretary for Human Resources”, and slammed down the phone.  By the time I got through to that office, I was told that the head of Security had just gone in to talk to him.  A half hour later, the secretary called me and told me I would get my clearance the following morning. Apparently, security was   required to get permission from human resources before administering a lie detector test, and they had failed to do so.
That was in 1976.  As we see today with the hysteria over a meeting Jared Kushner had with a Russian lobbyist who wants to get the Magnitsky Act, (which prevents Americans from adopting Russian orphans) repealed by the Trump administration, America’s obsession with ‘security’ has only escalated, even though Russia has never challenged American ‘interests’ — unless they be located in its neighbor Ukraine or Crimea, where thousands of Russians have always lived. 
The amount of air time devoted to this matter would be all out of proportion to its legitimate claim as news — were it not for the fact that under America’s ‘rule of law’ the high crimes and misdemeanors stipulated in the Constitution as causes for impeachment have come to include almost anything.  With Bill Clinton, it was extra-marital sex, and he got off scot free, but if Trump is impeached, he will be booted from office with glee by Democrats itching to go to war with Russia.  
(Yesterday, perhaps after drinking too much French wine, the President, wanting to shore up his NATO credentials in the ‘city of light’, made a misleading statement, claiming that ‘Hillary wouldn’t have spent all that money on the military’.  Does he really not know that Hillary was itching to take on Russia, including with tactical nuclear weapons?)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Big Napoleon and Little Napoleon

Peter the Great's Throne at the Hermitage, St.Petersburg

MSNBC can’t seem to make up its mind whether Donald Trump and Emanuel Macron love or hate each other, but I will rest my case on the fact that Macron left his assigned placed for the G20 photo shoot to come and stand on the very outside of the group next to Trump who had been assigned that place as a newcomer.
Today, the two presidents reviewed the guard at Napoleon’s tomb, and Donald Trump never looked so presidential, standing ramrod straight in the courtyard of Les Invalides.
Macron —  who has been taunted in the French press for trying to emulate Napoleon and the Sun King all at once — speaks good English and has a background in finance.  Having brilliantly won the Presidency on his first try, then capped that by gaining a comfortable majority in Parliament, his slogan could be translated as France Forging Ahead, not very different from ‘Make America Great Again’.  (Like Trump, Macron has an unusual personal history, having succeeded in getting a high school professor twenty-three years his senior to divorce her husband and marry him.)  
Suffice it to say that Macron is a doer and a go-getter, but what does he want from Trump?  The answer brings us to Angela Merkel, about to run for a fourth term as Chancellor of Germany.  France and Germany have long been Europe’s leading duo, but unlike her predecessors, Merkel is recognized as primus inter pares.  As a French patriot and upstart President, Macron aims to gain equal recognition for France, which has not been the case since the Mitterrand-Kohl duo (and even then….Mitterrand hoped until the last minute that somehow Germany would not be permitted to reunite…).  If Macron could succeed, where Merkel has failed, in persuading Donald Trump to rejoin the Climate Agreement, that would go a long way toward suggesting that Europe has a new leader.
Angela Merkel has the advantage of being able to speak Russian to Vladimir Putin (benefitting from communist East Germany’s obligatory Russian studies in her youth), but Macron received the Russian president at the Versailles palace — where he proceeded to address a joint session of Parliament a few weeks later, causing the French media to loudly mock his royal instincts.







Europe as a whole is undergoing a fundamental mutation from left of center to who knows how far right.  The key question will be whether a ‘New Right’ a la Alain de Benoit will take hold, putting paid to the vociferous anti-immigrant right that has been galvanized by the massive arrival of Muslim immigrants. Europe’s leaders seem to ignore the fact, recently reported by the Economist, https://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2017/07/daily-chart-6 that absent immigration, their populations are doomed to decline. (Donald Trump probably ignores that fact, too.)

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Call the FBI?!!!!!!

I'm willing to bet there isn't another country in the world where a citizen -- much less a candidate for the highest office, or his family members -- is expected to call the FBI when approached by a citizen of an 'adversary' country.

I've lived in half a dozen countries in the course of my now long life, and I learned to speak the languages of most, following the news.  Never have journalists -- or politicians -- claimed it was incumbent upon a citizen to report overtures from foreign countries to the special services.

