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Political scientists have long noted the phenomenon of our country’s “one-party foreign policy.” Which is to say, while there are often substantial differences between the leadership of the Democratic and Republican parties on domestic issues — health care, the environment, taxation, education, etc. — when it comes to how the U.S. conducts itself vis-a-vis the rest of the world, the top figures of the two major parties tend toward the indistinguishable. Certainly, the events of the past week did nothing to diminish that assessment.
Consider the following statement on Venezuela:“Today, I am officially recognizing the President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaido, as the Interim President of Venezuela.
“I support the decision of the National Assembly, Venezuela’s sole remaining democratic institution, to recognize Juan Guaidó, President of the National Assembly, as the Interim President until full, fair and free elections can be held.
“In its role as the only legitimate branch of government duly elected by the Venezuelan people, the National Assembly invoked the country’s constitution to declare Nicolas Maduro illegitimate, and the office of the presidency therefore vacant.
“The United States must respect legitimate democratic processes, and support the right of the people of Venezuela to protest and defend their human rights.
“The people of Venezuela have courageously spoken out against Maduro and his regime and demanded freedom and the rule of law.
“Nicolas Maduro’s regime of repression and impoverishment for his personal enrichment continues to gravely violate human rights, and must be condemned swiftly by the full international community.
“I will continue to use the full weight of United States economic and diplomatic power to press for the restoration of Venezuelan democracy.
“During this perilous time, the United States must support the people of Venezuela.”
The first sentence, of course, comes from President Donald Trump’s statement on Venezuela, the next from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s, and then Trump, then Pelosi, and so forth — two views so uniform that they hardly even require the services of an editor to meld into a single statement.
Now, it could just be that the situation in Venezuela is so clear that even two diametrically opposed figures such as Trump and Pelosi cannot disagree, in the sense that if one of them were to declare that the sky is blue, the other would have to acknowledge the correctness of the statement, however grudgingly. And judging from virtually all news coverage and mainstream political discussion of Venezuela, that might well appear to be the case here.
But there are actually others outside the bounds of our “one-party” consensus who see it differently, very differently. For instance, Alfred de Zayas.In late 2017, de Zayas served as the UN rapporteur dispatched to assess the crisis situation in Venezuela, where, according to his report, “Successful UN mission to Venezuela,” he met with “stakeholders of all political colours, members of the opposition, of the National Assembly, university professors, churches, non-governmental organizations.” While no one disputed the fact that the country was experiencing a severe economic crisis, de Zayas believed that the “challenge is to understand its causes,” among which he counted “dependence of the Venezuelan economy on the sale of petroleum — a situation prevailing since the early 20th century,” the recent “dramatic fall in oil prices,” and “a series of unilateral coercive measures including sanctions and financial blockades.”
Although the President and the Speaker advocate precisely such measures to alleviate the current obvious distress of the country’s populace, de Zayas holds that they are part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Citing the example of Columbia’s refusal to deliver anti-malaria medicine to Venezuela in November 2017, which forced the country to purchase from India, he writes that at this point, “to avoid US penalties and complications, many banks closed Venezuelan accounts and other banks refused to effect transfers, routine international payments, even for the purchase of foods and medicines.”
He concludes that “economic sanctions kill.”This type of intervention — which he dates back to the 1999 rise to power of Nicolas Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez — he deems to be in violation of that section of the Charter of the Organization of American States specifically prohibiting “interference in the political or economic affairs of States.” And rather than agreeing with our President or our Speaker, he argues that “the solution to Venezuela’s crisis must be through mediation” — the route currently advocated by the governments of Mexico, Uruguay and the Vatican, and in “the meantime, if we want to help the Venezuelan people, we should ensure that sanctions are lifted and the economic war ends.”
And so what are we to make of Speaker Pelosi in all of this? Could she really be ignorant of history and international law? Well, I don’t recall ever hearing anyone call her stupid. Cynical? Perhaps reasoning that the surest way to be safe from charges of being soft on “defense” is to park the Democratic bus she drives right next to the Republicans’ truck? Hmm. Might be.
Few of us will have the time or wherewithal to become expert on Venezuela. Where is Maduro right; where is he wrong? Does the opposition have legitimacy? Reasonable people may differ on all this, but we should all be clear on one thing — we have no right attempting to overthrow the government of Venezuela.
You might think more people on Capitol Hill would recognize this, given all the consternation over Russian interference in our last presidential election. And ultimately, the problem with adopting cynical stances is that while they might appear so shrewd and canny in the daily round-up of political news, in the long run they just might make people cynical about you — and your party.
How should we respond to the fraught situation in Venezuela? The question has sparked heated debate on the Left, both in the US and around the world. The recent intensification of US efforts to remove Nicolás Maduro, by force if necessary, has lent that question renewed urgency.
There are no easy answers. But in thinking it through, we should be guided by three principles: non-interventionism; self-determination; and solidarity with the oppressed.
Non-interventionism is the principle that sovereign states should not interfere in the internal dealings of other sovereign states. It is synonymous with the principle of national sovereignty.
In a world marked by more and less powerful states, this is a crucial tenet for anyone who cares about fairness and equity. Without national sovereignty, any state can do whatever it wants to any other state, provided it has sufficient force. More powerful states can push less powerful states around, and global hegemons impose their will on the rest of the earth. The unfairness of this imperial logic is obvious.
Applying the principle of non-interventionism to the Venezuelan case is straightforward: the U.S. has no right to interfere in Venezuela’s internal affairs. It is thus incumbent on leftists in the U.S. and elsewhere to oppose any efforts to do so. This means standing against U.S. threats to wage war on Venezuela as well as Trump’s increasingly debilitating sanctions. (We should also reject efforts by other powerful states, such as Russia and China, to dictate what Venezuela does.)
