January 27, 2015

The Ukraine war: One must recognize that some causes are objectively better than others, even if they are advanced by equally bad means

Intro: Notes on Nationalism” is an essay completed in May 1945 by George Orwell and published in the first issue of Polemic (October 1945). In this essay, Orwell discusses the notion of nationalism, and argues that it causes people to disregard common sense and become more ignorant towards factuality. Orwell shows his concern for the social state of Europe, and in a broader sense, the entire world, due to an increasing amount of influence of nationalistic sentiment occurring throughout a large number of countries. Orwell begins his essay with these two following paragraphs and concludes with the final paragraph also posted below.

Somewhere or other Byron makes use of the French word longeur, and remarks in passing that though in England we happen not to have the word, we have the thing in considerable profusion. In the same way, there is a habit of mind which is now so widespread that it affects our thinking on nearly every subject, but which has not yet been given a name. As the nearest existing equivalent I have chosen the word ‘nationalism’, but it will be seen in a moment that I am not using it in quite the ordinary sense, if only because the emotion I am speaking about does not always attach itself to what is called a nation — that is, a single race or a geographical area. It can attach itself to a church or a class, or it may work in a merely negative sense, against something or other and without the need for any positive object of loyalty.

By ‘nationalism’ I mean first of all the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled ‘good’ or ‘bad’(1). But secondly — and this is much more important — I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognising no other duty than that of advancing its interests. Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.

The reason for the rise and spread of nationalism is far too big a question to be raised here. It is enough to say that, in the forms in which it appears among English intellectuals, it is a distorted reflection of the frightful battles actually happening in the external world, and that its worst follies have been made possible by the breakdown of patriotism and religious belief. If one follows up this train of thought, one is in danger of being led into a species of Conservatism, or into political quietism. It can be plausibly argued, for instance — it is even possibly true — that patriotism is an inoculation against nationalism, that monarchy is a guard against dictatorship, and that organised religion is a guard against superstition. Or again, it can be argued that no unbiased outlook is possible, that all creeds and causes involve the same lies, follies, and barbarities; and this is often advanced as a reason for keeping out of politics altogether. I do not accept this argument, if only because in the modern world no one describable as an intellectual can keep out of politics in the sense of not caring about them. I think one must engage in politics — using the word in a wide sense — and that one must have preferences: that is, one must recognise that some causes are objectively better than others, even if they are advanced by equally bad means. As for the nationalistic loves and hatreds that I have spoken of, they are part of the make-up of most of us, whether we like it or not. Whether it is possible to get rid of them I do not know, but I do believe that it is possible to struggle against them, and that this is essentially a moral effort. It is a question first of all of discovering what one really is, what one’s own feelings really are, and then of making allowance for the inevitable bias. If you hate and fear Russia, if you are jealous of the wealth and power of America, if you despise Jews, if you have a sentiment of inferiority towards the British ruling class, you cannot get rid of those feelings simply by taking thought. But you can at least recognise that you have them, and prevent them from contaminating your mental processes. The emotional urges which are inescapable, and are perhaps even necessary to political action, should be able to exist side by side with an acceptance of reality. But this, I repeat, needs a moral effort, and contemporary English literature, so far as it is alive at all to the major issues of our time, shows how few of us are prepared to make it.

Audio: Sanctions on Russia fail to stop interference in Ukraine
‘The Current’ CBC Radio One Canada January 27, 2015


The United Nations says at least 262 people have died in Ukraine just this month — and at least 5,000 overall since the conflict broke out nine months ago. Photo: Gleb Garanich/Reuters. Visit this page for its embedded and related links.

In Ukraine, everyday people are losing their lives. Russia’s Vladimir Putin seems immune to sanctions. The rebels he’s backing aren’t backing down and Ukraine is bringing in its own punitive measures. Today, we look at what can be done about a conflict some say is fast becoming a full-blown civil war.

The latest recent attack in the heart of the densely-populated, and hotly contested, Ukrainian city of Mariupol has killed 30 people, including 2 children, and injured 100 more.

According to the U.N.’s political affairs chief, speaking at an emergency Security Council meeting yesterday, the attacks on Mariupol are deliberately targeting civilians — making them crimes of war.

It’s not only happening in Mariupol. Last week an attack on a bus in Donetsk left 13 people dead. The United Nations says at least 262 people have died in Ukraine just this month — among the thousands overall since the conflict broke out nine months ago.

For all the murkiness of what’s happening along the border with Russia, what does seem increasingly clear is that the local ceasefire is not holding… and the many sanctions imposed on Russia have simply failed to calm the conflict.

Shaun Walkeris the Moscow correspondent for The Guardian. He was in Donetsk, Ukraine.

Canadian Michael Bociurkiw is the spokesperson for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. The OSCE has an ongoing monitoring mission in Ukraine. He was Kiev.

Getting a clear understanding of the violence unfolding in eastern Ukraine right now can be difficult given the circumstances on the ground.Trying to put an end to that violence introduces a whole new layer of complexity.

We brought together a panel now to help unpack the situation there, and consider solutions that just may work.

Steve Levine is Washington Correspondent for Quartz and the author of “Putin’s Labyrinth: Spies, Murder, and the Dark Heart of the New Russia.” He was in Washington.

Piotr Dutkiewicz is a professor of Political Science at Carleton University in Ottawa.

You can listen to this segment of the program (27:28) from a pop-up link on this page.

Related: The Ukrainian army is essentially a ‘NATO legion’ which doesn’t pursue the national interests of Ukraine says Putin; Chief of the US Army in Europe hands out trinkets to maimed soldiers in Kiev’s Central Military Hospital & Renewed hostilities in Donbass see Ukrainian fighters suffer huge losses
Salt Spring News British Columbia Canada January 26, 2015

Six links. Here from one of those links:

Amid the devastation of yesterday’s Mariupol artillery strikes which killed or wounded dozens, which was promptly blamed by both sides on the “adversary” – and has been proclaimed by both ‘sides’ (more on that later) as more violent than before the truce – an ‘odd’ clip has emerged that appears to provide all the ‘proof’ a US intelligence officer would need to surmise that US military boots are on the ground in Ukraine. As the following clip shows, a Ukrainian journalist approaches what she thinks is a Ukrainian soldier (since he is wearing a Ukrainian military uniform and is carrying an AK) and asked him as they run through the battlezone, “tell me, what happened here?” His response, which requires no translation, speaks for itself. … With daily reportage of the ‘invasion’ of Russian military forces into Ukraine territory (admittedly unconfirmed by NATO), this clip raises many questions about American involvement in the ongoing conflict….

Posted at: January 27, 2015 - 11:27 am -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

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Does Stephen Harper see his conflict with Islamic State as his Falklands War? & A likely scenario: The real Canadian ISIS mission—get Stephen Harper re-elected

Either Canada’s political leadership little understands the Iraq/Kurdistan mission or the pure cowboy political comments made by Stephen Harper and others are deliberately designed for political effect. The Conservatives are playing the nationalism card — and it’s a move that should worry every Canadian.

Did Stephen Harper just find his Falklands moment?
Tasha Kheiriddin iPolitics Canada January 26, 2015

Visit this page for its embedded links.

In 1982, the Conservative government of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was in trouble. Three million Britons — one in every eight workers — were out of work. Manufacturing firms shut their doors and the economy slid into a deep recession.

Trade unions demanded wage increases and engaged in acts of violence. Critics, including members of Thatcher’s own party, accused the PM of being obsessed with cutting public spending instead of supporting ailing industries. Her party was trailing in the polls, an election was looming, and most pundits predicted Thatcher and the Tories would be out of government before long.

Then, on April 2, after a simmering diplomatic conflict, Argentine troops invaded the British-controlled Falkland Islands. On April 5, under Thatcher’s orders — and against the advice of many experts — Her Majesty’s warships set sail to do battle. Two months of hostilities ensued, with nearly nine hundred casualties, one third of them Britons. On June 14, the Argentines formally surrendered and the islands were returned to U.K. control. And one year later, Thatcher returned to office with 397 seats to Labour’s 209.

The war didn’t just ensure the Conservatives’ election victory. It gave the government the mandate — and the confidence — to bring about deep socioeconomic change. The Guardian’s Simon Jenkins wrote: “The Falklands changed everything. The miners were confronted, left-wing local government crushed, Europe riled and universities humbled. Most crucial of all, the patrician Tory moderates were diluted and eventually driven from power. The now-familiar Thatcher came into her own and ‘the Eighties’ began.”

The question for Canadians today is: Will our conflict with Islamic State be Stephen Harper’s Falklands War? There are many parallels: an economy plunging into recession in parts of the country, a government accused of seeking to balance the books at all costs after trailing in the polls for a year. In this environment, the Tories sorely need an issue that can rally voters.

For Harper, as for Thatcher, war appears to be a winner. While Harper must respond to the terrorist threat — he is the prime minister, after all, and that’s part of the job — the fact remains that the more the Islamic State conflict remains in the news, the higher his numbers go. If an election were held today, the Tories would eke out a victory — and the Trudeau Liberals would form the opposition.

In a rational world, Ottawa’s response to the terrorist threat would be judged by objective criteria. But war makes people irrational. War evokes emotions, passions — national pride. If the Tories succeed in embodying those volatile emotions in 2015, it will be Britain 1982 all over again.

Related: A likely scenario: The real Canadian ISIS mission—get Stephen Harper re-elected & The film, ‘American Sniper’, illustrates Western Axis’ morality blind spots
Salt Spring News British Columbia Canada January 26, 2015

Five links. Here from one of those links:

Just what, exactly, did people think would go on when Canada sent some of its most hard-core soldiers to the most dangerous place in the world?

Did people really think that Canadian special forces operators would spend all their time in Iraq giving seminars and supervising target practice?

Apparently, we did think that, judging from the reaction to the news that Canadian soldiers got into a deadly gunfight with ISIS militants, contrary to expectations. Somehow, we were all surprised.

But then, the Conservative government told us that the ground mission was going to be pretty low-key, a training adjunct to the mission for the air force fighter-bombers deployed there. Canada would hit the ISIS army from the air and send in ground troops, but that wouldn’t count as a combat mission.

The Chief of the Defence Staff, Gen. Tom Lawson, said the Canadians would be there solely to “advise and assist” the locals fighting their own war.

But if that really was the mission, Ottawa could have sent just about any infantry unit in the army. All have qualified trainers, many with combat experience from Afghanistan.

The government chose to send the elite members of the Canadian Special Operations Forces, the most aggressive war fighters in the army. They are the best trained forces in the army, and the most ready.

The only way to keep soldiers like that out of combat is to base them far away from the fighting, with orders not to engage. You generally don’t need special forces for non-combat roles far from the enemy.

Just musing. Is Canada’s role in the Western Axis war becoming defined and settled? From the highly intensive mission in Afghanistan to the shorter and quicker style air support contribution in Libya, Canada’s current mission in Iraq is meant to be another of those nimble campaigns. That’s notwithstanding the fact that many Canadians were surprised last week to learn what the so-called “advise and assist” role has already entailed … like calling in air strikes, and a sniper killing in a front line fire fight. Still, the current mission in Iraq—like our military support in Ukraine and logistical help in Mali—may just represent the future of how Canada deploys its armed forces — raising the question — are these types of smaller, more nimble missions effective? If they help in the short term, can they really have a lasting impact?

Posted at: January 27, 2015 - 11:23 am -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

January 26, 2015

Commentary on the Saudi palace coup

Below: Pepe Escobar’s take on the Saudi succession, written just before King Abdullah’s death.

What game is the House of Saud playing?
Pepe Escobar RT Russia January 16, 2015


Photo: Lucas Jackson/Reuters. Visit this page for its embedded links.

