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It’s Not Just About Ukraine

8:14 am in Uncategorized by Deena Stryker

Map of Poland 960-992

As the situation on Europe’s Eastern frontier degenerates predictably, awareness of the millennial violent history between Poles and Ukrainians is indispensable to any understanding. The phrase ‘they share a long history’ does not come close to elucidating what is happening today.

Actually, the phrase most often heard is that Ukrainians and Russians share a long history, and this illustrates the fact that even news analysts haven’t a clue as to what is motivating the protagonists in this drama. Americans who have spent time among Western Europeans notice the vastly greater awareness individuals have of their country’s past than they do. When it comes to Eastern Europe, you can safely double that.

As Ukrainians of East and West duke it out over their country’s future, a tortured debate in the Polish parliament has just culminated with a vote to qualify a World War II massacre of Poles by Ukrainians as ‘ethnic cleansing with genocidal elements.’ The massacre took place in Volyn in the summer of 1943, under the leadership of a Ukrainian fighting force under the Neo-Nazi Ukrainian Nationalist Stepan Bandera who is the hero of the Right Sector now in charge of security under the putsch government in Kiev.

This was not the yearly remembrance, which occurs in July, but was directly related to the current situation in Ukraine, in which the Polish government continues to play a double role that goes back hundreds of years: seeking to once again hold sway over its Eastern lands, backed by a globalizing West eager to exploit them and represented for the cause by the EU.

In its coverage of the vote, RT pointed out that a few years ago the then presidents of the two countries had declared the issue laid to rest, but that subsequently, the Ukrainian government had erected monuments to Bandera and his organization.

And yet, this relatively recent history does not explain Poland’s current role in the Ukrainian drama: it is related to the tug of war between Poles and Ukrainians for sovereignty over the lands that lie between the contemporary Russian and Polish borders that began in the tenth century. This applies also to the Baltics, which Washington says Putin might invade while he’s at it. The huge landmass to the east of the Vistula River has forever been in turmoil among diverse tribes, then principalities, then nations. I’m not going to detail that history here, it’s easily available on Wikipedia, starting with Kievan Rus and following the links.

Doing that will help explain why globalization’s plans for Ukraine are not going to be that easy to implement.

Maidan: Occupy on Steroids

9:22 am in Uncategorized by Deena Stryker

While the Right Sector threatens the Ukrainian government it brought to power for killing one of their own, others in Maidan Square are planting vegetables. (Who knew the climate at that latitude would allow it in March?)

Along with the green shoots shown on RT, this is the first real indication the outside world has that not all the demonstrators who brought down a corrupt but democra-tically elected government are wing nuts. Among those planning to remain in he square until they are satisfied that Ukraine has an honest government are perhaps more ‘Occupiers’ than we thought.

As long as Tea Partiers fail to agree that the community owes solidarity to its members I will be leery of lumping them together with Occupiers. However it is becoming increasingly clear from rumblings around the world — and even in Muslim nations such as Turkey and Tunisia — that the decentralization meme is spreading: the realization that people have to take charge of their lives, not as individuals pitted against other individuals, but as communities.

The shadow of Fascism that has been lengthening across Europe will not be erased by armies in the service of capital, since capital is complicit in its rise.  But it may not be entirely unreasonable to hope that it could be obliterated by individuals thinking for themselves — and hence truly free — working together.

The Rise and Fall of American Exceptionalism

12:36 pm in Uncategorized by Deena Stryker

A few months ago, Vladimir Putin wrote an Oped in the New York Times questioning America’s claim to exceptionalism. In fact, he was saying out loud what leaders all over the world were increasingly muttering under their breath. One of the reasons why the Russian President could permit himself to retaliate for a century of Russia bashing by the West is his relationship with Europe, gain-ed not by sending tanks across the continent (which is in fact a peninsula of Eurasia), but through close economic ties built up after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Europe is an exercise in Other toleration among a hundred different peoples in a relatively small area. While seeing itself as superior to other nations and civilizations, it is acutely aware of being part of the wider world, whose center of gravity is moving toward the BRICS countries led by Russia and China.

