Archive for the ‘international politics’ Category

Greece Frightenin’ from the Free Press

I have been expressing these same sentiments about the whole Greek Crisis since I sat watching it on my friends Muffy and Bob’s couch in the UK.   Grayson Lookner says it so well in this column and throws in a nice history lesson to boot.   Enjoy.

7/30/2015 11:18:00 AM

Grayson Lookner: Greece Frightenin

  by Grayson Lookner

As I’ve watched events unfold in Greece, I can’t help but ask myself one question: “Who won the Second World War?”
Ancient Greece was where the seeds of modern democracy were planted. A system of democracy and free markets supposedly prevailed in the West following WWII. Following the collapse of the USSR, it seems as if the last 25 years have pitted the free market and democracy against each other instead of their being the two “hand maidens of liberty” as one person claimed in a response to my last column. 
By the time WWII came around, Greece was actually a monarchy. When the Axis forces occupied Greece in 1941, the king fled and proclaimed a government in exile. This vacuum of power set the stage for the Greek civil war that would erupt in the months directly following the war. 
During the war, and this was the case in much of the rest of Europe, including Spain, the left unified in Greece as an anti-fascist force. When Nazi Germany finally surrendered and the Allies occupied Greece, the leftist parties attempted to rise to power with the backing of Stalin and the USSR.
During the war, the USSR was our best friend by virtue of being the enemy of our mutual enemy. With the death of Hitler and the mad rush of the victors to claim the spoils of war for themselves in the forms of Nazi territory and scientific knowledge (and Nazi scientists themselves), the USSR immediately became the West’s primary existential threat and driving force of the cold war right up until 1989. Although, judging from his recent actions, it seems Putin may not accept this telling of history. 
Greece was the first theater of the cold war fought via proxy by the two world superpowers. Ultimately the Greek left – which had so valiantly fought against Hitler just a few years before -was defeated by the ally-backed centrist government. It seems that cooler heads prevailed, and Greece benefited greatly from the $13 billion of US aid that was allocated by the Marshall plan to rebuild Europe. Modern Germany and the entire Eurozone project would not have been possible were it not for this aid that was given by America, which in today’s dollars would amount to somewhere in the vicinity of $169 billion, indexed to inflation, by my sloppy calculations. (Incidentally, this amount is similar to the amount spent by the Federal Reserve in its own bailout to prop up global capitalism after the meltdown of 2008, according to a September 2011 Forbes article. That’s approximately $2,000 for every man, woman, and child on the planet to be spent on supporting banks across the world and hedging shady derivatives deals, etc.)
The societies of Western Europe that emerged post-war that were enabled by US assistance were remarkably civil, stable, and democratic. They all had a vital public sector characterized by socialized medicine, free or cheap education, public ownership of utilities, adequate pensions, extensive public transportation systems, etc. These public services were not viewed as privileges to be made available to a lazy and unmotivated population that didn’t want to nor was expected to work; but as the bedrock foundations of modern, civilized democracies that enabled a free market to exist.

