AMERICAN DIPLOMACY AS A TRAGIC DRAMA

August 7, 2022 – 7:07 am

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“For the first time since the Bandung Conference of Non-Aligned Nations in 1955, a critical mass is able to be mutually self-sufficient to start the process of achieving independence from US Dollar Diplomacy.” By Michael Hudson.

As in a Greek tragedy whose protagonist brings about precisely the fate that he has sought to avoid, the US/NATO confrontation with Russia in Ukraine is achieving just the opposite of America’s aim of preventing China, Russia and their allies from acting independently of US control over their trade and investment policy.

Naming China as America’s main long-term adversary, the Biden Administration’s plan was to split Russia away from China and then cripple China’s own military and economic viability. But the effect of American diplomacy has been to drive Russia and China together, joining with Iran, India and other allies.

For the first time since the Bandung Conference of Non-Aligned Nations in 1955, a critical mass is able to be mutually self-sufficient to start the process of achieving independence from Dollar Diplomacy.

Confronted with China’s industrial prosperity based on self-financed public investment in socialized markets, US officials acknowledge that resolving this fight will take a number of decades to play out. Arming a proxy Ukrainian regime is merely an opening move in turning Cold War 2 (and potentially/or indeed World War III) into a fight to divide the world into allies and enemies with regard to whether governments or the financial sector will plan the world economy and society.

What is euphemized as US-style democracy is a financial oligarchy privatizing basic infrastructure, health and education. The alternative is what President Biden calls autocracy, a hostile label for governments strong enough to block a global rent-seeking oligarchy from taking control.

China is deemed autocratic for providing basic needs at subsidized prices instead of charging whatever the market can bear. Making its mixed economy lower-cost is called “market manipulation,” as if that is a bad thing that was not done by the United States, Germany and every other industrial nation during their economic takeoff in the 19th and early 20th century.

Clausewitz popularized the axiom that war is an extension of national interests - mainly economic. The United States views its economic interest to lie in seeking to spread its neoliberal ideology globally. The evangelistic aim is to financialize and privatize economies by shifting planning away from national governments to a cosmopolitan financial sector.

There would be little need for politics in such a world. Economic planning would shift from political capitals to financial centers, from Washington to Wall Street, with satellites in the City of London, the Paris Bourse, Frankfurt and Tokyo. Board meetings for the new oligarchy would be held at Davos’s World Economic Forum.

Hitherto public infrastructure services would be privatized and priced high enough to include profits (and indeed, monopoly rents), debt financing and management fees rather than being publicly subsidized. Debt service and rent would become the major overhead costs for families, industry and governments.

The US drive to retain its unipolar power to impose “America First” financial, trade and military policies on the world involves an inherent hostility toward all countries seeking to follow their own national interests. Having less and less to offer in the form of mutual economic gains, US policy makes threats of sanctions and covert meddling in foreign politics.

China is deemed autocratic for providing basic needs at subsidized prices instead of charging whatever the market can bear. Making its mixed economy lower-cost is called “market manipulation,” as if that is a bad thing that was not done by the United States, Germany and every other industrial nation during their economic takeoff in the 19th and early 20th century.

The US dream envisions a Chinese version of Boris Yeltsin replacing the nation’s Communist Party leadership and selling off its public domain to the highest bidder - presumably after a monetary crisis wipes out domestic purchasing power much as occurred in post-Soviet Russia, leaving the international financial community as buyers.

Russia and President Putin cannot be forgiven for having fought back against the Harvard Boys’ “reforms.” That is why US officials planned how to create Russian economic disruption to (they hope) orchestrate a “color
revolution” to recapture Russia for the world’s neoliberal camp.

That is the character of the “democracy” and “free markets” being juxtaposed to the “autocracy” of state-subsidized growth. As Russian Foreign minister Sergey Lavrov explained in a press conference on July 20, 2022 regarding Ukraine’s violent coup in 2014, US and other Western officials define military coups as democratic if they are sponsored by the United States in the hope of promoting neoliberal policies.

Do you remember how events developed after the coup? The putschists spat in the face of Germany, France and Poland that were the guarantors of the agreement with Viktor Yanukovych. It was trampled underfoot the next morning.

These European countries didn’t make a peep - they reconciled themselves to this. A couple of years ago I asked the Germans and French what they thought about the coup. What was it all about if they didn’t demand that the putschists fulfil the agreements? They replied: “This is the cost of the democratic process.” I am not kidding. Amazing - these were adults holding the post of foreign ministers.[1]

This Doublethink vocabulary reflects how far mainstream ideology has evolved from Rosa Luxemburg’s description a century ago of the civilizational choice being posed: barbarism or socialism.

The contradictory US and European interests and burdens of the war in Ukraine

To return to Clausewitz’s view of war as an extension of national policy, US national interests are diverging sharply from those of its NATO satellites. America’s military-industrial complex, oil and agriculture sectors are benefiting, while European industrial interests are suffering. That is especially the case in Germany and Italy as a result of their governments blocking North Stream 2 gas imports and other Russian raw materials.

The interruption of world energy, food and minerals supply chains and the resulting price inflation (providing an umbrella for monopoly rents by non-Russian suppliers) has imposed enormous economic strains on US allies in Europe and the Global South.

Yet the US economy is benefiting from this, or at least specific sectors of the US economy are benefiting. As Sergey Lavrov, pointed out in his above-cited press conference: “The European economy is impacted more than anything else. The stats show that 40 per cent of the damage caused by sanctions is borne by the EU whereas the damage to the United States is less than 1 per cent.”

The dollar’s exchange rate has soared against the euro, which has plunged to parity with the dollar and looks set to fall further down toward the $0.80 that it was a generation ago. US dominance over Europe is further strengthened by the trade sanctions against Russian oil and gas. The US is an LNG exporter, US companies control the world oil trade, and US firms are the world’s major grain marketers and exporters now that Russia is excluded from many foreign markets.

The US dream envisions a Chinese version of Boris Yeltsin replacing the nation’s Communist Party leadership and selling off its public domain to the highest bidder - presumably after a monetary crisis wipes out domestic purchasing power much as occurred in post-Soviet Russia, leaving the international financial community as buyers.

A revival of European military spending - for offense, not defense

US arms-makers are looking forward to making profits off arms sales to Western Europe, which has almost literally disarmed itself by sending its tanks and howitzers, ammunition and missiles to Ukraine. US politicians support a bellicose foreign policy to promote arms factories that employ labor in their voting districts. And the neocons who dominate the State Department and CIA see the war as a means of asserting American dominance over the world economy, starting with its own NATO partners.

The problem with this view is that although America’s military-industrial, oil and agricultural monopolies are benefitting, the rest of the US economy is being squeezed by the inflationary pressures resulting from boycotting Russian gas, grain and other raw-materials exports, and the enormous rise in the military budget will be used as an excuse to cut back social spending programs.

That also is a problem for Eurozone members. They have promised NATO to raise their military spending to the stipulated 2 per cent of their GDP, and the Americans are urging much higher levels to upgrade to the most recent array of weaponry. All but forgotten is the Peace Dividend that was promised in 1991 when the Soviet Union dissolved the Warsaw Pact alliance, expecting that NATO likewise would have little reason to exist.

Russia has no discernable economic interest in mounting a new occupation of Central Europe. That would offer no gain to Russia, as its leaders realized when they dissolved the old Soviet Union. In fact, no industrial country in today’s world can afford to field an infantry to occupy an enemy.

All that NATO can do is bomb from a distance. It can destroy, but not occupy. The United States found that out in Serbia, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Afghanistan. And just as the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo (now Bosnia-Herzegovina) triggered World War I in 1914, NATO’s bombing of adjoining Serbia may be viewed as throwing down the gauntlet to turn Cold War 2 into a veritable World War III. That marked the point at which NATO became an offensive alliance, not a defensive one.

How does this reflect European interests? Why should Europe re-arm, if the only effect is to make it a target of retaliation in the event of further attacks on Russia? What does Europe have to gain in becoming a larger customer for America’s military-industrial complex? Diverting spending to rebuild an offensive army - that can never be used without triggering an atomic response that would wipe out Europe - will limit the social spending needed to cope with today’s Covid problems and economic recession.

The only lasting leverage a nation can offer in today’s world is trade and technology transfer. Europe has more of this to offer than the United States. Yet the only opposition to renewed military spending is coming from right-wing parties and the German Linke party. Europe’s Social Democratic, Socialist and Labour parties share American neoliberal ideology.

Sanctions against Russian gas makes coal “the fuel of the future”

The carbon footprint of bombing, arms manufacturing and military bases is strikingly absent from today’s discussion about global warming and the need to cut back on carbon emissions. The German party that calls itself Green is leading the campaign for sanctions against importing Russian oil and gas, which electric utilities are replacing with Polish coal and even German lignite. Coal is becoming the “fuel of the future.” Its price also is soaring in the United States, benefitting American coal companies.

In contrast to the Paris Club agreements to reduce carbon emissions, the United States has neither the political capability nor the intention to join the conservation effort. The Supreme Court recently ruled that the Executive Branch has no authority to issue nation-wide energy rules; only individual states can do that, unless Congress passes a national law to cut back on fossil fuels.

That seems unlikely in view of the fact that becoming head of a Democratic Senate and Congressional committee requires being a leader in raising campaign contributions for the party. Joe Manchin, a coal-company billionaire, leads all senators in campaign support from the oil and coal industries, enabling him to win his party’s auction for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee chairmanship and block any seriously restrictive environmental legislation.

This year’s proxy war in Ukraine and imposition of anti-Russian sanctions is a perfect illustration of Henry Kissinger’s quip: “It may be dangerous to be America’s enemy, but to be America’s friend is fatal.”

Next to oil, agriculture is a major contributor to the US balance of payments. Blocking Russian grain and fertilizer shipping threatens to create a Global South food crisis as well as a European crisis as gas is unavailable to make domestic fertilizer.

Russia is the world’s largest exporter of grain and also of fertilizer, and its exports of these products have been exempted from NATO sanctions. But Russian shipping was blocked by Ukraine placing mines in the sea lanes through the Black Sea to close off access to Odessa’s harbor, hoping that the world would blame the world’s imminent grain and energy crisis on Russia instead of the US/NATO trade sanctions imposed on Russia.[2] At his July 20, 2022 press conference Sergey Lavrov showed the hypocrisy of the public relations attempt to distort matters:

“For many months, they told us that Russia was to blame for the food crisis because the sanctions don’t cover food and fertiliser. Therefore, Russia doesn’t need to find ways to avoid the sanctions and so it should trade because nobody stands in its way.

“It took us a lot of time to explain to them that, although food and fertiliser are not subject to sanctions, the first and second packages of Western restrictions affected freight costs, insurance premiums, permissions for Russian ships carrying these goods to dock at foreign ports and those for foreign ships taking on the same consignments at Russian harbours. They are openly lying to us that this is not true, and that it is up to Russia alone. This is foul play.”

Black Sea grain transport has begun to resume, but NATO countries have blocked payments to Russia in dollars, euros or currencies of other countries in the US orbit. Food-deficit countries that cannot afford to pay distress-level food prices face drastic shortages, which will be exacerbated when they are compelled to pay their foreign debts denominated in the appreciating US dollar.

The looming fuel and food crisis promises to drive a new wave of immigrants to Europe seeking survival. Europe already has been flooded with refugees from NATO’s bombing and backing of jihadist attacks on Libya and Near Eastern oil-producing countries. This year’s proxy war in Ukraine and imposition of anti-Russian sanctions is a perfect illustration of Henry Kissinger’s quip: “It may be dangerous to be America’s enemy, but to be America’s friend is fatal.”

Blowback from the US/NATO miscalculations

America’s international diplomacy aims to dictate financial, trade and military policies that will lock other countries into dollar debt and trade dependency by preventing them from developing alternatives. If this fails, America seeks to isolate the recalcitrants from the US-centered Western sphere.

America’s foreign diplomacy no longer is based on offering mutual gain. Such could be claimed in the aftermath of World War II when the United States was in a position to offer loans, foreign-aid and military protection against occupation - as well as manufactures to rebuild war-torn economies - to governments in exchange for their accepting trade and monetary policies favorable to American exporters and investors.

But today there is only the belligerent diplomacy of threatening to hurt nations whose socialist governments reject America’s neoliberal drive to privatize and sell off their natural resources and public infrastructure.

The first aim is to prevent Russia and China from helping each other. This is the old imperial divide-and-conquer strategy. Minimizing Russia’s ability to support China would pave the way for the United States and NATO Europe to impose new trade sanctions on China, and to send jihadists to its western Xinjiang Uighur region.

Any nation that follows policies not deemed to be in the interests of the US Government runs the risk of US authorities confiscating its holdings of foreign reserves in US banks or securities.

The aim is to bleed Russia’s armaments inventory, kill enough of its soldiers, and create enough Russian shortages and suffering to not only weaken its ability to help China, but to spur its population to support a regime change, an American-sponsored “color revolution”. The dream is to promote a Yeltsin-like leader friendly to the neoliberal “therapy” that dismantled Russia’s economy in the 1990s.

