Saturday, November 25, 2017

Sign This Petition about Guns

One of my readers, Molly Cruz, sent me this link about requiring gun owners to take out insurance for every gun they own.  May it will motivate insurancer companies to back better gun control!

America’s Chief Putin Basher

Russian intellectuals who are dssatisfied with their president for one rason or another -- often simply because he has been reelected by Russian voters so many times -- can be assured of a well-paid career in the United States: the American publishing world has a limitless need for Putin-Bashers. 
Masha Gessen is a Russian-born writer whose family emigrated to the United States in 1981.  She returned to Russia as an adult in 1991, becoming Russia's leading LGBT rights activist, in particular opposing a law that made it illegal to proselytize homosexuality to minors.  As the editor of a popular-science journal, in September 2012 she refused to send a reporter to cover an event about nature conservation featuring President Putin, who she accused of exploiting environmental concerns. (If only our presidents did as msuch! ) After she tweeted about her firing, Putin phoned her saying he was serious about his nature conservation efforts and offering her her job back, which she rejected.
A few days later, she was appointed director of Radio Free Europe’s Russian Service based in Prague. Shortly after her appointment was announced, more than 40 journalists were fired, and several weeks after Gessen took over, the station lost its Russian broadcasting licence.  By 2013 Gessen feared the government would take away her children because she was gay, returning to the US, where she had already published anti-Putin articles.

In a March 2014 article for the Los Angeles Times, Gessen described Putin as "a playground bully." While other world leaders "have generally tried to convince themselves and others that they were good people fighting the good fight," according to Gessen, Putin "has no positive spin for his aggression — or his actions in general," having created a political culture in Russia "based on the assumption that the world is rotten to the core," and "that all governments would like to jail their opponents and invade their neighbors, but most political leaders, most of the time, lack the courage to act on these desires." Gessen suggested that "For American culture, which relies heavily on a belief in the fundamental goodness of humanity," Putin's world view is “impossible to absorb.”

Also in March 2014, Gessen claimed in The Washington Post that Putin's popularity had only  been restored thanks to the Sochi Olympics and the invasion of Ukraine, which played on the longstanding notion "that Russia is a country under siege, surrounded by enemies and constantly on the brink of catastrophe and that “the only way for Putin to continue shoring up his popularity was to escalate the war effort," painting "the Western/fascist/Ukrainian enemy as ever more dangerous, which means that he is not interested in a peaceful solution or an exit strategy that would allow him to ‘save face.’(!)

In fact, to this day, no evidence has ever been presented to buttress the claim that Russia ‘invaded Ukraine”, or to explain why its troops are only to be found in the Russian-speaking people’s republics of Donetsk and Lugansk that the US-backed coup government has threatened.
Although the Russian President clearly stated his opposition to US hegemony in a 2007 speech to the Munich Security Conference, proposing instead a ‘multipolar world’ in which the regional leaders such as Russia, China, India, South Africa, Brazil and the US would cooperate to ensure global peace, Gessen describes  this as "Russia remaking itself as the leader of the anti-Western world". 

This characterization is the template on which is built the US-led demonization of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.  On November 22, Gessen was interviewed on the popular news show Morning Joe by Mika Brzezinski, the daughter of the recently deceased former national security advisor Zbignieuw Brzezinski, former politician Joe Scarborough and other journalists, about her latest book “The Future is History”. All of them down-played America’s aggressive policy toward Russia.

When Scarborough asked “What do Russians want?” echoing a familiar American complaint, John Heilemann wondered what Western failures had allowed President Putin to gain such power. To which Scarborough replied off-handedly:  “it wasn’t because we expanded NATO and got Russia nervous about militarism,” exactly reflecting how the US downplays what is in reality a highy dangerous situation: the US afailed to respect its promise to Gorbatchev, who agreed to dissolve the defensive alliance known as the Warsaw Pact, that we would “not move one inch beyond Germany’s eastern border”. One by one we integrated the countries of Eastern Europe into NATO, which, with tanks and a full offensive panoply faces Russia’s Western border, from the Baltic to the Black Sea, complaining when Russia responds to this aggressive stance by holding maneuvers inside its borders!