America, of course is different.  We're 'exceptional' because we ride high on the wings of democracy -- higher, needless to say, than any other country.   And our exceptionalism gives us the right to tell the rest of the world (mostly consisting of 'deplorables') how to live and what to die for.

 
Cafeteria in St. Petersburg
What our politicos never admit is that what birthed this country was rejection of the Other: The template for our relations with other nations was set in the mold of our relations with a distant, all-powerful king, and official America is always suspicious of the motivations of other rulers.  One of Donald Trump's unforgivable sins has been his ("naive") contention that it's better to get along with other nations rather than picking fights, or even simply telling them how to behave.  Personally, I voted for Jill Stein, but I think the US has a better chance of avoiding a nuclear exchange under the leadership of someone who would rather make deals than make war -- even if some leaders other than Vladimir Putin and France's new, young president, Emanuel Macron, would shun the three-ring circus atmosphere of the current White House.

My next post will try to explain what neo-liberal European leaders like Macron see in Trump.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Much Ado About Not Much

I don't know whether other countries have laws similar to our election law, which stipulates that candidates cannot sollicite or accept anything of value from a foreign government, but I am ready to bet that if they do, such laws would not be used to prosecute a candidate.  The US is the only country I am aware of that is so addicted to investigating and prosecuting.

So great is that addiction that it apparently hasn't occured to any of the journalists seen salvating on tv to question why it should be a crime for a candidate to welcome support from another country.  International relations, after all, are considered crucial to a nation's governance and having allies and supporters is thus theoretically a good thing.  Why is it that an American president should not welcome Russian support?

Why should an American president not welcome evidence of support from the other major nuclear power, instead of threats?  The msm has lost sight of what's important, in its addiction to "breaking news".  And because most Americans have been discouraged from following international affairs, most are likely to internalize that message: "Russia bad" without question.

Let's get one thing straight here: it isn't because Hillary bad-mouthed Putin that Russia did all it could (I believe that) to help Donald Trump get elected: it's because had she  been elected, Hillary would have been the most hawkish president to ever sit in the Oval Office.  She made no bones about her intentions to attack Russia.  Is there anyone out there who would have behaved differently, under those circumstances?  Only a President addicted to trivia, who doesn't put the defense of his country before all else...

The 1917 Battleship Aurora in St. Petersburg, by Deena Stryker

Monday, July 10, 2017

A Boxed-in Beltway

This morning Kellyanne Conway duked it out with a brash anchor on CNN about the way the American press covers Donald Trump, as an unprecedented media war against the president goes into overdrive.
What we’ve been seeing since the Trump-Putin meeting is a variation on The Boy Who Called Wolf.  Washington pundits have painted the Russian President as some sort of monster for so long that when their new Commander-in-Chief says he’s honored to meet him and goes on to have a two hour plus confab with him, they’re in the awkward position of having to continue their claims against him rather than admitting that it’s better to ‘move on’, so that the two countries don’t end up shooting themselves in the foot, taking the rest of the world with them.

They appear to believe that it’s more important to nab Putin on charges of intervention in ‘our democratic institutions’ than to save the world from a holocaust! 
How did we get to this point?  Hearing the current discussions about whether the president’s son should be indicted for a meeting with an un-named Russian, it’s clear that America is all about Cops and Robbers.  “Investigating” has become a national sport, to the detriment of a common-sense appreciation for the survival of the human race.  If Americans had any knowledge of history one could imagine that they fear another ‘Munich’ — a mistaken belief in 1939 that Hitler would be ‘reasonable’ in his demands. But it’s more like the trauma of Pearl Harbor— or 9/11, both of which have wrongly been made to appear as unmerited aggressions.
President Trump’s Democratic opponents are like dogs gnawing at a bone from which every shred of meat has vanished.  It has become more important to ‘arrest and convict’ the man elected in a ‘free and fair’ election (never mind if by a largely un-educated citizenry) than to pressure him to cooperate with the rest of the world to fight climate change.  In this environment, any ‘deal’ with a never-to-be-trusted Russian to power down our mutual nuclear capabilities would be viewed as a pipe dream.

We don’t ‘know’ that Putin has disappeared journalists, but on the strength of suspicions, (and in the absence of  conclusive ‘investigations’) America’s best and brightest want us forego the sane steps that would keep the world going.