Amazing as it may seem, US strategists did not anticipate the obvious response by countries finding themselves together in the crosshairs of US/NATO military and economic threats. On July 19, 2022, the presidents of Russia and Iran met to announce their cooperation in the face of the sanctions war against them. That followed Russia’s earlier meeting with India’s Prime Minister Modi. In what has been characterized as “shooting itself in its own foot,” US diplomacy is driving Russia, China, India and Iran together, and indeed to reach out to Argentina and other countries to join the BRICS-plus bank to protect themselves.

The US itself is ending the Dollar Standard of international finance

The Trump Administration took a major step to drive countries out of the dollar orbit in November 2018, by confiscating nearly $2 billion of Venezuela’s official gold stock held in London. The Bank of England put these reserves at the disposal of Juan Guaidó, the marginal right-wing politician selected by the United States to replace Venezuela’s elected president as head of state.

This was defined as being democratic, because the regime change promised to introduce the neoliberal “free market” that is deemed to be the essence of America’s definition of democracy for today’s world.

This gold theft actually was not the first such confiscation. On November 14, 1979, the Carter Administration paralyzed Iran’s bank deposits in New York after the Shah was overthrown. This act blocked Iran from paying its scheduled foreign debt service, forcing it into default.

That was viewed as an exceptional one-time action as far as all other financial markets were concerned. But now that the United States is the self-proclaimed “exceptional nation,” such confiscations are becoming a new norm in US diplomacy. Nobody yet knows what happened to Libya’s gold reserves that Muammar Gaddafi had intended to be used to back an African alternative to the dollar.

And Afghanistan’s gold and other reserves were simply taken by Washington as payment for the cost of “freeing” that country from Russian control by backing the Taliban. But when the Biden Administration and its NATO allies made a much larger asset grab of some $300 billion of Russia’s foreign bank reserves and currency holdings in March 2022, it made official a radical new epoch in Dollar Diplomacy. Any nation that follows policies not deemed to be in the interests of the US Government runs the risk of US authorities confiscating its holdings of foreign reserves in US banks or securities.

This was a red flag leading countries to fear denominating their trade, savings and foreign debt in dollars, and to avoid using dollar or euro bank deposits and securities as a means of payment. By prompting other countries to think about how to free themselves from the US-centered world trade and monetary system that was established in 1945 with the IMF, World Bank and subsequently the World Trade Organization, the US confiscations have accelerated the end of the US Treasury-bill standard that has governed world finance since the United States went off gold in 1971.[3]

Since dollar convertibility into gold ended in August 1971, dollarization of the world’s trade and investment has created a need for other countries to hold most of their new international monetary reserves in US Treasury securities and bank deposits. As already noted, that enables the United States to seize foreign bank deposits and bonds denominated in US dollars.

Most important, the United States can create and spend dollar IOUs into the world economy at will, without limit. It doesn’t have to earn international spending power by running a trade surplus, as other countries have to do.

Blocking Russian exports has created a worldwide price inflation for oil and gas, sharply increasing Russian export earnings. It exported less gas but earned more - and with dollars and euros blocked, Russia demanded payment for its exports in rubles. Its exchange rate soared instead of collapsing, enabling Russia to reduce its interest rates.

The US Treasury can simply print dollars electronically to finance its foreign military spending and purchases of foreign resources and companies. And being the “exceptional country,” it doesn’t have to pay these debts - which are recognized as being far too large to be paid.

Foreign dollar holdings are free US credit to the Unites States, not requiring repayment any more than the paper dollars in our wallets are expected to be paid off (by retiring them from circulation). What seems to be so self-destructive about America’s economic sanctions and confiscations of Russian and other foreign reserves is that they are accelerating the demise of this free ride.

Blowback resulting from US/NATO isolating their economic and monetary systems

It is hard to see how driving countries out of the US economic orbit serves long-term US national interests. Dividing the world into two monetary blocs will limit Dollar Diplomacy to its NATO allies and satellites.

The blowback now unfolding in the wake of US diplomacy begins with its anti-Russia policy. Imposing trade and monetary sanctions was expected to block Russian consumers and businesses from buying the US/NATO imports to which they had become accustomed. Confiscating Russia’s foreign currency reserves was supposed to crash the ruble, “turning it into rubble,” as President Biden promised.

Imposing sanctions against importing Russian oil and gas to Europe was supposed to deprive Russia of export earnings, causing the ruble to collapse and raising import prices (and hence, living costs) for the Russian public. Instead, blocking Russian exports has created a worldwide price inflation for oil and gas, sharply increasing Russian export earnings.

It exported less gas but earned more - and with dollars and euros blocked, Russia demanded payment for its exports in rubles. Its exchange rate soared instead of collapsing, enabling Russia to reduce its interest rates.

Goading Russia to send its soldiers to eastern Ukraine to defend Russian speakers under attack in Luhansk and Donetsk, along with the expected impact of the ensuing Western sanctions, was supposed to make Russian voters press for regime change.

But as almost always happens when a country or ethnicity is attacked, Russians were appalled at the Ukrainian hatred of Russian-language speakers and Russian culture, and at the Russophobia of the West. The effect of Western countries banning music by Russian composers and Russian novels from libraries - capped by England banning Russian tennis players from the Wimbledon tournament - was to make Russians feel under attack simply for being Russian. They rallied around President Putin.

NATO’s trade sanctions have helped Russian agriculture and industry to become more self-sufficient by obliging Russia to invest in import substitution. One well-publicized farming success was to develop its own cheese production to replace that of Lithuania and other European suppliers. Its automotive and other industrial production is being forced to shift away from German and other European brands to its own and Chinese producers. The result is a loss of markets for Western exporters.

In the field of financial services, NATO’s exclusion of Russia from the SWIFT bank-clearing system failed to create the anticipated payments chaos. The threat had been so loud for so long that Russia and China had plenty of time to develop their own payments system. This provided them with one of the preconditions for their plans to split their economies away from those of the US/NATO West.

As matters have turned out, the trade and monetary sanctions against Russia are imposing the heaviest costs on Western Europe, and are likely to spread to the Global South, driving them to think about whether their economic interests lie in joining US confrontational Dollar Diplomacy. The disruption is being felt most seriously in Germany, causing many companies to close down as a result of gas and other raw-materials shortages.

Germany’s refusal to authorize the North Stream 2 pipeline has pushed its energy crisis to a head. This has raised the question of how long Germany’s political parties can remain subordinate to NATO’s Cold War policies at the cost of German industry and households facing sharp rises in heating and electricity costs.

The aim in China in particular is to prevent the rentier Finance, Insurance and Real Estate (FIRE) sector from becoming a burdensome overhead whose economic interests differ from those of a socialist government. China treats money and banking as a public utility, to be created, spent and lent for purposes that help increase productivity and living standards.

The longer it takes to restore trade with Russia, the more European economies will suffer, along with the citizenry at large, and the further the euro’s exchange rate will fall, spurring inflation throughout its member countries. European NATO countries are losing not only their export markets but their investment opportunities to gain from the much more rapid growth of Eurasian countries whose government planning and resistance to financialization has proved much more productive than the US/NATO neoliberal model.

It is difficult to see how any diplomatic strategy can do more than play for time. That involves living in the short run, not the long run. Time seems to be on the side of Russia, China and the trade and investment alliances that they are negotiating to replace the neoliberal Western economic order.

America’s ultimate problem is its neoliberal post-industrial economy

The failure and blowbacks of US diplomacy are the result of problems that go beyond diplomacy itself. The underlying problem is the West’s commitment to neoliberalism, financialization and privatization.

Instead of government subsidy of basic living costs needed by labor, all social life is being made part of “the market” - a uniquely Thatcherite deregulated “Chicago Boys” market in which industry, agriculture, housing and financing are deregulated and increasingly predatory, while heavily subsidizing the valuation of financial and rent-seeking assets - mainly the wealth of the richest One Percent. Income is obtained increasingly by financial and monopoly rent-seeking, and fortunes are made by debt-leveraged “capital” gains for stocks, bonds and real estate.

US industrial companies have aimed more at “creating wealth” by increasing the price of their stocks by using over 90 per cent of their profits for stock buybacks and dividend payouts instead of investing in new production facilities and hiring more labor. The result of slower capital investment is to dismantle and financially cannibalize corporate industry in order to produce financial gains. And to the extent that companies do employ labor and set up new production, it is done abroad where labor is cheaper.

Most Asian labor can afford to work for lower wages because it has much lower housing costs and does not have to pay education debt. Health care is a public right, not a financialized market transaction, and pensions are not paid for in advance by wage-earners and employers but are public. The aim in China in particular is to prevent the rentier Finance, Insurance and Real Estate (FIRE) sector from becoming a burdensome overhead whose economic interests differ from those of a socialist government.

China treats money and banking as a public utility, to be created, spent and lent for purposes that help increase productivity and living standards (and increasingly to preserve the environment). It rejects the US-sponsored neoliberal model imposed by the IMF, World Bank and World Trade Organization.

The global economic fracturing goes far beyond NATO’s conflict with Russia in Ukraine. By the time the Biden administration took office at the start of 2021, Russia and China already had been discussing the need to de-dollarize their foreign trade and investment, using their own currencies.[4]

That involves the quantum leap of organizing a new payments-clearing institution. Planning had not progressed beyond broad outlines of how such a system would work, but the US confiscation of Russia’s foreign reserves made such planning urgent, starting with a BRICS-plus bank.

A Eurasian alternative to the IMF will remove its ability to impose neoliberal austerity “conditionalities” to force countries to lower payments to labor and give priority to paying their foreign creditors above feeding themselves and developing their own economies. Instead of new international credit being extended mainly to pay dollar debts, it will be part of a process of new mutual investment in basic infrastructure designed to accelerate economic growth and living standards.

Other institutions are being designed as China, Russia, Iran, India and their prospective allies represent a large enough critical mass to “go it alone”, based on their own mineral wealth and manufacturing power.

The basic US policy has been to threaten, to destabilize countries and perhaps bomb them until they agree to adopt neoliberal policies and privatize their public domain. But taking on Russia, China and Iran is a much higher order of magnitude. NATO has disarmed itself of the ability to wage conventional warfare by handing over its supply of weaponry - admittedly largely outdated - to be devoured in Ukraine.

In any case, no democracy in today’s world can impose a military draft to wage a conventional land warfare against a significant/major adversary. The protests against the Vietnam War in the late 1960s ended the US military draft, and the only way to really conquer a country is to occupy it in land warfare. This logic also implies that Russia is no more in a position to invade Western Europe than NATO countries are to send conscripts to fight Russia.

That leaves Western democracies with the ability to fight only one kind of war: atomic war - or at least, bombing at a distance, as was done in Afghanistan and the Near East, without requiring Western manpower. This is not diplomacy at all. It is merely acting the role of wrecker. But that is the only tactic that remains available to the United States and NATO Europe. It is strikingly like the dynamic of Greek tragedy, where power leads to hubris that is injurious to others and therefore ultimately anti-social - and self-destructive in the end.

How then can the United States maintain its world dominance? It has deindustrialized and run up foreign official debt far beyond any foreseeable way to be paid. Meanwhile, its banks and bondholders are demanding that the Global South and other countries pay foreign dollar bondholders in the face of their own trade crisis resulting from the soaring energy and food prices caused by America’s anti-Russian and anti-China belligerence. This double standard is a basic internal contradiction that goes to the core of today’s neoliberal Western worldview.

I have described the possible scenarios to resolve this conflict in my recent book The Destiny of Civilization: Finance Capitalism, Industrial Capitalism or Socialism. It has now also been issued in e-book form by CounterPunch Books.

[1] “Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with RT television, Sputnik agency and Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency, Moscow, July 20, 2022,” Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry, July 20, 2022. https://mid.ru/en/foreign_policy/news/1822901/. From Johnson’s Russia List, July 21, 2022, #5.

[2] International Maritime Organization, “Maritime Security and Safety in the Black Sea and Sea of Azov,” https://www.imo.org/en/MediaCentre/HotTopics/Pages/MaritimeSecurityandSafetyintheBlackSeaandSeaofAzov.aspx. See Yves Smith, Some Implications of the UN’s Ukraine Grain and Russia Fertilizer/Food Agreements,” Naked Capitalism, July 25, 2022, and Lavrov’s July 24 speech to the Arab League.

[3] My Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (3rd ed., 2021) describes how the Treasury-bill standard has provided America with a free ride and enabled it to run balance-of-payments deficits without constraint, including the costs of its overseas military spending.

[4] Radhika Desai and Michael Hudson (2021), “Beyond Dollar Creditocracy: A Geopolitical Economy,” Valdai Club Paper No. 116. Moscow: Valdai Club, 7 July, reprinted in Real World Economic Review (97), https://rwer.wordpress.com/2021/09/23.

Note: Michael Hudson’s new book, The Destiny of Civilization, will be published by CounterPunch Books next month. The above article was posted at CounterPunch.

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WHY BLACK PEOPLE (AND EVERYONE ELSE) SHOULD AVOID CRYPTO

July 31, 2022 – 7:03 am

Fifty years ago today, Beatle George told us that All Things Must Pass. Then he told us about Living in the Material World. For 36 years, BigO has been trying to keep the spirit and history of the music alive. Before all things pass, we still need your help to live in this material world. You can help us to do this with a kind donation. Please give what you are happy to give…

HOW TO DONATE

Our costs will always be there. So readers who can donate towards the cost of the site, please open a Skrill account. Readers who wish to contribute to BigO will now have to use Skrill (click here). We are no longer able to use PayPal to receive donations. Register an account at Skrill. To make a payment, use this e-mail address as recipient’s e-mail address in Skrill: mail2[at]bigomagazine.com. Looking forward to hearing from you.