The House of Saud now finds itself in times of extreme trouble. Their risky oil price war may eventually backfire. The succession of King Abdullah may turn into a bloodbath. And the American protector may be musing a change of heart.

Let’s start with oil – and some background. As much as US supply has increased by a couple of million barrels a day, enough oil from Iran, Kirkuk in Iraq, Libya and Syria has gone out of production; and that offsets extra US oil on the market. Essentially, the global economy – at least for the moment – is not searching for more oil because of European stagnation/recession and the relative China slowdown.

Since 2011, Saudi Arabia has been flooding the market to offset the decrease in Iran exports caused by the US economic war, a.k.a. sanctions. Riyadh, moreover, prevented OPEC from reducing country production quotas. The House of Saud believes it can play the waiting game – as fracked oil, mostly American, is inexorably driven out of the market because it is too expensive. After that, the Saudis believe they will regain market share.

In parallel, the House of Saud is obviously enjoying “punishing” Iran and Russia for their support of Bashar Assad in Damascus. Moreover, the House of Saud is absolutely terrified of a nuclear deal essentially between the US and Iran (although that’s still a major “if”) – leading to a long-term détente.

Tehran, though, remains defiant. Russia brushed off the attack because the lower ruble meant state revenues remained unchanged – so there will be no budget deficit. As for oil-thirsty East Asia – including top Saudi customer China – it’s enjoying the bonanza while it lasts.

Oil prices will remain very low for the time being. This week Goldman Sachs lowered their 2015 WTI and Brent Crude forecasts; Brent was slashed from $83.75 a barrel to $50.40, WTI was cut from $73.75 to $47.15 a barrel. Prices per barrel could soon drop as low as $42 and $40.50. But then, there will be an inevitable “U-shaped recovery.”

Nomura bets that oil will be back to $80 a barrel by the end of 2015.

US President Barack Obama, in this interview, openly admitted that he wanted “disruptions” in the “price of oil” because he figured Russian President Vladimir Putin would have “enormous difficulty managing it.” So that settles the argument about hurting Russia and US-Saudi collusion, after US Secretary of State John Kerry allowed/endorsed King Abdullah in Jeddah to simultaneously raise oil production and embark on a cut price strategy.

Whether Kerry sold out the US shale gas industry out of ignorance or incompetence – probably both – is irrelevant. What matters is if the House of Saud were ordered to back off, they would have to do it in a flash; the ‘Empire of Chaos’ dominates the Persian Gulf vassals, who can’t even breathe without at least an implicit US green light.

What is way more troubling is that the current bunch in Washington does not seem to be defending US national and industrial interests. If humongous trade deficits based on currency rigging were not enough, now virtually the entire US oil industry runs the risk of being destroyed by an oil price racket. Any sane analyst would interpret it as contrary to US national interests.

Anyway, the Riyadh deal was music for the House of Saud’s ears. Their official policy has always been to slash the development of all potential substitutes for oil, including US shale gas. So why not depress oil prices and keep them there long enough to make investments in shale gas a lunatic proposal?

But there’s a huge problem. The House of Saud simply won’t get enough in oil revenues to support their annual budget with oil at below $90 a barrel. So as much as hurting Iran and Russia may be appealing, hurting their own golden pocketbooks is not.

The long-term outlook spells out higher oil prices. Oil may be replaced in many instances; but there isn’t a replacement – yet – for the internal combustion engine. So whatever OPEC is doing, it is actually preserving demand for oil vs. oil substitutes, and maximizing the return on a limited resource. The bottom-line: yes, this is predatory pricing.

Once again, there’s an immense, crucial, complicating vector. We may have the House of Saud and other Persian Gulf producers flooding the market – but its Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and Citigroup who are doing the shadow, nasty work via leveraged derivative short futures.

Oil prices are such an opaque racket that only major oil trading banks such as Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley have some idea who is buying and who is selling oil futures or derivative contracts – what is called “paper oil.” The non-rules of this multi-billion casino spell out “speculative bubble” – with a little help from those friends at the Gulf oil pumps. With oil futures trading and the two major London and New York exchanges monopolizing oil futures contracts, OPEC really does not control oil prices anymore; Wall Street does. This is the big secret. The House of Saud may entertain the illusion they are in control. They’re not.

As if this was not messy enough, the crucial succession of the House of Saud is propelled to the forefront. King Abdullah, 91, was diagnosed with pneumonia, hospitalized in Riyadh on New Year’s Eve, and was breathing with a tube. He may – or may not, this being the secretive House of Saud – have lung cancer. He won’t last long. The fact that he is hailed as a “progressive reformer” tells everything one needs to know about Saudi Arabia. “Freedom of expression”? You must be joking.

So who’ll be next? The first in the line of succession should be Crown Prince Salman, 79, also defense minister. He was governor of Riyadh province for a hefty 48 years. It was this certified falcon who supervised the wealth of private “donations” to the Afghan mujahedeen in the 1980s jihad, in tandem with hardcore Wahhabi preachers. Salman’s sons include the governor of Medina, Prince Faisal. Needless to add, the Salman family controls virtually all of Saudi media.

To get to the Holy Grail Salman must be proven fit. That’s not a given; and on top of it Abdullah, a tough nut to crack, already survived two of his crown princes, Sultan and Nayef. Salman’s prospects look bleak; he has had spinal surgery, a stroke and may be suffering from – how appropriate – dementia.

It also does not bode well that when Salman was promoted to Deputy Defense Minister, soon enough he was shown the door – as he got himself mixed up with Bandar Bush’s atrocious jihadi game in Syria.

Anyway, Salman already has a successor; second Deputy Prime Minister Prince Muqrin, former governor of Medina province and then head of Saudi intelligence. Muqrin is very, very close to Abdullah. Muqrin seems to be the last “capable” son of Ibn Saud; “capable” here is a figure of speech. The real problem though starts when Muqrin becomes Crown Prince. Because then the next in line will be picked from the grandsons of Ibn Saud.

Enter the so-called third generation princes – a pretty nasty bunch. Chief among them is none other than Mitab bin Abdullah, 62, the son of the king; cries of nepotism do proceed. Like a warlord, Mitab controls his own posse in the National Guard. Sources told me Riyadh is awash in rumors that Abdullah and Muqrin have made a deal: Abdullah gets Muqrin to become king, and Muqrin makes Mitab crown prince. Once again, this being the “secretive” House of Saud, the Hollywood mantra applies: no one knows anything.


Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/Reuters

Abdullah’s sons are all over the place; governor of Mecca, deputy governor of Riyadh, deputy foreign minister, president of the Saudi Red Crescent. Same for Salman’s sons. But then there’s Muhammad bin Nayif, son of the late Crown Prince Nayif, who became Interior Minister in 2012, in charge of ultra-sensitive internal security, as in cracking down on virtually anything. He is the top competitor against Mitab among the third-generation princes.

So forget about family “unity” when such juicy loot as an oil hacienda impersonating a whole country is in play. And yet whoever inherits the loot will have to face the abyss, and the same litany of distress; rising unemployment; abysmal inequality; horrendous sectarian divide; jihadism in all its forms – not least the fake Ibrahim Caliphate in “Syraq”, already threatening to march towards Mecca and Medina; the unspeakably medieval Council of Ulemas (the lashing/amputating/beheading-loving bunch); total dependency on oil; unbounded paranoia towards Iran; and a wobbly relationship with His Masters Voice, the US.

And it so happens that the real ‘Masters of the Universe’ in the Washington-New York axis are debating exactly the erosion of this relationship; as in the House of Saud having no one to talk to but the “puppets”, from Bush Two minions to Kerry at most on occasion. This analysis contends that any promises made by Kerry over the House of Saud “cooperation” to damage Russia’s economy really mean nothing.

Rumbles from ‘Masters of the Universe’ territory indicate that the CIA sooner or later might move against the House of Saud. In this case the only way for the House of Saud to secure its survival would be to become friendly with none other than Moscow. This exposes once more the House of Saud’s suicidal present course of trying to hurt Russia’s economy.

As everyone is inexorably an outsider when faced with the totally opaque House of Saud, there’s an analytical current that swears they know what they’re doing. Not necessarily. The House of Saud seems to believe that pleasing US neocons will improve their status in Washington. That simply won’t happen. The neocons remain obsessed about the House of Saud helping Pakistan to develop its nuclear missiles; some of them – once again, that’s open to speculation – might even be deployed inside Saudi Arabia for “defensive purposes” against that mythical Iranian “threat.”

Messy? That doesn’t even begin to describe it. But one thing is certain; whatever game Riyadh thinks it’s playing, they’d better start seriously talking to Moscow. But please, don’t send Bandar Bush on another Russian mission.

Below: David Hearst is editor-in-chief of Middle East Eye. He was chief foreign leader writer of The Guardian, former Associate Foreign Editor, European Editor, Moscow Bureau Chief, European Correspondent, and Ireland Correspondent. He joined The Guardian from The Scotsman, where he was education correspondent.

The Saudi palace coup
David Hearst Middle East Eye UK January 23, 2015


New king Salman has moved rapidly to install allies from his Sudairi clan and begun shifts in policy but time is not on his side. Visit this page for its embedded links.

King Abdullah’s writ lasted all of 12 hours. Within that period the Sudairis, a rich and politically powerful clan within the House of Saud, which had been weakened by the late king, burst back into prominence. It was a palace coup in all but name.

Salman moved swiftly to undo the work of his half-brother. He decided not to change his crown prince Muqrin, who was picked by King Abdullah, but he may choose to deal with him later. However, he swiftly appointed another leading figure from the Sudairi clan. Mohammed Bin Nayef, the interior minister, is to be his deputy crown prince. It is no secret that Abdullah wanted his son Meteb for that position, but now he is out.

More significantly, Salman, himself a Sudairi, attempted to secure the second generation by giving his 35-year-old son Mohammed the powerful fiefdom of the defence ministry. The second post Mohammed got was arguably more important still. He is now general secretary of the royal court. All of these changes were announced before Abdullah was even buried.

The general secretaryship was the position held by the Cardinal Richelieu of Abdullah’s royal court, Khalid al-Tuwaijri. It was a lucrative business handed down from father to son and started by Abdul Aziz al-Tuwaijri. The Tuwaijris became the king’s gatekeepers. No royal audience could be held without their permission, involvement or knowledge. Tuwaijri was the key player in foreign intrigues, subverting the Egyptian revolution, sending in troops to crush the uprising in Bahrain, financing ISIL in Syria in the early stages of the civil war through his previous ally, former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan.

The link between Tuwaijri and the Gulf region’s fellow neo-con Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, was close. Tuwaijri is now out, and his long list of foreign clients – starting with the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi – may well feel a cooler air blowing from Riyadh. Sisi failed to attend the funeral on Friday. Just a matter of bad weather?

Salman’s state of health is cause for concern, which is why the power he has given his son is more significant than other appointments announced. Aged 79, Salman is known to have Alzheimers, but the exact state of his dementia is a source of speculation. He is known to have held cogent conversations as recently as last October. But he can also forget what he said minutes ago, or faces he has known all his life, according to other witnesses. This is typical of the disease. I understand the number of hospital visits in the last few months has increased and that he did not walk around, as he did before.

So his ability to steer the ship of state, in a centralised country where no institutions, political parties or even national politics exist is open to question. But one indication of a change of direction may lie in two attempts recently to establish links with Egyptian opposition figures.

It is too early to tell whether King Salman is capable of, or even is aware of, the need for changing course. All one can say with any confidence is that some of the key figures who stage-managed the kingdom’s disastrous foreign intrigues are now out. Meteb’s influence is limited, while Tuwaijiri is out.

