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    Wednesday
    Sep232015

    At the Barricade and the Importance of Speaking Clearly 

           Andrew Solomon makes a beautiful and forceful point about one’s ability to articulate yourself properly in his “The Moth” story, At the Barricade, in which he recounts a moment of resistance that he witnessed at American Embassy during the final moments of the fall of the Soviet Union, when he was there by happenstance.  I’ve transcribed the excerpt I’m referring to below, and you can click here to hear his story in its entirety.  

    Andrew Solomon, At the Barricade (from the last third of the story):

            And when we got there, it was such a Russian scene:  there were flowers strewn on the ground, there were old women crying, there people talking about the nature of tragedy.  And we were all standing around, and suddenly, a young man came running up.  He had a tweed cap clutched in his hands and wire-rimmed glasses, and he looked like a 1917 Revolutionary or the student in a Chekov play, and he said, “Hurry up, come at once, there are tanks approaching the outer barricade.  We have to go and defend the outer barricade!”

           Well there had been tanks endlessly approaching and they had just always parked across the street.  And so we walked up to the outer barricade, quite far away in fact from the parliament building, and we arrange ourselves in front of it, holding hands.  And two minutes later, a column of tanks rolled up, and they stopped about two feet away from us.  And it was still the Cold War, and I had grown up thinking that there was nothing more frightening in the world than a Soviet tank coming up to you.  And the soldier on the front tank said, “We have been given unconditional orders to destroy this barricade.  If you move out of the way, we don’t need to hurt anyone, but if you won’t move out of the way, we’ll have no choice but to run you down.”  And the artist I was with said, “Give us just one minute.  Give us just a minute to tell you why we’re here.”


    Image from: www.timesofmalta.com

              And the solider on the front tank crossed his arms, and the artist on the front tank launched into a description of what freedom was.  And they said, “You are very young, you don’t remember the Stalin ear, let me tell you what it was like:  it was terrible.”  They said, “You don’t remember what it was like when Brezhnev ran things, but that was terrible too.”  And they said, “You say that you’re just following orders, but you’re making a choice to follow those orders, but you’re making a choice, and you could make a different choice instead.”  And they launched into a Jeffersonian panegyric to democracy, of kind of those of who live in democracies mostly couldn’t muster.  And when they finished, we stood there, sneezing, wet, cold, bedraggled, and the solider on the front tank just stared at us for a full minute.  And at the end of a minute he said, “What you’ve said is true, and we must bow to the will of the people.  If you’ll clear us enough space to turn around, we’ll go back and we’ll leave you you’re barricade.  And we all stepped aside, and the tanks made U-turns – which is not so easy for a tank – and they drove off the way that they had come.  And we all embraced one another.

             And then, I had to go to the airport because my visa expired that day.  And I got in a cab and was on my way to the airport when the news came on: the Putcsh had failed, Yeltsin was in charge, Russia was to be a democracy.  And I thought that language had come back for me.  I thought that I would be able to write and talk again, because what I had always hoped, but never believe to be true was that if you could only speak clearly enough about important things, you could change the world.

    Wednesday
    Sep162015

    Brief Overview of the Middle East and European Refugee Crisis

               Last week Dennis Bernstein, host of KPFA’s Flashpoints, interviewed Dr. Deborah Rogers, president of the Initiative for Equality.  She presents an assessment of the mass migration situation in Europe, which has not seen this many refugees on the continent since World War II.  Transcribe below are some important points to keep in mind when thinking about and trying to understand the roots and dynamics of this this discombobulating crisis which, like so many others present and past, bring out the best and worst in people. 

    -There are 3,000 people per day flooding from Serbia into Hungary (which is ratcheting-up it’s increasingly and alarmingly authoritarian state of emergency and police state measures) by passing through razor-wire fences.  If the migrants are caught crossing into the country by Hungarian police, they’re arrested and put into detention camps where human rights abuses occur; they are treated like animals in cages without shade or shelter and camp officers throw bread at them to eat.


    Image from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3232420/Hungary-s-brutal-treatment-refugees-reminiscent-Nazis-says-chancellor-Austria-country-Hitler-born.html

    -Dr. Rogers says that it’s difficult to accurately know where the refugees are coming from, but estimates that, according to the number she’s seen, 50% of them are from Syria, and the rest are from other conflict zones that the U.S has been involved with such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and countries in the Horn of Africa.