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Cryptocurrencies are a shiny new way to lose money. It is the idea of the  ‘get-rich-quick’ scheme that attracts people with low incomes to join. By Algernon Austin.

On June 9 this year, the hip-hop star and businessman Shawn “JAY-Z” Carter announced that he was starting The Bitcoin Academy to educate the residents of the Brooklyn, New York public housing complex where he grew up about cryptocurrency.

The average household income for residents in New York City public housing is reported to be about US$25,000. Investing in cryptocurrency is a terrible idea for low-income households - and it is not a good idea for most other people either. On June 9, Bitcoin had lost nearly 60 per cent of its value from its peak seven months earlier.

A recent survey finds that Black people are more likely than white people to invest in cryptocurrencies, and that Black people are more likely to incorrectly believe that cryptocurrencies are regulated by the government and are safe. Sadly, the Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman is correct to call cryptocurrencies the “new subprime”. The predatory selling of subprime mortgages stripped massive amounts of wealth from Black communities. Cryptocurrencies are a shiny new way to lose money.

Cryptocurrencies are complex, but their fatal flaws can be easily understood. The following discussion reveals some (there are more) of the reasons Black people - and really all people - should not be invested in cryptocurrencies.

There are more than 12,000 cryptocurrencies, and about 1,000 cryptocurrencies are being added every month. It is a fair bet that at some point most of these 12,000-plus cryptocurrencies will be worthless since they have no useful purpose to people generally.

Cryptocurrencies Are Not Practical Currencies, Part 1

Technically, cryptocurrencies may be currencies, but practically they are not. They should not be used for day-to-day exchanges as one does with fiat or government-backed currencies.

Cryptocurrencies are extremely volatile. Imagine that you are a business owner. You have done $100,000 in sales, and put that money in the bank for future use. Six months later, you want to use the money to restock your inventory and pay bills, but you discover that you only have $40,000.

This could happen if you were paid in cryptocurrency instead of dollars. As mentioned above, the value of Bitcoin fell by about this much in a similar period. Your business was profitable when you had earned $100,000, but with only $40,000, you are operating at a steep loss. This volatility is one of the reasons it would be a mistake to try to conduct day-to-day business using cryptocurrencies instead of US dollars.

Cryptocurrencies Are Not Practical Currencies, Part 2

The global economy has fewer than 200 fiat currencies. Cryptocurrencies are not bound by any government. They are supposed to be global currencies. So, one would expect that a world economy run on cryptocurrencies would have fewer currencies than the number of fiat currencies. Instead, there are more than 12,000 cryptocurrencies, and about 1,000 cryptocurrencies are being added every month.

It is a fair bet that at some point most of these 12,000-plus cryptocurrencies will be worthless since they have no useful purpose to people generally. It is a bad idea to try to do business in a cryptocurrency minted yesterday, which will likely be gone at some unpredictable time in the not-too-distant future.

Cryptocurrencies are not really currencies but investments. However, they are not like other investments. They are really bad investments.

Cryptocurrencies Are Bad Investments

Cryptocurrencies are not really currencies but investments. However, they are not like other investments. They are really bad investments. For example, if someone invests in stocks from IBM, that person essentially owns a portion of the company.

There are metrics that individuals can use to assess the value of a company and, thereby, the value of a company’s stock. Once it is determined that the company is solid with a good business plan, then it can be considered a good investment. The value of even a good stock like IBM’s can be fairly volatile, but it is not likely to fall as far and as fast as a cryptocurrency.

IBM makes and supports computing technologies that are very valuable in the world today. Even if IBM were eventually driven out of business by competitors, this would likely take several years. IBM is a huge company that has lasted for about a century. There is a good chance it will be around into the foreseeable future.

Unlike companies like IBM, cryptocurrencies do not make and sell a product or provide a service. The value of a cryptocurrency depends on the amount of hype or irrational exuberance there is attached to the cryptocurrency.

For example, Dogecoin was literally a joke idea. Individuals then decided to make it into a real cryptocurrency. Elon Musk hyped Dogecoin, and people purchased it and increased its value. Eventually, the hype died down, and the value of Dogecoin crashed. It lost about 90 per cent of its value from its peak in May last year.

Dogecoin is not used for everyday purchases and is not based on a company that sells a product or provides a service. Its value rises based on the amount of hot air from the hype under it, and crashes when that air cools.

The value of a cryptocurrency increases purely as a function of more investors buying the cryptocurrency. This means that when people buy a cryptocurrency, they are simply betting that many other people will also buy the cryptocurrency.

The Later Investors in Cryptocurrencies Make the Earlier Investors Rich

When people might bid up the stock of Apple, they are betting that the company’s products will generate increased profits in the future. With cryptocurrencies, there is no company producing profits. The value of a cryptocurrency increases purely as a function of more investors buying the cryptocurrency. This means that when people buy a cryptocurrency, they are simply betting that many other people will also buy the cryptocurrency.

Since the way to make money off a cryptocurrency is to get other people to buy it, then it becomes important to have an aggressive marketing effort that keeps the actual mechanism of wealth generation obscure. This is why there are so many celebrities being paid to market cryptocurrency. The only way to make money is to get other people to buy the cryptocurrency.

Therefore, the real money that cryptocurrency investors can actually use is made from selling the cryptocurrency when its value is high. This means that later investors are essentially transferring their wealth to the earlier investors when the earlier investors cash out.

The irrational exuberance around cryptocurrencies allows the first investors to make a lot of money very quickly. The late investors, those individuals who buy the cryptocurrency when its value is high and it is about to crash, can lose a lot of money very quickly.

A factor in the rise of cryptocurrencies is the extreme inequality in US society and the fact that it is harder for average people to get ahead. It is in this context that get-rich-quick schemes are appealing to many people. Get-rich-quick schemes, however, are always a scam. Ultimately, it is better for people to invest in the slow and hard work of un-rigging the economy and enacting policies that make society more equitable.

Note: Algernon Austin, a senior research fellow at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, has conducted research and writing on issues of race and racial inequality for over 20 years. His primary focus has been on the intersection of race and the economy. The above article first appeared on CEPR. It was also posted at CounterPunch.

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SINS OF THE FATHER

July 24, 2022 – 7:01 am

Fifty years ago today, Beatle George told us that All Things Must Pass. Then he told us about Living in the Material World. For 36 years, BigO has been trying to keep the spirit and history of the music alive. Before all things pass, we still need your help to live in this material world. You can help us to do this with a kind donation. Please give what you are happy to give…

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How can I try to explain? ‘Cause when I do he turns away again
It’s always been the same, same old story
From the moment I could talk I was ordered to listen
Now there’s a way and I know that I have to go away
I know, I have to go

- ‘Father and Son’ by Cat Stevens

By Ron Jacobs

I recently did an interview unlike any other I have done. The interviewer Gerry Fialka asked a series of questions designed to provoke. Some were just silly, but most met their purpose. One of the questions asked if I believed there are just some people who are evil or if evil exists and sometimes people do evil things.

My response was the second possibility. The reason I mention this is because over the weekend I read a book by the son of Robert McNamara, a key architect of the US war on Vietnam.

Of course, I couldn’t help but compare my experience as the oldest son of an air force officer with the memories and reflections of the son in his book. Sure, my dad wasn’t an architect of the US war on Vietnam; his role was closer to that of an engineer.

In the book, titled Because Our Fathers Lied: A Memoir of Truth and Family, from Vietnam to Today, McNamara’s son Craig briefly discusses this philosophical question and comes up with an answer similar to mine. After all, how could he or I love our fathers if they were evil, not just capable of committing ultimately evil acts?

At the same time, this answer places the onus for the acts our fathers committed on them as much as it does on the war machine they both worked for. They made a choice and they accepted the cost.

Like thousands of others in the military and elsewhere throughout the US bureaucracy of war, our fathers were family men. Each engaged in their way with their children, their wives and their lives at home. They enjoyed vacations with us, they scolded us when we didn’t measure up and they supported our childhood interests.

Meanwhile, they went to work and figured out ways to kill people. All in the name of an ideology sold as democracy but actually just 20th century imperialism. Craig McNamara’s response to his father’s work expanding and defending the war was similar to mine.

Each [father] engaged in their way with their children, their wives and their lives at home. They enjoyed vacations with us, they scolded us when we didn’t measure up and they supported our childhood interests. Meanwhile, they went to work and figured out ways to kill people.

We both became fervent opponents to it. Like me, the younger McNamara expressed his opposition to the war at first through symbolic protest - hanging antiwar posters on his wall, reading pacifist literature and attending protests. Ultimately, his antiwar activities and understanding turned radical, as did mine.

Violent protests and an anti-imperialist analysis replaced peace signs and black armbands. Like millions of others, we realized the war on the Vietnamese was not a mistake, but a matter of policy; a policy founded in a lust for empire.

When the politics of revolution became too much, Craig McNamara left for Latin America. By then his father was no longer part of the government. Instead, he was on the board of the World Bank devising development plans for the Global South.

Of course, these plans were designed to benefit Washington and Wall Street, not the people of the nations the World Bank claimed to be developing. Indeed, while the younger McNamara was living in Santiago, Chile during the heady days of the socialist Allende government, his father was working with some of the very people who were organizing Allende’s bloody downfall.

Craig describes reading the newspaper and finding out his father (who was unaware of his son’s presence in the city) was meeting with various officials, capitalists and others in another part of the city. He weighed contacting his father, but decided against it. After all, what would he have to say?

Where Craig McNamara went to Latin America, I headed to Berkeley and the counterculture. Communication with my father was non-existent and pointless. He refused to understand my life and I rejected his. My mother stayed in touch.

Craig’s mother did the same. She wrote letters when he was in Chile, on Easter Island and after he came back to the States, where he ultimately became a farmer. Even when his father lent his son and his partner money to buy a farm, the conversation tended to remain businesslike.

Even when his father lent his son and his partner money to buy a farm, the conversation tended to remain businesslike. The wall Robert McNamara had built around himself was not easily breached, not even by his son.

The wall Robert McNamara had built around himself was not easily breached, not even by his son. This is where Craig McNamara’s biography trails off from mine. As my father and I got older, we began talking again. Our discussions were quite often about politics - the Vietnam war, Ronald Reagan, Iran-Contra, capitalism, imperialism, the entire gamut.

As the years passed and his allegiance to the military and its secrets waned a little, he shared stories and information he had never shared before. Like Robert McNamara, my father knew the US could not win in Vietnam. Perhaps he had even read McNamara’s memo or some version of it when it crossed his desk at the National Security Agency.

However, even knowing this, my father went to Danang when he was ordered to. In a conversation about Robert McNamara’s 1995 book In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam, my father expressed anger at McNamara for carrying on the war knowing that it could not be won.

I then reminded him that he had told me in 1988 that he had known the same thing when he was given his orders in early 1968. I will never forget him looking me in the eye and telling me that he had to admit that the protesters were right about the war. Craig McNamara never got that admission in such a direct way from his dad.

The story in these pages comes off as truthful. There is pain and disappointment. The latter is mostly in regard to the son’s sense of frustration in his father. It is a frustration that comes from his father’s inability or unwillingness to ever reveal his thoughts to his son.

More than most, it seems Robert McNamara was able to compartmentalize his life. Certain things were not open for discussion with his family members. Primary among these things was his work. At the same time, Craig fondly remembers family vacations in the wilderness and visits to the White House to watch movies and play.

Yet the book closes with the reader feeling the son will always wonder what his father really thought about his work and the scars it left upon the world. One could understand this emotional and thoughtful memoir to be one more attempt by the son to comprehend.

Note: Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem. He lives in Vermont. Email him here. The above article was posted at CounterPunch.

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THE WORLD SHOULD BE FOREVER GRATEFUL TO SHIREEN ABU AQLEH

May 29, 2022 – 7:32 am

Fifty years ago today, Beatle George told us that All Things Must Pass. Then he told us about Living in the Material World. For 36 years, BigO has been trying to keep the spirit and history of the music alive. Before all things pass, we still need your help to live in this material world. You can help us to do this with a kind donation. Please give what you are happy to give…

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Zionism has been an effective bludgeon to silence dissent, debate, or even reasoned discussion. Rest in peace Shireen Abu Aqleh. By Kenn Orphan.

I will be honest about something. Since the cold-blooded execution of Palestinian, veteran journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh [on May 11, 2022] by an Israeli sniper I have felt rather nonplussed. A rarity for me. But it does happen.

It happens when I feel overwhelmed with joy. It happens when I feel like I am overcome with despair. And when that despair is mixed with rage, I sometimes feel like I can’t even breath.

The shock and anger over the killing of Shireen, a beloved reporter for Al Jazeera whose face was well known throughout Palestine and the Middle East, would be almost overshadowed by the horrendous actions of the Israeli police at her funeral procession in occupied East Jerusalem. [Shireen, 51, had worked as a reporter for Al Jazeera for 25 years.]