There are two theories about the slow train crash which the Middle East has become. One is that dictatorship, autocracy and occupation are the bulwarks against the swirling chaos of civil war and population displacement. The other is that dictators are the cause of instability and extremism.

Abdullah was evidence in chief for the second theory. His reign left Saudi Arabia weaker internally and surrounded by enemies as never before. Can Salman make a difference? It’s a big task, but there may be people around him who see the need for a fundamental change in course. It will be the only way a Saudi king will get the backing of his people. He may in the process turn himself into a figurehead, a constitutional monarch, but he will generate stability in the kingdom and the region.

Posted at: January 26, 2015 - 4:03 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

The Ukrainian army is essentially a ‘NATO legion’ which doesn’t pursue the national interests of Ukraine says Putin; Chief of the US Army in Europe hands out trinkets to maimed soldiers in Kiev’s Central Military Hospital & Renewed hostilities in Donbass see Ukrainian fighters suffer huge losses

Intro: Putin: Ukraine army is NATO legion aimed at restraining Russia
RT Russia January 26, 2015

The Ukrainian army is essentially a ‘NATO legion’ which doesn’t pursue the national interests of Ukraine, but persists to restrict Russia, President Vladimir Putin says.

“We often say: Ukrainian Army, Ukrainian Army. But who is really fighting there? There are, indeed, partially official units of armed forces, but largely there are the so-called ‘volunteer nationalist battalions’,” said Putin.

He added that the intention of Ukrainian troops is connected with “achieving the geopolitical goals of restraining Russia.” Putin was addressing students in the city of St. Petersburg.

According to Putin, the Ukrainian army “is not an army, but a foreign legion, in this case a foreign NATO legion, which, of course, doesn’t pursue the national interests of Ukraine.”

Kiev has been reluctant to find political solutions to the crisis in eastern Ukraine and only used the ceasefire to regroup its forces, the president stressed.

“Unfortunately official Kiev authorities refuse to follow the path of a peaceful solution. They don’t want to resolve [the crisis] using political tools,” Putin said, adding that first Kiev authorities had first used law enforcement, then security services and then the army in the region.

“It is essentially a civil war [in Ukraine]. In my view, many in Ukraine already understand this,” Putin added.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has reacted to President Putin’s words, calling his statement “nonsense.”

“The statement that there is a NATO legion in Ukraine is nonsense. There is no NATO legion,” Stoltenberg told reporters.

Already tense situation in eastern Ukraine gone downhill in past 2 weeks. The escalation of violence came after a controversial incident at a Kiev-controlled checkpoint near the town of Volnovakha, where 12 passengers were killed on January 13.

Western countries reiterated accusations of Russia backing the rebel forces, and so being partly responsible for violations of the Minsk agreement. They called for more sanctions against Moscow.

On Monday, US President Barack Obama promised the United States would examine options to “ratchet up the pressure on Russia” on the Ukraine issue.

Vladimir Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov called fresh threats of anti-Russian sanctions “an absolutely destructive and unjustified course that would eventually prove to be shortsighted.”

“Instead of stepping up the pressure on those who refuse to start a dialogue and to solve the conflict in a peaceful way, we hear they want to resume this economic blackmail against Russia,” Peskov noted in his statement.

Items: A new low? Even worse than Victoria Nuland and her Maidan cookies?

“Thank You for Your Service!” says Chief of US Army in Europe while awarding medals to maimed Ukrainian soldiers
Damir Marinovich Russia Insider Russia January 23, 2015

Visit this page for its embedded links and video (5:40).

General Ben Hodges, Chief of the US Army in Europe, awarded US army medals to Ukrainian soldiers in Kiev’s Central Military Hospital on January 22.

The video was made by “independent” Hromadske TV, a station that publicly admits it is funded by money coming from the US and Dutch embassies—and George Soros.

The General said the medal is “a symbol of the US army in Europe” and is given “for excellence”. Interesting choice of words.

And actually these coins are not even medals, they are unit coins for a coin challenge. The coins are the “NEW U.S. Army Europe – Sword of Freedom Challenge Coin. 60335.” priced at $8.79 from ebay. In description of the coin it is stated: “This coin pays tribute to the tireless commitment and outstanding dedication to duty demonstrated by every member of U.S. Army Europe.”

The general finished his visit by thanking the soldiers for their service.

Does this even need comment? This is more patronizing and degrading than Victoria Nuland with her Maidan cookies.

These Ukrainian soldiers are mostly lower class folks who are dying for Western ambitions in Eastern Europe and Eurasia. Once there’s no use for them anymore, they will be forgotten. But at least they’ll have a US Army challenge coin?

“Out of my face please” – are US soldiers in Mariupol?
Tyler Durden Zero Hedge/Information Clearing House USA January 25, 2015

January 25, 2015 “ICH” – “Zero Hedge” – Amid the devastation of yesterday’s Mariupol artillery strikes which killed or wounded dozens, which was promptly blamed by both sides on the “adversary” – and has been proclaimed by both ‘sides’ (more on that later) as more violent than before the truce – an ‘odd’ clip has emerged that appears to provide all the ‘proof’ a US intelligence officer would need to surmise that US military boots are on the ground in Ukraine. As the following clip shows, a Ukrainian journalist approaches what she thinks is a Ukrainian soldier (since he is wearing a Ukrainian military uniform and is carrying an AK) and asked him as they run through the battlezone, “tell me, what happened here?” His response, which requires no translation, speaks for itself.

Forward to 2:36 for the ‘Ukrainian’ soldier’s response:

Here is a clip which focuses just on the exchange in question:

With daily reportage of the ‘invasion’ of Russian military forces into Ukraine territory (admittedly unconfirmed by NATO), this clip raises many questions about American involvement in the ongoing conflict – most of all, was the US involved in the “staging” the Mariupol massacre, and if so it is clear who should be blamed (and isolated).

Of course, US troops, or at least mercs, on the ground, should not be a total surprise, since just 2 months ago, we discussed the hacked US documents that revealed the extent of undisclosed US “lethal aid” being given to the Ukraine army. What was apparently left unleaked was the part of the US aid also includes US-speaking soldiers. The only question is whether US taxpayers are paying their wages.

‘If an American General thanks Ukrainian soldiers for fighting, that means he is their general as well’
RT Russia January 26, 2015

American General Ben Hodges handed out medals to wounded Ukrainian soldiers, thanking them for fighting for their country, which means the US openly says it is involved in the Ukrainian conflict, political analyst Aleksandr Pavic, told RT.

After the Mariupol shelling, videos appeared on the internet showing armed men wearing uniforms who spoke English sparking allegation that foreign military contractors might be fighting among Ukrainian troops.

According to foreign affairs expert Nebojsa Malic, videos circulating on the web prove there are Western servicemen involved in activities in Ukraine.

“It could theoretically be Canadian, but it sounds to me like American military. This is perfectly in line with mainstream NATO policy of intervening in Ukraine providing ammunition, weapons and even advisors to the Kiev junta,” he said.

Last week, Malic said Bosnian Minister of External Trade and Economic Relations Boris Tucic “resigned over pressure to sell weapons and ammunition to the Kiev government.”

“So again we’ve got this concerted effort in the West to aid the junta’s repression of the population in the East combined with this propaganda war basically blaming everything on this phantom Russian invasion for which no evidence has ever been produced,” the analyst said.

“Considered that US advisors were working with the Croatians back in the 1990s and that the Kiev government has repeatedly invoked this precedent as something they would like to see there. And considered persistent rumors that former Blackwater, now calling itself Academi, has been involved exactly in that particular area from Odessa to Mariupol,” Nebojsa Malic says that he wouldn’t be surprised if these English-speaking soldiers in East Ukraine are mercenaries.

However, according to the analyst, these people “have some very poor operational security practices otherwise nobody would have spoken English to a local TV reporter if they were trying to keep a secret.” As opposed to “a combat role of various Western volunteers who joined that volunteer battalions out of some personal Nazi sympathies,” these mercenaries are playing “a sort of advisory guidance role.”

Related: Below: Dmitry Orlov is a Russian-American engineer and a writer on subjects related to “potential economic, ecological and political decline and collapse in the United States,” something he has called “permanent crisis”. The following was originally post to his blog, ClubOrlav.

“Panic in Kiev: Ukrainian forces surrender Donbass”
Dmitry Orlov Information Clearing House USA January 26, 2015

The following article appeared briefly at this URL on censor.net.ua and was quickly pulled down. Ironic? It would seem so. My translation. I bring it to you because it succinctly lays out the situation as I’ve been able to piece it together from multiple Russian- and Ukrainian-language sources, and because you are unlikely to come across anything this truthful from cough Western media cough.

January 26, 2015 “ICH” – International observers report of growing panic in Kiev in connection with the successful counteroffensive of the separatists near Donbass.

Over a week of fighting the partisans have delivered a heavy blow to the Ukrainian forces. The group of Ukrainian fighters in Donbas suffered huge losses, the soldiers are demoralized, the officers are confused and unable to control the situation.

Ukrainian military leadership is seriously concerned of a new encirclement near Debaltsevo, as well as in other areas.

The situation is made worse by the fact that army and national guard reserves are almost completely depleted, and plugging the gaps in defense using small formations cannot stabilize the front. Besides, the Ukrainian forces are running low on ordnance, food and medical supplies.

In turn, the partisan field commanders report 752 killed Ukrainian military personnel, 59 destroyed tanks and a large number of people taken prisoner. In view of their combat successes, the partisans are refusing to take part in any further negotiations in the format of the Minsk agreements and threaten to continue the counterattack.

Local authorities in Ukrainian-controlled districts near the front report that Ukrainian soldiers are deserting with their weapons and taking to looting the countryside in increasing numbers.

In this critical situation the military is afraid to report to president Poroshenko the real situation in the southeast of the country, hiding from him the full scale of the catastrophe.

The head of state is still convinced that the situation is under control, and hopes that in case of a real threat he will still have the chance to ask the West for help.

And then there is this video evidence: American “boots on the ground” have invaded Eastern Ukraine. How do you say “Get out of my face, please!” in Ukrainian? I guess the grunts aren’t taught that in Basic Training… are they too busy learning how to shell civilians and then blame the other side?

Kiev introduces state of emergency in Donbass, high alert across Ukraine
RT Russia January 26, 2015

Visit this page for its related links and video.

The Ukrainian government has introduced the state of emergency in the war-torn south-eastern Donetsk and Lugansk Regions, and put all other territories on high alert, Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk announced.

“In accordance with the Ukrainian Code of Civil Protection, the Cabinet of Ministers has adopted a decision to recognize an emergency situation at a state level. The Ukrainian government has decided to impose the state of emergency in the Donetsk and Lugansk Regions,” Yatsenyuk is cited as saying by Interfax-Ukraine.

According to the PM, the move is aimed at providing the most efficient coordination of all government agencies in order to ensure civil protection and the safety of the population.

The statement was made after the field meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers, which took place at the headquarters of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine in Kiev on Monday.

Posted at: January 26, 2015 - 3:25 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

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From outside, Greece looks like a giant negative: But what lies beneath the rise of Syriza is the resurgence of positive classic values & Talks to watch: Syriza’s coalition partner makes them an extremely tough negotiating team when bailout talks resume

Syriza and Anel outrightly reject the commitments the previous government signed up to with creditors – outlined in the onerous bailout accords that Athens agreed with the EU, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Why the whole world is watching Greece
Lee Sustar Canadian Dimension Canada January 22, 2015

Visit this page for its embedded links.

Why is so much attention focused on the Greek elections?