In countries where these social services still exist, such as in France, the UK, the “social democracies” of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden – and ironically in Germany itself – the quality of life is high and civil unrest is low. In countries where these guarantees don’t exist, such as in much of the third world and increasingly in America itself, quality of life for most people is low and there is increasing social strife.
Why would anyone want anything other than to live in a stable, civil country with a high quality of life? What happened? What changed?
Naomi Klein, a Canadian author, brilliantly outlines the march of neoliberalism (i.e. “globalization”) from the 1960s onward in her 2007 book “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.” In the book she demonstrates how the explicit aim of globalization is to turn over infrastructure and social capital that was built by the public to private hands by creating and profiting from a series of mostly manufactured crises. 
Throughout the world, countries have been systematically forced to auction off their once publicly owned utility companies, hospitals, shipping ports, and other public resources for pennies on the dollar to wealthy foreign investors the likes of Goldman Sachs. These investors in turn use what were previously considered the bedrock foundations of a civilized state to extract more wealth from the general population without investing any of it back into the public. The rich get richer, and the poor get used up until they have nothing left to give. The globalists then move on to the next national project to exploit, and they inch closer and closer to home with each passing year. 
Greece will essentially become a third-world country because of the measures being imposed by the EU and the IMF. The British newspaper “The Guardian” said that with the austerity demands of its creditors Greece is essentially being forced to choose between being executed and committing suicide. In their recent emergency referendum, the people of Greece, in an uproar of democratic fervor, cried “No!” to the EU deal. Unfortunately, it was more of a symbolic vote than anything. Tsipras, the charismatic leader of Greece’s leftist Syriza party, has accepted another deal that requires draconian cuts and will reshape Greece for decades to come. He has said that he has no choice. He has a choice; Greece could leave the Eurozone. That is a frightening prospect for many as it harkens the impending demise of neoliberalism across the globe. 
Is there anything that can be done to stem the juggernaut of privatization? According to my respondent from last week’s column, a responsible critic is supposed to propose solutions and not just identify problems. Yes, fortunately, there is. The best thing we can do is to not fall for and be manipulated by the manufactured crises of the world’s disaster capitalists. The boy has cried wolf for too long now. Next time they sound the alarm, don’t listen, don’t react, don’t stoke the flames. It is easy to tell the difference between a real disaster and a media-manufactured one. 
Grayson Lookner grew up in Camden and now lives in Portland.

Never on a Sunday

Watching politics from this side of the Atlantic has been interesting. I spent a day walking around the Yorkshire Lancashire countryside with farmers (thanks to my super hostess Muffy and her friend Abby who arranged the day.) One in-town dairy farm (more about that later) and one hillside beef and mutton farm. Speaking with these third and fourth generation farmers confirmed my belief that small scale farms face similar hurdles and concerns around the world. It seems the same in Yorkshire Lancashire as it is in Chalatenango and Maine.   
As I told you earlier I met Boris Johnson. When he becomes Prime Minister I will be able to say I have shaken hands with a President (Jimmy Carter) and a PM.   


But the most “fun” I have had was watching the returns of the Greek referendum yesterday. We turned on the TV after all of our “4th of July on the 5th” party had gone and the apartment was cleaned up. I was very excited that the Greek people said a loud and resounding NO to the oligarchs and are willing to go it on their own terms. They know that either way their economy is in trouble and they want to have more control over the kind of trouble it will be. I am reminded of the old film “Never on a Sunday” about a free spirited woman in Greece who is pounced upon by an Englishman who wants to “reform” her. She said no thank you and continues her loose and happy life-style as he slinks off into the sunset. Watch the film and see if you think it is a good metaphor for what is happening in the European Union and the Grexit (Greek Exit) as it is tagged over here. I am sad that they allowed the EU bullies to shove the finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, out of his post. But proud of him that he is enough of a statesman to realize it is best for the country to get out of the way and let the PM negotiate whatever solution he can with the EU banksters.

Watching the impeachment proceedings against our Governor has made me wish I could be in two places at once. But I can’t. It was nice of the Brits to have lovely weather for me and a nice political crisis to watch while I am here.

Update:  Well the Greeks blinked.  So sad.  But the investigation of our Governor seems to be proceeding apace so that is good.  And the Yorkshire Lancashire mix up, well, I’m sorry about that.

Political Nerd Trifecta

I can’t stop grinning. If ever I have had a glimpse of political nerd nirvana it was today. Here’s the run down:
1)Went with my BFF to see the Magna Carta exhibition at the British Library. Wonderful! This year is the 800th anniversary of this ground-breaking document. The exhibit gives a great, detailed history of the document that is, after all, credited with being the foundation of democracies around the world. It was inspired by what passed for a populist uprising in those days. The Barons were sick and tired of King John taxing them to death to pay for ill advised wars. (Something of a familiar ring? We just need the uprising now.) This includes our own, somewhat tattered, democracy back across the pond in the good old U S of A. In fact, in the exhibit was Thomas Jefferson’s own copy of the Declaration of Independence and an original of our Bill of Rights. The main themes of the Magna Carta, that have carried on down through the ages, are the idea that no person can be deprived of liberty or property without due recourse to the law including a jury of their peers. Freedom of the Press and habeas corpus were also credited as ideas that came from the subsequent versions of the charter.