Descending on the mourners and Shireen’s coffin like attack dogs, Israeli police clubbed unarmed Palestinians in a scene reminiscent of apartheid South Africa. White police frequently targeted the funerals of murdered activists and independent journalists who reported on the brutality of the apartheid regime. It is worth reminding that Israel has recently been designated an apartheid state by the UN, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem.

Israel quickly defended its actions stating that “stones were being thrown at police”. Not one major media outlet thought to ask them why the Israeli police were at her funeral in the first place. Perhaps it is because if they did, it would reveal the nature of the arrangement of power. This was occupied East Jerusalem. The same state responsible for Shireen’s death was now disgracing her funeral.

It is worth reminding that Israel has recently been designated an apartheid state by the UN, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem.

As is par for the course in commenting on anything related to the defense of Palestinian human rights, when one does it they can expect an avalanche of hate mail and vile accusations of antisemitism. And it should be said that Jews who stand in solidarity with their Palestinian sisters and brothers are not spared this treatment either. On the contrary, they are often the first to be smeared or silenced.

Antisemitism is a vile social hatred and is responsible for the untold suffering of millions of people over the course of centuries. It should always be condemned whenever it surfaces. But the accusation has also been used as a suffocating blanket against any person who dares defend Palestinian human rights or criticizes Israel or the political ideology of Zionism. It has been an effective bludgeon to silence dissent, debate, or even reasoned discussion.

But times have changed, and the old methods are wearing thin. Perhaps it is thanks to social media. Perhaps it is due to decades of Israeli occupation, or a powerful military that carpet bombs entire neighbourhood blocks or evicts families and villages as bulldozers demolish their homes.

Perhaps it is due to scores of discriminatory laws against Palestinian citizens of Israel, or the fact that Palestinians in the occupied territories or in Gaza have absolutely no real agency over their lives, or the hundreds of thousands of illegal settlers in the occupied West Bank, many of them violent, moving into Palestinian homes.

Perhaps it is due to the complicity of powerful state actors like the US, EU, UK and Canada who obfuscate and run interference for every single questionable or criminal act committed by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) while chiding the Palestinians for nearly every action they take, including nonviolent movements like Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) called for by Palestinian civil society.

It is doubtful that Shireen Abu Aqleh will get any justice for her murder. Israel still has too much political and economic power, as well as the backing and funding of the most powerful empire on earth, to ever really answer for it. But with each injustice its veneer of being a democracy becomes worn and ludicrous.

Perhaps it is a new generation of young people, many of them Jews outside of Israel, for whom universal human rights are not merely a campaign slogan and for whom the threats, smears and lies no longer work.

Whatever combination of the change in international public opinion, it is doubtful that Shireen will get any justice for her murder. Israel still has too much political and economic power, as well as the backing and funding of the most powerful empire on earth, to ever really answer for it. But with each injustice its veneer of being a democracy becomes worn and ludicrous.

Like the oppressive, hyper-capitalist, theocratic Emirates and Saudi Arabia which have warmed to it in recent years thanks to the political chicanery of US president Trump, Israel can no longer count itself as a democracy without people questioning the validity of such a claim or thinking critically about what they have witnessed with their own eyes.

Like the beating and hosing down of Black civil rights workers in the Jim Crow South or the brutal massacres of Black and Brown people in apartheid South Africa, these visual testimonies and crime scenes cannot be unseen. No spin team, no matter how moneyed or well oiled, can undo it.

Like all states with brutal or abysmal human rights records, the taint remains until something substantial is done to address the wound. But for that to occur, it would have to reconcile with who it is. And nation states never do this on their own.

Till her dying breath, Shireen lived up to something she said in an interview with her employer Al Jazeera a few years ago: “I chose journalism to be close to the people. It might not be easy to change the reality, but at least I was able to bring their voice to the world.” And for that, the world should be forever grateful.

Note: Kenn Orphan is an artist, sociologist, radical nature lover and weary, but committed activist. He can be reached at kennorphan.com.

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SOME THOUGHTS ON THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE CONFLICT IN WEEK NUMBER TWELVE

May 25, 2022 – 6:18 am

Fifty years ago today, Beatle George told us that All Things Must Pass. Then he told us about Living in the Material World. For 36 years, BigO has been trying to keep the spirit and history of the music alive. Before all things pass, we still need your help to live in this material world. You can help us to do this with a kind donation. Please give what you are happy to give…

HOW TO DONATE

Our costs will always be there. So readers who can donate towards the cost of the site, please open a Skrill account. Readers who wish to contribute to BigO will now have to use Skrill (click here). We are no longer able to use PayPal to receive donations. Register an account at Skrill. To make a payment, use this e-mail address as recipient’s e-mail address in Skrill: mail2[at]bigomagazine.com. Looking forward to hearing from you.

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The ’splendid little war’ may well bring about an economic crisis that nobody wants. By Ron Jacobs.

I expect the war will go on for awhile until the generals and politicians get tired of it. An international antiwar movement with significant numbers could hasten that moment. One doesn’t not demand peace because there’s a war on. The movement against the Vietnam war was organized and expanded while the war escalated, not before or afterwards. Indeed, that’s why one demands peace.

Since the example of the USSR arming Vietnam is being used as a reason to support arming Kyiv by some on the left who support NATO arms shipments, I think it is useful to turn that comparison upside down, as it were.

This argument understands that Ukraine’s history is much longer than South Vietnam’s was and that it does meet criterion for a nation (we’ll leave my distaste for nationalism out of the conversation). However, it rejects this element of the left’s argument that the war is a Ukrainian anti-colonial struggle.

I would argue that modern Ukraine’s situation is closer to that of what Washington-named South Vietnam than Vietnam in general. That country was nominally independent, but fiercely determined to stay in the sphere dominated by Washington. In fact, its very life depended on Washington’s largess.

Modern Ukraine has a different genesis, having been established in the wake of the disintegration of the USSR. Since then, its government has switched back and forth between favoring the Russian economic sphere and that of the US-dominated west.

Since the US-assisted overthrow of the elected government in 2014, the government in Kyiv has given itself to the latter. It is firmly in Washington’s grip, even making its desire to be part of NATO an article in its most recent constitution. Of course, this came with a price.

While it seems unlikely that Zelenskyy and his government knew that the price would include the destruction of many of its cities and the deaths of thousands of Ukrainians, there were certainly those Ukrainians who understood this possibility.

Anyhow, back to that comparison with South Vietnam. Like South Vietnam, Ukraine is dependent on the continued support from the US and its allies/clients. It depends on them for arms, logistical support, food, and goodwill, to name just a few things.

While Kyiv certainly has a considerably more legitimate claim to actually being its own nation than southern Vietnam, the truth is that if Washington/NATO ended its support for the Ukraine government and military, its defense would crumble fairly quickly, much like the Saigon military did in 1975. This in itself is reason aplenty to demand a ceasefire and negotiations. Escalating conflicts kill a lot more people than those that aren’t allowed to escalate.

Most readers understand that there are men and women in the Pentagon, the RAND corporation and other think tanks in the pay of the US war machine who are weighing the probabilities in this conflict and how much the US should invest in it.

If Washington/NATO ended its support for the Ukraine government and military, its defense would crumble fairly quickly, much like the Saigon military did in 1975. This in itself is reason aplenty to demand a ceasefire and negotiations. Escalating conflicts kill a lot more people than those that aren’t allowed to escalate.

At the same time, if the same hubris exists in those environments that existed in them in the decades after World War two, we are all in for a long and ugly war; a war which could become more dangerous than any conflict since Vietnam, when Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger seriously considered using nuclear weapons. They say the thing that stopped them was the international antiwar movement.

In other words, that movement was a player in the conflict. Unfortunately, it cost millions of lives before the war ended. However, many more might have been lost if the international peace movement had not existed at the level it did. This example is why a new international peace movement must be built. Lives are at stake.

Upon further debate, some leftists supporting Ukraine argue that while they have no issue with NATO arming Ukraine’s military, they do oppose a no-fly zone or the use of NATO combat troops. The problem with this approach is that pretending that one can proscribe NATO’s involvement is naive at best. I find it difficult to believe that these politically sophisticated folks cannot see that giving an inch to NATO means giving it a mile.

As anyone who studies US military involvement overseas knows, Washington is ready with multiple contingency plans based on their perception of the situation on the ground and their objective in any particular conflict. All of those contingencies are based on Washington getting its way, either in the short term or in the long term.

If this position limiting US/NATO involvement is an attempt to salve the consciences of those liberals and leftists holding it, that makes sense in its own way. Indeed, it is reminiscent of those in the 1990-1991 movement against the US war on Iraq who supported sanctions while opposing military action. Those sanctions went on to kill hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, a half million of them children. Personally, I find accepting the limitations as set by the US war machine to be a fool’s errand.

A simple and direct call for ceasefire and negotiations is a good place to begin building a movement against this conflict. The hope would be that the negotiations proceeded something along these lines. After the ceasefire is established, a primary goal of the negotiators would be to facilitate a Russian withdrawal to where their troops were before the invasion and a halt to arms shipments to the Ukrainian forces.

The next steps would include devising a solution for disputed regions in Ukraine and a security arrangement for Kyiv that excludes NATO and Russia from any direct role. The ultimate goals would be the dissolution of NATO and the closure of foreign military bases in Europe.

I began my opposition to the US war in Vietnam by joining those who called for negotiations and a US withdrawal. How that withdrawal was to occur was not within my power to decide. Eventually, once it became clear that Washington had no intention of withdrawing, I joined those who wanted an NLF victory. The template for Vietnam is not transferable to today’s Ukraine, as far as I’m concerned.

It’s exaggerating facts to pretend that the small numbers of progressive Ukrainians fighting Russians will be respected any more than the left partisans were in Italy, France and Greece were after World War Two. If they are truly anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist, however, one wonders why their battle is not also with the crony capitalist government in Kyiv.

Those in Europe, the US and elsewhere who are on the left and are rejecting calls for ceasefire and negotiations outright are accepting the terms of those who prefer war - Russia and Washington and Kyiv. Building a movement demanding a ceasefire and negotiations adds a dimension to the conflict that can potentially end it sooner and in a more just manner. Certainly less deadly.

The one certainty in this conflict is that Moscow miscalculated Washington’s power of persuasion. Virtually every European government has lined up behind the US war machine and joined the economic attack on the Russian economy.

Refusing to join that call removes the power of people around the world, who are already feeling the negative effects of this war. Making any ceasefire conditional, as Zelenskyy wants to do, is a non-starter. Most recently, he stated that in order for any talks to begin, Russia must leave all of Ukraine, including the disputed regions. In other words, he doesn’t want talks.

There are those in certain segments of the left who support Zelenskyy’s demand. Many of these folks also supported the jihadist and other groupings fighting the Syrian government since 2011. These same elements consider this war a war of national liberation and insist that Ukraine’s borders are not mutable.

Besides flying in the face of history - where national borders change all the time - this argument contradicts these people’s defense of the partitioning of Syria. If Ukraine’s borders are not mutable, why would Syria’s be? Conversely, if Syria’s borders are changeable, then why not Ukraine’s?

The one certainty in this conflict is that Moscow miscalculated Washington’s power of persuasion. Virtually every European government has lined up behind the US war machine and joined the economic attack on the Russian economy. More dangerously, most of them are also sending weapons to Kyiv.

While there’s money to be made in the latter action, the economic sanctions and embargo against Russia will end up hitting the average working person in the wallet. Like always, it will hit some more than others.

One assumes most of those in the upper economic strata will end up profiting. The economic fallout from the conflict may be the nexus with which a movement to end the war could coalesce. Unless, of course, governments start sending their troops into the conflict - in the air and/or on the ground.

NATO, which was never truly the peacemaking endeavor it claimed to be in so much of its literature, first took off its velvet gloves in 1999 when its forces (mostly US, of course) bombed Serbia and Kosovo in the Yugoslavian civil war. This was after a few years of infiltrating European governments that had once been part of the Warsaw Pact with the USSR. The closer NATO got to Russia’s western border, the more nervous Moscow became.

In response, Washington/NATO pushed further east, provoking crises in the form of Washington-supported and sponsored “color revolutions” and enlisting the IMF and other financial institutions in schemes designed to incorporate those countries economies into the economic sphere dominated by Washington and Wall Street. This process served at least two purposes: the aforementioned economic expansion and the resurgence of NATO, an alliance whose raison d’etre was being challenged from the left and the right.

I wrote a piece in 2015 titled “Creating a Crisis - It’s NATO’s Way” where I wrote, “Talk about a contrived crisis. NATO, in its ongoing struggle to create enemies and thereby provide itself with a reason to exist, is now calling Russia its greatest threat.” (February 13, 2015)

Seven years later, that struggle to create enemies has reached fruition and there is a war in Europe. Now, even Finland wants to join NATO, as if joining an alliance that binds one’s military to defend other more war-inclined nations is a guarantee for peace.

At a recent news conference, Jen Stoltenberg, the current Secretary General of NATO, could barely contain himself when he was quoted saying, “Ukraine can win this war.” He went further, saying the potential expansion of the Western military alliance would provide Europe with greater security (New York Times, May 15, 2022), when in actuality it is Washington that will reap greater security and not countries bordering Russia. Indeed, most of the benefits from any expansion–from increased arms profits to more US military funding–will go to Washington’s military-industrial economy.