It may seem surprising that an election in a small country of less than 12 million people could create high anxiety in government ministries in Berlin and Paris and at the European Union (EU) headquarters in Brussels. But as the Russian revolutionary Lenin once wrote, the chain of imperialism is only as strong as its weakest link, and Greece certainly fits that description.

The crisis in Greece emerged in the aftermath of the financial panic of October 2008, when the government was no longer able to make payments on its outstanding debts. The European Commission – the executive arm of the EU – stepped in, along with the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Known collectively as the “Troika,” they agreed to bail out the Greek financial system, but only if the country slashed government employment and salaries, made deep cuts in social spending, and privatized government services. At the same time, regressive taxes that hit workers hardest were actually increased. The revenues going to the government immediately flowed out of the country to repay foreign debt.

Austere Bailout

The austerity-mongers insisted that these methods would work by lowering labour costs in Greece, which would, they said, revive investment in the Greek economy. It didn’t work. The first bailout had to be followed by a second. A third bailout was under discussion when the conservative government of Antonis Samaras unraveled in December. The money was needed simply to enable the Greek government to keep its debt payments flowing. Greece’s economy plunged in a way unseen since the Great Depression, even as the amount of debt continued to increase relative to the size of the economy, reaching 175 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2013 and remaining at 168 per cent today.

In 2012, the specter of Greece’s potential exit from the euro – the common currency shared by 19 countries – created waves of financial panic when Syriza nearly won national elections.

Greece’s economy is fairly small by European standards, with a gross domestic product (GDP) of $242-billion in 2013, compared to $2.1-trillion for Italy or $1.4-trillion for Spain, countries also mired in low growth. A run on Greek banks or a default on Greece’s debt could have had a domino effect on other European banks and lead investors to dump Italian or Spanish government bonds, creating huge problems for those countries.

More recently, the Greek economy has seen a small recovery from its catastrophic collapse, achieving what’s known as a “primary surplus” – economists’ jargon for a government budget surplus prior to the repayment of debt. European banks and their regulators at the European Central Bank now claim that they’re far healthier and thus no longer at risk of a possible “Grexit” from the euro. But the bankers can’t be trusted. This is the same bunch who told the world that everything was sound just before the financial crash of 2008. Given the interconnectedness of international finance, there’s no way to know just how banks would be affected by Syriza’s demand to renegotiate the debt.

There’s another big worry for EU bureaucrats and European corporate bosses: The possibility that Greece could set a precedent for other countries by encouraging further left-wing protest against austerity policies that have seen governments across the EU slash budgets and push the costs of the economic crisis onto working people.

More than six years into the economic crisis, most European economies are stagnating. The political fallout has hit establishment parties of the center left and center right – for example, with the National Front making huge electoral gains amid dissatisfaction with the Socialist Party government of François Hollande. Far right and nationalist groups in other countries have also gained in recent elections by scapegoating immigrants in general, and Muslims in particular.

In Spain, by contrast, the left-wing Podemos party, barely one year old, emerged as the most popular party in that country as the result of popular anger against the conservative government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. A Syriza victory would boost Podemos’ prospects and revive the left across the continent.

As the major economic power in the EU, the German capitalist class and its supporters claim that Greece brought the crisis on itself by lying about the weakness of its economy and failing to live “within its means.” Is this true?

The Greek crisis is the extreme form of a crisis at the heart of the European Union – and, within it, the German capitalist class’s attempt to drive the economic organization of the EU.

The European common currency, the euro, was launched in 1999. German capitalists favoured the move, since it consolidated the continent as an export market for German business and rationalized a fragmentary financial system anchored by the biggest European banks, along with the newly created European Central Bank. As a currency, the euro was weaker than Germany’s former currency, the deutschmark, would have been on its own. This made German exports cheaper to the rest of the world outside the EU. The problem was that the ECB lacks anything like the powers of the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank. While the Fed can basically print money to cover U.S. government debts, the ECB can’t do this – and German officials would be against it if it could.

But if the ECB lacks power, the central banks of the individual EU governments have even less. Previously, a country with big debts to pay would slash interest rates and devalue its currency to make its economy more competitive on the world market. Greece – like other euro countries – lacks that power under the terms of its agreement to participate in the eurozone.

Instead, austerity was supposed to achieve a kind of “internal devaluation” – a drastic cut in living standards that would rekindle economic growth, with lower costs of production attracting new investment.

Just how bad is the social and economic crisis in Greece today?

We know the horror stories of social collapse caused by wars and military invasions in countries like Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Syria. But Greece has endured an almost unimaginable amount of privation without any such armed conflict.

Although the Greek economy returned to growth for the first time in six years in 2014, the economy remains 30 per cent smaller than it was six years ago. In human terms, that translates to millions of lives shattered – and a whole generation of young people deprived of any prospect of a stable and secure life.

According to researchers for the Greek parliament, some 2.5 million people (in a total population of 11 million, remember) live under the poverty line, with another 3.8 million at risk for doing so. Some 26.6 per cent of people are jobless – and for those aged 15 to 24, the figure is 52 per cent. Wages have fallen by 5 per cent every year since 2009.

Poverty and unemployment are only part of the suffering of the Greek working-class. According to researchers from the British medical journal The Lancet, some 47 per cent of Greeks say they could not obtain medically necessary treatment. Public education has been savaged, too, with a 33 per cent cut in education spending between 2009 and 2013 and a further 14 per cent cut scheduled by 2016. Thousands of teachers have lost their jobs, and class sizes have exploded.

During recent winters, a large number of people died of carbon monoxide poisoning due to the use of wood stoves – since heating has become unaffordable for millions. Countless numbers of people struggle to make do with a barter system, offering whatever skills or services they can in exchange for other services – or merely for food. There has been nothing like this in the economically advanced world since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

What can the left in the U.S. and the rest of the world do in solidarity?

A Syriza government will have to contend not only with the Greek bosses, but with the international capitalist class.

As the elections neared, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other European heads of state were keeping their cards close to their vest. One can expect a mixture of bribery and bullying, in the hopes of driving a wedge into Syriza and demoralizing its electoral base. According to this scenario, New Democracy will wait for a Syriza government to implode and make a triumphant return, with an even harsher austerity program.

That’s why international solidarity with the Greek left and a defense of the Syriza government will be crucial. From public meetings explaining what’s happening to organizing campaigns against governments and bankers to protest the efforts to bleed Greece dry, the left can play an important role.

At a time when mainstream parties worldwide continue to squeeze workers to protect the profits and privileges of a tiny minority, a Syriza victory will give voice to the left-wing alternative that we urgently need.

Below: Spyros Economides is Associate Professor of International Relations and European Politics at London School of Economics and Political Science. He is cautious and concerned: “If Greece’s international creditors don’t come through with quick concessions, or if radical opposition rears its head against Syriza’s more moderate approach, this could trigger an uncontrollable reaction based on fear of uncertainty. That could lead to an accidental default, which would have disastrous consequences for Greece.”

Syriza sweeps to victory in Greek election, promising an end to ‘humiliation’
Spyros Economides The Conversation International January 25, 2015

As had been widely predicted, the left-wing party Syriza has secured a victory in the Greek election. Having finished with just short of enough seats in parliament for a majority, leader Alexis Tsipras has agreed to form an anti-austerity coalition with the right-wing party Greek Independents.

Throughout the short campaign, it appeared the relative newcomer to Greek politics, led by the charismatic Tsipras, would win. Now it appears he has done so by a significant margin.

Speaking in the wake of the victory, Tsipras said the vote would end years of “destructive austerity, fear and authoritarianism” and that his country could now leave behind the “humiliation” it has suffered.

The last half of 2014, which became essentially a prolonged general election campaign, saw the Syriza leadership (especially Alexis Tsipras) toning down its extreme rhetoric. Instead of pushing for radical reform, it focused on promising simply to abandon austerity and challenge Greece’s external debt commitments.

Syriza has pledged to tackle what it calls Greece’s “humanitarian crisis”. It plans to feed and house the worst affected by the crisis, providing them with free electricity and medication, and reintroducing a higher minimum wage.

Internationally, it has promised to bring Greece’s creditors to the negotiating table, with the intention of thrashing out a deal more favourable to Greece. In essence, this will amount to requesting debt redemption, or a “haircut”.

This toned-down platform may have won Syriza the election by attracting enough of the political centre, but it may not be enough to sustain the support of the more radical elements in the party’s leadership and political base.

The worry is that the whiff of power may not be strong enough to placate radical elements, who really do want radical domestic policies. They would like to see austerity abandoned and replaced by increased government spending across the board, and the restitution of public salaries and pensions. The public sector workers made redundant over the past four years would be re-employed and state property nationalised.

They also want a more confrontational policy towards Greece’s creditors and the so-called troika (the EU, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund). This could ultimately result in the dreaded Grexit.

If Syriza’s more radical elements feel betrayed by watered-down policies, the party faces the prospect of internal division, and Greece could soon see social unrest and demonstrations. That would weaken the new government dramatically, and could further destabilise the country at a very delicate moment.

Despite the scene of triumph, Greece is entering a period of deep uncertainty, and Syriza’s victory may indeed turn out to be pyrrhic. It is confronted by the immense task of governing at a time when Greece may be ungovernable, while also facing a potentially divisive internal struggle. International partners have also made it clear that the new Greek government, whatever its makeup, will have to honour the country’s existing agreements and commitments.

If Greece’s international creditors don’t come through with quick concessions, or if radical opposition rears its head against Syriza’s more moderate approach, this could trigger an uncontrollable reaction based on fear of uncertainty. That could lead to an accidental default, which would have disastrous consequences for Greece.

Greece elections: Merkel has lost, hope has won
Bryan MacDonald RT Russia January 25, 2015

Syriza’s landslide victory in this weekend’s Greek elections has immediately been called a ‘political earthquake’. It’s more accurate to say that Greek voters have gatecrashed the Euro elites’ party and let off a grenade.

Megalomania is a condition characterized by delusional fantasies of power and relevance, combined with inflated self-esteem. There are sufferers all over Europe but they can most frequently be spotted in Brussels, at the EU’s headquarters. There’s something about the institution; contact with it can turn a perfectly decent person into an eminently dislikable sort in short order.

In the aftermath of Greece’s seismic election, I assumed the eurocrat elite would follow the diktat, “if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all.” So, I cranked up the Twitter machine and within 5 seconds, I encountered this ‘gem’ from our old friend Carl Bildt. Bildt was the the Swedish Foreign Minster – and one of America’s favourite European poodles – until his own electorate voted him out last year.

Bildt’s Tweet is important because it reveals a mindset among the elite. They extol the benefits of democracy for others, while pouring scorn on the results, if they fail to suit their own agendas. An example was when they forced Ireland to vote again (twice) after initial rejections of EU treaties. Or when they speak of bringing free elections to the Middle East while refusing to deal with Palestine’s elected government, or even recognise the state’s existence.

For decades, the eurocrats had it their own way. Every member state operated a ‘Tweedledee and Tweedledum’ system, where both dominant parties expressed fealty to the EU ‘project.’ Hence, when the former were voted out, Tweedledum would only make superficial changes, largely restricted to domestic matters. As national elites benefited from the Brussels’ gravy train, with its fat pensions and perks, they system was designed so that ‘important people’ wouldn’t rock the boat.

That tradition changed on Sunday. Greece’s establishment parties, New Democracy (ND) and PASOK were knocked off their perch by Syriza, founded only 11 years ago. …

Below: The rise of Syriza can’t just be explained by the crisis in the eurozone. A youthful generation of professionals has had enough of tax-evading oligarchs says Paul Mason, economics editor at Britain’s Channel 4 News.

