Sunday, July 30, 2017

Europe to Russia's Aid!

Who would have ever imagined that Europe, which for seventy-plus years allowed itself to be told by the US that Russia was a potential agressor, would end up siding with Russia against the US!

As I wrote a few days ago  it's all about money - or, to be fair, about the economy of 500,000,000  people.

Before the US declared itself the ruler of the world, peoples traded with their neighbors, then, with the advent of ocean-going vessels -- not to mention the Silk Road - they began trading ever farther from home.  Although sanctions and blockades can be traced back to anciennt Greece, for centuries, trade remained pretty much a free for all, until the US set up international rules for this activity through the UN and the multitude of bodies launched in its wake, relying on them so heavily to enforce its will, that the world is literally trussed up like a chicken on a spit.

Anger has been building in Europe since the 2008 financial crisis that originated on Wall Street, forcing it to dilute many of its worker protections, and in some cases such as Greece and Spain, to even suffer austerity imposed by creditor banks. The appearance of a two-tier Europe, one for the better off, the other for the weaker, was recently joined by a new fault line between West and East. Similar to the one that existed during the Cold War, this time, it's about attitudes toward Muslim (and in many cases, black) refugees and migrants.  The former Soviet satellite countries are light years behind Western Europe when it comes to accepting a multi-racial society, and they are indigant at being told by Brussels that they must take their share of boat people, after decades of Soviet oversight.  While its young subscribe whole-heartedly to the Western youth culture, its leaders defend their Christian traditions, condemning 'multi-culturalism'.

Although the anti-Soviet Cold War is over, American politicians still accuse Russia of wanting to take over Europe, while US wars in the 'Third World" send a flood of migrants and refugees to its doorstep. America is so certain of its supremacy that its legislators openly link the passage of sanctions on Russia to sales of gas to Europe, giving the latter ample reason to point out that politics should be separate from business, and to threaten to impose sanctions on the US to protect what litlle independence it has. Russian gas is cheaper than the gas the US wants to ferry across the Atlantic in retaliation for Russia allegedly interfering its presidential election. Russia having proven to be a realiable supplier of gas through the original Nordstream pipeline from the Baltic Sea to Germany, sp Europeans see no reason to oppose the building of Nordstream 2, which US sanctions are targeting.

Under President Putin's watch, European businessmen  and politicians have been trekking to Russia, where  inicidentally, they've been exposed to information about the New China/Russia Silk Road that will link Europe to Asia.  So aside from the immediate gain to be had by sticking with Russian gas, it is small wonder that they are siding with their neighbor, after seventy years in an Atlantic Alliance that benefits mainly the US.


Friday, July 28, 2017

Europe Finally Rejecting US Cries of 'Wolf!'

During the entire Cold War, the US kept up a constant stream of warnings to Europe, that Russian tanks could be in Dunkirk in a matter of hours.  At minimum, Europe risked being 'Finlandized', meaning reduced to a noman's land between the two superpowers, much like the country of Finland, that shares a border with Russia and preferred neutral safety to antagonism.

How times have changed!  Europe has not been Finlandized, and Russian tanks have remained nowhere to be seen.  (NATO tanks, however, are stationed in all the Eastern countries of Europe as well as in Western countries, including the otherwise powerful Germany.)

As Europe's leaders, Germany foremost, have finally realized, US policy is to throw anyone who gets in its way under the bus.  It's not as though they shouldn't have seen this coming: after all, from the 2008 financial meltdown that sank Europe's welfare states, to its wars in Africa and the Middle East that prompted hundreds of thousands of Muslims (mainly young men) to storm Europe's flimsy borders, it's been clear for decades that Europe's job is to serve US interests, and not to get too cocky.

What has changed in Europe's relation with Russia after all these years that has enabled its leaders to confidently apply the brakes to their relationship with the US?  Russia has remained where it has always been; it is neither larger nor smaller than before, and its leadership has not changed.  I submit that what has changed is that starting in 2014, the US coup in Ukraine, carried out with on-the-ground help from neo-fascist militias, energized Europe's own far-right parties, just as the wave of Muslim migrants appeared for them to scapegoat.

Still in a sort of schizophrenic daze, Europe's leaders have finally realized that the only serious backing they can expect against disintegration is from Russia, which has sat quietly on its Eastern border all through its shotgun marriage to the United States.  Russia ceased long ago to represent a Communist takeover, and under President Putin, it has encouraged all sorts of cooperation. The list of political, cultural and commercial fora held each year in Russia is staggering when you consider that the US claims that Moscow is isolated.  President Putin dusted off and expanded the old Soviet formula, realizing that hospitality has always been the best way to make friends and influence people.