It is hard to see how draconian sanctions and the threat, much less the reality, of U.S.-led or U.S.-supported violence would improve the lives of ordinary Venezuelans. In addition to the moral case, there are also practical reasons for non-interventionism. It is hard to see how draconian sanctions and the threat, much less the reality, of U.S.-led or U.S.-supported violence would improve the lives of ordinary Venezuelans. Sooner or later such efforts would likely lead to Maduro’s ouster. And even if one were to grant the desirability of Maduro stepping down (which some on the Left are willing to do), the costs of this occurring due to US sanctions or war would be tremendous: lives lost and destroyed; social, economic, psychological, and infrastructural damage inflicted. The cavalier attitude of the John Boltons, Elliott Abrams, and Donald Trumps of the world towards this suffering is sickening.
U.S. sanctions have already worsened Venezuela’s profound humanitarian crisis, as a November 2018 report by the U.S. Congressional Research Serviceacknowledges. The oil sanctions initiated last week will undoubtedly deepen this crisis even more, prolonging and increasing ordinary Venezuelans’ suffering. And there is every reason to think a military conflict would not be short, given Maduro’s current support in the Venezuelan military, and the near-certainty that a U.S. invasion would spark significant popular resistance, particularly among grassroots Chavistas. What’s more, a U.S.-led effort to remove Maduro would be set an awful precedent—reaffirming the right of more powerful states to push around less powerful states.
There are exceptions to the non-interventionism principle. If it can be reasonably determined that either genocide or humanitarian catastrophe is taking place, intervening against the offending state is potentially warranted. Such instances require very careful analysis of whether a given intervention could in fact end the dire threat, as well as the costs and benefits of intervening versus not intervening. It is also crucial to remember that powerful states, particularly the U.S., often use arguments about “humanitarian intervention” to push imperial projects that have no likelihood (and often no real intention) of addressing social needs.
This is clearly the case with Venezuela. U.S. attempts to bring about regime change are not a justifiable exercise in humanitarian interventionism. In fact, past and present US actions are a major — though not the only, nor even the primary — reason for the humanitarian crisis Venezuela is facing. A party to a tragedy cannot be trusted to resolve that tragedy.
Finally, one can make a left case for “progressive” intervention, in which a left government or leftist individuals take a side in a domestic conflict, with the goal of advancing equality or social justice. Cuba’s engagement in Angola in the 1970s and the participation of foreign leftists in the Spanish Civil War come to mind. But Washington’s actions in Venezuela cannot plausibly be read through this lens. There’s absolutely no justification for U.S. sanctions or military intervention.
Self-determination is the principle that people should have a real say in shaping the decisions that affect their lives. The tenet is typically applied to political decisions, but in its most radical form it also applies to economic, social, and other decisions that impact people’s daily existence.
Applying this principle to Venezuela is less straightforward than non-interventionism. Many leftists argue that Maduro deserves support because he was democratically elected. According to this view, the principle of self-determination (at least in its minimal, representative democratic variant) is still in effect in Venezuela. Defending Maduro is therefore the same as defending self-determination in Venezuela.
But Maduro was not democratically elected. It is true, as leftists who support Venezuela’s government note, that Maduro was declared the winner of the country’s May 2018 presidential election. It is also true that many mainstream media claims about the election —that there was widespread fraud and vote rigging—have not been substantiated and resemble the innumerable unsubstantiated claims of electoral fraud during the Chávez years. And it is true that Maduro lucked out when the opposition decided to boycott the 2018 election. Had the opposition united behind Henri Falcón, it is possible Maduro would have lost.
But all of this leaves out the crucial fact that Maduro banned Venezuela’s leading opposition parties and candidates—most prominently, Henrique Capriles Radonski—from running. Leftists would rightly denounce a right-wing ruling party that engaged in such tactics. And we must criticize Maduro for doing so as well. On top of that, Maduro’s actions are part of a pattern, since early 2016, of increasing authoritarianism. Examples include the government’s cancellation of a recall referendum against Maduro in October 2016; the one-year postponement of 2016 governor elections; the pro-Maduro Supreme Court bypassing, and thus essentially dissolving, the opposition-controlled National Assembly in March 2017; Maduro’s decision to call elections to a new Constituent Assembly in July 2017; outright fraud in the count for that election; and, most brazenly of all, the theft of the most closely contested race in the rescheduled October 2017 governor elections.
To this we must add the state’s use of repression, not only against opposition violence, but also against peaceful protest, with scores killed in 2017 and an estimated forty killed in the last week. The opposition’s own role in fostering violence deserves equal condemnation, as does U.S. support of such violence.
But neither changes the fact that by holding onto power through authoritarian means, the Maduro administration has systematically blocked the Venezuelan people’s ability to express themselves politically. In the face of this, the Left should embrace the call for free and fair elections in Venezuela. Failure to do so is a failure to promote the principle of self-determination.
Elections are not, of course, the only or even the primary form of self-determination. One might ask whether the Maduro administration has rejected liberal democracy in favor of “revolutionary democracy,” in which workers and the poor exercise direct control over economic, social, and political decisions affecting their lives. Whatever the past plausibility of such an argument may have been, nothing of the sort is occurring now.
Workers and the poor did create institutions of popular power in recent decades (grassroots communes, food distribution networks, etc.), which Chávez helped promote and which continue to exist in some form. But the extent of popular power in Venezuela has diminished significantly in recent years, largely thanks to the crisis. As grassroots Chavista organizers told me in 2015 and 2016, economic woes (which the government bears primary responsibility for) have made it much harder to do grassroots work.