While Washington may think it has the power it had immediately after World War Two and can force its will on the world, that assumption is founded only in its arrogance, not in the reality of the situation. This makes an always uncertain situation a dangerous one. Every weapons shipment to Ukraine and every rejection of a ceasefire only exacerbates that danger.

Note: Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem. He lives in Vermont. Email him here. The above article was posted at CounterPunch.

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SATYAJIT, RITWIK AND THE RENEGADE ‘FATHER’ FIGURE

May 22, 2022 – 6:42 am

Fifty years ago today, Beatle George told us that All Things Must Pass. Then he told us about Living in the Material World. For 36 years, BigO has been trying to keep the spirit and history of the music alive. Before all things pass, we still need your help to live in this material world. You can help us to do this with a kind donation. Please give what you are happy to give…

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In a brief critique, Silhouette editor Amitava Nag looks at how Satyajit Ray [1921-1992] and Ritwik Ghatak [1925-1976] with their different socio-psychological conditionings deal with the ‘father’ figure in their very last film.

The cultural root of Bengal has a significant departure from the rest of India. The influence of Tantric mores and the impact of indigenous tribal practices ensure that importance is ascribed to the role of women and the fact that mother goddesses dominate Bengali culture.

How much that may be attributed to the Proto-Australoid origin instead of the Nordic Aryan one is debatable. However, if the rest of India worships Rama, Ganesha, Shiva or Hanuman, Bengalis for centuries pay their highest respect to Durga, Kali, Saraswati and even Lakshmi in domestic spaces ahead of Ganesha.


It is with Manmohan, the elderly protagonist of Agantuk [1991], that Satyajit Ray introduces a ‘father figure’.

It is during the Pala rule (roughly 8th to 12th century) that the famed Mymensigh Geetika, a collection of folk ballads, was written. It is to be noted that the ballads depict stories of common human beings, not that of gods, kings or the rich as did the earlier Sanskrit plays. Significantly, the majority of the ballads were named after their heroines, Behula, Mahua, Chandravati, Kamala, etc.

These ballads have a unique mix of portraying woman as mother (and hence nurturer) as well as woman as lover (aware of her preferences and likings). If the latter has been a cornerstone of strong women characters in later day literature of Rabindranath Tagore and the films of Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak and Mrinal Sen, the former is the source of Ritwik Ghatak’s much famed ‘Mother Archetype’ in several of his films.

Rabindranath Tagore himself was heavily inspired by the Upanishad where God was always the father - “Om Pita Nohsi”. He wrote songs upholding the father figure - “Tumi amader Pita, Tomay Pita bole jeno jani, Tomay noto hoye jeno mani” (You are our father, Let us know you so, Let us bow to you ever). In his prose, in quoting from Upanishad, Tagore explains, “The father has the affection of the mother. But he is not seen as very affectionate because he is not bound by narrow boundaries.” This idea of the ‘father’ disposes Tagore from inclining towards a ‘mother’ cult in his literature.


Charulata [The Lonely Wife, 1964].

With his Brahmo uprising, Satyajit Ray subscribed to similar sentiments because of which he had strong women characters in Charulata [The Lonely Wife, 1964], Mahanagar [The Big City, 1963], Pratidwandi [The Adversary, 1970], as well as important mother roles in the Apu Trilogy [1955-59] and Kanchenjungha [1962] but none attuned to the mythical, primordial ‘mother’.

The closest approximation of such is in Devi [The Goddess, 1960] where Ray’s philosophy towards derision of traditional Hindu customs steeped in superstition is not concealed. Yet, most of Ray’s cinema, apart from a few like Mahanagar, Devi or  Kanchenjungha, is also conspicuous by the absence of an impactful father figure.


Chhabi Biswas in Devi [The Goddess, 1960].

Ritwik Ghatak, on the other hand, was torn between his obsession with Tagore (primarily his songs) and his fascination for the ‘mother’ cult. Interesting enough, in Ghatak’s case as well, the father is marginalised, incapacitated, ineffective.

Both Ray and Ghatak, different in their mental makeup and film aesthetics, were similar in one aspect. Both never wished to explore a ‘father’ archetype in their films. It is hence, important to observe, what may have lured them to seek refuge in a sort of a ‘father’ figure in their respective last films.

Satyajit’s traditional hero, inspired by his creator’s vision, has always followed the arrow in his eyes. He is a chaser of truth, an explorer of the avant-garde. That is why, the hero is mostly a wanderer - through spaces, in time, across values.

From Apu in the Apu Trilogy to Amal in Charulata and Amulya in Samapti [1961], onto the urban heroes of Aranyer Din Ratri [Days And Nights In The Forest, 1969] and the three films of the Calcutta Trilogy, all move away from the traditional in pursuit of the modern. All of them (except Siddhartha in Pratidwandi [1970]) also move away from the rural to settle in or return to the urban space.

It is with Manmohan, the elderly protagonist of Agantuk that Ray introduces a ‘father figure’, albeit childless, who has already travelled the world. Manmohan is à la mode who is in search of the primitive. In one of the climactic exchanges, he laments that he can’t be a ‘tribal’; however, he behaves like one, since from his childhood, his perceptions and vision are shaped by the writings of Tagore, Bankim Chandra, Vidyasagar and the other beacons of the hailed Bengali Renaissance.

His niece and her husband don’t put much faith in his authenticity as the estranged uncle. Manmohan, claustrophobic in an environment seeping with disbelief and mistrust spins off to a tribal village near Santiniketan, Tagore’s abode, only to return to Kolkata en route vagabonding about the world again.


Ritwik Ghatak in Jukti, Takko aar Gappo [1974].

In Jukti, Takko aar Gappo [1970], Neelkantha, the middle-aged derelict (played by Ghatak himself) leans on a young man and a woman, both migrants from their homes, like him. Unlike Manmohan, Neelkantha has full faith in the younger generation, attenuated in his debate with the Naxalite leaders in a forest in the later part of the film.

But like Manmohan, he also must leave the big city since the answer to existence and sanity lies elsewhere, away from the centre. Neelkantha and his followers meet Chhau exponent Panchanan who tells them how the ancient art form perishes due to the highhandedness of the urban rich. The masks are no longer used for performance. They are mere artifacts for decorating the rich middle-class’s showy interiors.

Manmohan and Neelkantha are misfits, both must vacate the rural as well as the urban spaces. In his explanation of the Upanishad, Tagore writes, “The attainment of the father is that he gives sorrow.” What the ‘father’ also does, he takes the bullet on behalf of the rest. That confuses him and often makes him a renegade. Neither Ray nor Ghatak left a proper inheritance of their cinematic legacies. Ritwik’s Neelkantha is the other side of Ray’s Manmohan. Satyajit, is the lurking shadow of Ritwik.

Note: Amitava Nag is an independent film critic based in Kolkata and editor of Silhouette. His most recent books on cinema are 16 Frames and Smriti Sattwa o Cinema. Visit amitavanag.net.

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TAKING AIM AT UKRAINE: HOW JOHN MEARSHEIMER AND STEPHEN COHEN CHALLENGED THE DOMINANT NARRATIVE

May 18, 2022 – 6:48 am

Fifty years ago today, Beatle George told us that All Things Must Pass. Then he told us about Living in the Material World. For 36 years, BigO has been trying to keep the spirit and history of the music alive. Before all things pass, we still need your help to live in this material world. You can help us to do this with a kind donation. Please give what you are happy to give…

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Evil Putin vs Good Guy Zelensky? By Michael Welton.

Interfering in another state is tricky business

Interfering in another state is tricky business - so says the gutsy University of Chicago international relations scholar John Mearsheimer (The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities, 2018). It is tricky - and dangerous - and the exceptional nation, the US, may think pushing NATO (with its missile sites and troop placement) to Russia’s borders is benign.

But another state - Russia - thinks it is threatening. Mearsheimer admits that great powers may follow “balance of power” logic, but they can also embrace “liberal hegemony.” When they do, “they may cause a lot of trouble for themselves and other states. The ongoing crisis over Ukraine is a case in point” (p. 171).

It sure is - and very few citizens in Canada and the US have a clue about what this crisis is about: they just assume, saturated in decades of various forms of anti-Russian propaganda, that the military operation launched by Russia on February 24 was, pure and simple, the logical extension of an evil leader, Vladimir Putin.

In other words, Ukraine is mere “worthy victim” - and the propaganda machine in the West doesn’t miss a chance to display images (often false) of the destruction of buildings and people by evil Putin and his military. Evidence is not necessary to substantiate any claims fed to us by the mass media. Images will do because they arouse emotions. Putin is to blame; Zelensky is the noble defender of Ukrainian nationality.

Mearsheimer informs us that: “According to the prevailing wisdom in the West, this problem [ie, the crisis] is largely the result of Russian aggression. President Vladimir Putin, the argument goes, is bent on creating a greater Russia akin to the former Soviet Union, which means controlling the governments in its ‘near abroad’ - its neighbouring states - including Ukraine, the Baltic states, and possibly other Eastern European countries. The coup against Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych on February 22, 2014, provided Putin with a pretext for annexing Crimea and starting a war in eastern Ukraine” (ibid). Putin as instigator. Blame him, and him alone!

Flatly, Mearsheimer states: “This account is false. The United States and its European allies are mainly responsible for the crisis. The taproot of the trouble is NATO expansion, the central element in a larger strategy to move all of Eastern Europe, including Ukraine, out of Russia’s orbit and integrate it into the West” (p. 172).

Mearsheimer claims that the West’s strategy was based on liberal principles - the “aim was to integrate Ukraine into the ‘security community’ that had developed in western Europe during the Cold War and had been moving eastward since its conclusion. But the Russians were using a realist playbook. The major crisis that resulted left many Western leaders feeling blindsided” (ibid). One wonders - really, could they have been that clueless or deluded?

The US and allies strategy for making Ukraine part of the West

Mearsheimer provides us with a helpful framework to see how the US and allies could rip Ukraine out of the Russian orbit: “NATO enlargement, EU expansion, and the Orange Revolution, which aimed at fostering democracy and Western values in Ukraine and thus presumably produce pro-Western leaders in Kiev” (p. 172).

But Moscow was “deeply opposed to NATO enlargement”. In fact, Russian leaders believed that, when the Soviet Union disintegrated, NATO would not move an inch toward Russia’s borders. They believed that “no enlargement” had been promised, but were deceived by the Clinton administration.

Ordinary citizens probably have no understanding that, in eminent Russia scholar Stephen F Cohen’s analysis (in War with Russia: from Putin and Ukraine to Trump and Russiagate, 2022), since the “end of the Soviet Union in 1991, Washington had treated post-Communist Russia as a defeated nation with inferior legitimate rights at home and abroad.

Russian leaders believed that, when the Soviet Union disintegrated, NATO would not move an inch toward Russia’s borders. They believed that “no enlargement” had been promised, but were deceived by the Clinton administration.

The triumphalist, winner-take-all approach has been spearheaded by the expansion of NATO - accompanied by non-reciprocal zones of national security while excluding Moscow from Europe’s security systems. Early on, Ukraine and, to a lesser extent, Georgia were Washington’s ‘great prize’” (p. 16).

With the Russian bear in miserable condition (it lost its cubs) through the 1990s - Solzhenitsyn thought his country at this time was living “literally amid ruins” - NATO expansion, in 1999, brought Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic into the alliance.

The second component of the expansion occurred in 2004, which included Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and the three Baltic countries. “Russian leaders complained bitterly from the start.” The inept Boris Yeltsin saw fire on the horizon when NATO bombed Serbia in 1995. “When NATO comes right up to the Russian Federation’s borders… The flame of war could burst out across the whole of Europe” (p. 172) Too weak to derail these developments, Russia could take small comfort that only the tiny Baltic countries shared their border.

But all hell broke loose at the NATO summit in Bucharest in April 2008, when Ukraine’s and Georgia’s membership came up for discussion. Both Germany and France had qualms, but the Bush administration wanted these countries inside their security zone.

The final announcement proclaimed that Geogia and Ukraine were welcomed for membership. Putin, Mearsheimer maintained, “that admitting those two countries would represent a ‘direct threat’ to Russia. If anybody had any doubts about Russia’s seriousness regarding accepting Georgia and Ukraine into NATO, the Russia-Georgia war in August 2008 should have dispelled those deluded thoughts.

Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia’s president, who was deeply committed to drawing his own country into the NATO circle, had first to resolve the disputes with two separatist regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Putin prevented this from occurring - and invaded Georgia, gaining control over Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Saakashvili was left in the lurch by the West. “Russia had made its point,” Mearsheimer observes, “yet NATO refused to give up on bringing Ukraine and Georgia into the alliance” (p. 173). We need to be reminded that the Georgian war was “financed, trained and minded by American funds and personnel” (Cohen, 2022, p. 187).

The EU expanded eastward. “Austria, Finland and Sweden joined the EU in 1995, and eight Central and Eastern European countries (Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia) joined in May 2004 along with Cyprus and Malta. Bulgaria and Romania joined in 2007” (p. 174).