As European businessmen trek back and forth and young people discover the lure of this giant country with seemingly limitless wild spaces as well as a diverse population -- one young Frenchwoman I sat next to on a Paris/Moscow flight was heading to Mongolia to ride the horses -- another was the father of a new French restaurant owner in Moscow -- Russia's threatening image as a police state whose tanks were poised to assault the European plain morphed into one of the half  dozen giants that populate the Eurasian continent, together with China, India, the Middle East and the European peninsula, whose leaders have finally realized which side their toast is buttered on.

They cannot undo the disastrous consequences of the US's wars on their borders, but when ordered to turn their backs on cheap, reliable Russian gas in favor of expensive American gas by increasing sanctions as demanded by Washington, they are saying no - even hinting that they could impose sanctions on their (former) partner instead of on Russia.  One can only hope that Donald Trump is aware of this, as he considers whether to sign Congress's Russian sanctions bill.

                                        Illustration from the 1980's German peace movement

P.S. 4 pm Friday: Just saw this on RT
A special photo exhibition opens in Moscow on July 28, the day of the 60th anniversary of the 6th World Festival of Youth and Students, which was held in the then-Soviet capital in 1957. That festival gathered 34,000 participants from more than 100 countries. Moscow also hosted a youth festival in 1985. Photos of the 6th and 12th festivals will be shown on Chistoprudny Bulvar in the Russian capital, along with photos picturing key events of the preparation for the 19th World Festival of Youth and Students, to be held in Sochi in October, 2017. The “people’s museum of the festival,” based on Muscovites’ personal collections, a project of the Sochi festival organizers and the Museum of Moscow, will be part of the new photo exhibition.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

You Read it First Here, Yesterday

If you're only watching US television -- or even the BBC --- you will not know about the really strong reaction the US Russia sanctions bill is provoking in Europe.

For someone who has spent half her long life living in half a dozen European countries on both sides of the former Iron Curtain, what is happening this week is truly remarkable. Since the end of World War II, (Western) Europe has been chained to the United States.  And since the fall of the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe gradually integrated into the European Union has exhibited even stroner allegeance to the US, the country that steadily campaigned for its 'liberation' from Soviet oversight.  (I may shock some readers by using this expression, but having lived in Poland for a year and in Hungary for five in the 1960's, I can attest to the fact that Soviet political oversight was less strongly felt by the average citizen than US cultural influence in Western Europe.)

The Atlantic Alliance, otherwise known as NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) was creaed in 1949, barely four years after the end of World War II.  Suffice it to say that the countries of Western Europe, devastated by the most brutal war in history, were in no position to say 'No thanks'. As for those of Eastern Europe, their communist and socialist parties were thrilled at no longer having to live underground.  Since the Russian Revolution of 1917, they had witnessed the defeat of the Budapest Commune in 1919, and the subsequent return of feudal governments across the region, but now they were in power.

(Joseph Stalin had insisted at the Yalta Conference with Roosevelt and Churchill in February, 1945, as the end of the war agains Hitler was in sight, that Eastern Europe become a Soviet sphere of influence in order to be sure that their lands would no longer be used by the West as the door to Russia.)

Fast forward to 1989:  the opposition and peace movements had gathered enough strength in Eastern Europe to crack the Iron Curtain, and Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev, beleaving in the good faith of the West, allowed Hungary to open its border with Austria.  Within a few months, the Berlin Wall came down and the way was open for a gradual reunification of Europe, starting with that of Germany, which occured a year later.

However extraordinarly it may appear to on-lookers, although Germany had waged three wars in one century (the first in 1870 against France), it became the powerhouse of Europe, and gradually, its leader. France, embroiled in liberation movements in its colonies, posed as Germany's political equal but remained a junior partner in terms of the Union's domestic and foreign policies.  And while a series of male Chancellors -- each one leaving his mark -- could not overcome Germany's violent past, Angela Merkel, soon to run for a fourth term, has.  Known affectionately as 'Muti' in Germany, this former 'Ossie' (East German) rose in the ranks of the Conservative Party by neutering her male colleagues one by one, and is now the foremost interlocutor of Russia's President Vladimir Putin, thanks to having been forced to learn Russian in her East German schools.  (Putin, meanwhile, spent several years in Dresden as part of the KGB, and speaks fluent German.)