The weakening of popular institutions is also due to direct repression by the Maduro administration. A notable example was the state’s refusal to recognize the sweeping victory of commune leader Angel Prado in December 2017 municipal elections. Instead of heeding the people of Simon Planes, who elected Prado with a whopping 57.92 percent of the vote, the government placed Prado under investigation. (Despite his critiques, Prado has pledged to defend Maduro in the face of U.S. aggression.)
Solidarity With the Oppressed
The first duty of leftists is to provide solidarity to the oppressed: subordinate classes, women, racialized groups subject to discrimination, and anyone who is economically, socially, culturally, or politically marginalized.The first duty of leftists is to provide solidarity to the oppressed: subordinate classes, women, racialized groups subject to discrimination, and anyone who is economically, socially, culturally, or politically marginalized. A key part of this principle is that the oppressed deserve solidarity over and above state actors, regardless of whether such actors label themselves leftists, socialists, or revolutionaries. Standing in solidarity with the oppressed means several things, including documenting their oppression, working to understand the root causes of their oppression, and acting in ways that support their efforts to overcome their oppression.
Applying this tenet to Venezuela today requires, as a first step, recognizing the immensity of the country’s humanitarian crisis—something the government has frequently failed to do in recent years. Venezuelans are suffering tremendously from shortages of food, medicine, and basic goods. Hyperinflation is ravaging the country. Three million have left Venezuela in recent years, and many fear that even more will flee this year.
Solidarity with the oppressed demands, secondly, a correct analysis of the causes of Venezuela’s crisis. The primary driver is the government’s mismanagement of its oil revenue, through a disastrous currency policy and, relatedly, a failure to curb corruption on the order of hundreds of billions of dollars, according to former Chávez officials. US policy has also exacerbated the crisis, particularly in the last eighteen months. Sanctions implemented in August 2017 have triggered a major fall in oil production and oil revenue. The oil sanctions the Trump administration just enacted will have even more devastating consequences.
Instead of playing an either/or game, both sources of Venezuela’s crisis must be acknowledged: the government’s criminal mismanagement (which cannot be dismissed as “errors” since systematic corruption exists at very high levels); and the U.S.’ brutal policy of deliberately increasing suffering as a way of pushing the population to turn against the government.
Standing in solidarity with the oppressed demands, thirdly, supporting the oppressed in their efforts to overcome the sources of their oppression and suffering. This means working to prevent increased hardship from a U.S. war and debilitating sanctions. As such it means firmly opposing US intervention in Venezuela, not only because it violates the principle of non-interventionism, but also because it will increase the suffering of the oppressed. But solidarity also requires that leftists in the US do what we can to support Venezuelans’ own struggles against the Maduro administration’s disastrous policies, criminal ineptitude, and repression. Opposition to Maduro is now common not only among upper and middle classes (as it has been for some time), but also among the popular sectors. Polls indicate that most Venezuelans want Maduro out (through negotiations and not foreign intervention). Failing to listen is not only tone deaf. It is a violation of our duty of solidarity.
Still, while it appears clear most Venezuelans reject Maduro, it does not follow that most back the opposition—including Juan Guaidó, who declared himself president last week and is strongly supported by the U.S. Venezuelans’ desire for new leadership should not be equated with support for the types of neoliberal policies that U.S.-backed opposition would likely implement. A February 3, 2019 poll indicated that 33 percent of Venezuelans identify as Chavista, 19 percent as opposition, and 48 percent as neither. Alongside pictures showing significant turnout in both opposition and government rallies on Saturday, February 2, this suggests that Venezuela remains a deeply polarized society.
Standing with the oppressed demands opposing both the U.S. and the Maduro administration. It means supporting efforts, such as those led by Mexico and Uruguay, to foster peaceful transformation in Venezuela. And it requires, above all, supporting options that allow the oppressed to have a real say in deciding their own future.
With the likes of John Bolton and Elliot Abrams directing Trump’s policy on Venezuela, the chances of a devastating U.S. intervention appear to be rising. We should oppose this with everything we’ve got. But that isn’t enough.
Keeping in mind the three principles laid out above, the best thing to do now is support multilateral efforts to foster a peaceful resolution to Venezuela’s crisis. We should also back the call for free and fair elections, doing so in a way that acknowledges the growing opposition to Maduro (from all sectors of society, including the popular sectors), the continuing support for the Chavista project, and even—to a much lesser extent—for Maduro. Supporting free and fair elections does not mean supporting a US-led or US-backed project of neoliberal transformation. It means working to expand the space within which Venezuelans can make their own choices about the future.
Above all, the Left must act in solidarity with the oppressed. For leftists in the U.S. this requires looking both outward and inward. It means working to end US sanctions (particularly on the oil sector) and organizing to block a U.S. war on Venezuela. It means supporting Venezuelans’ right to choose their own government. In the not unlikely event that a new government takes hold, a critical task will be to prevent the exclusion and demonization of Chavistas, Chavismo, and the Left in general. The dangers of this occurring are very real.
Finally, it means working to transform U.S. politics — not just challenging Trump’s adventurism, but also pressuring Democrats to change their foreign policy tune. As the war machine gears up, this is a critical task for the Left. Otherwise Venezuelans and others on the wrong side of U.S. imperialism will continue to be stifled in their ability to decide what their own futures will look like.
Gabriel Hetland teaches at University at Albany and has written about Venezuelan politics for The Nation, NACLA, Qualitative Sociology, and Latin American Perspectives.