They should read up on the history of World War II, in which the Soviet Union lost a fifth of its population, 26 million, to the US’s 500,000.  Maybe they could then begin to believe that the one thing Russia and its leaders are fanatic about is avoiding war.


Then again, that might seem strange to most Americans, who have grown up assuming that attacking other countries is normal.

The "Sapsan" high-speed Moscow-St. Petersburg

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Whatsa Democracy?


Democracy has got to be the most overworked and under-defined word in the English language. - in fact, in any language, given that memes spread across the planet faster than the speed of light.  The more ruthless and rash the United States becomes in its determination to rule the world, relying increasingly on the power of words, the greater the urgency of unmasking the word ‘democracy’.

According to the conventional ‘wisdom’, if all citizens above a certain age - usually eighteen or twenty-one - are entitled to vote for representatives in a country’s law-making bodies, they are living in a democracy. But if the US were really serious about defending democracy, it would not claim that Cuba, for example, or Russia, fail the test.  These two countries, together with a long list of other nations, are not considered members of the ‘club of democratic nations’. In the case of Cuba, there is only one political party, and in the case of Russia, the President wields too much power and elections are suspicious. Yet, as reported by Medea Benjamin at http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/01/09/democracy-in-cuba-and-at-home/ Cuba has pioneered decentralized democracy, and Putin has long enjoyed an approval rating in the eighties!

In reality, democracy is less about elections than about who actually writes the laws. Russia is not a beltway sanctioned democracy because when situations require it, Putin tells the elected members of the Duma what laws to pass, after discussion. The United States is a democracy because our President can’t do that: but is it preferable for lobbyists to tell the Congress what laws to pass, while ‘think tanks’ take over the job of writing them from our elected representatives? Is a country that relies on military might, intervening wherever its commercial needs are not being satisfied, to impose ‘regime change’ a democracy, especially when a large majority of its citizens oppose such policies?  Is it a democracy when most of the assets are in the hands of a small minority? Or when only half the population has access to medical care?

Across the world, kids are taught that countries should be democratic, and as they grow up they judge their own and other countries by the accepted definition of the words:’free and fair elections’, a ‘free’ press, the ‘rule of law’ implemented via a system of ‘checks and balances’, meaning that the judiciary is independent of both the executive and the legislative branches of government. But countries can boast all of these achievements, and not really be democratic in the sense of responding to the needs of the majority of its citizens. 

The word ‘democracy’, which, as every school child knows, was coined by the Greeks over two thousand years ago, means that it’s ‘the people’ who hold power.  In actual fact, in ancient Athens, only male citizens, not women or slaves, could express their opinions publicly and vote. Yet politicians the world over claim that if every citizen has a vote, the system is democratic. During the eighteenth century Enlightenment, in a world (i.e., Europe) in which population growth already made direct participation impossible, autocracies became constitutional monarchies, a relatively benign form of rule from above, of which Great Britain is the poster-child. Although she appoints the Prime Minister, the Queen has no power, but can only hope for the best. Other constitutional monarchies include the Scandinavian countries, which are social democracies even when ruled by conservatives. The Scandinavian constitutional monarchies are considered to be the most advanced countries in the world. 

An important requirement for a regime to be considered democratic is that it is entirely in the hands of ‘civilians’ who tell the military what to do. If a military man is elected in a ‘free and fair election’ (for example, President Al Sisi of Egypt), he is not considered to be a dictator until his military springs into action at the slightest threat to his rule.

Non-constitutional monarchies such as Saudi Arabia and the other countries of the Persian Gulf do not even pretend to be democratic. They are among the long list of ‘our dictators’ such as those of Africa, or the caudillos that ruled America’s ‘back yard’ until an enduring Cuban revolution persuaded the rest of the continent to resist American oversight, occupying a unique niche located on vast reserves of oil. American officialdom stations planes and ships on the Gulf counries to protect their feudal rulers when their people, such as Yemenis or Bahrainis, demand democracy.

What about the countries of Eastern Europe, held for decades under Soviet, shall we say, guardianship?  Now they’re ‘free’ and you won’t find anywhere a bunch of people more committed to the American definition of democracy. The Poles and the Baltic nations are so committed to American style democracy that they are itching to go to war with ‘Putin’s Russia’. 