Greece shows what can happen when the young revolt against corrupt elites
Paul Mason Guardian UK January 25, 2015

This page contains a video report (6:25).

At Syriza’s HQ, the cigarette smoke in the cafe swirls into shapes. If those could reflect the images in the minds of the men hunched over their black coffees, they would probably be the faces of Che Guevara, or Aris Velouchiotis, the second world war Greek resistance fighter. These are veteran leftists who expected to end their days as professors of such esoteric subjects as development economics, human rights law and who killed who in the civil war. Instead, they are on the brink of power.

Black coffee and hard pretzels are all the cafe provides, together with the possibility of contracting lung cancer. But on the eve of the vote, I found its occupants confident, if bemused.

However, Syriza HQ is not the place to learn about radicalisation. The fact that a party with a “central committee” even got close to power has nothing to do with a sudden swing to Marxism in the Greek psyche. It is, instead, testimony to three things: the strategic crisis of the eurozone, the determination of the Greek elite to cling to systemic corruption, and a new way of thinking among the young.

Of these, the eurozone’s crisis is easiest to understand – because its consequences can be read so easily in the macroeconomic figures. The IMF predicted Greece would grow as the result of its aid package in 2010. Instead, the economy has shrunk by 25%. Wages are down by the same amount. Youth unemployment stands at 60% – and that is among those who are still in the country.

So the economic collapse – about which all Greeks, both right and leftwing, are bitter – is not just seen as a material collapse. It demonstrated complete myopia among the European policy elite. In all of drama and comedy there is no figure more laughable as a rich man who does not know what he is doing. For the past four years the troika – the European Commission, IMF and European Central Bank – has provided Greeks with just such a spectacle.

As for the Greek oligarchs, their misrule long predates the crisis. These are not only the famous shipping magnates, whose industry pays no tax, but the bosses of energy and construction groups and football clubs. As one eminent Greek economist told me last week: “These guys have avoided paying tax through the Metaxas dictatorship, the Nazi occupation, a civil war and a military junta.” They had no intention of paying taxes as the troika began demanding Greece balance the books after 2010, which is why the burden fell on those Greeks trapped in the PAYE system – a workforce of 3.5 million that fell during the crisis to just 2.5 million.

The oligarchs allowed the Greek state to become a battleground of conflicting interests. As Yiannis Palaiologos, a Greek journalist, put it in his recent book on the crisis, there is “a pervasive irresponsibility, a sense that no one is in charge, no one is willing or able to act as a custodian of the common good”.

But their most corrosive impact is on the layers of society beneath them. “There goes X,” Greeks say to each other as the rich walk to their tables in trendy bars. “He is controlling Y in parliament and having an affair with Z.” It’s like a soap opera, but for real, and too many Greeks are deferentially mesmerised by it.

Over three general elections Syriza’s achievement has been to politicise the issue of the oligarchy. The Greek word for them is “the entangled” – and they were, above all, entangled in the centrist political duopoly. Because Syriza owes them nothing, its leader, Alexis Tsipras, was able to give the issue of corruption and tax evasion both rhetorical barrels – and this resonated massively among the young.


Alexis Tsipras of Syriza in Athens on January 22. Photo: AGF/Rex

And here’s why. In a functional market economy, the classic couple in a posh restaurant are young and close in age. In my travels through the eurocrisis – from Dublin to Athens – I have noticed that the classic couple in a dysfunctional economy is a grey-haired man with a twentysomething woman. It becomes a story of old men with oligarchic power flaunting their wealth and influence without opprobrium.

The youth are usurped when oligarchy, corruption and elite politics stifle meritocracy. The sudden emergence of small centrist parties led by charismatic young professionals in Greece is testimony that this generation has had enough. But by the time they got their act together, Tsipras was already there.

From outside, Greece looks like a giant negative: but what lies beneath the rise of the radical left is the emergence of positive new values – among a layer of young people much wider than Syriza’s natural support base. These are the classic values of the networked generation: self-reliance, creativity, the willingness to treat life as a social experiment, a global outlook.

When Golden Dawn emerged as a frightening, violent neo-Nazi force, with – at one point – 14% support, what struck the networked youth was how many of the political elite pandered to it. People who had read its history could see a replay of late Weimar flickering before their eyes: delusional Nazis feted by big businessmen craving for order.

I’ve reported the Greek crisis since it began, and what changed in 2015 was this: Syriza had already won the solid support of about 25% of voters on the issues of Europe and economics. But now a further portion of the Greek electorate, above all the young, are signalling they’ve had enough of corruption and elites.

Greece, though an outlier, has always been a signifier, too: this is what happens when modern capitalism fails. For there are inept bureaucrats and corrupt elites everywhere: only the trillions of dollars created and pumped into their nations’ economies to avoid collapse shields them from the scrutiny they have received in Greece.

We face two years of electoral uncertainty in Europe, with the far left or the hard right now vying for power in Spain, France and the Netherlands. Some are proclaiming this “the end of neoliberalism”.

I’m not sure of that. All that’s certain is that Greece shows how it could end.

Below: James Meek is a British novelist and journalist.

Syriza’s victory
James Meek London Review of Books blogs UK January 26, 2015

Syriza’s victory in the Greek general election is a hopeful moment for Europe. It shows how a radical left-wing political movement, brought together in a short time, can use the democratic system to attack three menaces: the rentier lords of jurisdiction-hopping private capital, the compromised political hacks of the traditional parties who have become their accomplices, and the panphobic haters of the populist right.

Nationalist-conservative movements, it turns out, don’t have a monopoly on the anti-establishment wave. The future doesn’t have to belong to Golden Dawn, Ukip, the Front National, Pegida, the Finns Party, Partij voor de Vrijheid or the Sweden Democrats. It could belong to Syriza, or Podemos, or Die Linke, or to an as-yet non-existent British movement – anti-austerity, pro-Europe – which would scoop up votes from Labour, Liberals, the Scottish National Party, Ukip and the Greens.

And these left-wing movements – so it seems now, savour it while you can – don’t have to rely on street protests to get what they want. They can get it through an instrument long considered by socialist radicals to be redundant: the ballot box.

The ascent of Syriza signifies the emergence of a trans-European politics in a way the previous rise to prominence of the likes of the Front National and Ukip haven’t. The eurosceptics want to push the European Union away. They want their politics to be more national. What makes Alexis Tsipras radical is not what he wants to do in Greece, but what he wants to do in Europe.

Tsipras’s programme will work only if he manages to ignite the Syrizification of the entire Eurozone; if he can win the implicit support of voters in enough national elections across the continent to force Angela Merkel and her fellow pro-austerity north Europeans into the position of isolation that Greece is in now.

Related: Who are the Independent Greeks? Party differs on many issues with Syriza, but the two are united by a mutual hatred for bailout program.

Who are the Independent Greeks?
Helena Smith in Athens Guardian UK January 26, 2015


Panos Kammenos, leader of Independent Greeks (Anel). Photo: Michael Kappeler/dpa/Corbis

Syriza just missed out on the 151 MPs it needed to govern alone after Greece’s election, winning 149 seats with a 36.3% share of the vote. The party has formed a coalition government with Independent Greeks, who took 13 seats.

The populist, rightwing Independent Greeks (Anel) would at first sight make for a strange bedfellow for the radical leftists Syriza and the deal makes an unusual alliance, but they are brought together by a mutual hatred for the bailout programme keeping Greece afloat.

The two parties have vastly diverging world views, standing well apart on issues such as illegal migration, Greece’s ever-fractious relationship with Nato rival Turkey, gay marriage and the role of the Greek Orthodox church.

Under their leader Panos Kammenos, who defected from the centre-right New Democracy party to form Anel at the height of the crisis in February 2012, the group has proved to be rabidly nationalistic in foreign affairs.

The politician is particularly virulent on the issue of the need to reclaim war reparations that he argues were never properly dealt with after the Nazis’ brutal occupation of the country. He was accused of being antisemitic when he claimed last month that Greek Jews paid less tax than other citizens.

His party is part of the European Conservatives and Reformists political group in the European parliament, which was founded at the behest of David Cameron.

Both Syriza and Independent Greeks agree on the need to end austerity. And both hold strident views on the especially sensitive issue of Greek sovereignty having been denuded as a result of six years of stewardship under Athens’ hated “troika” of creditors. Anel, like Syriza, says foreign lenders have turned the debt-crippled country into a “debt colony”.

In opposition, the two political forces collaborated to block the election of a new head of state, which ultimately triggered Sunday’s snap polls. With Syriza and Anel outright rejecting the commitments the previous government signed up to with creditors – outlined in the onerous bailout accords that Athens agreed with the EU, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund – they will make an extremely tough negotiating team when stalled talks resume this month.

Kammenos’s appointment will not be welcome news to Berlin, which has provided the biggest share of the €240bn (£180bn) in rescue funds to Athens.

Posted at: January 26, 2015 - 1:39 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

The origin of modern terror and crumbling Western values? Israel’s illegal and agonizingly long occupation of the Palestinians

John Chuckman is former chief economist for a large Canadian oil company. He has many interests and is a lifelong student of history. He writes with a passionate desire for honesty, the rule of reason, and concern for human decency. John regards it as a badge of honor to have left the United States as a poor young man from the South Side of Chicago when the country embarked on the pointless murder of something like three million Vietnamese in their own land because they embraced the wrong economic loyalties. He lives in Canada. John’s writing appears regularly on many Internet sites. He has been translated into at least ten languages and has been regularly translated into Italian and Spanish. Several of his essays have been published in book collections, including two college texts. We received the following submission this morning.

THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM: The Origin of Modern Terror and Crumbling Western Values
By John Chuckman

Do you ever solve problems by ignoring them? Most of us would say that is not possible, yet that is precisely what western governments do in their efforts to counteract what is called “Islamic terror.” Yes, there are vast and costly efforts to suppress the symptoms of what western governments regard as a modern plague, including killing many people presumed to be infected with it, fomenting rebellion and destruction in places presumed to be prone to it, secretly returning to barbaric practices such as torture, things we thought had been left behind centuries ago, to fight it, and violating rights of their own citizens we thought were as firmly established as the need for food and shelter. Governments ignore, in all these destructive efforts, what in private they know very well is the origin of the problem.

Have Islamic radicals always existed? Yes, we have records through the history of British and French empire-building of strange and fearsome groups. It appears every large religion has a spectrum of believers, always including at one end of the spectrum extreme fundamentalists. They are not a new phenomenon anywhere, so why has one group of them, in the sands of the Middle East, become part of our everyday awareness?

It is also nothing new that young men become hot-blooded and disturbed over what they regard as attacks upon their kind. Western society’s record of crusades, religious wars, colonial wars, and revolts, a total likely having no equal in the histories of the world’s peoples, offers countless examples of young men being angered by this or that circumstance and joining up or running off to fight.

George Bush told us today’s terrorists hate our freedom and democratic values, but like virtually every utterance of George Bush, that one was fatuous, explaining nothing. Nevertheless, his is the explanation pounded into public consciousness because governments and the corporate press never stop repeating versions of it, the Charlie Hebdo affair and its theatrical posturing over free speech being only the latest. Theatrical? Yes, when we know perfectly well that most of those who marched at the front of the parade in Paris are anything but friends of free speech.

All backward peoples are uncomfortable with certain western values, that being the nature of backwardness, and backwardness is a defining characteristic of all fundamentalist religious groups – Hasidic or ultra-Orthodox Jews, Mennonites, Roman Catholic Cardinals, cloistered nuns, Sikhs, and many others – who typically choose modes of dress, rules to obey, and even foods to eat having little or no relationship with the contemporary world and science. Of course, that is their right so long as they are peaceful and law-abiding.