In a fundamental difference, America’s notion of Otherness has always implied rejection. The Pilgrim’s leader, John Winthrop told them that ‘the eyes of the world’ would be upon Christ’s ‘city on a hill’, hence their behavior must be above reproach — or ‘exceptional.’ They saw toleration as a moral failing and exiled individual religious dissidents from their colonies. The subsequent overthrow of British sovereignty signaled an enduring suspicion of both government and foreigners: in 1798, the first of several legislative acts codified that exceptional American trait with the four Aliens and Seditions Acts targeting Americans suspected of sympathy for a foreign power.  For almost three hundred years, two oceans kept the United States isolated from the give and take between neighbors on other continents. America remained alone and proud of it, interacting with other nations only to ensure that they served our needs, bought our products and agreed with our definition of freedom.

As I outlined in my 1989 book Une autre Europe, un autre Monde, published in France with a grant from the Centre National du Livre, there is a fundamental difference be-tween American and European definitions of democracy stemming from their diverging views of freedom. The American Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of Human Rights lay down the same legal protections, but the young nation’s pursuit of happiness left mutual responsibility out in the cold, in contrast to the Jacobin proclamation of ‘liberty, equality, fraternity.’

That motto swept across the globe and eventually led much of Europe and the Third World to build welfare states. In America, however suspicion of both government and foreigners endured: the notion of equal opportunity spawned by the natural wealth available to all foreclosed any notion of community responsibility for individual well-being. As government became a tool of capital, the drive to the West fostered entrepreneurship, while the less daring became ‘wage earners.’ The progressive movement that came into its own with the fight against slavery was a victim of that trajectory. In 1917, Congress renewed its drive against all things foreign with another Sedition Act, and in 1918 it passed the Espionage and Aliens Act, which contradicted the Declaration of Independence’s assertion that:

Whenever any Form of Government be-comes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

The media’s loss of independence contributed powerfully to this development. The New York Times nineteenth century definition of purpose was beyond reproach:

We shall be Conservative, in all cases where we think Conservatism essential to the public good;—and we shall be Radical in everything which may seem to us to require radical treatment and radical reform. We do not believe that everything in Society is either exactly right or exactly wrong;—what is good we desire to preserve and improve;—what is evil, to exterminate, or reform.

However, as advertising chipped away at lofty ideals, journalists were tamed to serve corporate needs. In the nineteen thirties, President Roosevelt was a member of the upper class, but like Lenin, Mao and later the Castro brothers, he knew that robber capitalism was leaving too many people out in the cold. The corporate-owned press obediently conflated his New Deal with socialism, and socialism with ‘foreign,’ strengthening right-wing resistance to progressive ideas.

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Re the Olympics: “Do Not Trust Your Friends”

4:45 pm in Uncategorized by Deena Stryker

Russia Today (RT): With such biased Western reporting about the Sochi Olympics, never was an ancient Greek saying from the Trojan War more apropos: “Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes”, “Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts.”

I’ve been watching Russia’s English language television channel, RT (Russia Today) for several hours a day for about a year now, and this has given me a picture of Vladimir Putin’s presidency that casual watchers miss. When you have seen dozens of interviews by American educated Russian Oxana Boyko, or French educated Georgian Sophie Schevarnadze, Americans Abby Martin and Max Keiser, or Briton’s goof-off John Brown exploring the farthest reaches of this vast country – or even the American ‘Resident’ who poses short questions to New Yorkers on the street, you realize that Russia‘s President is searching for something that is neither Western style capitalism nor Communism. That puts him on the same wave length as grassroots movements around the globe, whether we’re talking about the demonstrators in Muslim Turkey’s Taksim Square, Spain’s ‘Indignados’ or the Occupy Movement.