Currently, Ukraine is the big democracy story. Victoria Nuland, Hillary Clinton’s Assistant Secretary of State for Eastern European Affairs, almost single-handedly fomented a coup against the President of Ukraine, Victor Yanukovich, who had been elected in 2010 in internationally recognized ‘free and fair’ elections. The majority of Ukrainians who demonstrated in the Maidan for weeks in 2013-14 simply wanted to live in a ‘more democratic’ country, while Nuland’s goal was to lop off a piece of Russia’s ‘near abroad’. Battalions of Ukrainian Nazis who, according one of their leaders, Dimity Yaros, http://Exclusive: Leader of Far-Right Ukrainian Militant Group Talks Revolution With TIME, had been training for the job for months in Western Ukraine (the part that borders on Poland which borders on the Baltic states…) were brought in to make sure the change went through, and even if it wanted to, the Poroshenko government would be unable to evade their control.

When the Ukrainians found themselves living under a much worse regime than the one they had helped to overthrow, those in the East, many of whom, as a result of history and geography were mainly ethnic Russians, were appalled: the Ukrainian Nazis were the descendants of those who had helped the Germans kill thousands of their forebears during the second world war. When Yaros and his buddies, as well as former presidential candidate Yulia Timoshenko, unabashedly called for the elimination of ‘Jews and Russians’, eastern Ukrainians refused to participate in the presidential election, organizing referenda in Donetsk and Lugansk that created two breakaway entities known as Novorossiya. Kiev responded with military force hoping they would move to Russia, abandoning Ukraine’s vast stores of coal and most of its industry.  Today, the US is still accusing Russia of being behind the breakaway provinces, but it would have been unthinkable for Vladimir Putin not to support them given the Soviet Union’s World War II losses to Nazi Germany, estimated at 26,000,000 (compared to 70,000,000 for all of Europe and fewer than 500,000 for the United States). That measured support is presented as an aggression by the country that carried out the coup in Kiev, but Russia has no desire annex them, as it did with Crimea, the location of its Black Sea fleet.

Following upon the Putin/Trump meeting on the sidelines of the G20 in Hamburg, Germany, the American media continues to claim that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, attacking our ’democracy’ — while calling for regime change in Syria! Americans have been led to believe that ‘free and fair elections’ are all it takes to ensure ‘democracy’, not whether a country is the victim of outside manipulation. Ideology being a foreign notion to be shunned, they do not know enough to be shocked when fascist militias are used to shore up a ‘democratic’ regime. 

Unlike the United States, Europe is steeped in ideology, and until recently, the European Union represented the highest level of civilization the world had ever achieved. Worried that Americans might eventually demand the same six week vacations and free medical care enjoyed by Europeans, in 2008, the Wall Street-led military/industrial/financial complex engineered an economic debacle that has brought the welfare state to its knees. Combined with the presence of ever larger number of Muslim refugees, the situation is driving Europe into the arms of fascists similar to those who clubbed their way to power in the Maidan.

This leads to an impertinent question: If allowing all citizens to vote fails to prevent power from residing in the hands of a few, should the word ‘democracy’ be used as the criterion for proper government? Socialists of all stripes insist that it isn’t enough for democracy to be ‘political’, giving each citizen a vote. It must also be ‘social’, ensuring that the needs of all are met. They are opposed by ‘liberals’ who would like us to believe that guaranteeing ‘equality of opportunity’ suffices to ensure everyone’s well-being. Increasingly around the world citizens are coming to the conclusion that ‘democracy’ as practiced in the twenty-first century is a God that has failed. 