Red flags everywhere, hundreds, more hundreds, thousands marched along through the drizzly weather and puddled streets. Many bent figures hobbled with canes, some were in wheelchairs next to a younger set sitting proudly on their fathers’ shoulders or in strollers. Then another big group of young people arrived, some singing or chanting leftist demands. Most spoke German but much Turkish, English and a dozen other languages mixed in. They all moved past the rows of political and snack booths, a majority had red carnations for a ring of graves and, in a brick semicircle, urns with names which once resounded well beyond Germany from 1900 to 1990. One section is for those who fought and died in Spain. But the masses of red flowers for Karl Liebknecht and, even more for Rosa Luxemburg, was higher than I have ever seen them. Both were murdered one hundred years ago.
Why do those two names mean so much to so many people? This year 20,000 were estimated, but who could count the individuals and the group waves during the whole of Sunday. It was far more than last year, when 10,000 were estimated. I have watched the numbers increase or decline over the years, sometimes in official GDR parades, sometimes, afterwards, faced by mounted police, dogs, helicopters, and in one year banned (but defied). There were fewer in recent years as faithful GDR old-timers died out. This year’s increase was due in part to the 100th anniversary, but not only that.
These commemorations began soon after their death and were only stopped fully by the Nazis, who destroyed the monument by the great Mies von der Rohe and destroyed the bodies, or what was left of Rosa after months in the canal into which the killers threw her corpse. Thus the graves are empty, but this cannot lessen the unending admiration and love for Karl, a great, courageous fighter and, undeniably even a little more, for Rosa, a delicate, sensitive woman, limping since childhood, a lover of poetry and the smallest aspects of nature: a tiny bird, a beetle attacked by ants, a nightingale, but then, with her clear, sharp mind, superior to so many of the loud men she was surrounded by, capable of fiery speeches which moved so many audiences and were feared by so many enemies.
What they yearned and fought for – and aroused such love and hatred – was first the war’s end and then a socialist Germany and a socialist world, with wars forever banned. Much of this seemed within reach in November 1918, when navy sailors refused to sail their ships into a final, fatal encounter with the British fleet. Arrested and locked up in port in Kiel, they were supported and freed by the shipyard workers, and the soldiers sent to subdue them turned their guns around, forcing an end to World War One, deposing the Kaiser, and setting off Germany’s November Revolution. The rebellious sailors moved to Berlin, hundreds of thousands of workers joined in, and Karl Liebknecht announced a new Socialist Republic of Germany from the Kaiser’s deserted palace.
But hardly a mile away another state was also created – what came to be known as the Weimar Republic because that is where its constitution was approved. Its president was Friedrich Ebert, the head of the Social Democratic Party, which supported the Kaiser’s war from start to finish. Karl Liebknecht was in 1914 the only Social Democrat to reject the war, or spending one mark for it. His continuing opposition, and that of Rosa, who also insisted that working people should never massacre each other, meant imprisonment for both till they were freed by the revolution.
Events moved fast. Too fast. In secret Ebert and his group joined with the defeated generals to end the monarchy but keep the rule of the wealthy, saving it from the wrath of a hungry country, which demonstrated – a half million in Berlin – but soon yearned for peace, any peace. Ebert called on his Minister of War Gustav Noske, also a Social Democrat, to crush the rebellion. “Someone must be the bloodhound!” he said, and sent in a well-armed mix of aristocrats and thugs to smash resistance. Karl and Rosa, in hiding, who had helped found a Communist Party two weeks earlier, were soon found and killed in the same night. Decades later the responsible officer, never punished, revealed his contact with the government.
The new government soon became a site of compromise and betrayal. When the frightful depression hit, when large numbers of Social Democrats moved toward action and, more alarmingly, millions voted for the Communists, all democratic remains were brushed aside by those same forces – Krupp, Thyssen, Flick, Deutsche Bank and the others – which again turned to the bloodthirsty thugs of Hitler. The result: over fifty million dead and much of Europe in ruins.
Karl and Rosa are admired and loved as revolutionaries. There was also a revolutionary spirit at the annual conference, always arranged for the preceding Saturdays by the newspaper Junge Welt; the 2000-seat auditorium was jammed, listening to forceful speeches by foreign guests and again a taped message from the imprisoned black journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, now with just a ray of hope for release.
With the waves of red flags on Sunday, often with hammer and sickle, visitors from another planet might have thought a new revolution was imminent!
They would have been mistaken. No socialist revolution is imminent, violent or non-violent, now or in the next future. A large proportion of working people are indeed dissatisfied, often angry, even many Germans. But few are considering any such revolution, and hammer and sickle emblems are perhaps more likely to alienate than inspire them. The time is not ripe.
As in 1914 and 1919 Germany’s Social Democratic Party is still compromising the principles it stood for when Karl and Rosa were still in it. Now it is part of a government with Angela Merkel’s rightist Christian Democrats, to which it bends, over and over, to the pressures of the mighty, to crooks like the environmental chiselers Volkswagen, BMW, Daimler, pitifully proclaiming its love for a working class membership now deserting it, leaving it a fragment of its former size at an anemic 15 percent.
This has happened to many European parties called socialist, while parties to the left, often split and disorganized, have rarely found the fighting spirit and strength to adequately face two dark clouds now adding to CO2 and other poisons wrecking the earth from pole to pole. One is the return in growing strength of the same species of well-financed fascistic thugs which killed Rosa and Karl. The other is the increased maneuvering with ever more modern weapons along the borders of any country standing in the way of the goal of the wealthiest, total world hegemony. This clique, controlled by a diminishing number of mighty billionaires – in pharmaceutics, chemicals, car-making, agriculture, retail sales and mind control, but above all in the manufacture of ever deadlier weapons of war, which now threaten an atomic annihilation far greater in menace even than ecological destruction.