While taking every opportunity to reveal America’s problems at home and abroad, the ‘Voice of Russia’ seeks out movers, shakers and thinkers from around the world who have something useful to say about the possibilities of combining equity with development for humans in the throes of religious upheaval on a planet that challenges their survival as a species. American dissidents like Tom Hartmann or Peter Lavelle have been joined by Larry King, who prefaces his interviews with the slogan ‘Does the Media Abandon Us or Do We Abandon the Media?’

The sound bites that have accompanied the Sochi Winter Olympics, whether about security or the meaning of the low-level official US delegation (headed by the former head of Homeland Security, Janet Napoletano, while a U.S. warship stands ominous guard in the Black Sea over an anticipated terrorist threat), are part of an American campaign to persuade the world that alas, although the Communist Soviet Union has been succeeded by a capitalist Russia, the largest country in the world is still not an acceptable partner on the international stage because it is not a democracy but an ‘autocracy,’ ruled by a  former KGB operative, Vladimir Putin. (Never mind that President George H. W. Bush was a former head of the CIA.)

This campaign is made more difficult by RT’s message that according to a recent article in the Buenos Aires Herald is seen by 630 million people around the globe: cooperation is better than competition and confrontation. The new motto of France’s English language channel, France 24, ‘Understand the World’, is equally subversive, and both define the growing divide between official America and the rest of the planet. After a century of anti-Communism, it is almost impossible for an American politician or diplomat to see anything other than political maneuvering in Russia’s behavior, a lamentable continuation of the Cold War, when the turn to capitalism of a re-baptized Russia fails to signal its alignment with everything we represent. Washington’s antagonism toward the Soviet Union was based on its theoretic espousal of redistribution as opposed to ‘a level playing field.’ But the reasons for its current antagonism vis a vis Moscow are the same as those which drove us to war against Germany and Japan: commercial interests, which have only been heightened in a world scrambling for the last resources. And in that confrontation, resource rich Russia is seen as a threat to Washington.

Beyond that, while ‘the West’ (or ‘Global Corporatism’) seeks to maximize profits, Russia and China, harking to other traditions, see capitalism as the latest tool for achieving humanistic solutions to the problems of a post-industrial world, placing people above profits. And whether we are talking about the much-derided ‘harmonious society’ being touted in China, or Putin’s emphasis on traditional values evidenced in RT’s choice of investigations and conversations, both continue to believe that solutions require dialogue, negotiation and coopera-tion, while the now old ‘new world’ mindlessly touts naked power and confrontation.

Many Americans are prevented from understanding what is going on by a permanent background noise that goes something like this: “The ‘other side’ claims to want ‘peace,’ but it really wants to take over the world.” The dominant theme of the Cold War interpreted the slogan ‘Workers of the World, Unite’ to mean that the Soviet Union – the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ – wanted to conquer the world in the same way that Hitler did. This misapprehension is enabled by ignorance of both the fascist and socialist ideologies. Incapable of defining either political system, the American people have been taught to fear only one thing: lack of ‘freedom.’ The Nazi dictatorship having been defeated, we do not need to fear fascism: however, the Soviet Union having imploded without undergoing Western directed regime change, can still not be trusted under the name ‘Russia’ for notwithstanding elections, it is still an ‘authoritarian regime,’ meaning one in which the people are not ‘really free.’

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The Enemy Never Changes

8:43 am in Uncategorized by Deena Stryker

The start of the Geneva II talks on the Syrian Crisis illustrates the fact that for the Western media the only issue in the ‘war on terror’ is religion. The ideological factors involved in the American-led campaign to oust President Bashar al-Assad, as well as in demonstrations around the globe are whited out.  News channels will mention in passing that in Turkey or Egypt there are also ‘leftists’ on the street, but the word has no ‘consistency’, it’s just a label. Similarly, in the case of Syria, the fact that the Alawites are the least dogmatic Muslims, that the Baath is a socialist party and heads the only Arab secular state, is ignored.

This obfuscation makes it look as though religious demonstrators are not interested in equity, and reduces the ideologically motivated demonstrators to a rabble. In truth, although the world has often been wracked by religious wars, ‘revolts’ have most often been about equity, the many against the few – or the other way around, and capitalism is no more ‘the end of history’ than is communism or socialism.