These developments were a stick poke to the Russian bear’s eyes. This Eastern Partnership was perceived as hostile to their country’s interests. “Sergei Lavrov complained bitterly that the EU was trying to create a “sphere of influence” in Eastern Europe and hinted that it was engaging in ‘blackmail’” (ibid). Who can deny that Moscow correctly sees EU membership as a “stalking horse for NATO enlargement” (ibid)?

All hell broke loose at the NATO summit in Bucharest in April 2008, when Ukraine’s and Georgia’s membership came up for discussion. Both Germany and France had qualms, but the Bush administration wanted these countries inside their security zone.

The final, and third, tool for “peeling Ukraine away from Russia was the effort to promote the Orange Revolution” (ibid). The US and European allies endeavoured to foster social and political change in countries formerly under Soviet control.

Essentially, the aim was to spread Western “values” and promote “liberal democracy” - efforts funded by NGOs and official governments. That sounds innocent enough: but it isn’t. The underlying geopolitical agenda was clear: to foment hostility to Russia and to execute the “final break with Moscow” and to “accelerate” Kiev’s membership in NATO (Cohen, 2022, p. 24).

The crisis of the Ukrainian coup

Now we enter the great quagmire of conflicting interpretations of the events of 2014. The fateful crisis began in late November 2013, when President Yanukovych “rejected a major economic deal he had been negotiating with the EU and decided instead to accept a Russian counteroffer” (p. 174).

Over the next three months there were protests against the government, and on January 22, 2014, two protestors were killed. By mid-February one hundred more died. Hurriedly flown in, Western emissaries tried to resolve the crisis, so claims Mearsheimer, by striking a deal on February 21 that permitted Yanukovych to “stay in power until new elections were held sometime before year’s end” (p. 175).

But protesters didn’t permit him to stay in office - on February 22 Yanukovych fled to Russia. The new government in Kiev “was thoroughly pro-Western and anti-Russian. Moreover, the US government backed the coup, although the full extent of its involvement is unknown” (ibid).

Perhaps - but we do know that the Maidan protests were “strong influenced by extreme nationalist and even semi-fascist street forces, turned violent” (Cohen [2022], p. 17). Snipers killed scores of protestors and policeman on Maidan Square in February 2014. The neo-fascist organization Right Sector (and its co-conspirators) played a key role in bringing to power a virulent anti-Russian, pro-American regime.

Cohen counters the prevalent narrative that Putin bribed and bullied Yanukovych to reject the “reckless provocation” of the EU proposal - forcing a “deeply divided country to choose between Russia and the West” (p. 17). Further, Cohen argues that the EU proposal would have imposed harsh measures on Ukraine and, significantly, “curtail longstanding and essential economic relations with Russia” (ibid).

There was nothing approaching benign in the EU’s proposal. Mearsheimer states that the US backed the coup, and the egregious “Victoria Nuland, the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, and Senator John McCain (R-AZ), for example, participated in anti-government demonstrations, while the US ambassador in Kiev proclaimed after the coup that it was a ’day for the history books’” (p, 175). A day of infamy for lovers of a peaceable world order. Don’t ask me to “please, have a cookie or two”.

“A leaked transcript of phone conversation,” Mearsheimer tells us, “revealed that Nuland advocated regime change and wanted Arseniy (“Yats”) Yatsenyuk, who was pro-Western, to become prime minister in the new government, which he did. It is hardly surprising that Russians of all persuasions think Western provocateurs, especially the CIA, helped overthrow Yanukovych” (ibid).

“Fuck the EU” - Nuland’s vulgar rallying cry stills rings in our ears to this day. Cohen comments: “Europe’s leaders and Washington did not defend their own diplomatic accord. Yanukovych fled to Russia. Minority parliamentary parties representing Maidan and, predominantly, western Ukraine - among them Svoboda, an ultranationalist movement previously anathematized by the European Parliament as incompatible with European rulers - formed a new government” (p. 17).

Ominously, Washington and Brussels “endorsed the coup and have supported the outcome ever since. Everything that followed, from Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the spread of rebellion in southeastern Ukraine to the civil war and Kiev’s ‘anti-terrorist operation,’ was triggered by the February coup” (p. 18).

The “anti-terrorist” military campaign against its own citizens in Luhansk and Donetsk is the “essential factor escalating the crisis”. Well-over 10,000 citizens have died; and millions of refugees created. The crisis cannot be laid at Putin’s feet.

What ordinary citizens do not understand, to say the least, is that the coup was cultivated by the US and allies, thus triggering Russian responses. And they do not understand that, from February 2014 until the present military conflict in Ukraine in 2022, that the West (including the Russophobic Canadian Liberal Party) have been training military in Ukraine and turning a knowing blind-eye to the neo-Nazi militia, who have played a key role in attacking Russians and everything “Russian” in the country: The “anti-terrorist” military campaign against its own citizens in Luhansk and Donetsk is the “essential factor escalating the crisis” (p. 18). Well-over 10,000 citizens have died; and millions of refugees created. The crisis cannot be laid at Putin’s feet.

The western press has blanked out accounts of events such as the “pogrom-like burning to death of ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking Ukrainians in Odessa shortly later in 2014.” This action “reawakened memories of Nazi extermination squads in Ukraine during World War II.”

The Azov Battalion of 3,000 soldiers - a neo-fascist militia (as evidence by regalia, slogans, and programmatic statements) - has played a “major combat role in the Ukrainian civil war”. Most Canadian citizens would be astonished to hear this - that must be propaganda from the evil tyrant Putin. Sorry: it isn’t. Nor are the “storm troop-like assaults on gays, Roma, women feminists, elderly ethnic Russians, and other ‘impure’ citizens are wide-spread throughout Kiev-ruled Ukraine.”

The neo-fascist militia have also desecrated a sacred Holocaust gravesite in Ukraine - with legal authorities doing nothing in response. Most disturbingly, Kiev has systematically begun “rehabilitating and even memorializing leading Ukrainian collaborators with Nazi German extermination pogroms during World War II” (p. 180).

Putin’s response to the coup

Mearsheimer presents the basic outline of Putin’s response to the coup. If Ukraine joined NATO, the Crimean port of Sevastopol would serve beautifully as a US/NATO military launching pad. The act of incorporating Crimea into Russia was “not difficult given that Russia already had thousands of troops at its naval base in the Crimean port of Sevastopol.

“Those forces were augmented by additional troops from Russia, many of them not in uniform. Crimea was an easy target because roughly 60 per cent of the people living there were ethnic Russians, and most preferred to become part of Russia” (p. 175).

Putin, Mearsheimer informs us, “also put massive pressure on the Kiev government to discourage it from siding with the West against Moscow. He made it clear that he would wreck Ukraine as a functioning society before allowing a Western stronghold to exist on Russia’s doorstep.

Toward that end, he has supported the Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine with weapons and covert troops, helping to push the country into civil war. He also maintained substantial ground forces on Russia’s border with Ukraine and threatened to invade if Kiev cracks down on the rebels. Finally, he has raised the price of gas Russia sells to Ukraine, demanded immediate remittance of overdue payments, and at one point even cut off the supply of gas to Ukraine… Putin is playing hardball with Ukraine…” (p. 176).

Liberal blinders

The realist Mearsheimer chides the US (and, indirectly its allies) that if they had a “rudimentary understanding of geopolitics should have seen this coming” (ibid). “The West was moving into Russia’s backyard and threatening its core strategic interests.

“A huge expanse of flat land that Napoleonic France, Imperial Germany, and Nazi Germany have all crossed to strike at Russia itself, Ukraine serves as an enormously important strategic buffer to Russia itself. No Russian leader would tolerate a former enemy’s military alliance moving into Ukraine. Nor would any Russian leader stand idly by while the West helped install a government in Kiev that was determined to join that alliance” (ibid).

Why does the US and its obedient allies imagine that they can get away with these war-mongering actions? Reminding us of his own country’s Monroe Doctrine, Mearsheimer argues forcefully that the US does not tolerate for two minutes “distant great powers deploying military forces anywhere in the Western Hemisphere…” (ibid).

Many critics have turned the tables on the US - inviting them to consider their reaction if China built an alliance and tried to install governments in Mexico and Canada. What say thee, Anthony Blinken? What say thee, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland?

Russia has told the US and its allies time after time that they will not “tolerate NATO expansion into Ukraine and Georgia (the 2008 Russia-Georgia war and present conflict in Ukraine should make this clear). Let me finish with two brief conclusions from Mearsheimer.

First, Western elites have a “flawed understanding of international politics” (p. 177). The US believes that “it is a benign hegemon that does not threaten Russia or any other country” (ibid). One gags upon reading this nonsense. Second, the “grand scheme to turn Europe into a giant security community went awry over Ukraine, but the seeds of this disaster were sown in the mid-1990s, when the Clinton administration began pushing for NATO expansion” (ibid).

At this historical moment Putin and Russia are being fiercely and relentlessly demonized because this “grand scheme” has been resolutely rejected and the West is heaping vitriol on Russian actions and its people for rejecting their exceptional gifts. Stephen Cohen, who died on September 18, 2020, looks down from the sky above and says, “I warned you about this coming war between the US and Russia.”

Note: Dr Michael Welton is a professor at the University of Athabasca. He is the author of Designing the Just Learning Society: a Critical Inquiry. The above article was posted at CounterPunch.

   John Mearsheimer - The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities, 2018

   Stephen Cohen - War with Russia: from Putin and Ukraine to Trump and Russiagate, 2022

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WATCHING THE RIVER FLOW: SIDDHARTHA 100 YEARS ON

May 15, 2022 – 6:49 am

Fifty years ago today, Beatle George told us that All Things Must Pass. Then he told us about Living in the Material World. For 36 years, BigO has been trying to keep the spirit and history of the music alive. Before all things pass, we still need your help to live in this material world. You can help us to do this with a kind donation. Please give what you are happy to give…

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One hundred years after Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, the adolescent religions that rose from the Middle East are still terrorising eastern thinking and culture. By John Kendall Hawkins.

“It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else’s life with perfection.”
- The Bhagavad Gita

By the time I was introduced to Hermann Hesse for the first time, some 50 years ago, I had already crossed many rivers in my life. Born and partially raised in southern California, moved to Dad’s Missouri haunts, and on, because of tragic events, to the New England Home for Little Wanderers in Boston.

And now, here I was a working class Lowell High School student at a summer Upward Bound program (GLUB) held at the prestigious Groton School, where maybe the young Roosevelt, alumni of the school, Teddy and FDR, first wet-dreamed of Manifest Destiny and the New Deal, respectively, from dormitory cubicles with curtains for doors.

Hermann Hesse came to me, by means of a friend I can no longer properly remember, who’d also introduced me to I Ching, and who had a propensity for lighting his farts on fire with a Bic in the basement smoking room of 100 House, during a transition period in my life - economic, educational, religious, and autonomy.

The first Hesse book I read was Beneath the Wheel, a bildungsroman which depicted the Goethe-esque destruction of a promising seminary student ground to death by the soul-sapping wheels of the German educational system, his body found in the river.

The next Hesse book I absorbed was a volume of his verse, Poems. Like my start, Siddhartha: An Indian Poem, Hesse’s 1922 novel, is also a product of life transitions - both for the author’s life and as a narrative he explores after returning home to Switzerland from a “journey” to the East.

What’s more, by 1922, fin de siècle malaise and its subsequent anticipation of some ‘shock of the new’ ahead, meant that civilization itself was in transition, from the Nietzschean propositions that God Is Dead and the Will to Power is ahead (German soldiers were said to have read Nietzsche’s Zarathustra in the trenches of WWI), implying that we were on our own - and at the mercy of charismatic populists to direct the “democratic” energies of the West. Asia had its autocrats and emperors.

And 1922 was a pivotal year in a number or areas of our collective experience, featuring events that would either come back to haunt us 100 years later or presage brave new technologies and scientific visions that would alter us forever. A quick perusal of the Wiki entry for the year reveals:

The Irish Civil War and ‘the Troubles’ begin and, by year’s end, Michael Collins will be assassinated; radio is introduced in the Harding White House; the international justice court is opened at The Hague; Mahatma Gandhi is arrested tried and sentenced for sedition in India; Joseph Stalin is appointed General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party; Teapot Dome scandal; Genoa Conference, with representatives from 34 countries, convenes in Italy to deal with monetary economics, in the wake of World War I; hyperinflation in Germany (by year’s end, 7000 marks to the US dollar, will bring pressure that leads to the rise of Hitler); the last hunted California grizzly bear is shot; the 9/11 revolution in Greece takes place; TS Eliot publishes The Wasteland, James Joyce publishes Ulysses, Antigone, a tragedy featuring the hubris of tyrants, by Jean Cocteau appears on stage in Paris, with settings by Pablo Picasso, music by Arthur Honegger and costumes by Coco Chanel.

Sigmund Freud publishes Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego and Beyond the Pleasure Principle; Mussolini becomes PM of Italy; the Ottoman Empire is abolished after 600 years; Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and the Transcaucasian Republic (Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia) come together to form the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics; Mandatory Palestine and the infamous Sykes-Picot Agreement lead to the troubles there today; Nobel Prize winner Niels Bohr’s work with atomic structures provides the first glimpse of the quantum; and,Vegemite is invented in Australia.

What a consequential year.