    -Currently in Europe there are a couple of flashpoints, one of which is Hungary, the other of which is Greece, where there are about 30,000 people crammed onto the two islands of Lesvos and Kos, lacking sanitation infrastructure such a running water or toilets.    


    Image from: http://www.cnn.com/2015/09/03/europe/migration-crisis-aylan-kurdi-turkey-canada/

    -The European Commission and governments are working in attempt to break the refugee logjam and relocate 140,000 refugees, having setup quotas based off of countries GDPs, and have allocated around 780 million euros to fund these programs.   

    -Globally, there are currently 60 million forcibly displaced persons, the highest number in history.  In June, UNHCR reported that every 1 out of 122 on Earth is displaced. 

    -The primary regions generating the refugees are Afghanistan (invaded by the U.S in 2001), Pakistan (where the U.S war in Afghanistan has spilled into and where people are continually terrorized by U.S drone strikes), Iraq (invaded by the U.S in 2003), Syria (where, since 2012, the U.S and its allies have been heavily involved by providing funds and weapons to Bashar Al-Assad’s opponents; ISIS filled a power vacuum that was left as a result of the chaos), Libya (where U.S-led NATO military operations toppled the Gaddafi government in 2011).  There is a pattern of western governments invading or causing economic collapse which leads to chaos, after which extremism takes roots and masses flees from the conflict zones.   Turkey and Palestine are also experiencing huge humanitarian problems.

    Image from: http://www.spectator.co.uk/the-week/leading-article/9501552/the-life-or-death-question-our-leaders-prefer-not-to-discuss/

    -The primary host countries of these refugees are not in Europe, but are in the developing world, which host 86% of the refugees.  The top host nations are Turkey (1.6 million refugees), Pakistan (1.5 million refugees), Lebanon (1.1 million refugees; a quarter of their total population), Iran (982,000 refugees), Ethiopia (659,000), and Jordan (654,000). 

    - Last week Obama offer to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees.  (In the same spirit of the Vatican and I would like to see a refugee family put up in the White House).  Human Rights groups have criticized this move as a paltry drop in the bucket. 

    -Like Middle-East conflicts over oil, Sub-Sharan Africa has numerous conflicts that are resource driven.  Mineral and timber conflicts are fought in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

    -In the United States, there are 12 million undocumented immigrants who have left their country for one reason or another.

    -Saudi Arabia is currently in the process of creating another massive refugee crisis as a result of Yemen.

                In effort to resolve this crisis, Dr. Rogers suggests that there must be a more equitable sharing of the financial and resettlement burdens generated by the crisis.  Wealthy western countries such as the U.K, the U.S, and Australia, and well as rich Gulf States such as Saudi Arabia, need to step up.  Also, safe a legal routes for escape and migration must be provided.  Right now they’re trapped by various EU policies.  Immigration and refugee status requests much be processed more expeditiously; humane mass-processing sites must be established.  The sites should not only process requests speedily, but provide refugees with food, water, medical aid, and shelter, as opposed to treating people like criminals simply because they are trying to flee from warfare.   The money exists, the political will seems to be lacking. 

                 In the long term, changes must be made in order to prevent refugee crises from erupting in the first place.  Part of the problem is the way that western corporations and governments do business: prioritizing short-term profits over anyone’s quality of life, well-being, safety, or other factors such as environmentally sustainable economics and future access to resources.  This requires system change.

    Image from: http://eulawanalysis.blogspot.com/2015/04/dont-rock-boat-eu-leaders-do-as-little.html

    Those who hoard from those in need
    Are selfish fools and hell-bound thieves
    They build a wall of fear and dread
    While children die for want of bread

    Men load their guns and lock their doors
    A knock at midnight, the rifle roars
    Sisters and brothers hath sought their help
    Fleeing ravaged lands of death and Hell

    And still the selfish men refuse
    Having ne'er walked a mile in their shoes
    Life xenophobes they clutch their land
    Forgetting all fate on Earth lies in God's hands

    And when they stand before His throne
    The Lord deports their star-cross souls
    They shall drift forever in Purgatory
    For they will have become the refugees

    -Walter Lloyd Waterson, The Refugees, 1859

     

