Tag Archives: Europe

God Has A Tiger By The Tail, Reading List

Here are three recent books, any one of which might give you nightmares. They’re a follow-up on my first post of 2016, “God Has A Tiger By The Tail.”

  • “Flash Points: The Emerging Crisis in Europe,” by George Friedman, published 2015.
  • “Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath,” by Ted Koppel, published 2015.
  • “This Changes Everything: Capitalism Vs. The Climate,” by Naomi Klein, which was included in the New York Times Book Review list of 100 Notable Books of 2014.

The subtitles above are self-explanatory. The authors need no introduction. Continue reading

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Good News From Iran, Greece And Cuba

The demand for Good News far exceeds the supply. That’s the finding of an unscientific sampling of opinion from readers of this blog.

So I was surprised to see that newspapers and other mainstream media have recently reported several cases of honest-to-goodness, big-time, Good News among nations. Two Good News breakthroughs this week alone!

  1. After years and years of tedious negotiations, the U.S. and six other nations reached a historic agreement with Iran to prevent that country from developing a nuclear weapon. In return, the U.S. and other nations will lift economic sanctions against Iran, sanctions that have caused real hardship for the Iranian people.
  2. After months of brinkmanship, Greece has given in to a deal with Germany and the rest of Europe that will keep Greece in the Euro zone and avert immediate financial default and economic chaos in Greece. Europe’s largest economies will provide yet another billion-dollar rescue to keep Greece afloat. In return, Greece has agreed to fast-track a new round of painful tax increases, budget cuts, and other austerity measures.

And more good news right here in the Western hemisphere! President Barack Obama recently decided to normalize  relations with the island nation of Cuba. The U.S. and Cuba have been estranged from each other for nearly my entire lifetime (and I’m 67). Now, suddenly, unexpectedly, the two nations have reconciled, at least to the point of “normalizing relations.” They’re looking for embassy sites in Washington and Havana. Trade and tourism and family visits will be allowed, even encouraged. Economic benefits will flow to both countries, but most especially to Cuba.

To be sure, these breakthroughs have NOT been universally hailed as GOOD. It is quite possible that any of these forward movements could be knocked off the rails by opponents. Or they could have disastrous unintended consequences. There are no guarantees; only good reason for HOPE.

Recalcitrants and nay-sayers are everywhere; many have legitimate objections. But I’ll not enumerate them all because that might take the winds of Good New of out my sails. I believe that the great majority of the people in all nations involved see these world events as positive, qualifying to be cheered as Good News. It’s OK to have misgivings and still cheer for Good News. To accept Good News requires a measure of Hope and Trust.

In the case of these three steps forward among the family of nations, I confidently declare Good News based on a simple presumption. All the people of the world agree as follows:

PEACE = GOOD;  FRIENDSHIP = GOOD

WAR = BAD;  ENMITY = BAD

The agreements between U.S and Iran, Europe and Greece, U.S. and Cuba, all turn in the direction of friendship and peace. Some will disagree. Some will openly prefer enmity and even war. I will ignore them unless they present persuasive facts.

Case closed. Good news for Iran, Greece, Cuba. 

What do you think? I tolerate differing opinions.

— John Hayden

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Rumors Of War And Economic War, Russia And Ukraine

After the most horrible, bloody century of war in history — 1914 to 2014 — wouldn’t you hope that humankind has learned something about war and peace?

After all these years, we are still attracted to war like mindless, flying insects to a lightbulb on a dark night. In recent decades, we’ve certainly not hesitated to invade, shoot and bomb, using ever more-effective killing and maiming technology. But we’ve also perfected the art of economic war. Politely known as “Economic Sanctions.” At this very moment, the U.S. and Great Britain are threatening to unleash the equivalent of unlimited economic war on Russia.

The economic sanctions are intended to defend the “sovereignty” of Ukraine and Crimea, whatever “sovereignty” means in that part of the world, with it’s emotional history and artificial national boundaries. In the course of such defense, economic sanctions and/or military intervention might just as well destroy Ukraine and Crimea. Sort of like the U.S. destroyed Vietnamese villages to save them, and invaded Iraq to save it, instead ransacking and wrecking Iraq for ten years before abandoning it.

Embed from Getty Images

As the Ukraine reached the boiling  point in recent days, I’ve engaged in discussion with Clarissa, a blogger who knows much more about Russia and Ukraine than I do. She’s posting daily about the developing situation. You can scroll through her many posts and interesting discussion threads at her blog.

I’ve been learning a lot, but also arguing a lot. I used to think I understood this kind of stuff. But as old age sets in, I find I no longer understand anything about the human obsession with war, both military and economic.