Often my posts provoke accusations of pro-Russian ‘propaganda’, however they are the result of decades of observation that included six years living behind the Iron Curtain, studying (systems theory), reading and writing about international affairs and comparing various news media.

Those who a few days ago criticized my linking the events in Kiev to the upcoming Olympic games in Russia, fail to realize that news today is almost always part of a big picture rather than an isolated event. Knee-jerk reactions, or accusations of ‘having an agenda’ often follow blogs that imply approval of Russia’s international positions. They hide the reality of both class warfare and the dire threat of planetary ruin.

Still committed to ‘growth’, President Putin does not meet my standards for ecological sanity, but on RT there is no such thing as a sound bite.  The journalists on ‘capitalist’ Russia’s international news channel are free to discuss any subject in detail, including decentralization and cooperatively run industries. Equity is a theme that runs through everything from documentaries to interviews, and both Russian and international news.

Yesterday, Oksana Boyko, one of RT”s keenest minds, discussed the need for more direct democracy with Roslyn Fuller, an Irish professor of international law who sells photos of her body to support whistle-blowers.  If Fuller appears on CNN, she will come across as an entirely different person from the one who held a wide ranging discussion of law and parliamentary, as opposed to direct democracy with a skeptical and even provocative journalist.

Alas, even the blogosphere is almost entirely devoted to dissecting American politics and the misdeeds of the system, as if its two oceans made the United States truly independent of the rest of the world. That was how multi-lingual former ambassador Charles Freeman aptly phrased it recently to Oksana Boyko.

Sea Changes V, VI, VII and VIII

10:30 am in Uncategorized by Deena Stryker

When Larry King signed on to RT, Vladimir Putin’s international television channel that broadcasts in English, Spanish and Arabic, one could rationalize that the aging TV personality may not have found another opportunity in the US after leaving CNN.

But now Donald Trump goes to Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant and reveals plans to build a Trump Tower there.

And while that was happening, Germany and Brazil, whose leaders were among those spied on by the NSA, submitted a draft resolution to the UN General Assembly calling for internationally recognized rights to privacy.

If anyone is still wondering whether a new international configuration is taking shape  (led by China, Russia, and the other BRICS nations, including Brazil), they need only to consider that during a Florida fund raiser President Obama mused that it might not make sense to maintain the Cuban embargo put in place when he was a toddler.

A few years ago lifting the Cuban embargo might have sufficed to save America’s reputation.  But now, while it will of course benefit the Cubans, it’s too little too late to save the Empire.

Shades of Peter the Great!

1:39 pm in Uncategorized by Deena Stryker

It’s been almost two months since my last blog, as I’ve been busy with my books, and also seriously inclined to discontinue this effort for lack of feedback. Today’s G20 Summit however is calling so loudly for a comment that I cannot resist.

RT’s claim that President Obama still doesn’t want to talk to President Putin, notwithstanding yesterday’s affirmation via MSNBC that he continues to hope the Russian President will change his mind about Syria, is a piddling piece of disinformation compared to the bigger picture (it’s always the Big Picture that counts) that is taking shape in St. Petersburg.

In this morning’s coverage, RT showed President Obama in worried conversation with the two European heads, Von Rompuy and Barroso. Following the stunning vote by the British Parliament not to participate in the United States’ plan to strike Syria, that picture tells me the European Union, usually a docile if not enthusiastic accomplice, no longer feels it has much to lose by not obeying Washington’s marching orders. Following are a few developments that might be influencing their change of attitude:

The NSA spy scandal is making Europe, lead by Germany, rethink the wisdom of a major trade pact with the United States which, like a counterpart in Asia, would strengthen American power;

The BRIC countries, Russia, China, Brazil, India and South Africa, have announced a meeting on the Summit margins to discuss plans for an alternative to the World Bank;

And then there’s Syria. That county is a lot closer to the European home than Afghanistan or even Iraq. It sits next to the Holy Land, with an important Christian history that started with the crusades, and borders on NATO stalwart Turkey, whose people are adamantly opposed to intervention. All of this may weigh more heavily on the European conscience than the fact that Syria is a Russian ally, considering Europe’s growing dependence on Russian gas. I won’t get into the issue of the Nabucco Pipeline vs North and South Stream projects because it makes my head ache and is probably a hyped-up issue anyway. More important than competing pipeline routes is the fact that in a few short decades, Russia has gone from wanting to be part of the European House, in Gorbachev’s words, to partnering with it in increasingly vital ways.