What is happening now is that the US, having successfully tethered Western Europe to itself, and having been worshipped in Eastern Europe as the Soviet Union's principal foe, finds itself in the dock for presuming that its agenda could rule forever.  The Washington Consensus is falling apart, as European energy and foreign policy leaders refuse to join the latest US sanctions against Russia, that would eventually force them to buy US gas at a higher price than the gas it gets from Russia.  In fact, for the first time the Europeans, Germany in the forefront, are threatening to impose their own sanctions on the US, realizing that its foreign policy is all about money.

(At the same time, China and India are defying US  sanctions on Iran, declaring they will continue to buy Iranian oil.)

Tomorrow, I will write about Iran.


                                                                                                          Budapest, Hungary, 1986

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Libya, Syria, the EU and Russia: Follow the Energy

As President Trump was welcoming Saad Hariri, the Prime Minister of Lebanon, a tiny country borering Israel to the west, that is hosting thousands of Syrian refugees, the new young, energetic French President was stepping on Italian toes by holding meetings in Libya, Rome's April meeting having failed to move peace forward.
The Italians are furious at being upstaged by France, perhaps overlooking the fact that if Macron’s initiative succeeds, it could help stem the flow of migrants into Europe. Currently, Italy can only complain that France and Spain refuse to open their ports to the loaded boats, which continue to discharge their passengers in Sicily.
Although Europe has been unable to cooperate to stem the flow of migrants provoked by US policies in the Middle East and Africa, with the US adding insult to injury by trying to get the EU to impose new sanctions on Russia, its leader, Germany, has finally ceased to play the obedient vassal. According to its Foreign Minister, Sigmar Gabriel, US demands that the EU increase sanctions on Russia are aimed at making way for the US to ship its own gas to Europe via the Nordstream 2 pipeline.
Rather than actually punishing Russia for its supposed interference in the U.S. elections, he said, the new sanctions are aimed at sidelining Russian gas supplies to Europe.” Most importantly, he declared his “ardent support for a de-escalation of relations between Europe and Russia.”
Why can we not dare to lay a new foundation for disarmament and arms control, instead of rushing into a giant arms race?” Gabriel asked, in an interview with the German magazine Focus, reminding its readers of Willy Brandt’s policies of detente  during the Cold War.  Gabriel wants sanctions to be lifted gradually, for each positive step toward implementing the Minsk Agreement, which would demonstrate that “movement towards peace pays off.”
He called for Europe take a more empathetic approach towards Russia and try to understand Moscow's position on a range of international issues. “Putin is disappointed with the West. The EU held association talks with Ukraine without discussing the issue with Russia.”
Further, the German Foreign Minister declared that US foreign policy should not be an “extension of economic policy.”
“It’s totally unacceptable to drive Russia further into the corner by hounding Russian gas companies out of Europe and forcing the Europeans to buy American gas,” referring to a recent US bill that threats to punish European companies that join in the construction of Nord Stream 2.
“Ask the French, Austrians or Dutch – they all want the pipeline to be successful, because Russia reliably provides gas at reasonable prices.” 
Gabriel accused the US and European authorities of hypocrisy, saying that It’s ok for Russian gas to flow through European-owned pipelines, bringing them income, but when it goes through a Russian pipeline, that’s a no-no.”
In Moscow, Gabriel said that it was “unacceptable when a bill demands that Europeans renounce Russian gas so that they can sell American gas at much higher prices.”
Repeated US wars failed to make Europe realize the consequences of its adhesion to the Atlantic Alliance.  When US policies negatively affect its industries, however, it realizes that it needs to take back its independence.
But that’s not all. Regarding the near collision of US and Russian planes in Syria, it’s important to bear in mind what William Engdahl wrote in Global Research in 2014:
“The US-backed wars in Ukraine and in Syria are but two fronts in the same strategic war to cripple Russia and China and to rupture any Eurasian counter-pole to a US-controlled New World Order. In each, control of energy pipelines, this time primarily of natural gas pipelines—from Russia to the EU via Ukraine, and from Iran and Syria to the EU via Syria—is the strategic goal. The US and Israel back ISIS as a pretext for bombing Assad’s vital grain silos and oil refineries, to cripple the economy in preparation for a “Ghaddafi-”style elimination of Russia, China and Iran-ally Bashar al-Assad.”

From my 'Une autre Europe..."

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
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, 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 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, 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.