True to a well-polished script, the assembled talking heads on Morning Joe agreed that the collapse of the Soviet Union had been, (as Vladimir Putin has lamented), “a huge shock”. However, for the Russian President the reason for that shock was economical —the Soviet Socialist Republics, whose economies had been integrated, ceased to exist, causing both political and economic hardship, while in the American version, according to Heilemann: 

“They didn’t want to become just another European state. That’s what they mean when they say we didn’t treat them with respect. They suffered a loss of empire like the Brits and the French, who were able to soften the blow.”

According to another guest: “When Obama called Russia a regional power, it was insulting but expected: “the West doesn’t take us seriously.”

But Gessen claims that: “We shouldn’t exaggerate the role of West: the tragedy of Russia’s past is so enormous that things could never have been different,” leading to the presentation of her book.  “I was trying to figure out how people turn away from democracy: we thought Russia was just going to be democratic because what else would it be? We didn’t realize that people can choose not to have democracy, they can have reasons to turn away from freedom.  The corrupt Yeltsin regime brought social and political anarchy, leading many to want someone stronger. Russians didn’t reckon with the past state terror, instead people wanted to go back to an imaginary past that was simpler,” implying that Vladimir Putin took advantage of these sentiments, going so far as to make it acceptable, as a strong man, to admire Stalin.

Although Joe and Mika’s guests reflected the official American narrative, it’s clear that Gessen’s role in helping to form that narrative is very much linked to her personal situation, as illustrated by this quote: “When Putin says he’s protecting ethnic Russians in Ukraine, he means he is protecting them from the many terrible things that come from the West," notably gay rights. Russians believe the the West "is literally taking over, and only Russian troops" can protect Ukraine from "homosexuals marching in from Brussels.”’

Asked about President Putin’s consistent level of support in the high eighties, Gessen claims:  “86% is not a public registering its opinion.” Continuing in her role as chief anti-Putin activist, Gessen announces for February 2018 the publication of Never Remember: Searching for Stalin's Gulags in Putin's Russia.”