The fervor of some seemed premature, but not all past traditions should be scrapped because of past failures. And the yellow vests worn by so many on Sunday were symbols of solidarity and of new hopes. People in France, fighting mad, have gone into the streets, week for week. Angry demonstrations surprised the world in Budapest, Vienna, in the Nile cities of Sudan and in Zimbabwe. Eager, combative faces are upsetting the old guard in the US Capitol, while teachers in red vests have taken a stand in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Chicago and now in Los Angeles.
Rosa’s words about freedom for those who think differently have been repeated thousands of times – and sometimes misused. Less often quoted is her warning to the world about capitalism:
“Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to Socialism or regression into Barbarism.”
Many of those taking part on Sunday also knew of Karl’s last article, printed after his death:
“Those defeated today will be the victors tomorrow… whether or not we live to experience it, our program will remain alive; it will prevail in a world of a rescued humanity – In spite of everything!
Today’s New York Times Sunday Review section carries a piece entitled in the print edition “Europe Needs a Plan B” by Wolfgang Ischinger, chairman of the Munich Security Conference and past German ambassador to the United States. His argument is simple. Trump is restructuring the transatlantic alliance that has been the bedrock of the European side of the world order since the last world war. The US is unwilling to keep playing the role of anchor, which all the western European states have taken for granted for more than half a century. And so, Europe needs a Plan B.
When I was a tyke in Frankfurt, Germany, just after the war, my mother had the privilege of working for Eugen Kogon, a survivor of the Buchenwald concentration camp. Kogon wrote the standard treatise on the Nazi concentration camps and testified for the American prosecution in war crimes trials. He was also a pioneer exponent of the concept of European economic and political unity. He is considered today one of the main “Founders of Europe.”
At the time Kogon advanced his European unity manifestos, France was still bleeding from the German occupation. Britain’s ruins from the German bombing were still smoldering. No country in Europe was free of scars from the war launched by some European powers against others. The idea that these countries could unite and form one economic and political community appeared worse than utopian, it appeared insane. It ran into strong headwinds of national revanchism, paranoia, and myopia. Wasn’t this just a smokescreen for the re-establishment of German dominance of the subcontinent?
But the wounds of war also weighed in the argument. Twice in the 20th century, millions of the young men of different countries marched to mutual slaughter. States destroyed each other’s cities, wrecked each others’ infrastructure, unleashed bloodbaths on the civilian populations. Thoughtful people asked themselves, do we really want to do that again? Isn’t there a Plan B? And so, European integration became a reality. It’s under attack now, but I’ll come back to that.
The biggest bloodbath of the last war in the European theater occurred in the East, what the historian Timothy Snyder has called the bloodlands. My own father, a draftee in the German army, was one of hundreds of thousands of young Germans who left their bones in Russia, or to be exact, in his case, in the Ukraine. The Russian victims number in the millions. Every other country, nationality, and ethnic minority in the region lost people in the slaughter. The statistics numb the mind.
Do we really want to do that again?
The strategists in the Pentagon — the same minds who gave us the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Bay of Pigs, the invasion of Iraq, the endless war in Afghanistan, the Syrian bombing and many other equally brilliant campaigns — have recruited Eastern European states newly uncoupled from the Soviet federation to join NATO. They’ve sold them American arms, set up missile bases, and trained them for war. They are planning for a rerun of the slaughter in the east.
But, as Trump is making clear now, America won’t become great again by fighting that war itself. No, the Europeans are supposed to fight it themselves, and pay America for the weapons to do it. Plan A since Trump is, “Let’s you and him fight. We’ll sell you the equipment.”
Yes, Europe needs a Plan B. And there is a Plan B, a very obvious and logical one, if only we remove the blinders from our eyes. Plan B is for Russia to join Europe. Yes, for Russia to become a member of the Common Market and the rest of the EEC economic and political structure. The EEC, instead of a narrow confederation of peninsular republics with an almost marginal role in the world, can become a true continental power, stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok.
A flood of objections arises the moment this idea is floated. Won’t Russia dominate the new community? What about Crimea and sanctions? What about nuclear weapons? What about the armies on all sides? What about Putin and the oligarchs? And so on.
Let me start with Putin and the oligarchs. I am no fan of Putin and the oligarchs. Already more than forty years ago, I condemned the Soviet Union’s turn toward capitalism and denounced its leaders. I said then and I double down on it today that the average Russian worker and peasant had a better life under Stalin than they have today. The Russian oligarchs have learned from and surpassed their Western mentors in looting the country’s assets and piling up obscene wealth abroad. They operate with a degree of gangsterism that hasn’t been widely seen in Western democracies since Prohibition. However, the EEC has rules about that. In order to be accepted, Russia will have to clean up its act. Putin, or whoever succeeds him — and we’re talking here about something that won’t happen overnight — will have to make some hard choices.
The armies and their weapons, including nuclear, present problems that can be solved. France, Britain, Germany, Italy and others all had armies, or what was left of them, after World War II. Given the new commitment not to deploy them against one another, the current instruments of hostility along with their framework, NATO, can be scaled back and retired. The main objection will come from the U.S., which stands to lose much of its former European weapons market.
Crimea needs to be conceded. In every negotiation there are concessions and this is not a thorny one. Crimea has been part of Russia since 1783, and the large majority of its residents identify as Russian citizens. The Russian move was a defensive reaction to the violent ultra-right wing takeover of the Ukrainian government, sponsored and supported by the CIA. America cannot climb on a high horse about this issue.