Ukraine-map

Below I express my puzzlement in comments I’ve written for Clarissa’s blog.

I guess I’m being blindsided. I read every story about Ukraine and Crimea in this morning’s Washington Post, including an analysis of the emotions and history involved by a former colleague of mine at the Baltimore Sun. I don’t give any credence to cable news speculation.

Forgive me, but I have read no credible evidence that this is anything but a civil war of WORDS involving Russia, Ukraine and Crimea. In fact, if it is a civil war, I’d put the emphasis on the word “civil.” There’s much hand-wringing about a Russian “invasion” of Crimea. Really? Has a single shot been fired? The Russian and Ukraine soldiers in fact seem quite chummy.

The main issues seem to be emotional grievances regarding the official language in Ukraine (reminds me of Quebec’s grievances against English-speaking Canada), “sovereignty,” and which paper money to use. I suspect the “crisis” might blow over if the U.S. would butt out and Ukraine simply decided to recognize both Russian and Ukrainian as official languages.

I do not understand what makes the U.S. and European countries so self-righteous that they must declare economic war on Russia. Yes, I see one blog report that one person has been tortured and killed. There are anecdotes about “volatile protests,” outside agitators and thugs beating up people. As a journalist, know the difficulty of confirming such anecdotes.

In the U.S. most of this would be called street crime, police brutality, or “the right to gather in public and express grievances,” protected under the Bill or Rights. How many confirmed casualties in Ukraine or Crimea? I’m serious. There are 500 murders a year in Chicago. Multiple murders every weekend in Washington and Baltimore. Is it more dangerous right this moment to be in Kiev or in Chicago?

The U.S. government “said the vote was rigged and discounted it as illegal.” (The Washington Post)  I ask: How does the U.S. know that?

I’ve studied politics my whole life, and I have no trouble at all believing that a large majority of people in Crimea would vote allegiance to Russia, and did so on Sunday. Where is the evidence to the contrary? (Yes, 97% seems an obvious exaggeration. So what?) I cannot even verify the election results in my own state, Maryland, where we use a computerized voting system with no way to audit the results. If the computers have not already been hacked, they will be some day soon.

It seems to me that the U.S. and Great Britain foment wars and economic hardship by meddling in internal affairs of other countries.

Sorry, I know I sound naive, and maybe I am. I have a healthy skepticism about what is true or false or propaganda or posturing. — John

____________________________________________________________

Clarissa responds to my comment:

“The main issues seem to be emotional grievances regarding the official language in Ukraine (reminds me of Quebec’s grievances against English-speaking Canada), “sovereignty,” and which paper money to use.”

– These are definitely not the central issues for anybody in Ukraine or Russia. Honestly, this is the first time I hear about paper money in this context at all. I get my news from Russian and Ukrainian media and people I know who live in these countries.

“In the U.S. most of this would be called street crime, police brutality, or “the right to gather in public and express grievances,” protected under the Bill or Rights.”

– If the Russian troops crossed the US border, would this still be called street crime and police brutality?

“I suspect the “crisis” might blow over if the U.S. would butt out and Ukraine simply decided to recognize both Russian and Ukrainian as official languages.”

– In 1994, Ukraine, Russia and the US signed the Budapest accords in which the US promised not to butt out in case Russia violates the territorial wholeness of Ukraine in its 1994 borders. Out of these 3 countries, Ukraine is the only one that fulfilled its part of the agreement by handing over its entire nuclear arsenal to Russia, the country that has invaded right now. If the US didn’t want to have anything to do with what is happening in that area, it shouldn’t have signed the agreements. Wouldn’t you agree that you can’t enter into a contract, get everything you wanted from the other party, and then refuse to fulfill your part of the obligations you freely undertook?

” Is it more dangerous right this moment to be in Kiev or in Chicago?”

– If you look at the map, you will see that Kiev lies pretty far from the Russian border, there are no Russian troops there. Yet. The invasion is taking place in the Lugansk, Kharkov, Mariupol’, Kherson and the Crimea areas. Tragically, these are, indeed, highly criminalized areas. 😦 However, now on top of the street crime and the mafia, there are foreign troops there.

“It seems to me that the U.S. and Great Britain foment wars and economic hardship by meddling in internal affairs of other countries.”

– Russia has been invading Ukraine long before the US even existed. This is not about the US and definitely not about the UK, which has been selling itself to the bandits from Russia for years.

“Sorry, I know I sound naive, and maybe I am.”