Friday, November 24, 2017

Only in America

(Re-posted from
While the Yemenis wonder whether the Saudi Crown Prince will ever stop bombing them with American weapons, and the President threatens to take on North Korea, the US media mainly talks about the sexual harassment of women by powerful men. 
It all started with testimonies that a judge running for the US Senate from the fiercely Republican state of Alabama. had tried to seduce teenagers in the past. His accusers were rapidly followed by a complaint against a famous Democratic comedian turned Senator, followed by similar revelations about a famous television personality, Charlie Rose. Like broken records, the testimonies of women who were molested years or even decades ago, alternate with opinions as to the offenders’ proper punishments, superseding everything else going on in a world that the United States claims to lead.
The only mitigating factor is that the back story is more complicated than in other cultures, touching on both religion and politics. In the nineteen fifties, in boys’ fathers’ spacious cars parked in secluded places, American teenaged girls allowed themselves to be ‘petted’, and the onus was on them not to ‘go too far’. In the sixties, the women’s liberation movement and the hippies brought ‘free love’ to communes and suburbia. Although the women’s liberation primer, The Second Sex, published in 1953, was written by French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir, it produced a much more robust feminist movement in the US than in Europe. 
In Europe, a tradition of extra-marital sex had been immortalized in nineteenth century ‘boulevard theatre’, and pre-marital sex owes more to the pill than to reactions against religious strictures. In France and Italy, Catholicism famously ‘forgives’ while in Lutheran Scandinavia, the films of Ingmar Bergman deftly revived a pre-Christian paganism. 
While in Europe, feminism was associated with the socialist tradition, in the United States, sexual liberation has been largely a reaction against the Puritan religious tradition that excluded include sophisticated love-making. During the years when I lived in various European countries, many women were attracted to the tall, athletic build of American men, however they were never viewed as great lovers. The predatory behavior of the Bill Clintons and the Roy Moores are just as surely a response to Protestantism’s emphasis on sin which, among today’s young has led to an excessively casual attitude toward sex. 
Combining this hamstrung ethos with the traditional of being ‘a nation of laws’, in America, the law’s representatives are expected to be above reproach when it comes to sex.  It’s ok to allow lobbyists to help write laws, but a sex scandal spells the end of a political career, as it nearly did with Bill Clinton over a dalliance with an intern. When he was impeached (but not condemned) my European friends were in hysterics at the lengths to which the United States goes to subject both sex and politics to the law, and I would bet that our latest sex scandal has them rolling in the aisles. It’s true that several European women have joined the ‘me too’ movement with accusations of sexual harassment, but I like to think it’s more ‘Who the hell do you think you are?’ than ‘How disgusting!’
After ten days of non-stop talk about ‘unwanted sexual advances’ and ‘sexual assaults’, I’m amazed at the righteousness of it all. The mature woman who came forward to accuse Judge Roy Moore of trying to seduce her when she was fourteen is referred to as having been ‘a mere child’ at the time. Yet in 2015, women aged 15 to 19, had a birth rate of 22.3 per 1,000 compared to the mean average across all age groups of 16 per thousand in 1990.
As for the sophisticated, witty comedian turned Senator, Al Franken, his sin was to have kissed a former newscaster for real during an act for US troops, and to have groped her while she slept. Although Franken photographed the gesture as an obvious prank, and is known as a defender of women’s rights, not only did he feel compelled to apologize profusely, he requested that the Senate ethics committee ‘investigate’ him. 
Once over the shock of that ‘auto-critic’, I naively thought Franken’s female colleagues would forgive him, but every congresswoman interviewed called for him to resign, in a lack of both Christian spirit and sensuously motivated indulgence — not to mention political judgement. As the nuclear clock reaches two minutes to midnight, like their male counterparts, female lawmakers focus on peccadillos rather than on the fact that our nuclear suitcase is in the hands of a president declared unfit by a team of psychiatrists. How can these women consider themselves ‘liberated’, if they are still mainly concerned about sex? 
My own experience of sexual harassment is limited to being passionately kissed by an American Russian expert in his government office, and being propositioned by a fellow futurist in my Paris apartment.  However, when I was six months pregnant in Cuba, where it’s always summer and even pregnant women dress accordingly, I was walking down the Malekon when a group of young men coming toward me began to point jokingly.  By the time they came abreast I was seeing red: I grabbed the nearest one by the shoulders and slammed him into a light pole, silencing his companions. And I still believe that when harassed, women should literally hit back. When harassment occurs in the workplace, I believe that if women as a group switched from fearful acceptance to loud condemnation, their positions would remain safe and so would their dignity.
That said, it will be more difficult for America to shield unwanted sexual behavior from a ubiquitous recourse to investigations. The scandal over Judge Moore’s refusal to quit the Senate (race even though he was removed twice from the bench for questionable sexual behavior and early in his career was banned from a local mall for soliciting teenagers), promoted the media to rerun a 2005 tape of Donald Trump bragging to a newsman about how easy it was for a celebrity to grab women anywhere on their body. For days, the president insisted he was ‘leaving it to the people of Alabama’ to decide whether to support Moore’s run. Finally, knowing that Alabamans respect him for his public religious gestures, such as insisting that the ten commandments be displayed in front of his courthouse, he prioritized having enough votes to pass his tax and health care reforms. A few black pastors condemned Moore’s behavior, while one white pastor claimed that since Mary was a teenager when she became the mother of Jesus, whose father was an adult, to fault an adolescent girl for having sex with an older man was tantamount to blasphemy ….
Twinned with the country’s religious zeal is the legacy of the long-time head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, J. Edgar Hoover, who used America’s legacy of suspicion to keep compromising files on every American politician, (including JFK), creating a culture of investigations that views sexual harassment in legal terms, even if the perpetrators cannot easily be ‘proven’ guilty in a court of law.
 During forty-some years living in half a dozen other countries, I never witnessed either a religious obsession with legality or a political obsession with foreign countries. While ‘Russiagate’ (so named after the Watergate scandal that cost Richard Nixon his presidency), centers on the prohibition against candidates receiving anything from a foreign country, when various French presidents were accused of receiving campaign funds from African dictators, it was they who threatened to sue their accusers…. 
As I have written elsewhere, it was America’s founding as a revolt against another country that resulted in the US psyche becoming permanently suspicious of foreigners. When Russians offered Donald Trump Jr. ‘dirt’ on Hilly for his father’s presidential campaign, according to the law, echoed by the media, he should have righteously alerted the FBI so it could pounce on the foreign sinners! 
Perhaps it was inevitable that five hundred years later, a country founded on draconian religious principles should view the law as an all-embracing crusade… 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Assad and Putin on French Television!