Won’t Russia dominate the new, expanded European community? Not likely. In terms of land mass, Russia is huge. But in terms of Gross Domestic Product, the more meaningful measure of economic weight, Russia currently ranks only eleventh in the world. The Russian GDP is smaller than that of Germany, the UK, France, or Italy. It is smaller than that of India, Brazil, or Canada. Russia is not going to dominate the new expanded EEC. Russia will be a good fit. Most of the Western European economies are strong on manufacturing and services but poor in raw materials. Russia is rich in raw materials but needs help in manufacturing and services. Were it not for the ideological bitterness of the Cold War, these two economies would have formed closer and broader ties decades ago.
Under the legacy of Plan A, Russia today sees itself as confronted with a hostile European monolith, armed and remote-controlled by the USA. In this scenario, it makes sense for Moscow to try to cultivate rifts in European ranks, in part by supporting racist, nationalist, anti-European parties and splinter groups.
But what if Europe, instead of hardening its military fronts against the East, were to offer Russia an open door to joining a united Europe? The politics of Russia would undergo a tectonic shift toward the center and the left. The manifest advantages of membership in a united Europe would outshine the yields from the sordid game of covertly sowing divisions, at least in the European subcontinent, which is much more resilient to manipulation than the American body politic and its president.
On the Western side, the issue of including Russia would give all European politics a compelling new focus. People will be motivated to rethink old conditioned reflexes. What really are the grounds for hostility between Western Europe and Russia? Isn’t it true that Russia has always been a European country? Isn’t inclusion of Russia merely the completion of the original European unity project, delayed by the Cold War?
The inclusion of Russia, once achieved, will give European unity a new vigor and dynamism. The merger of advanced manufacturing with abundant raw materials may generate a broad and deep economic boom. Europe with Russia in it will form a powerful independent counterweight to the American world influence. It will make Europe great again, this time for something other than colonialism and the rape of the third world.
No doubt there are many problems to be solved before something like peaceful Russian integration into Europe can become a reality. There were many problems to be overcome on the way to European integration in the first place. But a continuation of Plan A leads ultimately to a replay of the unthinkable bloodletting that inundated the Eastern European soil in the 1940s, with the added modern threat of a nuclear confrontation. Do we really want to go there? Isn’t it time to think about Plan B?
IMAGINE: The Elephant Party and the Donkey Party have split and broken up. The new Goat Party has won a landslide victory and I, its standard bearer, am installed in the White House. Following two speeches on foreign policy, I turned to domestic policy issues. The following is the fourth talk in the series about domestic issues.
My fellow Americans:
Today I am going to talk about a subject we all cherish: freedom. We all have pictures in our minds of the opposite of freedom: the oxen laboring under a heavy yoke, the slave with an iron ball chained to his legs. Just such a yoke today burdens our students in higher education. Just such a ball and chain drags back our families faced with the need for medical care.
Education is supposed to set a young person free — free to pursue a career in their chosen field, free to start a family, buy a house, start a life of relative security and progress. That’s the dream, isn’t it? But what’s the reality? Seven out of ten college graduates — 44 million people — are carrying student debt averaging nearly $40,000. The total is $1.5 trillion. Yes, trillion with a t. And that’s rising every year.
What’s the result? More and more potential students are turning away from higher education because of the debt burden. Those who do graduate find that they can’t afford to buy a place to live because of their student debt. Their life styles are pinched. They’re postponing marriage, they’re not having children. Our economy is being robbed of the educated young people we need. Our markets, our family structure, our reproductive progress are warped. We’ve got a higher ed system that’s open primarily to families of affluence, and increasingly shut off to the broad majority of Americans.
That’s intolerable. It’s unAmerican. And it’s going to end, right now. I have this morning signed a bill sent to me by Congress entitled the Higher Education Debt Relief and Restructuring Act. It could also be called the Student Emancipation Proclamation. Point one of the bill is the immediate reduction of all outstanding student debt to one dollar per student. That’s right, as soon as a student pays their lender one dollar, the student’s entire debt is forgiven, cancelled, gone. Part two of the bill prevents the creation of new student debt at all public colleges, community colleges, and public universities. Tuition, board, and fees for all students at public institutions will be reduced to one dollar per year. That’s right, one dollar. We do not believe that higher education should be free. The student should have to pay something. But the price must be right; it must be something absolutely everyone can pay. One dollar is that right price. Given the revenue boosting and cost-saving measures I announced previously, our federal government will pick up the costs that the state systems cannot carry, and cheerfully consider the expenditure an excellent investment.
An even heavier burden of debt crushes American families due to medical expenses. More than 70 million people are struggling with medical debt, and this accounts for nearly three quarters of all bankruptcies. The debt burden has only gotten worse during the previous administration, as it worked to wreck the modest measures included in the Affordable Care Act. It’s painfully obvious that millions of Americans are avoiding medical treatment that they need, failing to fill prescriptions they rely on, and going short of food and other necessities in order to try to meet medical payment obligations. As in education, the system is rigged so that the upper income minority can generally get top quality treatment whenever and wherever they want it, while the broad majority of Americans live on the edge.
Why do we put up with this state of affairs? Are we afraid of bogey labels like “socialized medicine” and the like? Yet perfectly capitalist countries, neighbors and allies, provide their citizens with greater medical security at less expense than we seem able to do. There’s just no excuse for going on this way. It’s going to stop, this afternoon. I have on my desk and am about to sign the American Health Maintenance Act. This bill is modeled on one of the most successful medical care institutions we have: the nonprofit Kaiser Permanente Health Maintenance Organization. A member of the Kaiser HMO gets a plastic card, and this card, with a modest co-payment, entitles them to whatever medical services they need, from flu shots to cardiac surgery, all at one membership price. The AHMA takes the Kaiser model, rolls it out nationwide with everyone a member, and with the federal government paying the membership fee. Like the education bill. it cancels existing medical debts. Unlike that bill, it doesn’t require a dollar payment. Health care is a basic right, and health care should be free.