– I’m very grateful to you for trying to understand.

end of Clarissa’s reply

____________________________________________________________

My further response:

“- If the Russian troops crossed the US border, would this still be called street crime and police brutality?”

AND

“- Russia has been invading Ukraine long before the US even existed. This is not about the U.S. and definitely not about the UK.”

Both good points! And you can see the absurdity when you place the above two statements side-by-side in historical and geopolitical context. I’m not an expert on any of this, so I hesitate to make the following analogy, and I welcome more knowledgeable observers to correct me:

Doesn’t it seem that Russia, Ukraine, and Crimea have a long history of  marriage of convenience and breakups? Tumultuous relationships, to be sure, trial separations and divorce, friendly or otherwise. But they are geographically intertwined; they HAVE to live near each other over the long run, and so they do. As you point out, this love-hate affair has been going on since LONG BEFORE the U.S. existed. I agree, it’s NOT about the U.S. or the UK, so what gives the U.S. and UK the right to declare economic world war?

Regarding the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, in which the U.S., Britain, and Russia reaffirmed their commitment to Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty, and Ukraine agreed to return its nuclear weapons to Russia. Well.

The salient point here is the nuclear weapons. You could keep an international courtroom full of lawyers busy for a century, arguing what the wording of the Budapest Memorandum (contract?) means.

Would the world be a better place if Ukraine had those nuclear weapons at this moment?

A few Ukrainian NATIONALISTS would say “Yes,” but they would be crazy. Everyone else, especially Russia, Crimea, U.S. and UK, understands, in retrospect, the wisdom of the nuclear weapons accord made at Budapest. After the past century of European and Russian history, can’t we all agree that emotional NATIONALISM is not sufficient reason to start a shooting war?

And thank God the U.S. and UK commitment to the territorial “sovereignty” of Ukraine is definitely not a “mutual defense treaty” requiring the U.S. and UK to defend militarily the sanctity of the region’s artificial boundary lines.

What exactly does the word “sovereignty” imply in this case? Can anyone untangle the history and mythology behind these lines on a map? Let Russian, Ukraine, and Crimea work this out in divorce court.  — John

___________________________________________________________

Let me repeat that I respect Clarissa and her knowledge of Russia and Ukraine. I appreciate her willingness to engage in informative discussions with me and others on her blog. I recommend her blog for anyone following developments in the Ukraine.

Conclusion:

Is there any conclusion? Is history ever over? When will we ever learn?

— John Hayden

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Worldwide Blog Readership

It’s fascinating to know that a WordPress blog can be viewed by people all over this wide world. My blog is in fact visited by people from many faraway places. Maybe they should call it WorldPress. I wonder if that URL is available?

Most days, my readers are mostly from the U.S. and Canada, followed by a few in the U.K. and/or Australia. Oddly, most days the blog gets a view or three from the Cayman Islands. Why do you suppose my poor blog is on the radar in the Caymans?

Yesterday and today have not been ordinary days. Fewer than half my visitors have been in the U.S. The most popular post on my blog these past two days has been “Russian Toilets,” and readers are visiting from many different countries, especially in Europe. My only explanation is that the impending Winter Olympics in Sochi are generating a feeding frenzy for anything and everything about Russia and Sochi.

If you’re not a WordPress blogger, you may wonder how I know the location of my readers. On my blog’s stats dashboard, WordPress provides an array of information about the source of readers, including a world map noting the number of visitors from each country. If you’re concerned about privacy, be assured that the map doesn’t identify readers by name, only by country. If you’re interested in totals, then I must honestly say the numbers are modest. Some blogs register traffic in the thousands regularly. My blog rarely breaks into triple digits in a single day, but does hit triple digits every week.

For those with a greater interest in readership gossip, yesterday I had visitors from the U.S. and Canada, plus visitors from nearly every small country in Europe, plus the U.K., Germany and Poland. But none from France or Spain. I can only guess that people in France and Spain prefer to read blogs in their own language, while most others throughout Europe know English and use it when they wish.

Also yesterday, something unusual — seven visits from Trinidad and Tobago! But not one from the Caymans. And oddly, not a single visit from any continent other than North America and Europe.

Today, the interest in Russian Toilets, or whatever, expanded to include five visitors from Ukraine, plus two each from Russia, Australia, and the Caymans. And one visitor from Hong Kong! Still not a single visitor yesterday or today from South America or Africa, though I have had a few from those continents in the past.

Blog readers of the world: Unburden yourselves! Please comment at will. What would you like to read about? I take requests.