2)The second great event of my day was something that just came along serendipitously. As we pulled into London yesterday on the train I noticed a poster for the annual “State of London Debate.” An event where the Mayor of London gets up on stage with a presenter from LBC (Leading Britain’s Conversation, a radio station) and debates the state of the city. Mostly taking questions from the audience. The tickets were free and, other than having to get myself from one side of London to the other on the underground, it looked like a great evenings entertainment. And it was! Boris Johnson (the Mayor) and Nick Ferrari (the presenter) were obviously old pals and they gave the audience at the Indigo at the O2 a great show! The questions from the audience seemed to be mostly about transportation issues. Taxis versus Uber. New Underground lines. Where to expand the airport. But the Mayor came across as a (somewhat) populist, free-market conservative if there is such a thing. I sat next to a very nice woman from the East End who filled me in on all the details of a city that she professed to love very much. The audience was lively and held the Mayor’s feet to the fire a couple of times mostly on housing issues. A good time was had by all. But wait, that is not the kicker of the evening. I got on “the tube” to go home and was talking to another really nice woman about the evening when she said “there he is now.” I turned around and there was Mr. Johnson himself riding the Underground on his way home. “A man of the people.” My new companion said. He held court a bit with his handlers surrounding him and lo and behold got off at my stop. Well, you know me I could not miss that opportunity. “Mr. Johnson.” quoth I. He turned. “I came all the way from the states to hear you tonite.” He shook my hand. “You’re joking.” He said. “Yes.” said I “but I really enjoyed the evening.” “Thanks,” He said “Where are you from in the States?” “Maine.” “Oh, that’s beautiful.” said one of his handlers. “Yes, it is. Anyhow really enjoyed the evening.” “So glad.” He said, put on his bike helmet and was off. 

3)Came back to my beautiful little hotel in Kensington and turned on my computer to see that Jill Stein of the Green Party announced her entry into the Presidential race for 2016 yesterday. A truly populist candidate taking NO CORPORATE MONEY!!!! My day was complete.   

OpEd Published in the Bangor Daily News Last Week

Fast Track trade authority will hurt Maine’s small farms

By Betsy Garrold, Special to the BDN

Posted March 05, 2015, at 11:30 a.m. 

In a Feb. 24 BDN OpEd, Virginia Manuel, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development state director for Maine, stated that rural economies needed “trade promotion authority” in order to “compete on a level playing field” when it comes to international trade and export of U.S.-grown food and manufactured goods. As the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Central American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization have proven, this is pretty far from the facts on the ground — unless your idea of a level playing field is one that is dirty, polluted and economically ravaged.

The background for this discussion is the impending abdication of Congress of its constitutional authority to oversee all foreign trade deals. Trade Promotion Authority, also called Fast Track, would give President Barack Obama overarching authority to sign trade deals with little congressional oversight, something a constitutional scholar such as himself should know is not at all what our founders had in mind.

What does this mean for small farmers? We know about the devastation of the manufacturing base in the American Midwest after the above mentioned trade deals took effect. Companies scurried to move their plants to places with lower standards of living, loose or non-existent environmental protections and no history of organized labor protecting poorly paid workers. If this is what we want for our small family farms, then by all means let’s sign the Trans Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, both of which, like NAFTA and CAFTA, gut our own sovereign courts’ ability to defend our soil, water, air and workers from abusive lawsuits brought by multinational corporations. These lawsuits are not decided in a U.S. court of law but by an international tribunal composed of three judges looking only at the trade rules for their decision.

In a May 2013 article on food imports to the U.S., Public Citizen’s trade watchdog stated, “Smaller-scale U.S. family farms have been hardest hit by the import influx caused by deals like NAFTA and the WTO. About 170,000 small U.S. family farms have gone under since NAFTA and the WTO took effect, a 21 percent decrease in the total number. After the WTO required elimination of various U.S. price support and supply management policies, small farmers were also hard-pressed to survive the increasing year-to-year volatility in prices paid for commodities, making investment and planning more difficult than before the WTO.”