Buddhism is centered on ending suffering, most of it caused by human desire caught up in cycles of craving and illusion that lead to bad karma and unwanted rebirth into the world. Capitalism is real bad karma, by this principle.

Hermann Hesse, in 1922, was in transition, coming off years of sturm and drang. At the beginning of World War I, he objected to the nationalistic fervor for the war and wrote a tract, “O Friends, Not These Tones,” which decried the tone of hatred the war fomented. He argued in the essay that artists had a protected neutrality:

Each day brings with it the destruction of much that all men of good will among the artists, scholars, travellers, translators, and journalists of all countries have striven for all their lives. This cannot be helped. But it is absurd and wrong that any man who ever, in a lucid hour, believed in the idea of humanity, in international thought, in an artistic beauty cutting across national boundaries, should now, frightened by the monstrous thing that has happened, throw down the banner and relegate what is best in him to the general ruin.

Hesse was made a pariah for a while for such rationalization. (It is reminiscent of the ‘fer us or agin us’ trap set for pundits of the current Russian invasion of Ukraine.)

This was a rough patch in Hesse’s life, from the end of the war to the publication of Siddhartha. His Wiki entry notes, “a deeper life crisis befell Hesse with the death of his father on 8 March 1916, the serious illness of his son Martin, and his wife’s schizophrenia. He was forced to leave his military service and begin receiving psychotherapy.” His marriage became untenable, and he himself sought answers in psychotherapy, a pathway that led him to the world psychology (archetypes, collective unconscious) and therapeutic processes of CG Jung.

The “O Freunde” essay (the title referencing Schiller’s poem “Ode to Joy,” which in turn was an important contribution to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony chorale) seemed to be written by a headstrong and wayward individual (good little Lutheran) who had a vision thang going. In a letter his Ma had written his Pa, she observed willfulness that caused concern:

The little fellow has a life in him, an unbelievable strength, a powerful will, and, for his four years of age, a truly astonishing mind. How can he express all that? It truly gnaws at my life, this internal fighting against his tyrannical temperament, his passionate turbulence […] God must shape this proud spirit, then it will become something noble and magnificent - but I shudder to think what this young and passionate person might become should his upbringing be false or weak. (Wiki)

Luckily, his upbringing was just fine for a little German boy needing a good paddling. He ended up winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946, so… Such headstrong ways are clearly visible in the characterization of his later Siddhartha.

But his deepest, most inquiring inner journeys were influenced by his readings and encounters with Arthur Schopenhauer (especially the Eastern-influenced World As Will and Representation), Friedrich Nietzsche (his philology and philosophy of the future), Jacob Burkhardt (the great German historian), Indian culture and, of course, Buddhism. Freud and Jung, art and myth, and Hesse’s love of music and math (Bach) contributed lifelong schema to his developing worldview.

Hesse was introduced to Indian thought and Buddhist principles early in his life, as he was regaled with the tales of his grandparents’s missionary life in India, where his mother, Marie, spent her early life. Hesse who pursued Lutheran mission life for a while was well-acquainted with the Buddhistic starter kit: The Middle Way, The Four Noble Truths, The Noble Eightfold Path, The four dhyānas (meditations), The three marks of existence, The five aggregates of clinging, Dependent origination, Karma and rebirth, and, Nirvana.

“Its simple prose and rebellious character echoed the yearnings of a generation that was seeking a way out of conformity, materialism and outward power. In a world where we could see the many lies of governments and the incapacity of leaders to propose a real alternative, Siddhartha emerged as a symbol; the symbol of those who seek the truth - their own truth.” - Paul Coelho (introduction to the Penguin edition of Siddhartha)

Buddhism is centered on ending suffering, most of it caused by human desire caught up in cycles of craving and illusion that lead to bad karma and unwanted rebirth into the world. Capitalism is real bad karma, by this principle.

The name Siddhartha comes from the Sanskrit words, siddha (achieved) + artha (what was searched for), which together means “he who has found meaning (of existence)” or “he who has attained his goals.” [Wiki] The Buddha was, in his earlier princely life, Siddhartha Gautama. Hesse refers to him in the book as Gotama. The Buddha had broken away from his privileged life and father’s control after seeing suffering in the world all around him and finding the need in himself to do something about it.

The simple plot of Siddhartha begins similarly, seeing the rebellious lad resisting following in father’s footsteps as a Brahmin. Hesse describes the father’s pride:

There was happiness in his father’s heart because of his son who was intelligent and thirsty for knowledge; he saw him growing up to be a great learned man, a priest, a prince among Brahmins. (Penguin, p.12)

But Siddhartha has other plans. Like Gotama, the young Brahmin had seen troubles in his day:

…everything lied, stank of lies; they were all illusions of sense, happiness and beauty. All were doomed to decay. The world tasted bitter. Life was pain. Siddhartha had one single goal - to become empty, to become empty of thirst, desire, dreams, pleasure and sorrow - to let the Self die. No longer to be Self, to experience the peace of an emptied heart, to experience pure thought - that was his goal. (p. 20)

He leaves home, joined by his good friend Govinda, to seek Enlightenment among the Samanas, a group of wandering ascetics.

Siddhartha “had engaged in debate with Govinda and had practised the art of contemplation and meditation with him.” (p.12) They had already addressed many of the most profound questions about the Self and Atman and existence.

After three years of limited progress among the Samanas, they split up after they come across the Buddha’s ascetics and Govinda decides to join The Illustrious One. Siddhartha breaks his friend’s heart when he tells him he has to go his own way, without teachers. There is a poignant tete-a-tete between the Buddha and Siddhartha, as the latter explains his decision. Here is the scene depicted in the 1972 film version of Hesse’s book:

Siddhartha comes to the Ganges river. Vasudeva, an old boatman, tells Siddhartha secrets of the river, its beauty and truths uttered, as he ferries him across, and predicts that they will meet again one day.

Siddhartha then hooks up with a courtesan named Kamala, who teaches him all the moves of tantric pleasure. Again, from the 1972 film, their first meeting promises to open up the doors of heady sensuality and carnal knowledge:

To help him pay for her erotic services, she finds him a job assisting Kamaswami, a businessman, through whom he becomes, over many years, rich, famous, fat-headed and dead inside. His long relationship with Kamala begins to lose its lustre. He thinks one lucid morning,

Did he still need her - and did she still need him? Were they not playing a game without an end? Was it necessary to live for it? No. This game was called Samsara, a game for children, a game which was perhaps enjoyable played once, twice, ten times - but was it worth playing continually? Then Siddhartha knew that the game was finished, that he could play it no longer. A shudder passed through his body; he felt as if something had died. (p. 71)

They agree in a bedroom chat that given their detachment from life neither is capable of real love. Indeed, Siddhartha reckons only the poor may have such a disposition to it. Siddhartha leaves her, she, tearfully saddened by their end, doesn’t get to tell him she’s preggers.

Profoundly unhappy, and in despair of ever finding Enlightenment, Siddhartha attempts to drown himself in the river, but fails. It’s as if the river just won’t let him drown. He collapses on the shore and lays asleep when Govinda, among Buddha’s ascetics walking by, rests by the “unknown” man as he sleeps on the river bank to protect him from harm. When Siddhartha wakes the two recognize each other and share wisdom notes:

…It seems to me, Govinda, that love is the most important thing in the world. It may be important to great thinkers to examine the world, to explain and despise it. But I think it is only important to love the world, not to despise it, not for us to hate each other, but to be able to regard the world and ourselves and all beings with love, admiration and respect.’

‘I understand that,’ said Govinda, ‘but that is just what the Illustrious One called illusion. He preached benevolence, forbearance, sympathy, patience - but not love. He forbade us to bind ourselves to earthly love.’ (p.116)

They separate again.

A rejuvenated Siddhartha comes across Vasudeva again and becomes his assistant ferryman. Then, one day, Kamala, accompanied by Siddhartha’s child, comes across their path, on their way to attend the Buddha’s rumored imminent death; she’s bitten by a snake and dies, leaving their rebellious son in Siddhartha’s care.

Young Siddhartha runs away to be free, and his dad reluctantly lets him go. Too old to continue, Vasudeva leaves Siddhartha, sailing away on the river. Then Govinda, recognizing Siddhartha again during a ferry ride, re-befriends him and becomes Siddhartha’s co-ferrier. Peace, Enlightenment, and fade.

As I previously indicated, the above is a basic outline. The long title for the book says it all: Siddhartha: An Indian Poem. It’s a lyrical, deeply personal narrative. The book carries many essential themes, including life as Journey; reconciling the appetites of mind and body; the one and many river; eternal recurrence; amor fati; the essentiality of love; the nature of suffering and things we can do to alleviate it; and, the structure of the Self.

All of these themes were mighty important back when I was a teenager feeling my oats, looking to be free and in love with Love. My generation was really the ’70s and Hesse’s work helped heal some of the lesions of the ’60s brought about by the war and White House criminality, race riots and domestic terrorism and general unease with the System.

Lennon would famously sing, in the song “Revolution,” You tell me it’s the institution/Well, you know/You’d better free your mind instead. And that’s the beauty of Hesse’s writing: It transcends the banal politics of aggressive youthful cries for change met with old, entrenched indifference. You can go on a journey (many journeys and trips) and come back changed by the experience of relativism regarding all things micro and macro, man.

So what is Hermann Hesse’s legacy in America 50 years removed from its heyday in the ’70s and 100 years after its publication? In his introduction to the Penguin edition of Siddhartha, Paul Coelho may have the best read of its continued importance:

Its simple prose and rebellious character echoed the yearnings of a generation that was seeking a way out of conformity, materialism and outward power. In a world where we could see the many lies of governments and the incapacity of leaders to propose a real alternative, Siddhartha emerged as a symbol; the symbol of those who seek the truth - their own truth. Hesse sensed - decades before my generation, and surely for the generations to come - this unrest, this intrinsic necessity of youth to unravel its path, the necessity we all have to claim what is truly and rightfully ours: our own life.

This truth about who owns our lives has never been more important under a global surveillance state and heading toward an AI future with the nature of the Self never more uncertain.

Siddhartha provides a lesson in the differences between times; to know that the unplugged ’20s and, to a lesser extent, the ’70s (no Internet) still allowed for life space and time to grow into an -ism comfortably, although it should be kept in mind that the pursuit of -isms is largely a bourgeois pursuit unlikely to see folks with two or three jobs to get by finding time for.

Today, we live away from placidity and our mental lives almost entirely online. We take short cuts to make room for data to satisfy our insatiable infomania. More often than not today, we eschew the hard yakka of full Buddhistic pursuit for the breathing exercises of meditation and mindfulness, allotting ourselves strict time slots to practice the Om. Nirvana on the half-shell.

Of the three major literary works published that year - by Hesse, TS Eliot’s Wasteland, and James Joyce’s Ulysses, arguably Hesse’s novel has stood the test of time best among ordinary educated people than the far more erudite requirements of Eliot and Joyce. Siddhartha is a practical book, in addition to being a poem. It is immensely enjoyable, still thought-provoking, and I highly recommend it.

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For those interested in reading or downloading Hermann Hesse’s works further, I recommend the material found at the Internet Archive, the web’s public library. The collection there includes:

Siddhartha, Penguin Edition (2008) with Paul Coelho introduction

Siddhartha text and audiobook (recommended) from ThoughtAudio (2016)

Siddhartha film version (1972)

Zacharia (1971), a Siddhartha film version, western musical, with Don Johnson

Buddha (1961), a Chinese language drama with subs, gives insight to Chinese production values

The Buddha: The Story of Siddhartha (2010)

The Wayfarers Song Lyrics and Music

Note: John Kendall Hawkins is an American expat freelancer based in Australia. He is a former reporter for The New Bedford Standard-Times. The above article was posted at CounterPunch.

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HYSTERIA AND THE SOLOMON ISLAND-CHINA SECURITY PACT

May 11, 2022 – 7:27 am

Fifty years ago today, Beatle George told us that All Things Must Pass. Then he told us about Living in the Material World. For 36 years, BigO has been trying to keep the spirit and history of the music alive. Before all things pass, we still need your help to live in this material world. You can help us to do this with a kind donation. Please give what you are happy to give…

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Whose island is it? The Americans? The Australians? It belongs to the islanders. By Binoy Kampmark.

Visits to Honiara, part plea, part threat. Delegations equipped with a note of harassment. That was the initial Australian effort to convince the Solomon Islands that the decision to make a security pact with Beijing was simply not appropriate in the lotus land of Washington’s Pacific empire. [Ed: Honiara, on the island of Guadalcanal, is the capital city of the Solomon Islands. Solomon Islands is a sovereign country consisting of six major islands and over 900 smaller islands in Oceania, to the east of Papua New Guinea and northwest of Vanuatu.]

Despite an election campaign warming up, (Australian) Senator Zed Seselja found time to tell Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare that Australia remained dedicated to supporting the security needs of the Solomon Islands, and would do so “swiftly, transparently and with full respect for its sovereignty”.

The Pacific country remained a friend, part of the “Pacific family”. He went on to “respectfully” urge the Solomon Islands to reject the security pact with China and “consult the Pacific family in the spirit of regional openness and transparency, consistent with our region’s security frameworks.”