Any fundamentalist group, pushed by more powerful people from outside their community, is entirely capable of, and even prone to, violence, and all human beings are capable of violence when faced with abuse and injustice. Centuries of religious wars and terrors in Europe about such matters as how the Mass is celebrated prove the proposition and should be held as a warning, but they are forgotten by most, if they were ever known. The tendency towards violence continues today amongst many fundamentalist faiths. In so relatively small and seemingly homogeneous a society as Israel, there are regular attacks from ultra-Orthodox Jews against the country’s worldly citizens or against fair-minded rules about such pedestrian matters as women riding buses or walking on a street. The attacks become quite violent – punching, spitting, burning down homes, and killing sometimes – and all go against what we call western values, but because the scale is fairly small, and our press also has a constant protective bias concerning all things Israeli, these events rarely make our mainline news. They must be found on the Internet.

It took Western Europe literally centuries to leave behind such recurrent and violent themes as witches and the need to burn them alive, the Evil Eye, casting out demons, execution for differences of belief, and countless other stupidities which characterized whole societies and destroyed lives. And if you want to go still further back, go to the Old Testament, a collection of ancient writing packed with violence, superstition, prejudice, and just plain ignorance, which Christians and others even today regard as containing important truths for contemporary life. Human progress, at least in some matters, takes a very long time indeed.

Our world has more backward people than most of us can imagine. The news does not feature their extremes and savageries because it serves no political purpose. In Africa, for example, we find practices and beliefs utterly repellent to modern minds: the practice of senior village men raping young girls as an accepted right, the genital mutilation of 3 million girls annually (an African, not an Islamic, practice), the hunting down and butchering such “strange” people as albinos, their parts to be eaten as medicine, and many others. In India, a country well on its way to becoming modern yet one with a huge backward population, we have practices such as marrying off mere girls to old men rich enough to pay dowries to poor parents. At one stroke this enriches the parents and relieves them of the burden of a child, a female child too, always viewed less favorably. The practice generates a large population of widows when the old husbands of girls married at, say, twelve die. These women are then condemned to entire lives as widows, never allowed to remarry, required to dress and eat in certain ways, and basically shunned to live in squalid equivalents of old folks homes, living entirely meaningless lives. India also has the practice of “bride burning” where new brides who are deemed unacceptable for various reasons become the prey of the groom’s family, literally being burned alive. There are many other barbarities in that society too, including “honor killing” and young women who are made inmates in certain temples to serve as glorified prostitutes.

Our press assiduously avoids much of the world’s horrors as it focuses on “Islamic extremism,” and politics are the only explanation for the bias. The press theme of Islamic terror and indeed real incidents of terror grow from a reality always taken for granted, never debated, and certainly never criticised: the elephant in the room, as it were, is Israel’s illegal and agonizingly long occupation of the Palestinians.

It may be not be important to our press and governments that Israel holds millions as prisoners, crippling the lives of generation after generation, or that Israel periodically strikes out in every direction – Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank – causing the deaths of many thousands, or that Israel is seen to bulldoze people’s homes and sacred monuments with complete impunity, but it very much matters to many millions of Muslims in the world, and some of them, fundamentalist men, strike out against it just as young men everywhere have sometimes struck out against keenly-felt hurts and injustice.

In western countries, under the hard influence of America, a country in turn under the hard influence of the world’s best organized and financed lobby, the Israel Lobby, we have come to regard Israel’s behavior as normal, but it is, of course, not normal, not in any detail. What is normal about holding several million people prisoner for half a century? What is normal about bulldozing homes and literally stealing the land upon which they stood? What is normal about declaring an honestly elected government as criminal and treating its people as though they were criminals? What is normal about limiting people’s opportunity to earn a living or to import some of the needs of life? What is normal about killing nearly a thousand children, as Israel has done just in Gaza, since 2008?

Pretending that Israel’s behavior is not the major cause of what screams from our headlines and news broadcasts has reached absurd levels. America has only vastly compounded the problem of Israel’s organized abuse of a people: it and its silent partners have destroyed Iraq, destroyed Libya, are working hard to destroy Syria, have seen to it that Egypt’s tens of millions again live under absolute government, ignore countless inequities and barbarities in secretly-helpful countries like Saudi Arabia, and carry out extra-judicial killings through much of the region. All of it is carried out on Israel’s behalf and with Israel’s cooperation. Can any reasonable person not see that this vast factory of death also manufactures countless grievances and vendettas? The stupidity is on a colossal scale, rooted in the notion that you can kill your way out of the terrible consequences of terrible policies.

In America, paid political shills (Newt Gingrich was one) have campaigned about there being no such thing as a Palestinian. Others (Dick Armey was one) have said that millions of Palestinians should be removed, all their land left conveniently to Israel. That last is an odd thing to say, isn’t it, considering there are supposed to be no such thing as Palestinians? And just what country would take millions of “non-existent” Palestinians? Obviously no politician with even pretence of integrity would say such things, and how can intelligent and successful people like America’s Jews take satisfaction in hearing politicians reciting such embarrassing scripts? But this is a good measure of the way intelligence and sound thinking are scorned in American politics. How can you achieve anything worth achieving without intelligence and sound thinking? You cannot, but that doesn’t stop American Presidents and Secretaries of State from carrying on the world’s longest-running dumb show, something called the “peace process.” The sombre, moose-like figure of John Kerry is photographed playacting at statesmanship while American-supplied arms just keep killing thousands of innocent people.

Posted at: January 26, 2015 - 10:45 am -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

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A likely scenario: The real Canadian ISIS mission—get Stephen Harper re-elected & The film, ‘American Sniper’, illustrates Western Axis’ morality blind spots

Either Canada’s political leadership little understands the Iraq/Kurdistan mission or the pure cowboy political comments made by Stephen Harper and others are deliberately designed for political effect.

Special forces troops involved in two more firefights with ISIL fighters
Canadian Press/National Newswatch Canada January 26, 2015

OTTAWA – Canadian special forces troops have been involved in more firefights with Islamic State extremists.

Navy Capt. Paul Forget says the elite troops, who were advising Kurdish fighters in battlefield planning, came under fire twice while visiting the front over the last week.

He says in both cases the Canadian troops returned fire and “neutralized” the threats.

The gun battles are in addition to an incident outlined last week by the commander of special forces, Brig.-Gen. Michael Rouleau.

As well, Forget says CF-18 jetfighters have conducted 12 more air strikes supporting Iraqi forces who are preparing to liberate Mosul, the country’s second largest city.

Related commentary: No matter how you spin it, we are fighting ISIS in Iraq
Scott Taylor The Chronicle Herald Nova Scotia Canada January 25, 2015


Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18 Hornets depart after refueling over Iraq. Canadian soldiers recently came under effective mortar and machine-gun fire from ISIS fighters and in response, the Canadians used a sniper to “neutralize” the ISIS gunners.

On Jan. 19, the National Defence Department hosted one of its routine technical briefings to update the media on recent developments in the allied military campaign against ISIS in Iraq. In the past, various commanders have detailed the number of sorties undertaken by our combat aircraft and the targets they had successfully engaged.

We were told that the destruction of a few dump trucks and a bunker had effectively changed the course of the war and the subsequent paucity of ISIS targets meant the jihadists were “on their back foot.”

A slightly different picture emerged at last Monday’s briefing, when Lt.-Gen. Jonathan Vance and Brig.-Gen. Mike Rouleau detailed how Canadian soldiers had come under effective mortar and machine-gun fire from ISIS fighters. In response to that direct threat, the Canadians used a sniper to “neutralize” the ISIS gunners. Rouleau also stated that Canada’s special forces team has used laser-illuminated technology to pinpoint ISIS targets for destruction by allied aircraft.

These revelations of combat activity set in motion a flurry of spin to bridge the credibility gap between the government-authorized training mandate and the fact that our soldiers are actually on the front lines.

Last October, when it was announced that “up to 69” Canadian Armed Forces personnel were to deploy to Erbil, Iraq, the Canadian public was assured that this was to “advise and assist” the Kurdish forces, which were already battling to contain ISIS advances. When asked during a CTV interview specifically whether these Canadian soldiers would be used to help direct airstrikes by Canadian CF-18 pilots, Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Tom Lawson replied that they would have “nothing to do with that.” Lawson’s rationale was that such action would be considered “semi-combat” and Canadian soldiers on the ground were strictly limited to training.

Although politicians, generals, historians and veterans can debate what constitutes combat and when one can invoke the right to self-defence, Lawson’s specific denial of a specific action, which was subsequently employed, could not be resolved.

Instead of admitting the public had been misled, Lawson issued a statement last Thursday stating: “To be clear, the situation has evolved since I offered those remarks” last fall. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I’m sure things have changed since our troops first deployed. It still doesn’t explain when the decision was made to expand the mandate, and who authorized such action.

Is our Iraq mission about politics?
Dan Leger The Chronicle Herald Nova Scotia Canada January 26, 2015


Lt.-Gen. Jonathan Vance arrives for a technical briefing last week in Ottawa. Vance said it’s not clear how long it will be before Iraqi forces are able to call in coalition airstrikes against Islamic State fighters without Canada’s help. Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP

Just what, exactly, did people think would go on when Canada sent some of its most hard-core soldiers to the most dangerous place in the world?

Did people really think that Canadian special forces operators would spend all their time in Iraq giving seminars and supervising target practice?

Apparently, we did think that, judging from the reaction to the news that Canadian soldiers got into a deadly gunfight with ISIS militants, contrary to expectations. Somehow, we were all surprised.

But then, the Conservative government told us that the ground mission was going to be pretty low-key, a training adjunct to the mission for the air force fighter-bombers deployed there. Canada would hit the ISIS army from the air and send in ground troops, but that wouldn’t count as a combat mission.

The Chief of the Defence Staff, Gen. Tom Lawson, said the Canadians would be there solely to “advise and assist” the locals fighting their own war.

But if that really was the mission, Ottawa could have sent just about any infantry unit in the army. All have qualified trainers, many with combat experience from Afghanistan.

The government chose to send the elite members of the Canadian Special Operations Forces, the most aggressive war fighters in the army. They are the best trained forces in the army, and the most ready.

The only way to keep soldiers like that out of combat is to base them far away from the fighting, with orders not to engage. You generally don’t need special forces for non-combat roles far from the enemy.

On the other hand, targeting bombing runs from the ground does sound like a special forces mission. And it turns out the Canadians are doing just that, infiltrating enemy areas and painting targets with lasers to ensure bombing accuracy.

Lawson now says that circumstances changed on the ground, which indirectly led to the firefight. No doubt there’s some truth to that, since circumstances change in every deployment.

But to pretend it all happened by accident is a stretch.

Related audio: Efficacy of Canada’s mission to fight ISIS just not clear
‘The Current’ CBC Radio One Canada January 26, 2014


Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, centre, and Iraqi Deputy Minister Rowsch Nouri Sharways look at the ISIS positions from a front line bunker in Kalak, Iraq, Sept 2014. Is there a clear enough line for Canada’s Iraqi mission between combat and “advice and assist”? Photo: Ryan Remiorz/CP.Visit this page for its embedded and related links. You can listen to the interview (22:00) from a pop-up link on the page.

Canada has gone from full combat … to a pop-up presence in Libya and now Iraq. Are these smaller missions the way of the future for Canada’s military? And do they work?

From the highly intensive mission in Afghanistan… To the shorter and quicker style air support contribution in Libya. Canada’s current mission in Iraq is meant to be another of those nimble campaigns — That’s notwithstanding the fact that many Canadians were surprised last week to learn what the so-called “advise and assist” role has already entailed…. like calling in air strikes, and killing a sniper in a front line fire fight.