We realize that medical care is a complex subject. Too complex by far. An octopus tangle of for-profit hospitals, for-profit doctors, pharmaceutical companies, and for-profit insurance companies have created an interlocking roadblock to progress. We are still going to have affluent families who can afford the luxury of feeding all these bloodsuckers, but the mainstream American will never again have to deal with a for-profit medical insurance company, a for-profit hospital, or a for-profit physician. We will most definitely bargain down pharmaceutical prices, and we will actively import quality medications from wherever in the world they are manufactured. The days when Americans have to choose between meals or medicines, when illness or injury mean financial disaster, when America ranks near the bottom in world health rankings — those days are history.
My fellow Americans, thank you for your confidence in the Goat Party. The goat is a stubborn animal, independent minded, a lover of freedom. In that spirit, we have today kicked away the heavy burdens that hold back education and health care, two of the core concerns of any society. Freed from debt burden, our students will take wings. Freed from the oppressive cost of health care, our families will straighten up, stride with confidence, and thrive. This is all part of the real America, the America that shines a bright light in the world, the America we all honor and love. Thank you.
IMAGINE: The Elephant Party and the Donkey Party have split and broken up. The new Goat Party has won a landslide victory and I, its standard bearer, am installed in the White House. Following two speeches on foreign policy, I turned to domestic policy issues. The following is the third talk in the series about the domestic economy.
My fellow Americans:
Tonight I want to talk to you about energy. Many people know the impact of gasoline prices at the pump on our household budgets. Energy is so important to other sectors of the economy that the price of energy can depress or run up the price of many other products in industry and agriculture. Because energy is so important to us all, it’s just unwise management to leave control over energy to a handful of private owners whose only concern is their profit. Yet that’s been the reality. It’s got to change, and it’s going to change, starting today.
Toward that end, we have bought controlling interests in the major energy companies who have assets in this country, and we are going to consolidate them into a single firm, American Consolidated Energy Service, Inc. ACES is going to be run as a nonprofit. Its strategic objective will not be to maximize its owners’ profit, as before, but to provide a maximum of affordable energy services to the economy. That’s right, ACES Inc. will be run as a nonprofit service company, similar in many ways to a public utility.
What, specifically, will change?
ACES will stabilize energy prices and make them predictable. We are not so isolated from the world market that we can avoid all price changes, but we can certainly smooth them out over time. Farmers, other industries, heating oil consumers, drivers, all energy buyers will be protected against budget-busting short-term energy price fluctuations.
ACES will be an energy company, not just an oil company. It will include the old fossil fuels but it will also build and distribute renewables like solar, wind, thermal, and others, on a very large scale. We will end the oil lobby’s cutthroat war against wind and solar. We will end the totally unnecessary subsidies to the oil companies that we have paid for decades. We will put fossil fuels and renewables on a level playing field for price.
Within twelve months, we will have a national conference on fracking. With our new ownership, we finally have access to the full story about the chemicals and processes used in fracking, and the truth about the effects of fracking on water, soil, and ground stability. All that will come out, and we will reach an informed and democratic decision about whether to continue fracking, limit fracking to certain places and certain conditions, or stop fracking altogether.
ACES will work to decentralize the energy grid and make it more resilient. We will work to put solar on just about every rooftop, and storage batteries in just about every basement or closet. Wherever possible, individual homes and neighborhoods will achieve something close to energy independence. Large-scale brownouts or blackouts due to grid problems will be a thing of the past. The grid will not be the primary energy source but a backup and an energy leveler.
In each and every energy decision we will look at the impact on air, water, soil, health, and the atmosphere. In the pursuit of profit, the oil giants polluted the air, poisoned water and soil, impacted millions of people’s health, and loaded the atmosphere with greenhouse gases that have messed up the weather, brought an unending string of disasters, melted glaciers and ice fields north and south, warmed the ocean, and raised up flood levels. That has to stop, right now. ACES is going to shift the center of gravity in our national energy balance toward renewables. No worker is going to be unemployed by the shift in emphasis from oil to wind and solar. On the contrary, wind and solar have a labor shortage even now, and every man and woman who wants to work in energy will get a well-paying job in energy that’s clean, inexhaustible, and good for the planet. America will become the cleanest nation and set an example for the rest of the world.
ACES will install high-speed electric vehicle charging posts using a universal format at every location that now has a gas station, and in every public parking lot. Americans will fall in love with electric vehicles once they put the seat of their pants inside one and feel the amazing acceleration. American drivers love power. They haven’t seen real power until they’ve driven electric. True, many miss the roar of the engines. Well, there’s a cure for that. We’re going to have manufacturers offer pre-recorded gas engine noises from the race car of the driver’s choice as an option to play on the stereo, loud, as they step on the electric pedal. Given 250-mile batteries, fast charging available everywhere, and comparable prices, EVs will take the American market by storm inside of one generation. Our lungs, our skies, our atmosphere and oceans will be the better for it.
My fellow Americans: American history is wrapped up with energy. Now it’s time to move that history forward. The American Consolidated Energy Service company will create a broad, solid, economical, and progressive energy foundation for the American future.
IMAGINE: The Elephant Party and the Donkey Party have split and broken up. The new Goat Party has won a landslide victory and I, its standard bearer, am installed in the White House. Following my speeches on Korea and the Mideast, I turned to domestic policy issues. After announcing a New American Spring, I took up the subject of income taxes. After a detour outlining an innovation in consumer technology, I now return to the larger economic picture.