— John Hayden

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Austerity Is The New Name For Slavery

austerity

(Photo credit: 401K 2012)

Slavery is the oldest economic system in the world, and the most persistent. Just as surely as accounting and lawyering were not the first professions, capitalism and communism were not the first economic systems.

Slavery is also, I believe, one of the oldest forms of social structure. I imagine the tribe was the first social structure, closely followed by enslavement, but it might have been the other way around.

It is said that Satan goes by many names, and I believe that slavery also goes by many names.

The world has hardly ever been secretive about slavery. It’s been openly practiced from Biblical times to modern times.   Continue reading

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American and European Workers in the New Economy

It’s possible that we’re on the brink of historic collapse. Maybe not the Dark Age that Jane Jacobs suggests in her final book. Maybe the decline and fall of the Roman Empire is not an apt comparison. Maybe it will be more like the decline and fall of the British Empire. Or the breakup of the Soviet Union. Maybe only partial collapse, failure of some systems, here and there.

Is the era of labor-intensive capitalism over in the U.S. and Europe?

You can trace the demise of the factory to decisions made in the 1950s. The actual dismantling of American industry began in the 1970s. By 1982, the process was so advanced that we spoke of the industrial heartland as the “rust belt.”

The remaining labor-intensive parts of American industry were taken apart and exported during the globalization of the 1980s and 1990s. After the manufacturing base was hollowed out to a shell, the next labor-intensive sector to collapse was the construction industry.

Capitalism remains strong. But for the first time, capitalism doesn’t need many workers, at least not in America and Europe. What about the knowledge industry? Won’t that provide jobs? Google is big, but its workforce, not so much. Yes, there will be jobs for the lucky, the talented, the highly educated. But ask a recent college grad how easy it is to find a job.

We have what’s left of retailing. Count the vacant stores at your local mall. Walmart thrives. We have fast food. Many jobs, minimum wage.

The new capitalism is technology-intensive and finance-intensive. And coming soon, computers that “think,” to compete with slow, old-fashioned humans.

As manufacturing jobs slipped away, the financial sector created an illusion of growth and wealth.

The workings of the financial sector are a mystery to me. But the events of the past few years have caused me to view banking and finance with fear and loathing. Based on what little I know, the world financial system — many currencies and fluctuating values, with competing central banks and regulators — is dysfunctional and completely irrational. Finance is a crazy system, more likely to create chaos than order. It’s FUBAR (go ahead, look it up).

The institutions of finance have no soul or conscience to oppose corruption. American banks, corporations and wealthy individuals are awash in money, while average Americans, especially underwater “homeowners,” are awash in debt. For whatever reasons, the wizards of finance refuse to spend or invest.

If high-tech, high-finance, American and European capitalism can profit without much labor input, what happens to the surplus workers?

Economic, political and social systems will have to adapt rapidly, or risk collapse. The European Union looks kind of unstable. In the U.S., some states are financial basket cases. Maybe collapse is happening now.

— John Hayden

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London Is Burning

This just in from a blog in London:

Tonight, in one of the greatest cities in the world, society is ripping itself apart.

If you want to know the latest in the American-European Political-Debt Crisis of 2011, I recommend you read blogs like Penny Red.

If you want a preview of what’s coming to an American city near you, California is no longer the barometer. Look at what’s going on in London, or Dublin, or Greece, Italy, Portugal, and the entire European Union. Europe is now in worse shape than America, but maybe not for long.

Here’s an excerpt from today’s report in Penny Red:

Tonight in London, social order and the rule of law have broken down entirely. The city has been brought to a standstill; it is not safe to go out onto the streets, and where I am in Holloway, the violence is coming closer. As I write, the looting and arson attacks have spread to at least fifty different areas across the UK, including dozens in London, and communities are now turning on each other, with the Guardian reporting on rival gangs forming battle lines. It has become clear to the disenfranchised young people of Britain, who feel that they have no stake in society and nothing to lose, that they can do what they like tonight, and the police are utterly unable to stop them. That is what riots are all about.

And more from Penny Red:

 This morning, as the smoke begins to clear, those of us who can sleep will wake up to a country in chaos. We will wake up to fear, and to racism, and to condemnation on left and right, none of which will stop this happening again, as the prospect of a second stock market clash teeters terrifyingly at the bottom of the news reports. Now is the time when we make our choices. Now is the time when we decide whether to descend into hate, or to put prejudice aside and work together. Now is the time when we decide what sort of country it is that we want to live in. Follow the #riotcleanup hashtag on Twitter. And take care of one another.

I also recommend Baroque in Hackney, who can provide other pertinent links in Britain.