Still, the current mission in Iraq — like our military support in Ukraine and logistical help in Mali — may just represent the future of how Canada deploys its armed forces — raising the question — are these types of smaller, more nimble missions effective? If they help in the short term, can they really have a lasting impact?

Walter Dorn is a professor of defence studies at the Canadian Forces College in Toronto.

Martin Shadwick who is a defence policy analyst at York University.

Steve Saideman who is the Paterson Chair in International Affairs at Carlton University.

Simply related: From Guantánamo Bay to King Abdullah, beneath our talk of defending civilized values lies a deep hypocrisy. American sniper Chris Kyle was every bit as much a jihadi in uniform as his nemeses were soldiers in more casual wear.

American Sniper illustrates the west’s morality blind spots
Gary Younge Guardian UK January 26, 2015

Visit this page for its embedded links.

Say what you like about the film American Sniper, and people have, you have to admire its clarity. It’s about killing. There is no moral arc; no anguish about whether the killing is necessary or whether those who are killed are guilty of anything. “I’m prepared to meet my maker and answer for every shot I took,” says Bradley Cooper, who plays the late Chris Kyle, a navy Seal who was reputedly the deadliest sniper in American history. There is certainly no discursive quandary about whether the Iraq war, in which the killing takes place, is either legal or justified. “I couldn’t give a flying fuck about the Iraqis,” wrote Kyle in his memoir, where he refers to the local people as “savages”.

The west does not see itself the way others see it; indeed it often does not see others at all. Solipsistic in its suffering and narcissistic in its impulses, it promotes itself as the upholder of principles it does not keep, and a morality it does not practise. This alone would barely distinguish it from most cultures. What makes the west different is the physical and philosophical force with which it simultaneously makes its case for superiority and contradicts it. Therein lies the dysfunction whereby it keeps doing hateful things while expressing bewilderment at why some people hate it. It’s as though we are continually caught by surprise that others have not chosen to ignore their humiliation, pain, anger and sorrow just because we have.

“The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side,” wrote George Orwell in Notes on Nationalism. “But he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them … Whether such deeds were reprehensible, or even whether they happened, was always decided according to political predilection.” When these contradictions are rooted in history this sophistry can be neatly buried under time. If Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein were once our allies and have become enemies, then so be it. Needs must. What’s done is done. History that is inconvenient conveniently loses its legacy; an unpalatable past loses its connection to an unfortunate present. Reference to genocides and colonialism are dismissed as the fetid grievances of yore. Why keep bringing up old stuff?

Posted at: January 26, 2015 - 9:28 am -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

January 25, 2015

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Just as rape and sex have nothing to do with each other, pictures shared with and without consent are completely different things

Someone stole naked pictures of me. This is what I did about it – video
Guardian UK January 21, 2015

This video runs 2:38.

Four years ago, intimate photographs of Danish journalist Emma Holten were posted on the web. Thousands viewed them and she still receives online harassment. The issues of revenge porn and hacked photos are part of a larger problem with our relationship to consent, she argues. So Holten decided to pose for and release a new set of pictures of her body. Here she explains why.

You can read more about Emma’s project at Hysteria below.

Consent an objection
Emma Holten HYSTERIA #5

On a regular October morning in 2011 I couldn’t access my email or Facebook. I didn’t think anything of it – I forget passwords all the time – and just tried again. Waiting for me upon entry were hundreds of messages and emails.

Messages and emails with pictures of me in them.

One: me, naked, in my ex-boyfriend’s darkened room. Seventeen, a little awkward, slightly hunched forward: a harmless attempt at sexiness.

Another: two years later, in my room in Uppsala, Sweden. Older, a little more confident, but not a whole lot.

What had happened was apparent: the pictures were now online. I had become one of the thousands, hundreds of thousands, of girls thrown into the porn industry against their will. I thought “how bad can this really be?” The guys at school would find it hilarious, probably; talk about it for ten minutes: “Holy shit, have you seen Emma?” It was humiliating, of course, but I’ve never been ashamed of my body or my sexuality. No doubt, I wished it had never happened, but I couldn’t have imagined the next two years.

The weeks passed and more messages trickled in. I was on sites filled with pictures of my fellow victims, women who’d never intended their pictures to be public, who’d never wanted attention from more than one person.

“Men love naked women,” I thought “I knew as much.” But their questions in my inbox made it clear that the appeal did not rest solely upon my apparent nudity.

I would have to write a new story about my body in order to make it possible to see myself naked and still see myself as human. I decided that a sort of re-humanisation had to happen.

I talked to the photographer Cecilie Bødker. She told me that photographing unclothed women without catering to the male gaze and sexualising them was almost impossible. Would it be possible for her to take pictures of me without my clothes on, where it was obvious that I was, in fact, a human being deserving of respect? We gave it a try. This isn’t just about me getting better. It’s also about problematising and experimenting with the roles we most see naked women portraying. We seldom smile, are in control, live. We never look, we’re always looked at.

The pictures are an attempt at making me a sexual subject instead of an object. I am not ashamed of my body, but it is mine. Consent is key. Just as rape and sex have nothing to do with each other, pictures shared with and without consent are completely different things.

Posted at: January 25, 2015 - 1:02 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

Bonfire of the Humanities: The writing of history, what is to be done?

Facts are standard fare for historians, but intellectual fashions are what entices them: Nationalism, Marxism, postmodernism, globalization. Below, Samuel Moyn says historians are losing their audience, and searching for the next trend won’t win it back. He concludes, “For the coming generation, one thing is clear: thinking will have to become our profession.”

Bonfire of the Humanities
Samuel Moyn The Nation USA January 20, 2015

History has a history, and historians rarely tire of quarreling over it. Yet for the past few centuries, historians have maintained an uneasy truce over the assumption that the search for “facts” should always take precedence over the more fractious difficulty of interpreting them. According to Arnaldo Momigliano, the great twentieth-century Italian scholar of ancient history, it was the Renaissance antiquarians who, though they did not write history, inadvertently made the modern historical profession possible by repudiating grand theory in order to establish cherished fact. The antiquarians collected remnants of the classical past, and understandably they needed to vouch for the reliability of their artifacts at a time when so many relics were wrongly sourced or outright fakes. Momigliano cited the nineteenth-century Oxford don Mark Pattison, who went so far as to remark about antiquarians—approvingly—that “thinking was not their profession.” It may remain the whispered credo required for admission to the guild.

More wary than anthropologists, literary critics or political scientists of speculative frameworks, historians generally have been most pleased with their ability simply to tell the truth—as if it were a secret to be uncovered through fact-finding rather than a riddle to be solved through interpretation. Anthony Grafton once honored Momigliano with the title “the man who saved history,” and it seems fair to say that the latter voiced the consensus of a profession that makes facts almost sacred and theories essentially secondary.

Even when historians started to think a little, they did so gingerly. If antiquarians merely paved the road for modern history, to proceed down it required doing more than displaying the hard-won truth. Momigliano reported that it took a while for our early modern intellectual ancestors to suspect that they could ever improve on the classical historians of Greece and Rome, thanks to the new facts that antiquarians had eked out. The true antiquarians simply stashed their goods and, Momigliano vividly wrote, shivered in “horror at the invasion of the holy precincts of history by a fanatic gang of philosophers who travelled very light.” But their heirs, like Edward Gibbon, author of the stupendous Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, realized that storytellers would have to take on board speculation or “philosophy,” corralling facts within an intellectual scheme to lend them meaning. Facts alone were blind, just as theory was empty on its own. Yet Momigliano, sharing Pattison’s approval of the antiquarian origins of history, acknowledged the necessity of thinking almost regretfully, as if the results were an inevitably ramshackle edifice built on the bedrock of fact that it was the real job of historians to lay down. Theories could be stripped away, and stories renovated as fashion changed, but the facts on which the edifice was built would endure. The “ethics” of the profession, Momigliano testified, rested on the ability of historians to stay true to them.

In the early days of Gibbon’s Enlightenment, most of the frameworks on which historians relied were theories about the origins and progress of society; in the two centuries since, historians have been willing to have their facts consort with a wide variety of suitors, from nationalism to Marxism to postmodernism. The discipline has gone through so many self-styled theoretical “turns” that it is frankly hard to keep up. It is paradoxically because most historians have looked on theory with suspicion—as a lamentable necessity, at best, to allow the facts their day—that they have often been avid trend-watchers. Precisely because they are so fickle, opportunistic and superficial in their attitude to speculation, historians seem to change popular theories often, treating them not as foundations to be built on, but as seasonal outfits to clothe the facts they have so assiduously gathered.

Posted at: January 25, 2015 - 12:58 pm -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post

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In response to Europe’s lapse of reason, Greece, which way forward? & Preliminary election results: Greece’s Syriza set to sweep election

Below: Project Syndicate is headquartered in Prague and New York. It has a network of 154 publications worldwide. Joseph Stiglitz is a former senior vice president and chief economist of the World Bank and is a former member and chairman of US President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers. He was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2001.

Europe’s lapse of reason
Joseph E. Stiglitz Project Syndicate International January 8, 2015

Visit this page for its embedded links.

NEW YORK – At long last, the United States is showing signs of recovery from the crisis that erupted at the end of President George W. Bush’s administration, when the near-implosion of its financial system sent shock waves around the world. But it is not a strong recovery; at best, the gap between where the economy would have been and where it is today is not widening. If it is closing, it is doing so very slowly; the damage wrought by the crisis appears to be long term.

Then again, it could be worse. Across the Atlantic, there are few signs of even a modest US-style recovery: The gap between where Europe is and where it would have been in the absence of the crisis continues to grow. In most European Union countries, per capita GDP is less than it was before the crisis. A lost half-decade is quickly turning into a whole one. Behind the cold statistics, lives are being ruined, dreams are being dashed, and families are falling apart (or not being formed) as stagnation – depression in some places – runs on year after year.

The EU has highly talented, highly educated people. Its member countries have strong legal frameworks and well-functioning societies. Before the crisis, most even had well-functioning economies. In some places, productivity per hour – or the rate of its growth – was among the highest in the world.

But Europe is not a victim. Yes, America mismanaged its economy; but, no, the US did not somehow manage to impose the brunt of the global fallout on Europe. The EU’s malaise is self-inflicted, owing to an unprecedented succession of bad economic decisions, beginning with the creation of the euro. Though intended to unite Europe, in the end the euro has divided it; and, in the absence of the political will to create the institutions that would enable a single currency to work, the damage is not being undone.

The current mess stems partly from adherence to a long-discredited belief in well-functioning markets without imperfections of information and competition. Hubris has also played a role. How else to explain the fact that, year after year, European officials’ forecasts of their policies’ consequences have been consistently wrong?

These forecasts have been wrong not because EU countries failed to implement the prescribed policies, but because the models upon which those policies relied were so badly flawed. In Greece, for example, measures intended to lower the debt burden have in fact left the country more burdened than it was in 2010: the debt-to-GDP ratio has increased, owing to the bruising impact of fiscal austerity on output. At least the International Monetary Fund has owned up to these intellectual and policy failures.

Europe’s leaders remain convinced that structural reform must be their top priority. But the problems they point to were apparent in the years before the crisis, and they were not stopping growth then. What Europe needs more than structural reform within member countries is reform of the structure of the eurozone itself, and a reversal of austerity policies, which have failed time and again to reignite economic growth.

Those who thought that the euro could not survive have been repeatedly proven wrong. But the critics have been right about one thing: unless the structure of the eurozone is reformed, and austerity reversed, Europe will not recover.