In 1949, six eminent writers, the Americans Louis Fischer, Stephen Spender, and Richard Wright, the Hungarian-British Arthur Koestler, the French Andre Gide and the Italian Ignazio Silone published a book on their conversion to and subsequent disillusionment with communism, titled The God that FailedWhat is interesting about this book is that Fischer called the moment in which some communists or fellow-travelers decide not just to leave the Communist Party but to oppose it as anti-communists ‘Kronstadt’.  ‘Kronstadt’ was a 1921 military rebellion during the young Soviet Union’s struggle against Western armies seeking ‘regime change’. In bold below are Kronstadt’s demands that are still being made today across the ‘democratic’ world: 
1 Immediate new elections to the Soviets; the present Soviets no longer express the wishes of the workers and peasants. The new elections should be held by secret ballot, and should be preceded by free electoral propaganda for all workers and peasants before the elections.
2 Freedom of speech and of the press for workers and peasants, for the Anarchists, and for the Left Socialist parties.
3 The right of assembly, and freedom for trade union and peasant associations.
4 The organization, at the latest on 10 March 1921, of a Conference of non-Party workers, soldiers and sailors of Petrograd, Kronstadt and the Petrograd District.
5 The liberation of all political prisoners of the Socialist parties, and of all imprisoned workers and peasants, soldiers and sailors belonging to working class and peasant organizations.
6 The election of a commission to look into the dossiers of all those detained in prisons and concentration camps.
7 The abolition of all political sections in the armed forces; no political party should have privileges for the propagation of its ideas, or receive State subsidies to this end. In place of the political section, various cultural groups should be set up, deriving resources from the State.
8 The immediate abolition of the militia detachments set up between towns and countryside.
9 The equalization of rations for all workers, except those engaged in dangerous or unhealthy jobs.
10 The abolition of Party combat detachments in all military groups; the abolition of Party guards in factories and enterprises. If guards are required, they should be nominated, taking into account the views of the workers.
11 The granting to the peasants of freedom of action on their own soil, and of the right to own cattle, provided they look after them themselves and do not employ hired labour.
12 We request that all military units and officer trainee groups associate themselves with this resolution.
13 We demand that the Press give proper publicity to this resolution.
14 We demand the institution of mobile workers' control groups.
15 We demand that handicraft production be authorized, provided it does not utilize wage labour.

Like today’s voters, the Kronstadt recruits - demonstrating as citizens - wanted more bread and less control.  But the similarities end there. Although the rebellion was put down militarily, Lenin recognized that their demands echoed those of the population at large, and replaced what today we call ‘austerity’ with a less punishing New Economic Policy that lasted until 1928. The fledgling communist state was probably saved by recognizing that it had to respond to the workers’ demands, while today’s ‘democratic’ European and American governments insist on maintaining crippling austerity.

In the same year that the Russian revolutionaries took power, the American President Woodrow Wilson made the agonizing decision to enter the first World War against Germany. One sentence from the speech he made to the American Congress to request a declaration of war, became a watchword: ‘to make the world safe for democracy’. If you read the speech, which can be found at http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/4943/, you will see that Wilson was referring specifically to the fact that Germany’s attacks on unarmed merchant vessels bringing supplies to European countries at war would not have been possible had it been a democracy, because ‘the people’ would not have tolerated such an immoral action. In Wilson’s mind, the phrase seems to have meant: ‘We have to go to war with Germany to make the world safe for democracies such as ours, which would never carry out such immoral attacks on civilians as are being carried out by Germany.’  It did not, at the time, mean what it was later taken to mean, i.e., ‘The US has to rule the world to make it safe for the financial/industrial complex, to get its way’. 

Under the pretext of ‘bringing democracy’ to a country, the US modifies its entire political structure in order for it to serve the financial/military/industrial complex. The most extreme form of that reorganization is embodied in the two major trade agreements that the US tried to impose on the Pacific and European worlds, the TPP and TAFTA.  As a telling example of the scope of these agreements, they would establish a framework for the re-privatization of the one of the European Union’s most significant features: free health care for all.

Notwithstanding the vast cultural and political differences between ‘Kronstadt’ and, say, ‘Occupy’, the commonalities are striking. The austerity imposed on citizens by the world’s bankers to recoup losses created by their own reckless behavior galvanized the left. Parties like Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain fomented a modern equivalent to the Kronstadt rebellion. All over Europe, demonstrating has become an almost full-time occupation for activists.  Thousands of demonstrators converged on the G-20 Summit in Hamburg this week in what have been the most violent protests yet seen in Europe.

This is the real face of 21st century ‘democracy’, defined as a system based on ‘free and fair elections’. At the same time as the European left is finding its feet after a long decline, in the United States, after decades of worker passivity, the black community is helping the left finally overcome a suspicion of ideology — deemed hitherto to be ‘foreign’. The mainstream media claims that ‘Americans are not interested in foreign affairs’ to justify keeping its coverage to a minimum. But social media campaigns are now international, and they have gradually widened American awareness of what the rest of the world is thinking and doing. Ferguson’s Black Lives Matter couples its fight for justice with that of the Palestinians of Gaza, and more of these alliances are sure to follow. 