And today, in Wisconsin, the people are voting. I wonder if what they decide, one way or another, will be able to slow down, one iota, the spread of the chaos in the Western World.

I have to go to work now.

— John Hayden

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Unemployment and $3 Gasoline in the U.S., Austerity and Street Protests in the Capitals of Europe

BOOK SHIELDS IN ROME. One of many photos circulating in European newspapers and blogs, of protests against government austerity plans. This one shows students in Rome using book-like shields. Tomorrow, you'll likely see similar street theater in London. But only if you have access to European sources.

The beautiful people on CNBC, the Wall Street propaganda channel, chat happily about how high stocks might fly, and the price of gold and oil.  It’s surreal.

Even as they talk, the economy of the Western world is teetering on the edge of chaos. Students protest daily in the capitals of Europe against draconian austerity plans designed to screw the middle class and working class, and especially the younger generations. European governments seem intent on staving off default by cutting deeply into funding for education, arts and humanities. As you can see, ConsterNation is an international state of mind.

You need direct European sources to keep up with events over there. For instance, news and photos of the book protests in Rome can be found at this Italian blog by Italian novelists. If you can read Italian, you could look at their main blog.

Baroque in Hackney reports that students in London will mount a similar protest on Thursday. Ms. B even provides the address where you can go on Tuesday to help make life-sized books for the demonstration, if you happen to be in London. If not, there’s plenty of time to get there by Thursday. It’s a small world, so they tell me.

“With Arts and Humanities a particular target for UK cuts this is a literal display of literary resistance.”  — Ms. B

For more inside information (and videos) from the U.K., you could look at Coalition of Resistance.

Until recently, the U.S. cable channels had been reporting on the debt crises in Greece and Ireland. But as the contagion threatens to spread throughout the southern half of Europe, coverage in the U.S. has all but disappeared. You’ll not likely see film or photos of protests in Europe on CNBC, or any other news channel.

Could the U.S. news blackout on European protests be a conspiracy to keep Americans from knowing the extent of economic turmoil, at least until after the Christmas shopping season? When did I become so cynical? Maybe the news blackout is to prevent protest fever from jumping the Atlantic and infecting U.S. students. Maybe it’s to prevent panic.

Let’s go to the NUMBERS.

Even as the beautiful TV people talk, unemployment in the U.S. is 9.8 percent, officially, and possibly twice that much, in reality. Members of the U.S. Armed Forces are fighting and dying in Afghanistan and Iraq, and for their service they will receive a 1.4 percent pay increase, the lowest in many years. The price of gasoline is $2.97 a gallon, where I live, and more than $3, in urban areas. The snow is knee-deep, or higher, in Buffalo, N.Y.; and the temperature is going down to 30 degrees tonight in Orlando, Florida.

LILY HAS AWESOME POWERS OF CONCENTRATION WHEN A DOG BISCUIT IS BALANCED ON HER NOSE.

And Lily, the golden retriever, has about a one-in-three chance of balancing a dog biscuit on her nose, tossing it in the air, and catching it in her mouth. I had to add the true story about Lily and the dog biscuit for a little comic relief.

No one can predict the future. But let me make a few guesses. The temperature will go up later this week in Florida, and the snow will melt in Buffalo, by late spring.

But across America, it is entirely possible that unemployment will remain above 10 per cent and gasoline will remain above $3. For how long? Forever.

And what will the austerity plan agreed to by the U.S. government and the Wall Street tycoons look like? I will not hazard even a guess.

— John Hayden

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Fear and Anger: Walk Away From It

Thursday, there was a whiff of panic in the air, as the Dow went through a 1,000-point intraday swing.

Friday, American eyes were locked, with a sense of “deja vu,” on the financial train wreck in Europe. The credit engine in Europe may be on the verge of seizing up, like it did in America in 2008.

This week, Greece; next week, the Continent?  Germany and France are rushing to avert crisis, but probably too late. It doesn’t help one bit that Britain woke up Friday morning with a fractured Parliament. Can the new Parliament possibly be more dysfunctional than the American Congress? And next week, strikes are scheduled in Europe.

For the average human being, this would be a good time to be far away from and fully independent of free markets; out of debt; and growing your own vegetables in dirt and fresh air. In other words, simplicity never looked so good.

Next time someone flies into a rage over a parking space or a line at the supermarket, give them plenty of room to vent. And don’t take it personally. It’s not about the parking space or the line. People are angry about events not under their control.

This would be a good weekend to go fishing, in a quiet place, far from the maddening crowd. Take along someone you like. Eat comfort food. Read a good, long book, or two short books, and call me in the morning.

— John Hayden

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