The drama in Europe is far from over. One of the EU’s strengths is the vitality of its democracies. But the euro took away from citizens – especially in the crisis countries – any say over their economic destiny. Repeatedly, voters have thrown out incumbents, dissatisfied with the direction of the economy – only to have the new government continue on the same course dictated from Brussels, Frankfurt, and Berlin.

But for how long can this continue? And how will voters react? Throughout Europe, we have seen the alarming growth of extreme nationalist parties, running counter to the Enlightenment values that have made Europe so successful. In some places, large separatist movements are rising.

Now Greece is posing yet another test for Europe. The decline in the Greek economy since the start of the crisis is in many ways worse than that which confronted America during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Youth unemployment is over 50%. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s government has failed, and now, owing to the parliament’s inability to choose a new Greek president, an early general election will be held on January 25.

The left opposition Syriza party, which is committed to renegotiating the terms of Greece’s EU bailout, is ahead in opinion polls. If Syriza wins but does not take power, a principal reason will be fear of how the EU will respond. Fear is not the noblest of emotions, and it will not give rise to the kind of national consensus that Greece needs in order to move forward.

The issue is not Greece. It is Europe. If Europe does not change its ways – if it does not reform the eurozone and repeal austerity – a popular backlash will become inevitable. Greece may stay the course this time. But this economic madness cannot continue forever. Democracy will not permit it. But how much more pain will Europe have to endure before reason is restored?

Below: Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), in Washington, DC., hopes Greek voters will not be intimidated into voting against the anti-austerity party, Syriza.

In Syriza, Greece has a real choice
Mark Weisbrot U.S. News & World Report/Common Dreams USA January 23, 2015


Alexis Tsipras, leader of the Syriza Party. Nothing to fear from their anti-austerity economic platform, argues Weisbrot. Visit this page for its embedded links.

Here we go again. There is talk of Greece exiting the euro, and the German government has tried to say that it would be no big deal for Europe, then apparently walked back from that position. At the same time, the German government appears to be trying to influence the Greek election scheduled for January 25 by saying that if the left party Syriza wins, a Greek exit will follow.

Syriza, led by the popular and charismatic Alexis Tsipras, is not threatening to leave the euro but promises to renegotiate Greece’s unsustainable debt. Syriza also calls for reversing Greece’s devastating austerity policies, imposed by the European authorities, which have brought the country six years of depression and more than 25 percent unemployment.

We have seen most of this story before, but the way it is presented in most of the press can be confusing. Most importantly, all this talk of how financial markets will respond to the election is somewhat misleading. The financial markets are not the driving force here. Rather, it is the European authorities, led by the European Central Bank. Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank, proved this beyond a shadow of a doubt in July 2012, when he put an end to the financial crisis in Europe with just a few words, announcing that the bank was “ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the euro.”

He didn’t even have to back the statement up with any hard cash. Yields on the troubled European governments’ bonds – including the potentially euro-meltdown-size debt of Italy and Spain — went into decline and the financial crisis of the euro was over.

What this showed the world, for those who were paying attention, was that the previous two years of financial crisis (and recession) had little to do with what financial markets “thought.” Rather they were a direct result of the European authorities’ prolonging the crisis in order to extract concessions from the troubled governments of southern Europe.

Unfortunately, the end of the financial crisis was not the end of the eurozone’s problems; since the fiscal austerity continued, the eurozone economy did not really recover. Unemployment, at 11.5 percent for the eurozone, remains near record levels; and the Euro Area Business Cycle Dating Committee has yet to announce an end to the second recession that began three years ago.

Tsipras is trying to walk a tightrope between demanding what the Greek people desperately need and want, and not allowing the European authorities to scare the electorate from voting for his party. The European authorities want Greek voters to think that they have no choice, that a vote for Syriza means that they will be forced out of the euro and economic disaster will ensue.

But in reality this is not true. Most importantly, Greece has quite a bit of bargaining power that has not been used. Whatever the German government says, it has a real and justified fear of kicking Greece out of the eurozone. The fear is not what will happen to financial markets – which the European Central Bank has demonstrated that it can take care of – but the prospect posed by former International Monetary Fund economist Arvind Subramanian in 2012: That Greece would, after an initial crisis, recover so much faster than the rest of the eurozone that other countries will also want to exit.

A robust recovery is by no means guaranteed – it would require good economic management – but for a number of reasons it is the most likely outcome of leaving the euro. This is even more true today than it was a few years ago, as Greece is running both a primary budget surplus and a trade surplus.

Greece continues to face a dismal future under the current European program, with more than 18 percent unemployment even in 2017. This is according to IMF projections, which have been consistently over-optimistic in the past. Mass unemployment will also be the norm for the eurozone, with more than 10 percent unemployment in 2017, even if it the eurozone authorities’ program is “successful.” Not to mention all the other sacrifices in living standards, including cuts in health care spending, public pensions, minimum wages and government services.

This prolonged punishment and regressive social engineering from the European authorities is only possible because the electorate has had little or no influence over the most important economic policy-making. The Greeks are trying to win some of that back; hence the intimidation from on high.

“The Greek Economy: Which Way Forward?”

In the past 6 years the Greek economy has gone through a massive adjustment at a steep price. The economy finally grew in 2014, by 0.6 percent, but the recovery is weak, slow and fragile.

This paper (15-page PDF) argues that prolonged mass unemployment and reduced living standards, brought about by years of recession and budget cuts, are unnecessary, and that a robust recovery is feasible. It presents an alternative macroeconomic scenario with a moderate fiscal stimulus, which brings the economy much closer to full employment over the next five years, with a lower net debt than currently projected by the IMF. This alternative is just one of many possible scenarios, some of which might include debt cancellation, or more help from the European Central Bank in maintaining low interest rates, especially in light of its recently announced quantitative easing program. The current program, which forecasts a weak recovery with many downside risks, as well as continued mass unemployment in the years ahead, should be replaced with policies that offer a much stronger and faster recovery.

Related: Greece’s Syriza set to sweep election in anti-austerity triumph
Renee Maltezou and Deepa Babington Thomson Reuters Canada/UK January 25, 2015

ATHENS (Reuters) – Greece’s leftwing Syriza looked set for a comfortable victory over the ruling conservatives, an exit poll showed, with a chance of winning a full majority to face down international creditors and roll back years of painful austerity measures.

Syriza could gain 35.5-39.5 percent of the vote, well ahead of the conservative New Democracy party of outgoing Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on 23-27 percent, according a joint exit poll for Greek television stations issued immediately after voting ended.

If confirmed, the result would be enough to install 40-year-old Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras as prime minister at the head of the first euro zone government openly opposed to bailout conditions imposed by European Union and International Monetary Fund during the economic crisis.

The poll showed Syriza could have between 146-158 seats in the 300-seat parliament, with the final result heavily dependent on whether former Prime Minister George Papandreou’s center Movement of Democratic Socialists enters parliament.

A clearer indication will come after 9.30 p.m. local time (1430 ET) when the interior ministry is due to issue first official projections, with a breakdown of seats based on a partial count of the vote.

“It is a historic victory, we still have to see if it will be a big historic victory,” Syriza spokesman Panos Skourletis told Greece’s Mega TV. “It sends a message against austerity and in favor of dignity and democracy,” he said.

You can check the current results of the Greek parliamentary election by visiting Kathimerini English Edition online here. As of 11:16 PDT, 21.38% of the polls have reported. Syriza has 35.24% of the popular vote; New Democracy, 29.09%.

Update: 13:39 PST Syriza secures 149 seats with 78% of the vote counted. That’s just short of an outright majority in the 300 seat parliament.

Today the Greek people has written history, Hope has written history … Greece is turning a page. Greece is leaving the austerity of catastrophe and fear … there are no losers and winners. Those who have been defeated are the elite and oligarchs … we are regaining our dignity, our sovereignty again. - Alexis Tsipras addressing supporters after winning the Greek election. Tsipras added, “Today was a defeat for the Greece of the elites and the oligarchs. The Greece that works and hopes won. The new Greek government will prove all the Cassandras of the world wrong.” He promised to restore popular sovereignty and a clash with corruption. “We regain hope, optimism and dignity,” he said.

Syriza’s victory has been greeted with alarm in Germany. The ruling CDU party insisting that Greece should stick to the austerity program. But Belgium’s finance minister said there is room for negotiation with Syriza. Many across Europe have hailed the Syriza win. Spain’s anti-austerity party Podemos said Greece finally had a government rather than a German envoy. Britain’s Green Party said Syriza’s victory was an inspiration.

Noted: Greek health cuts a matter of life and death on Samos
Agence France-Presse/ekathimerini.com France/Greece January 22, 2015


Paramedic Georgia Tolli has rued the damage that the spending cuts have inflicted on the island’s healthcare system.

Greece’s economic woes mean that paramedics on the picturesque island of Samos are increasingly faced with the terrible dilemma of who to save and who to leave to die.

On Sunday, Greeks vote in a general election for the second time in three years, with radical leftists SYRIZA leading the polls with a promise to renegotiate the international bailout that has imposed five years of austerity on the country.

On Samos, paramedic Georgia Tolli has first-hand experience of the damage that the spending cuts have inflicted on the island’s healthcare system.Greece’s economic woes mean that paramedics on the picturesque island of Samos are increasingly faced with the terrible dilemma of who to save and who to leave to die.

On Sunday, Greeks vote in a general election for the second time in three years, with radical leftists SYRIZA leading the polls with a promise to renegotiate the international bailout that has imposed five years of austerity on the country.

On Samos, paramedic Georgia Tolli has first-hand experience of the damage that the spending cuts have inflicted on the island’s healthcare system.

“Our greatest fear at the moment is having two very serious incidents occurring simultaneously and being called upon to chose which one of the two we must go to — in other words to chose who lives and who dies,” she told AFP.

Cuts to Samos’ health budget have reduced the emergency response to a single team of paramedics and a single ambulance, to cover the island’s population of 30,000.

“When I first came to Samos, there were enough paramedics to have at least two ambulances operating around the clock,” Tolli said.

In 2010, nine paramedics were backed up by five ambulance drivers. When the drivers retired or left, they were never replaced.

In 2009, as Greece began to slip towards its economic near-collapse, it was forced to begin making drastic public spending cuts. International creditors, the IMF and the EU, made a reorganization of the Greek health service one of the priorities in return for their assistance.

At Samos’ general hospital, staffing is paper-thin. There is a shortage of 20 doctors and around 30 nurses, while the administrative section has shed 22 staff.

Some services such as psychiatry are not provided at all, and several others are covered by a single specialist, staff representative Stamatis Filippis said.

“There are some basic specializations that our hospital should have but are now missing,” he said.

Vassiliki Veloni, an emergency ward doctor, explained: “For a year, the hospital only had a single cardiologist. How can you rely on a single person 365 days a year for such a vital service?”

A frustrated Doctor Veloni said: “Some days there are no catheters or syringes. It is normally a temporary situation but it’s unacceptable to have to work in such conditions.”

Her emergency ward has recently had to borrow the ECG machine from the maternity ward.

She has taken a hit on her salary too. “It’s gone from about 3,000 euros a month to 2,000 euros, which includes a 750-euro payment for 15 days in a row on duty.”

Nurse Stamatis Filippis has suffered an even bigger cut in pay. Despite 25 years’ experience, he earns just 850 euros a month, compared to 1,600 euros in 2009.

Video: ‘We are going to destroy the Greek oligarchy system’
Channel 4 News/War in Context UK/USA January 25, 2015

This video interview runs 5:14.

Yanis Varoufakis, expected to become Greece’s new finance minister, tells Paul Mason what his party, Syriza, plans to do if it wins today’s election.

Posted at: January 25, 2015 - 10:29 am -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: # -- Email This Post