The National Family Farm Coalition is watching these trade deals closely and has reported on the Obama administration’s aggressive push for Fast Track trade authority.

Small farmers across the country are organizing to tell Congress that what may be good for big agribusiness firms is definitely not good for struggling, small family farms across the country. Here in Maine we are fortunate to have a young, vibrant group of farmers who are working to grow food, rebuild the local food infrastructure and feed the people of Maine. Their livelihood does not depend on exports, but they are subject to the same vagaries that affect small-scale farmers everywhere. If the market becomes flooded with cheap imported food of questionable quality, they may well find it impossible to compete and will leave the land, just as countless others have been forced to do from Iowa to Chiapas.

Again from Public Citizen, “U.S. corn exports to Mexico in the three years after NAFTA soared 377 percent above the level in the three years before the deal. In 2013, the United States exported 26 times as much corn to Mexico as before NAFTA. But when the flood of U.S. corn in Mexico caused corn prices to plummet 66 percent for Mexican farmers, 2.5 million farmers and agricultural workers in Mexico lost their livelihoods, many of whom resorted to migration. In NAFTA’s first seven years, the annual number of people emigrating from Mexico to the United States more than doubled.”

Talk about unintended consequences.

The same thing would happen to Maine growers as cheap and questionable “organic” food floods the market from China. We must protect our family farms and help them grow their businesses to keep the rural economy growing and supporting all the people who live and work in towns and villages across the state and the nation.

Betsy Garrold is the president of the board of directors for Food for Maine’s Future. She monitors the Maine Citizen Trade Policy Commission for that organization. She also serves on the executive committee for the National Family Farm Coalition and lobbies in Augusta for the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. She can be reached at or 568-3302.

Radio Victoria

I need to write about the folks from the CDC, FDA, and USDA getting food poisoning at their Food Safety Summit but today I want to repost from the Oxfam site.   This article reminds me that no matter how scary things get here, there are worse places to be an activist:


When a radio station helps fight poverty—and speaks the truth

September 29, 2014 By Chris Hufstader

Radio reporters in El Salvador face threats, but remain committed to their message.

If you have never thought of a radio station as a way to fight poverty, think again. Over the years I’ve worked at Oxfam I have visited and spoken with staff at community radio stations in Mali, Peru, and Mozambique. I’ve always found the work of these stations to be a fascinating and powerful means to promote development: They bring the voices of people in isolated places out into the media, make their concerns known to the powerful, and push for change.

These stations are driven by a community agenda, so they are different from most commercial media companies funded by businesses, or the government. The best community radios recruit reporters in villages in their listening area, train young people to become journalists, provide an important alternative to the government and corporate messages, and broadcast in local languages.

In some places, projecting the voice of the people when it is at odds with powerful interests can lead to conflict and tragedy. You don’t have to be reporting from a foreign war zone to face life-threatening danger. For community radio reporters in El Salvador, it comes to your home.

I’ve just met with staff at Radio Victoria in Cabañas, which has been under siege since it started reporting on a proposed gold mine in the region in 2006. In 2008, a mining company called Pacific Rim offered the station $8,000 a month to help them promote a “Green Mining” public relations campaign in Cabañas, designed to counter environmentalist critics concerned about water pollution and other potentially negative effects of the proposed mine.

“Okay, $8,000 would have solved a lot of problems for us,” says Elvis Zavala, one of the founders of the station after El Salvador’s civil war, when they had a small transmitter and an antenna on a bamboo pole. “We could pay staff and buy new equipment.” But the station had been researching Pacific Rim’s mining proposal and found that their listeners were against it—the station could not accept Pacific Rim’s money and be true to their mission.