My fellow Americans:
The United States of America today is a backward country. I say “backward” deliberately to shock people out of the smug belief that we’re the the best, the most modern, the most advanced in the world in everything. True, we lead the world in some narrow branches of technology. But in broad areas of economic life, our country needs a lot of work.
Look at Appalachia. In this beautiful and historic region, we have mountaintops ripped off, valleys filled with rubble, streams running with poison chemicals, and whole communities out of work, hooked on drugs and choosing suicide.
What about our Rust Belt cities? The name says it all. Cities and towns that once buzzed with industry now feature avenues of boarded up houses, empty storefronts, more people on Medicaid than on assembly lines.
Check out almost any city and you’ll see homeless people by the thousands. And the homes where people still live, many of them badly need work. Roofs, foundations, windows, insulation, plumbing, all the rest, in bad repair.
Not only homes, but the streets and highways that connect them. Rutted, potholed. Bridges, too many of them ready to fail. The drinking water, in too many places not drinkable. Sewers clogged, broken, missing. The electrical grid, ancient, fragile, overloaded. Irrigation systems, dams, levies, reservoirs crumbling. Train tracks and the rolling stock on them, antiques. Our digital networks, among the slowest in the world.
Did I mention that our schools, on the average, don’t rank very well internationally? That we have more people in prison than any other country? That our infant mortality rate is like a third world country? That we have children and adults going hungry?
I could go on. But everybody that’s been paying attention already knows all this, and more. The point is not to make a list of our problems, but to start on the solutions.
Let’s start with Appalachia. This morning I signed a bill creating the Appalachian Conservation Authority. We have bought controlling shares in each of the coal and related mineral companies that have assets in the region. They were cheap. We will liquidate each of these companies and transfer their assets to the ACA. The ACA will determine which coal mining operations need to continue because they involve specialty coal needed by industry. All other coal mining operations will be retired. The ACA will immediately begin a major Appalachian conservation project. It will hire tens of thousands of local men and women to reforest skinned mountaintops, build state parks over landfilled valleys, clean up poisoned streams and ponds, convert selected underground mines into tourist attractions, rebuild damaged infrastructure, and generally clean up the area, restock it with fish and game, and make it beautiful again. The ACA will do whatever it takes to restore some part of the land to the Cherokee and other Native Americans who were driven out in the Trail of Tears, and who wish to return. This will take a decade or more, a decade when there will be zero unemployment in Appalachia. Coal miners won’t miss the darkness and the black dust so much once they get a steady taste of well-paid conservation work in the outdoors. People will have a purpose, a community, and a future. They’ll lose interest in drugs. The suicide rate will drop. The birthrate will rise. Appalachia will become a thriving, prosperous part of America again — a place that Americans and foreigners will love to visit.
Now the Rust Belt. The sickness of the Rust Belt cities comes from the profit fever. One after another, the owners of the mills and factories where millions of workers made a good-enough living for a quarter century after the War saw a way to make more money by transferring the work abroad to countries where factory pay was lower. The runaway shop is not the fault of Mexico or China or similar countries. It is the fault of the very rich Americans who shut down their American plants and moved production abroad in order to get even richer. In this, as our economic metrics have shown over the past forty years, they “richly” succeeded. That’s going to stop.
How do we fix it? We need to understand first that merely putting up barriers to imports isn’t going to get us very far. We should and we will put up a wall against products made with child labor, prison labor, labor in hazardous conditions, and similar evil practices. We can and should vigorously promote movements for better working conditions and higher wages in countries that export to us. But these practices by themselves aren’t going to put a lot of people to work here at home. They may even hurt the average working person by making necessities like clothing and electronics more expensive. That’s not a solution.
The solution to the Rust Belt problem is actually staring us in the face. It’s the rust. It’s the rusting infrastructure, the decayed housing stock, everything else that’s falling apart. That’s where the jobs are. Tomorrow I will sign a bill to create the American Reconstruction Authority. With an initial budget of $5 trillion, the ARA will have a broad mandate to undo the rust in the American economy. One part of this will be a set of construction and reconstruction projects for roads, bridges, waterways, sewers, rails, transmission lines, and other big items. Another part will involve new housing construction, along with a people-driven block-by-block housing rehab and upgrade campaign. We’ll train, equip, and pay neighbors to help neighbors to bring their homes up to grade. Some nonprofits now do this successfully as a charity. We’ll do it on a large scale as a national policy. To make the ARA project work, we will need hundreds of thousands new construction workers in all the trades. We are starting ten huge training campuses to supply the skilled labor force necessary. Note that ARA jobs are jobs where we work on America in America. These jobs cannot be exported!
The ARA project will do more than upgrade our physical environment. It will fabulously invigorate our economic life. The main drag on progress during the past forty years has been the lockdown on worker wages. No improvement for almost half a century! The sons and daughters no better off — often worse off — than their parents! That’s intolerable, not only for the people involved, but for the economy. It means consumer demand, the driving force of economic expansion, is in the doldrums. That’s going to change now. With the stimulus that the ARA — and other projects that I’ll introduce later — will pump into the economy, wages and consumer demand will rise in a big way. That, in turn, will create incentives for the revival of American manufacturing. Factories will open that make products in America at American wages that American workers can afford to buy. We’re going to push the Rust Belt era into history. America will be backward no more. Our land and its people will shine again.
I’ll have more to say about the economy in another talk. Meanwhile, my fellow Americans, be of good cheer. Help is on the way.