     

    Tuesday
    May262015

    Pelosi vs. VG on the (all bad) TPP

    My good friend (VG) wrote an excellent letter to my not-so-good Congressional representative (Nancy Pelosi) regarding her support for the fast-track trade authority and the corporate-sponsored Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership.  In his letter, Vince points out how politicians who support the TPP, such as Mrs. Pelosi, are not only acting against the interest of American citizens and citizens worldwide, but are also signing the death certificate for their political careers by advocating an environmentally and socio-economically disastrous trade policy that operates against the interests of their poor and working class constituents who will just as soon vote their representatives out of office for supporting pro-TPP legislation.  Here’s what V said, followed by the automated response dispatched by the computers at Pelosi’s office:

     

    Dear Rep Pelosi,

    I am about to get all up in your craw about the TPP. Look around you and tell me you don't see the inequality in our society. Is greed not responsible? It's alarming to hear you speak of the TPP in positive terms regarding the environment and labor. One need look no further than the example of NAFTA to see that free trade agreements benefit large corporate structures while leaving small communities obliterated by resource extraction and unfair competition from businesses that are subsidized by government.

    It is time you and the rest of the democrats represent something other than the republicans cloaked in blue; namely: the American People. If you don't, then none of you nor the republicans will be reelected. As it is, when it is not suffering do to the actions of the world's largest quagmire, the American public laughs at the theater that is Capitol Hill. You guys are a joke, an evil one, but a joke nonetheless. Meanwhile, the rest of world holds its breath hoping the carnage from American drone strikes (and all of the resulting attacks with which those strikes are rebutted) stay out of their respective living rooms. The sad part, and at the same time exciting part, is that agreements like the TPP will hasten your exit from office along with all of your corporate sucking colleagues. Short term pain for some long term gain we'll call it.

    I suggest you get humble and spend some time with a black single mother in the Tenderloin who puts food on her table with food stamps. Her father is in prison and her son got murdered by police. Go on, go ahead. You don't know anyone by that description in the Tenderloin? Try asking around, shouldn't take long. Have dinner with her, maybe even stay the night. She won't be serving caviar and the accommodation may not rival the Hilton, but you may learn something, mainly: all the reasons you and the crats won't be getting reelected shortly.

    You guys are out of touch and need a wake up call. Get off the phone with Shmoozle, MyFace and the rest of the genties who are killing the planet under the guise of saving it, and hear the people: We don't want the TPP!!

    Sincerely,

     

    V

     

    From Rep. Pelosi:

    Thank you for contacting me to express your views on the trade policy. I appreciate hearing from you on these important issues.

    Nearly 50 years ago, President John F. Kennedy advanced a groundbreaking new trade policy for our country that cemented Democrats as the party of free and fair trade. As a Member of Congress, I have long supported trade policies that open markets for U.S. businesses, create jobs, raise standards of living in our country and overseas, while protecting the environment, labor and human rights.

    Trade is integral to our nation’s economic strength. Millions of Americans support their families by working in the manufacturing industry and exporting goods to other countries. Moreover, free trade must be fair trade. Enforceable labor standards ensure that our trading partners abide by the most fundamental standards of common decency and fairness - prohibitions against child and slave labor, protection from employment discrimination, and the right of workers to form a union. Similarly, protecting our planet is a core value and must be reflected in the core of our free trade agreements, not as a side agreement.

    Our economic future firmly rests upon our ability to open new markets for U.S. goods and services so that we can continue to capitalize upon the innovative spirit of the American people. We must also do much more to address the consequences of globalization and the impacts facing many working families with increased economic insecurity. I look forward to working with President Obama and the United States Trade Representative, Ambassador Michael Froman, to continue advancing and improving our trade policies and addressing the increased economic insecurity faced by millions of American workers.

    Thank you, again, for contacting me on this issue. I hope you will continue to communicate with me on matters of concern to you. For more information on this or other issues affecting our city and our nation, please visit my website at http://www.pelosi.house.gov/ or sign up to receive e-mail updates at http://www.pelosi.house.gov/media/pelosi-update.shtml.

    Thursday
    Apr302015

    Mairead Maguire Hits the Nail on the Head

    Wise words of peace from Northern Ireland's Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Mairead Maguire (the following transcript starts from the 50 min. point in the video posted below) on Democracy Now!