According to Marisella Ramos, a 29-year-old married mother of a young daughter and a reporter at Radio Victoria, this was also the time that the station had been covering the work of a local environmental leader named Marcelo Rivera. He was leading protest marches and workshops to educate people in communities about the dangers of mining to local water sources like the Rio Titihuapa, which flows into the Rio Lempa, El Salvador’s main source of drinking water.

That was when the anonymous threats began. “We got messages that we were on death lists,” Ramos told me. “In June 2009, Marcelo disappeared. We assigned two reporters to investigate his disappearance, and the threats increased to the point that we had to take our staff out of the department [of Cabañas]. We got threats over the cell phone, letters slipped under the door of the radio station and at our homes.” Someone damaged the station’s transmission lines, and tried to knock down its antenna.
A mural of environmental activist Marcelo Rivera is on the town’s cultural center in San Isidro. He was an ardent critic of a proposal to mine for gold in Cabañas, and received numerous death threats before he was kidnapped, tortured, and killed in 2009.
Rivera’s body was found 12 days later at the bottom of a well. A woman I interviewed near the Titihuapa river, a friend of Rivera who did not want to be named in this story, told me he had been scalped, his face ripped off, and his penis cut off and put in his mouth. “This was to send a message,” she said, “to silence us.”

Radio Victoria’s media coordinator, who was frequently on air reporting on the search for Rivera, got so many threats she had to leave the country with her son, and is still in Europe today. Although she was worried to do so, Ramos took over the media coordination role. Every press release the station issued bore her name. She was the main speaker at press conferences. And the threats shifted to her.

The emails she and others received were signed “extermination group.” Sometimes, Ramos says, “There were long, obscene messages describing what happened to Marcelo, implying it could happen to me.” One message gave her a deadline of May 3, 2009, saying they would come for her and her daughter. “Friends took me away to another place,” Ramos says, saying it was a location she thought would be safe. “When I arrived I got a text message saying they knew where I was, and everyone panicked.”

Shortly after that Ramos and her daughter went to Ecuador for a few months. “I had to decide if I wanted to keep being a radio reporter,” she says, back in Victoria and reporting again. “A lot of my colleagues suffered these threats, but I came back and talked with them. We feel united and strong together.”
Elivs Zavala, Marisella Ramos, and Salvador Escobar of Radio Victoria discuss the threats issued to the staff of their community radio station. Escobar was one of the founders of the station. Photo: James Rodriguez / Oxfam America
The threats have trailed off recently, but the controversy around the proposed mine continues. Pacific Rim has not received a permit to start mining, and has sued the government of El Salvador for $301 million. It recently sold its interests to an Australian company called Oceana Gold, which is pursuing the suit in a special tribunal at the World Bank, where such “investor disputes” are settled. Radio Victoria’s listeners in Cabañas are also leading a movement to create legislation that would ban all metal mining in the country, and Oxfam is supporting a coalition that brings together all the groups in the country working on the mining ban.

Elvis Zavala says one of the scariest moments in the violent period also led to a sign of hope. It came on a day when just one staff person was at the station and they got a threat that it would be set on fire. Zavala and others said they called their friends, and there was immediately a group of people with machetes surrounding the station. “When we saw them at the station, we felt like we were not alone,” Zavala says. “They told me, ‘If they are going to burn the radio, they are going to have to kill us first.’”

Every radio station should have such dedicated listeners.

Posted in
Natural resources and rights, The power of people.

Control the Food

This is happening in Europe now but it is only a very short hope “across the pond” as they say.   Remember what the war criminal Henry Kissinger said:

Kissinger: “Control oil and you control nations; control food and you control the people.”

Virtually all plants, vegetable seeds and gardeners to eventually be registered by government    

Most heirloom seeds to be criminalized

A new law proposed by the European Commission would make it illegal to “grow, reproduce or trade” any vegetable seeds that have not been “tested, approved and accepted” by a new EU bureaucracy named the “EU Plant Variety Agency.”
It’s called the Plant Reproductive Material Law, and it attempts to put the government in charge of virtually all plants and seeds. Home gardeners who grow their own plants from non-regulated seeds would be considered criminals under this law.
“This law will immediately stop the professional development of vegetable varieties for home gardeners, organic growers, and small-scale market farmers,” said Ben Gabel, vegetable breeder and director of The Real Seed Catalogue. “Home gardeners have really different needs – for example they grow by hand, not machine, and can’t or don’t want to use such powerful chemical sprays. There’s no way to register the varieties suitable for home use as they don’t meet the strict criteria of the Plant Variety Agency, which is only concerned about approving the sort of seed used by industrial farmers.”