I find it quite amazing that political observers, at least on this side of the Atlantic, appear to have forgotten that for decades they were warning of an imminent Soviet military takeover of Europe or at least, of a soft takeover they called Finlandization. The new ‘enemy’, Islam, has erased a thirty year obsession from the minds of an entire cohort of intellectuals, without making the slightest room for historical insights. Yet how not to think of Peter the Great, as the world’s presidents gather in the city he built in the early eighteenth century as part of an effort to bring his country into the European modern age?

Although this is a smaller irony, Putin was born in St Petersburg, Dmitry Medvedev studied there and both started their political careers in the city briefly known as Leningrad. If I know anything about the importance of history in Russian education, they cannot fail to have been influenced by the legacy of their country’s great reformer, even if it is the Black Sea city of Sochi that has been front and center as the country prepares to host the 2014 winter Olympics, because more people are moved by sports than by history).

RT’s Rory Suchet pointed out another oddity: the American media has been harping on Russia’s announced Security Council veto of military action against Syria, while remaining silent on China’s equally firm opposition in that body, due of course to Washington’s dependence on Chinese financing of its debt.

While you watch sanitized reports about the G20, reflect on the fact that while Peter the Great’s project suffered a multi-century setback, it is being realized in spades – hopefully not too late for the world to pull back from its multiple brinks, starting with Syria. Read the rest of this entry →

Sunni/Shi’a, U.S/Russia

9:01 am in Uncategorized by Deena Stryker

As sectarian violence makes headlines once again in the Middle East, the mainstream media still fails to outline its causes, which are ideological as well as religious, thereby distorting as well the increa-singly adversarial nature of the U.S./Russia relationship.

In terms of the Syrian conflict, the main reason behind the conservative Sunni Gulf monarchies’ determination to defeat an Alawite Shi’a president is that Assad’s Ba’ath Party regime is the only secular, progressive government in the Arab world. As such it is implacably opposed by Sunni regimes, not only in the name of fundamentalism, but also because of basic ideological differences.

When Iran is referred to as Syria’s main ally, it is strictly within the context of both being Shi’ite regimes. The public is allowed to forget that the mullahs came to power in Iran through revolution, in which socialist and communist forces played a role. (In a way, what is occurring in the Arab Spring is that progressives have been willing to give the Muslim Brotherhood a chance at leader-ship because of its long-standing history of social activism.)

Similarly, though it goes unnoticed due to lack of commentary by the media, the fact that Putin’s capitalism recognizes the social legacy of Com-munism, (and should therefore be described as a particular form of social democracy in which a strong president keeps oligarchs in line), probably accounts as much as oil or seaports for Russia’s support for both Iran and Syria. From regular watching of the Russian English language news channel, RT, it is obvious that although the Com-munist regime is over and done with, its suc-cessors have not thrown the baby out with the bath water. Vladimir Putin’s media outlet to the world promotes a form of capitalism that emphasis simple pleasures rather than mindless accumu-lation of ‘stuff’.

Together with the other BRICS countries, it not only condemns interference in the internal affairs of countries (a holdover from the Soviet Union), but wars of aggression across the board. As the U.S. considers five options outlined by its top military man General Dempsey, that have as much to do with Syria’s ideological orientation as with its lack of ‘democracy’, Russia continues to campaign for talks rather than an escalation of the conflict.

The same ideological inspiration can be seen in RT’s relentless coverage of America’s sorry state.