If there is any hope that the United States is not headed for irrelevancy, it rests with a long overdue transformation of America’s definition of democracy from ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ to ‘liberty, equality, fraternity’ as expressed by the French Revolution - and every revolution since. Thomas Jefferson wrote: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” And long before him, Aristotle wrote: “In a democracy the poor will have more power than the rich, because there are more of them, and the will of the majority is supreme. But as long as ‘democracy’ is defined as one man, one vote, that will not happen. 







Saturday, July 8, 2017

The US Media’s Sour Grapes: 

It's absolutely amazing how the American media has responded to the first Putin- Trump meeting, given that it surpassed all positive expectations. They can't quite make their peace with the fact that they may not threaten each other anymore.  Before the meeting they sort of grudgingly admitted that after all these are the two biggest nuclear powers — in a sort of aside, implying that it would be better if they got along, but it was clear that this was not a heartfelt opinion —  and they were expecting the standoff to continue.

It's going to be very interesting to see how the US media continues to interpret the meeting between Trump and Putin, as well as the very violent clashes that took place during the G20 in Hamburg. MSNBC's reporter last night seemed to be pretending to cover a violent demonstration which we never actually saw, whereas today the RT correspondent did show the violence of those demonstrations. If you didn't see RT’s coverage you would just think that this demos weren't so bad, but if you did see it, you realize that either the American journalist didn't want to risk getting caught up in the violence, or there was a deliberate decision to play it down, since it is anti-capitalist violence. 

I'm hoping that President Putin will give Donald Trump some advice on Healthcare, in particular how to set up a system that takes care of the poor and also makes money for the insurance companies and the pharmacies.  An American president cannot be seen taking advice from a mere European leader, but from the other superpower, maybe…(Both Russia and the EU countries appear to have moved toward a mixed system.)

I'm wondering what the American media will replace the story according to which the US can't do business with, or trust Russia. How are they going to walk back that long-standing narrative? 

The decision to move forward, recognizing that there is some disagreement as to past history is going to make a lot of people in Washington very angry. But as for Donald Trump's base, he kept saying during the campaign that it would be a good thing if we could get along with Russia, mothers of draft age men will heave a sigh of relief.. It will be interesting to see how the stock market responds: will it keep going up as it has since Trump was elected, or will it freak out over the prospect of peace?

Apparently newcomers are always assigned a position on the edges of the group but apparently France’s new president, Macron didn't think Donald Trump should be left in that position.  He made a big fuss about Trump all during the meeting . And RT showed him leaving his assigned place for the photo to come and stand in the last outside position next to Donald Trump. Does this indicate the formation of a populist group of leaders? (In a recent piece James Petras challenged the designation of president Trump as a populist, but I think it's more complicated than he suggests. I don't know how many people would agree with his with his designation of Roosevelt as a populist….http://www.petras.lahaine.org.Anti-Populism: Ideology of the Ruling Class)

Surely no one can fail to notice that the progress made toward a ceasefire zone in Syria could only have come about with extensive pre-meeting consultations between the two governments. Will the US media recognize that Rex Tillerson is capable of using his business experience to further matters of State, noticing that both President Putin and President Trump like to get things done? If the US Congress drags its feet over approving the decisions made by the two presidents, they will look really bad. They might even be negatively compared to Putin's Duma, that does as it's told.


This afternoon at four o’clock MSNBC mentioned casually that President Trump’s scheduled press conference had been cancelled.  I wonder why?

Sochi Airport by Deena Stryker

Friday, July 7, 2017

The Two and a Half Hour Meeting

Plenty of time for Putin to get Trump up to speed on the history of US Russia relations, including the Wolfowitz Doctrine.  But the most interesting thing today is the way the meeting was reported by the US and Russian television channels: according to RT, the cease-fire in south-western Syria will be monitored by the Russians, with the cooperation of Jordan (Syria’s neighbor in that area) and the US.  MSNBC, however, only reported that there would be a cease fire….
Also on MSNBC, there were two statements by Rex Tillerson on the meeting: the first was quite moderate, the second much less so, almost as if someone had taken him aside and told him he was sounding too positive.  
Martin Jay commented on RT that Israel was probably behind the cease-fire agreement, the area in question being close to the Golan Heights.