I'm rarely wrong about early signals of political change (among other things I announced Obama's win in February, 2007,, and for the last few weeks I've noticed a subtle difference in the way France 24, Paris's English language channel, refers to Russia, Vladimir Putin and also Iran. For several days, it has been covering in ever more detail the yearly pilgrimage of Iran's Shiites to Karbala, in Iraq, focusing on chador-draped young students who undertake the journey at the risk of terrorist attacks and kidnappings by Sunnis. (No US channel to my knowledge has ever delved into the history of Shiism, much less a major Shia event.)

I've also noticed in the last several weeks more frequent mentions of the Russian President, without the slightly negative slant that has signalled France's perfunctory support for the US condemation of Vladimir Putin .  Today, France 24 showed Vladimir Putin embracing  Syrian President Bashar al Assad in Sochi, their faces and body language clearly expressing their emotion as the US's six year attempt to oust the Syrian president by force winds down, mainly via Russia-organized negotiations in Astana, the capital of Kyrgistan,  with US-backed talks in Switzerland clearly viewed as secondary, even though Secretary of State Tillerson is no longer insisting that 'Assad must go'.....

Presidents Putin and Assad in Sochi, November 2017
Similarly, most Americans are unaware of the position long taken by Germany with respect to Russia, as  illustrated by Foreign Minister Franz Walter Steinmeyer's calls for a all-European military separate from NATO, and his October visit to Moscow -- the first to the Russian capital by a German politician in seven years, during which he reiterated calls for better relations.  Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin speak each other's languages fluently, and they communicate frequently. Add to that Turkey's recent purchase of Russian arms which are incompatible with NATO's and President Erdogan's anger at the US refusal to extradite a cleric he accuses of fomenting last July's coup, and it is pretty clear that the country that NATO used to refer to as its 'southern bulwark against the Soviet Union', is now turning toward Russia.  Turkey and Russia have warred for centuries, but this is the first time that Russia is able to offer Turkey, which has been denied membership in the EU, entry into a pan-Eurasian world that reaches all the way to Beijing.

It's important for observers of the world scene to know that 'news' is not only found in headlines, but in the daily crafting of subtle messages by governments, and in the body language of their leaders.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Applause as the Sound of Desertion

Today, French President Emanuel Macron laid out detailed plans for avoiding a climate disaster at the current session of the international organization devoted to that goal, which the US has abandoned. When Macron mentioned that US dues to the climate organization known as COP (Conference of the Parties, referring to the countries that signed the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) would be met by increased contributions from the other member countries, in particular Europe, enthusiastic applause broke out among the participants.
Normally, requests for money for international projects are met with silence, even on the part of countries that will eventually loosen their purse strings. Today, the spontaneity and length of the applause at the twenty-third COP conference (COP 23) was a stunning reflection of Europe’s new-found independence from the US.  Not that Europe has become richer, like an adolescent who now has a job and can afford to dispense with parental aide, on the contrary. But after seventy-five years of playing junior partner to the US, Europeans are actually relieved to be expected to pick up the tab, as they become part of a more egalitarian Eurasian geo-political community.

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Chicken-Littles Come Home to Roost