Three Musketeers vs. Goliath

8:24 am in Uncategorized by Deena Stryker

RT’s Sophia Shevardnadze interviews Russian specialist Professor Stephen F. Cohen today about the fall-out from the Snowden case in U.S.-Russia relations. Cutting to the chase, Cohen compared the American public’s response to the Pentagon papers with what is happening today: polls indicate that about half of Americans accept to be spied upon if that will keep their children safe from terrorists, whereas in the seventies, reaction to Daniel Ellsberg’s leaking of Vietnam War documents turned the country against that war.

Bradley Manning faces life in prison for supposedly aiding the enemy by revealing past American misdeeds, Julian Assange is threatened with arrest for publishing his leaks if he sets foot outside the Ecuadoran embassy in London, and Edward Snowden is stuck in a transit no-man’s land in  Moscow facing the same charges. These three musketeers are being hounded for exposing government wrong-doing that has cost thousands of lives as ‘the West’ crusades against terrorists and a select list of ‘dictators’ around the world.

Last Monday France 24 aired an interview with an exiled Syrian journalist who is operating a radio program for Syrians (Radio Rozana) financed by the French government. Lina Chawaf described the conditions under which she worked while still in Syria. Her private television channel was only allowed to broadcast non-political programs, and when she went to work for another channel, government minders pressured her regularly to broadcast the Assad line. Threats, veiled and otherwise eventually motivated her to leave the country.

Americans have been conditioned to condemn curtailment of press freedom in one-party states. But, call me a trouble-maker, I have a hard time seeing these situations as qualitatively different from what increasingly goes on in the United States. Granted, journalists may not receive daily threats from the FBI or the CIA, but for decades they’ve known what they can and cannot say if they want to keep their high-paying jobs, and now, new laws allow the government to jail them on the pretext that talking to sources equals aiding the enemy. Chris Hedges and several other prominent journalists just lost a law suit against these scary tactics.

In case anyone thinks activists are exaggerating the gravity of the situation, the recent death of an investigative American journalist in an automobile accident that may have been caused by a cyber attack (http://www.opposingviews.com/i/society/transportation/cars/journalist-michael-hastings-body-cremated-authorities-against-familys#) should give pause. The day before his death, Michael Hastings emailed friends that he was going to have to “go off the radar for a bit” because he was on to an important story. His body was returned to his family in an urn, and no one has been allowed to examine the car that suddenly burst into flames on a Los Angeles street. Aside from the more sophisticated means employed, is this incident qualitatively different from the assassination, say, of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya a few years ago in the elevator of her apartment building?

We can expect such deaths to multiply, given the stakes for the American system and the electronic tools it has perfected. For background read Tomdispatch’s July  14th Surveillance Blowback The Making of the U.S. Surveillance State, 1898-2020  By Alfred W. McCoy, then tell me whether journalists and whistle-blowers should be prosecuted.
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Trayvon

9:33 am in Uncategorized by Deena Stryker

Yesterday I tweeted that the justice system must have known the outcome of the trial in advance, otherwise why would they have put the word out that they were ‘bracing for violence’?

But even more disturbing were the Sunday talk shows: you could hardly slip a piece of tissue paper between the words of Benjamin Jealous and Peggy a, so reluctant is the commentariat to roil the waters.  While RT reported on thousands participating overnight in demonstrations against the verdict, the American channels referred to ‘hundreds’.  In my relatively laid back city of Philadelphia, not one but two demonstrations are announced for this afternoon.

My money is on no federal action on this case, though I signed to petition to Attorney General Holder that appeared in my email this morning from Move.On and Benjamin Jealous (who apparently knew better than to refer to it in his TV appearance).

When it took police something like two months to arrest Zimmerman, it was clear he would not be convicted.  The prosecution, as several commentators pointed out on the last day of the trial, was weak, and somehow there was an agreement (?) to leave race out of the proceedings. Did they also leave out Trayvon’s conversations with his girl-friend as he was being stalked?  If so, why?