Learn more:

Broken Girls

I have mulled this particular post for a couple of months now.   I think this is the perfect day for it.

I originally was going to call it “Two Broken Girls” because the initial inspiration was the juxtaposition of an image of Malal Yousufzai (the brave young Pakistani girl whom the Taliban attempted to assassinate for her outspoken defense of educating girls and women) against the soft core porn pedaled by such mainstream American comedies as “Two Broke Girls” (I have a lot of other problems with that particular show but when they had a scene where the leads slapped each other suggestively that was the final straw).

Then Jyoti Singh Pandey was raped and murdered in India causing that country to finally come to its senses and speak out en masse against this formerly silent crime.   And Anene Booysen was raped and murdered in South Africa igniting a similar series of protests in South Africa.   I began to feel hopeful that there really was a shift in the zeitgeist and that women and children were going to get the protection they need and deserve.

In the last couple of days I have become less optimistic.   The federal Violence Against Women Act was finally renewed in the Senate.   But 22 rich, old, white men (yes, I know at least one of them was black but I think in this case we can be pretty sure he’s really white in his heart of hearts) voted against it and they will most likely be reelected next time they run.   So there’s that.

But the WORST and MOST DISCOURAGING thing that I saw recently was at the State of the Union address on Tuesday night.   Mr. Obama was talking about equal pay for equal work.   Actually using his bully pulpit to advocate that women should not be making 75 cents for every dollar a man makes.   The camera panned the audience and I saw three congresswomen looking grim, shaking their heads and one of them actually mouthed the word “no”.   These three gender traders were Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA,) Lynn Jenkins (R-KS,) and Virginia Foxx (R-NC).   I urge anyone who reads this and is a constituent of any of these women to contact them and tell them exactly how wrong they are.    Economic violence is in many ways much, much worse than physical violence.   Physical violence you can walk away from or recover from but women who live in poverty (and most people living below the poverty level are women and their children) cannot just walk away.   And any society that says it is protecting the female half of their population while still not providing the ability to earn a living wage is just flat-out lying.

And don’t even get me started on the whole Sport’s Illustrated swimsuit issue mess.   This is what we are telling our young women.  The only way to economic success is getting mostly naked and posing for a photograph that will then be plastered five stories high on the side of a building in NYC.   That too is a form of economic and psychological violence.

We have had better models offered to us.  Roseanne Barr being one.   That woman is who she is and makes no apologies for it.    A woman who has been successful on her own terms telling the truth about what life is really like for most women and their families in this country.  Gabby Gifford, a woman struggling to overcome the effects of the most violent of attacks, a gun shot to the head, and still firmly resolved to do what she can to make this country a kinder, gentler place.   And yes, even Hillary Clinton, although I am not a big fan, I do admire her dedication and determination to find peaceful, non-violent solutions whenever she possibly could during her tenure as Secretary of State.  She worked so hard that she may have sacrificed her own health in the process.   You have to admire that kind of guts and determination.

So how does all of this tie together?   I don’t know.   I just know that until women start respecting themselves more it is going to be damn hard for anyone else to respect us.   And the truth is that when you don’t respect someone it is mighty easy to treat that person in an abusive way.   Maybe that’s it.  That’s the message.   Love and respect.   Two great things to be thinking about on this Valentine’s Day.

P.S.   As I was editing this post the spell checker highlighted “congresswomen” and offered me the choices of “congresswoman”  or “congressmen”!!!   What the fuck WordPress?    There can only be one congresswoman but many congressmen.   Talk about hidden sexism.   I am disappointed to say the least.