Outside Moscow's Scheremetevo Airport at midnight.  Photo by Deena Stryker

Thursday, July 6, 2017

WHAT VLADIMIR PUTIN WILL SAY TO DONALD TRUMP TOMORROW

There appears to be only one subject of concern regarding the planned meeting of the two world nuclear heavyweights tomorrow: will President Trump tell President Putin where to get off?  Not a single commentator appears to attach any importance to what Putin might say to Trump.  They cannot even imagine that he might have anything to say that could possibly change the dynamic between the two countries.
Since the US had led the creation of the UN, supposedly to encourage worldwide cooperation after two deadly wars, when Vladimir Putin became president, he believed it would welcome his country into the fold of market-oriented democracies. Instead American policymakers reaffirmed The Wolfowitz Doctrine, which became the Bush, Clinton and Obama Doctrine, states unequivocally:

"U.S. primacy
There can be no challenge to U.S.'s world leadership.

The U.S. must show the leadership necessary to establish and protect a new order that holds the promise of convincing potential competitors that they need not aspire to a greater role or pursue a more aggressive posture to protect their legitimate interests. In non-defense areas, we must account sufficiently for the interests of the advanced industrial nations to discourage them from challenging our leadership or seeking to overturn the established political and economic order. We must maintain the means to deter potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.”

Long before Vladimir Putin entered the world stage, the United States threw down the gauntlet: No one should even think of proposing that regional powers work together to ensure a peaceful world. Since the 1990’s, US policy has been to prevent the emergence of the multi-polar world called for by the Russian president. Its mildest accusation is that Vladimir Putin is an authoritarian with whom the US can barely do business. America’s foreign policy requires “the creation and maintenance” (by any means…) of alliances: “One of the primary tasks we face today in shaping the future is carrying long standing alliances into the new era, and turning old enmities into new cooperative relationships. If we and other leading democracies continue to build a democratic security community, a much safer world is likely to emerge. If we act separately, many other problems could result.”  This last sentence implies only two possibilities: cooperation under US hegemony — or chaos, downplaying the value of international coalitions.



"Unilateralism
“Like the coalition that opposed Iraqi aggression, (presumably against Kuwait in 1990) we should expect future coalitions to be ad hoc assemblies, often not lasting beyond the crisis being confronted, and in many cases carrying only general agreement over the objectives to be accomplished. Nevertheless, the sense that the world order is ultimately backed by the U.S. will be an important stabilizing factor.”

This paragraph suggesting that the US has the last word was re-written with a change in emphasis:

“Certain situations like the crisis leading to the Gulf War are likely to engender ad hoc coalitions. We should plan to maximize the value of such coalitions. This may include specialized roles for our forces as well as developing cooperative practices with others.

"Pre-emptive intervention
The doctrine originally states the U.S’s right to intervene when and where it believes necessary.

“While the U.S. cannot become the world's policeman by assuming responsibility for righting every wrong, we will retain the preeminent responsibility for addressing selectively those wrongs which threaten not only our interests, but those of our allies or friends, or which could seriously unsettle international relations.”

The softened version suggests that allies may not be expected to join in security actions that affect mainly American interests, while implicitly rejecting “international mechanisms’ for resolving conflicts:

“While the United States cannot become the world's policeman and assume responsibility for solving every international security problem, neither can we allow our critical interests to depend solely on international mechanisms that can be blocked by countries whose interests may be very different than our own. Where our allies interests are directly affected, we must expect them to take an appropriate share of the responsibility, and in some cases play the leading role; but we maintain the capabilities for addressing selectively those security problems that threaten our own interests.”

"Russian threat
The Wolfowitz doctrine directly highlights the possible threat posed by a resurgent Russia in a series of statements whose contradictory nature cannot be denied:

“We continue to recognize that collectively the conventional forces of the states formerly comprising the Soviet Union retain the most military potential in all of Eurasia (this in fact is no longer the case, China being the preeminent military power in Eurasia); and we do not dismiss the risks to stability in Europe from a nationalist backlash in Russia or efforts to reincorporate into Russia the newly independent republics of Ukraine, Belarus, and possibly others... We must, however, be mindful that democratic change in Russia is not irreversible, and that despite its current travails, Russia will remain the strongest military power in Eurasia and the only power in the world with the capability of destroying the United States.”