    Sadly, a prize for peace is a rarity in this world. Most nations have monuments or memorials to war, bronze salutations to heroic battles, archways of triumph. But peace has no parade, no pantheon of victory.

                                                                                                                                                                    -Kofi Annan

    MAIREAD MAGUIRE: Before the Iraq War, yes. So, what we were coming to America to say to the diplomats and to the government—and to walk with the American people—these problems can be solved without bombing each other, through dialogue, through negotiation. So I came then to America to be part of that process. But, you know, we can campaign against war, against militarism, but until we change our consciousness and our mindsets that we really have to stop killing each other, because we are technological giants, we have a great deal of knowledge—we know how to kill each other, and we can’t undo that knowledge. So what we have to do is really in our own minds decide that we are not going to kill each other.

    AMY GOODMAN: You also went to Syria?

    MAIREAD MAGUIRE: We went to Syria, and we went to Syria twice. And we went into Syria with a delegation of 40 Iranian peace activists. And the whole message coming out of these countries is: Don’t invade us, don’t occupy us; we can solve our problems through dialogue, through negotiation. Again, it comes back to the thing, if you listen to the news, people would almost despair: "Oh, my god! The world is coming apart. What can we do?" But, you know, we have a wonderful world, and there’s a great deal happening. And the vast majority, 99 percent of people in the world, do not want to kill each other. They have never killed each other. They care for the fact that children are dying in all these countries. But tragically, we seem to be caught in this trajectory that our governments take us to war, and we don’t want to go to war.

    AMY GOODMAN: Mairead Maguire—

    MAIREAD MAGUIRE: We want to do it through peace.

    AMY GOODMAN: You also were on one of the Gaza flotillas challenging the Israeli blockade against Gaza?

    MAIREAD MAGUIRE: Yes, I was, because I passionately believe that there could be peace between Israel and Palestine, if you had the political will to sit down the political leaders and say, "There is a solution to this. Find it." Because going out and bombing women and, increasingly, children on the ground, it is horrific. It’s not acceptable. But I would challenge the American government, because I think the American government’s policies are totally wrong. Their approach of going out to militarism and war and bombing countries is uncivilized, illegal and absolutely dreadful in the 21st century. So I do believe that America has a moral and ethical responsibility to the world to listen, that the people in the world want peace. Everybody has a right to peace. They can do it through dialogue and through negotiation. And let’s give peace a chance.

    AMY GOODMAN: Is there a chance? I mean, you have the Obama administration now. Under the Obama administration, more weapons have been sold in the world than under any previous administration. And the highest number, amount of the weapons have been sold to Saudi Arabia. Jody Williams, you’re from the U.S.

    JODY WILLIAMS: Of course we can change the world. Sometimes, as Mairead says, when we look at that—when I look at my own country, I’ve been fighting the U.S. foreign policy since Vietnam, my first protest, 1970, University of Vermont. But change is possible. And because I believe, like Mairead, the majority of people of the world are sick to death of this, and we are starting to stand up and say no. We’re starting to challenge and not accept, you know, words out of one side of the face and the actions which are different. You know, I never thought, unfortunately—I didn’t drink the Obama Kool-Aid. That man fired or authorized more drone strikes in the first three months of his administration than George W. Bush did in eight years in office. We have to, as Americans—I agree with her—accept the responsibility that we have the most militaristic nation in the world, and take responsibility to stop it.

     

    Friday
    Apr102015

    Yanis Varoufakis and the Economic Wave of the Future

               Greek Finance Minster, Yanis Varoufakis (who apparently keeps his resignation letter in is pocket just in case he ever begins to feel like he’s turning into a politician), cites Dr. Strangelove, The Matrix, Star Trek Voyager, Mephisto, and the Invasion of the Body Snatchers in this 5/2013 speech, entitled  Confessions of an Erratic Marxist.  It’s a thorough breakdown of modern human economics from a revolutionary Grecian professor who speaks better English than all of us and explains why he is temporarily willing to work with the financial power structure (such as the IMF) in effort to save the Euro in the short-term, thus averting a depression, in order to destroy it in the end.   I will give him the benefit of the doubt, and I hopefully think that he knows what he's doing.