Having not convinced Honiara to change course, a range of reactions are being registered. David Llewellyn-Smith, former owner of the Asia Pacific foreign affairs journal The Diplomat, took leave of his senses by suggesting that a Chinese naval base in the Solomons would see “the effective end of our sovereignty and democracy”. In a spray of hysteria, he suggested that this was “Australia’s Cuban missile crisis”.

The Labor opposition, desperate to win office on May 21, are calling this one of the greatest intelligence failures since the Second World War, which perhaps shows their somewhat tenuous command of history. Their leader, Anthony Albanese, seeking some safe mooring in a campaign that has lacked lustre, was particularly strident.

It was a chance to show that Labor was not shaky or wobbly on national security. “The security agreement between China and the Solomons is a massive failure of our foreign policy,” stated the opposition leader as he campaigned in Bomaderry in southern New South Wales. “We are closer here today to the Solomon Islands than we are to Perth. That shows how strategic they are to Australia.”

David Llewellyn-Smith, former owner of the Asia Pacific foreign affairs journal The Diplomat, took leave of his senses by suggesting that a Chinese naval base in the Solomons would see “the effective end of our sovereignty and democracy”. In a spray of hysteria, he suggested that this was “Australia’s Cuban missile crisis”.

This belligerent, simple note might have been stronger were it not for the fact that his deputy, Richard Marles, had previously made the unpopular suggestion that the Pacific islands were somehow sovereign entities who needed to be treated as such while China, in providing development assistance to them, should be “welcome” in offering it. The goons of the Rupert Murdoch roundtable capitalised, hoping to find a Chinese Red under Marles’s bed.

Scratching for electoral gains, Labor thought that it was inappropriate to have sent the junior minister, as if that would have made much of a difference. Foreign Minister Marise Payne, it was said, should have been flown in to bully those misguided savages into submission.

In Australia, the message being fanned is that the deputy - in this case, Canberra - failed in the task, leaving it to the United States to come in and hold up what seemed like a sinking ship of strategy. “The United States very much relies upon Australia and sees Australia as playing that key role in the Indo-Pacific,” lamented Anthony Albanese, the Labor leader. “Australia and Scott Morrison have gone missing.”

The Morrison government poured water on such criticism by suggesting a fair share of oriental deviousness at play. Not only had the likes of Defence Minister Peter Dutton been advised by the intelligence fraternity to keep matters tame in terms of attacking the security pact; the agreement was the product of bribery.

On radio, Dutton responded to a question from 3AW host Neil Mitchell about the suggestion. “You asked the question about bribery and corruption - we don’t pay off, we don’t bribe people, and the Chinese certainly do.”

This clean linen view of Australian conduct is fabulously ignorant, ignoring such inglorious chapters as the oil-for-food scandal which saw the Australian Wheat Board pay $300 million in kickbacks between 1999 and 2004 to the Iraq regime via Alia, a Jordanian trucking company. These bribing arrangements, which breached UN Security Council sanctions imposed after Baghdad’s invasion of Kuwait in 1991, were unmasked in 2005.

With Australia failing to change minds, the paladins of the US imperium prepared to badger and bore Honiara. On the list: President Joe Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan; Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink; and National Security Affairs Indo-Pacific chief Kurt Campbell. It seemed like an absurd gathering of heft for a small Pacific Island state.

Solomon Islands’ Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare is unrepentant. “When a helpless mouse is cornered by vicious cats it will do anything to survive.” He has already told his country’s parliament that there is no intention “to ask China to build a military base in Solomon Islands.” He felt “insulted” by such suggestions and felt that there was only one side to pick: “our national security interest”.

The theme was unmistakable. A bullying tone was struck in a message from National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson, who seemed to forget the Solomons was not some ramshackle protectorate of the Five Eyes. Officials from the US, Japan, New Zealand and Australia had “shared concerns about [the] proposed security framework between the Solomon Islands and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and its serious risks to a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

At the Washington Post, Henry Olsen was trying to speak home truths about an empire facing rust and decline. The unipolar world that came into being after the demise of the Soviet Union had ended. “Our adversaries can fight back, and they are increasingly using every means at their disposal to push back against American influence.”

He went on to put focus upon the thin stretch of territory in the Pacific that has exercised so many in Washington and Canberra. “Lose too many places such as the Solomon Islands, and the threat will start to get uncomfortably close to home.” It was more prudent “to spend big and push outward now rather than to be boxed into a corner later.” In other words, more bribery, the very thing tut-tutted by Dutton, was needed.

As for the Solomon Islands itself, divided, fragmented and vulnerable to internal dissent and disagreement, Prime Minister Sogavare is unrepentant. “When a helpless mouse is cornered by vicious cats it will do anything to survive.” He has already told his country’s parliament that there is no intention “to ask China to build a military base in Solomon Islands.” He felt “insulted” by such suggestions and felt that there was only one side to pick: “our national security interest”.

His confidant and former prime minister Danny Philip also reminded critics barking about the lack of transparency over the Sino-Solomon Islands deal that they should know better. “People in Australia know very little about Pine Gap in the middle of the desert, the military base of the United States.” There were “agreements that open up all major ports in Australia that are not being seen by all the citizens of that country.”

Unfortunately for the government in Honiara, thoughts of invasion and pre-emptive action on the part of Australia, possibly with aid from the United States, cannot be ruled out. Instead of being parked in an asylum of inoffensive obscurity, pundits such as Llewellyn-Smith are encouraging invasion and conquest. Australia, he advocates in a refreshing burst of honest blood-filled jingoism, “should invade and capture Guadalcanal such that we engineer regime change in Honiara.”

Sovereignty for the Pacific was always a qualified concept for those exercising true naval power, and US-Australian conduct in recent weeks has made an utter nonsense of it. At least some cavalier types are willing to own up to it.

Note: Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email him here. The above article was posted at CounterPunch.

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REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST

May 5, 2022 – 5:37 pm

Fifty years ago today, Beatle George told us that All Things Must Pass. Then he told us about Living in the Material World. For 36 years, BigO has been trying to keep the spirit and history of the music alive. Before all things pass, we still need your help to live in this material world. You can help us to do this with a kind donation. Please give what you are happy to give…

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“No history is mute. No matter how much they own it, break it, and lie about it, human history refuses to shut its mouth. Despite deafness and ignorance, the time that was continues to tick inside the time that is,” said Uruguayan scholar and journalist Eduardo Galeano. The Philippines General Election is on May 9, 2022. Will the Marcoses be brought back to power? Filmmaker and cultural critic Ram Botero reflects on her nation.

A few days ago, a friend suggested I’d be an interesting subject for a documentary because I remember everything. An exaggeration, of course, but I do try to remember as much as I can. Equally, I try to make my recollection as truthful - free from my own embellishments - as possible.

Chinua Achebe writes that memory is an affirming god, a transcended guide in the ritual of continuity. But when spurned, when repressed, memory becomes a trickster imp and seduces the wayfarer to the precipice and beyond.

Nine years ago, we visited our grandmother’s older sister in Antique. She was in her 90s and blind, preferring to stay in her clean little house, which was dark but quiet. We introduced ourselves as the grandchildren of Marie, her younger sister who moved to and got married in Davao.

She replied in a commanding tone and a quivering voice: “I do not have retention in my brain.” Her neices, our aunts, who lived close to her said she doesn’t remember so much anymore. She only recognizes Malou, her daughter’s daughter who takes care of her. You’ll eventually stop remembering, they said, it comes with age.

I read Milan Kundera that same year, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. He said, the struggle of man against power is like the memory’s struggle against forgetting. So I made a conscious decision to remember as much as I can.

To revive the oldest memories I have, no matter how mundane, and to let them become beacons to signal other memories. And, for as long as those memories remain unchanged and closely resemble what I know to be accurate, I can be confident in my own recollections.

One of these memories is when I was three years old, gazing at myself in the mirror after spreading gold dust on my chest that I found on my mother’s little orange plastic tray, with a little orange plastic bow. We were living in my grandfather’s house, in my mother’s old bedroom.

I was very pleased with my reflection. I was wearing my favourite black kamesa de chino; I was glittering like a pixie and, in the background, was the wooden walls painted blue, a black-and-white poster of Farrah Fawcett in a bikini, and a poster of a mustachioed cowboy saying, “You’re the boss”.

Another such memory is when I was in kindergarten; Ate Glo, my mother’s second cousin who was also staying at my grandfather’s, took me to school that afternoon. We arrived just when the rain started to pour. My teacher ma’am Templanza, the kindest I ever had, ran down the steps and grabbed my other hand while Ate Glo held the other. When we got to the highest step, close to our classroom door, I leapt with joy that I wasn’t drenched in the cold rain. I swung between the two women. I felt safe.

Memory has been an area of interest in the fields of sociology, history, psychology, and anthropology, specifically collective memory, the shared memories of a social group significant to the group’s identity. One form of collective memory is national memory.

Thirty six years ago, ex-President Ferdinand Marcos was driven out of the country and out of power by the will of the masses. We celebrate it today as the EDSA Revolution, the People Power revolution. It installed Cory Aquino, the widow of the Marcos critic Ninoy Aquino, to the presidency.

This has been the historical memory enshrined in our textbooks in primary school, Sibika at Kultura. Nobody challenged that truth until recently, with the Marcoses, heirs of the fallen dictator, worming their way back to the palace. The futulity of upholding the memory of EDSA and the deposition of the dictator is not because they are not true, but because they have been appropriated to serve a political interest and marketed by the culture industry to serve the hegemony.

Thirty six years ago, ex-President Ferdinand Marcos was driven out of the country and out of power by the will of the masses. We celebrate it today as the EDSA Revolution, the People Power revolution.

Memory and truth can be tricky; they are subjective. Collective memory can compete with individual memory and dominant collective memory with other collective memories. Memory can be augmented and emotionalised to reshape nationalmemory. Propagandists of the current President Rodrigo Duterte like Mocha Uson dismissed the marching of nuns in EDSA to confront the military with their guns and war tanks as dramatic (Ed: Click here.)

It erodes our objective analysis of our country’s past. The social movements and people’s war that rose during the dictatorship, years before EDSA, are seldom discussed and, worse, even seen as an inconvenience. This includes the boycotting of banks and crony businesses of the Marcoses that effectively crippled the dictatorship and its enablers.

Perhaps this is to not remind the people of the true power of EDSA, beyond Cory and Ninoy, and that, with the collective will of the people, we can decide our nation’s destiny. To prevent the appropriation of history by the hegemony, it is imperative that we understand it objectively.

History must be viewed in a sociological manner. At the same time, we must interrogate our personal truths and individual memories, especially those that were handed to us. In my mother’s recollection, when Marcos declared Martial Law in September 1972, the day was nothing out of the ordinary, except that her classmates joked girls won’t be allowed to wear micro mini skirts anymore.

She was in college, taking up nursing in the city. She had an inkling of the political unrest; a cousin of hers was involved politically and had been a community organiser as long as she could remember. In the province, in her hometown, her sister has a different memory.

Militarisation had intensified, and paramilitary groups were swarming the countryside; they rounded up activists, members of the church, and anyone who dared to speak against Marcos. There were neighbors and peers of my grandmother from church who were abducted, incarcerated, and tortured.

My aunt remembers they hid under the sofa in their sari-sari store [convenience store] from the crossfire between the paramilitary and the revolutionary groups. She remembers how a hole was secretly dug in their backyard and how my grandmother supervised the burying of what were considered subversive documents then, without her husband’s knowledge.

As we commemorate the memory of EDSA, we cannot do so without acknowledging the looming election and the project of the Marcoses to assert their version of history. In our efforts to combat them, we must put ourselves to task: will we confront their machinations by asserting our own narrative of history in a competition of which history shall prevail, or will we endeavor to truly understand history in all its complexities in order to preserve facts alongside the multitude of memories.

History, according to Gramsci, has deposited in us an infinity of traces without leaving an inventory. Edward Said calls this the most interesting human task, the task of interpretation. It’s a task of giving history some sense and shape.

For a particular reason, not just to say my history is better than yours, my history is worse than yours, or I am the victim and you are the oppressor. But rather to understand my history in relation to others. To move beyond generalisation.

The great goal is to become someone else. To transform itself from a unique identity to an identity that recognises and includes the other without suppressing the differences. That is the ultimate goal of writing the inventory, not only understanding oneself but understanding oneself in relation to others as you would understand yourself.

At the same time, we must include in the discourse the connection between memory, forgetfulness, identity, and national imagination. To not see forgetfulness as an individual flaw, but rather as the establishment’s ongoing project to keep the masses poor, thereby hindering their remembrance.

These days, I often hear the question, did EDSA fail? No. EDSA is an important moment in our history, a beacon that will signal future social movements. Some may forget but the words of the Uruguayan scholar and journalist Eduardo Galeano is a salve to this malady: “No history is mute. No matter how much they own it, break it, and lie about it, human history refuses to shut its mouth. Despite deafness and ignorance, the time that was continues to tick inside the time that is.”

Note: Ram Botero is an artist, feminist, and cultural worker from Davao City, Philippines. She wrote and directed her debut short film, Pamalugu (In Limbo), which won Jury Prize for the Ngilngig Asian Fantastic Film Festival Davao (2019) and Pluma delas Rosas of Festival de Cine Paz Zamboanga (2019). The film also had an international screening at Fukuoka Independent Film Festival in Japan (2021).

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