Evidence of the continuing tug of war between Washington’s hegemonists and realists, this hodge-podge was replaced by a more diplomatic statement that left the door open to exactly the opposite scenario: “The U.S. has a significant stake in promoting democratic consolidation and peaceful relations between Russia, Ukraine and the other republics of the former Soviet Union.”
In 2008 the US made a first unsuccessful attempt to pry a former Soviet Republic, Georgia, away from Russia, by engineering an attack (referred to as the Georgian ‘war’) to which Russia put an end in 28 hours. Unchastened, in 2014 Washington successfully carried out ‘regime’ change in Ukraine by backing a pro-European movement, assisted by beefy second-generation descendants of pro-Nazi Ukrainians. 
Americans cannot imagine the fervor with which Ukrainian nationalists — like so many Davids — plot the demise of Russia — the country with the largest landmass in the world, (and which, as American historians now admit, did most of the fighting in World War II, losing 27 million, or about a fifth of its people). Scarcely familiar with their own history, Americans cannot be expected to know that from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, Ukraine was part of a Commonwealth that at various times encompassed present-day Poland, Lithuania, Bela Rus, and Ukraine, and that the only time the land known as Ukraine (meaning far border) was ever independent was from 1917-1921. Dismissing history, Ukrainian patriots were convinced that World War II would bring them sovereignty. Under the leadership of Stepan Bandera, an organization called the OUN was formed to fight alongside Hitler’s Nazi Army in the hopes of achieving independence from the Soviet Union. After leading the Ukrainians on for a while, Hitler pulled the rug out from under them, but not before many OUN members fled to the US and Canada where they have been politically active ever since.  (See Operation Paperclip for their little-known story, which played an important role in the birth of the American Neo-Conservative Movement.) 
(The back-story to the kerfuffle over Crimea is that in 1954, for largely sentimental reasons, Khrouchev gifted the peninsula, which had been part of Russia since Catherine the Great built a mighty fleet at Sebastopol, and was still largely inhabited by Russians, to the Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine. Partly because of Ukraine’s contentious history, it failed to thrive, and whenCrimea’s mainly Russian inhabitants voted (under the protection of ‘little green men’) to take their little peninsula back to Russia, this only exacerbated the conflict between these two brother nations. (The same applied to the Eastern regions dominated by ethnic Russians, who formed autonomous regions with Russia’s help, giving rise to the Minsk Accords and endless Russia/West squabbles over why it isn’t being implemented.)
Vladimir Putin has been saying loud and clear what he wants from the US, and it is not simply, as our media pretends, simply ‘respect’, or even a taking into account of Russia’s interests. It’s something a lot more ambitious, which our European allies appear to have understood, and that is, that the world should not be ruled by a hegemon, but by the cooperative efforts of the main power centers, referred to as a ‘multi-polar world’.
Rarely mentioned, the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) already prefigure such a shift: alas, one country is missing, the US, which wants to continue to rule unchallenged.  I am not here referring to some sort of conspiracy theory, but to the documents that have defined out foreign policy since the 1990’s, following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.  Given the existence of vastly redundant nuclear arsenals on both sides, one could imagine that America’s— claim to leadership —based on its ‘exceptionalism’, is necessary to avoid a holocaust, as when there can be but one captain on a ship if all are to arrive safely in port.  No, America’s claim is based on……nothing but pure hubris.  
Given these historical facts, and Trump’s assertion during the presidential campaign that he doesn’t want the US to run the world, Putin is likely to describe to Trump what a multi-polar organization of the world would look like 
Under the Americanized version of political milestones, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which was supposed to have been disbanded after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, as was effectively its vis-a-vis, the Warsaw Pact, the Ukraine coup was intended to enable the West to realize its Cold War wet dream of actually threatening Russia up close. 
In Moscow, however, every May 9th is celebrated with a big military parade. The image I captured this year projected onto a facade near Red Square, was of a flaming tank, a reminder to those who throughout history have fallen victim to delusions of Russian conquest.