The other day, Ari Melber, beady eyes flaming, re-enacted Congress’s grilling of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerman over ‘Russian interference in the 2016 election’, pairing his own questions with Zuckerberg’s videoed responses, condemning him like a religious inquisitor.
The next day I received an e-mail from the self-proclaimed ‘revolutionary theorist’ Micah White, whose book on protests I had reviewed favorably. I could hardly believe that he now accuses himself and the entire American left of inadvertently selling out to the Russians!
While Melber’s tone is aggressive, White’s claim that Russia used an internet repairman to gain access to his computer is paranoid, as is his belief that the pro-Black website an interviewer worked for is  — according to an anti-Putin Russian source one of many Russian sights set up to swing the US election. Here is some of White’s ‘evidence’:
“The interview with Yan Big was immediately uncomfortable. The phone quality was terrible: it sounded like he was calling interna-tionally through a distant internet connection. He had a strange accent and an unusual way of phrasing questions. He was obviously not a typical American. I rationalized that he must be an African immigrant living in America and that was why he was interested in protesting against racism and police brutality. His attempts at flattery set off more alarm bells. I finished up the interview as quickly as possible and got off the phone.“
Beware of bad phone quality, and let flattery get you nowhere!
“I hinted at the situation by adding a section to my book, The End of Protest, warning activists to beware of front groups. And, above all, I learned to trust my intuition—if someone gave me a tingly sense then I stayed away. That is why I almost ignored the interview request from Yan Big Davis.”
Until recently, American activists would have welcomed help from the international activist community, and in his book, White extolls the virtues of Italy’s Five Star Movement whose support he welcomes. Today, however, many activists are totally ignorant of Vladimir Putin’s political views: the media tells them that he is an ‘authoritarian’, but never specifies what he uses his authority to do, giving the left no tools with which to combat Russophobia.  Climbing on the anti-Russian bandwagon, White unabashedly repeats the mantra that Vladimir Putin interfered in our (so-called) democracy. If White is any example, the left can only be accepted by the mainstream if it makes crystal clear that its policies have NOTHING TO DO with any that Vladimir Putin might approve!  White continues:
“Yan Big posted the interview on the Black Matters website and for the next few months he emailed me to ask for help promoting protests in America against the continued incarceration of the MOVE 9 and Jerome Skee Smith. I never replied again.” 
White doesn’t condemn these campaigns, so why did he withhold his support?  Must all political work stop in order for activists to avoid being associated with Russia?  Here’s his mea culpa:
“As a revolutionary American activist I’d been on guard against domestic intelligence agencies, not foreign governments, and Russia exploited that posture.” (Frankly, I doubt that Putin even knows that White exists.)  …“Russia’s efforts are part of a larger shift in the nature of war in which activists are becoming the pawns of superpowers. We are witnessing the advent of social movement warfare: the deployment of social protest as an effective alternative to conventional military conflict.“  
Activists are people who in earlier times would have enlisted in the army? In my book, most are pacifists, so what does White mean?
“Russia’s attempts to foment, stage and manage social protest in Western democracies is a strategic response to allegedly (sic!) American-funded “color revolutions” like the Rose, Orange and Tulip revolutions against Russian-allied governments in Georgia (2003-2004), Ukraine (2004-2005) and Kyrgyzstan (2005) along with, arguably, the Arab Spring (2010-2012) and Euromaidan Revolution (2013-2014).“
Apparently, White never heard of Clinton’s Assistant Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland, who first distributed cookies on the roiling Maidan, then discussed who would replace the pro-Russian president it deposed in a tapped phone call with the US Ambassador to Ukraine. Not to mention that when a foreign ‘regime’ ‘misbehaves’ the US often takes it out by dropping bombs….)
How could someone with White’s interesting academic credentials arrive at this point? The race riots of the sixties and the anti-war movement of the seventies failed to birth an openly socialist movement. Vietnam war resisters and demonstrators who knew that the Communists there were fighting a French colonial regime, haven’t a clue today about Putin’s Russia. (Those who do know something, either from reading the blogs of Americans living there, or those of political analysts who make it their business to know what’s going on, know that Washington’s accusations haven’t a leg to stand on.) 
A hundred years after the Russian Revolution, journalists fearful for their jobs are joined by ‘revolutionaries’ with slick websites who don’t want anything to interfere with their careers. If they have to condemn a Russian President who encourages entrepreneurship while making sure that everyone’s basic needs are met, and implements the basic socialist commitment to resolving differences through negotiations rather than war, so be it! (A week ago, Putin convened a meeting in Astana, the capital of Kyrgystan, between representatives of the Syrian government and delegations from Iran, Russia, Turkey and a U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary of State, but our press doesn’t care who goes to Moscow or to the capital of one of its allies. 
When President Putin decided that the risk of Hillary Clinton becoming president, with her commitment to American hegemony, was too great, he chose peaceful means for combatting that outcome, as opposed to those routinely employed by Washington. He may not have anticipated the extent of Donald Trump’s unsuitability for the job of President, but like any responsible leader, he prefers abetting the enemy’s domestic chaos to allowing World War III to happen. (Even Masha Gessen, in a recent on-line contribution dismisses the Russian ‘intervention’ as ‘a cacophony not a conspiracy’….) 
After more than half a century of anti-nuclear protests, the sadder irony is that politicians and journalists condemn President Trump for wanting to have peaceful relations with the other nuclear superpower!  And a special investigator is looking into the shocking possibility that he may have let them know about his intentions even before being elected!  The least one can say is that the Melbers and the Whites who cry “The Sky is Falling!”, like the nursery rhyme’s “Chicken Little”, having exchanged independent thinking for a permanent lunch ticket.