* WHY IS IT SO EASY TO SAVE THE BANKS — BUT SO HARD TO SAVE THE BIOSPHERE?
Agreements to bail out banks happen in days – but despite some good progress at Durban, we still don’t have a legally binding deal to bail out the planet
By George Monibot, Guardian UK
The US and other nations began talking seriously about tackling climate change in 1988 – yet we still don’t have a legally binding global agreement. Photograph: Corbis
[…] That said, the outcome at Durban, after some superhuman feats of traction, was better than most environmentalists expected. After Copenhagen and Cancún, it seemed implausible that rich and poor nations would ever agree that they would one day strike a legally binding treaty, but they have. That doesn’t mean that the outcome was good: even if everything happens as planned, we are still likely to end up with more than 2C of warming, which threatens great harm to many of the world’s people and places.
The clearest account of the negotiations and the outcome of the Durban meeting that I have read so far has been written by Mark Lynas, who attended as an adviser to the president of the Maldives. The byzantine complexity he documents is the result of 20 years of foot-dragging and obstruction. When powerful countries want to do something, they do it swiftly and simply. When they don’t, their agreements with other nations turn into a cat’s cradle.
Here are some of the key points:
• The most important negotiations boiled down to a battle between two groups: the European Union, least developed countries (LDCs) and small island states on one side, which pressed for steeper, faster cuts, and the US, Brazil, South Africa, India and China on the other side, seeking to resist that pressure.
• The first group (EU + LDCs) succeeded in one respect: the other nations agreed to work towards a legally binding deal “applicable to all parties”. In other words, unlike the Kyoto protocol, which governs only the greenhouse gas emissions of a group of rich nations, this will apply to everyone. (It doesn’t necessarily mean that all nations will have to reduce their emissions however).
• The first group failed in its attempt to get this done quickly. The poorest nations wanted a legally binding outcome by the end of next year. But the US-China group held out for 2020, and got it. Unless this changes, it makes limiting the global temperature rise to 2C or less much harder – perhaps impossible.
• The Kyoto protocol, though it will remain in force until either 2017 or 2020, is now a dead letter. In fact, Lynas suggests, unless the loopholes it contains are closed it could be worse than useless, as they could undermine the voluntary commitments that its signatory nations have made.
• The countries agreed to create a green climate fund to help developing nations limit their greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the impacts of global warming. But, with three exceptions – South Korea, Germany and Denmark – they didn’t agree to put any money into it. The fund is supposed to receive $100bn a year: a lot of money, until you compare it to what the banks got.
• Between now and 2020, all we have to rely on are countries’ voluntary commitments. According to a UN study, these fall short of the cuts required to prevent more than 2C of global warming – by some 6bn tonnes of carbon dioxide.
• But as the Durban agreement conceded, 2C is still too high. It raised the possibility of pledging to keep the rise to no more than 1.5C. This would require a much faster programme of cuts than it envisages. […]
* BRADLEY MANNING FACES LIFE SENTENCE, WHILE CRIMINALS WIKILEAKS EXPOSED HAVE SUFFERED NO CONSEQUENCES — GLENN GREENWALD
By Democracy Now!
We speak with constitutional lawyer and Salon.com blogger Glenn Greenwald about the military pretrial hearing now underway for alleged U.S. Army whistleblower Bradley Manning, who has been accused of releasing classified U.S. documents to WikiLeaks. Greenwald comments on the possible strategy being put forth by Manning’s defense. “All the Manning [tribunal] hearings have been shrouded in secrecy,” Greenwald says, noting there may be more transparency in Guantánamo detainee hearings than there has been for the Manning tribunal. “Presumably, his lawyer believes that one of the best ways that they have to keep him out of prison for the next six decades is to argue that he had diminished capacity by virtue of emotional distress over the gender struggles that he had over his sexual orientation being in a military that had a policy of banning those who were openly gay. And so, part of this emotional distress that they’re raising is designed to say that he should be excused from his actions because they were not the byproduct of full choice,” says Greenwald, who is openly gay and has been writing extensively about this aspect of Manning’s case. “He is—and I don’t blame him at all—trying to do whatever he can to avoid having his life destroyed, either being killed by the state or locked up in a cage for the rest of his life.” [includes rush transcript] […]
VIDEO AND TRANSCRIPT @ http://www.democracynow.org/2011/12/19/bradley_manning_faces_life_sentence_while
* NYPD CONTINUES IT’S RAMPAGE ON ACTIVISTS, JOURNALISTS — EVEN FELLOW OFFICERS
By Carlos Miller
New York City police officers have apparently become so fed-up with Occupy Wall Street protesters that they are not only arresting activists, photographers and journalists as they have been doing.
They are now attacking fellow cops.
The latest melee took place Saturday, the three-month anniversary of the movement, as hundreds of activists attempted to scale or crawl under a fence to an Episcopal churched-owned lot where they had intended to create an encampment.
NYPD officers arrested about 50 people who had entered the property, attacking several reporters and at least one plainclothes cop in the process.
Ryan Devereaux of Democracy Now – who winded up with a cop’s fist on his throat – reported seeing a senior police officer throw a younger plainclothes cop to the ground, apparently not recognizing him.
The younger officer said he was hurt, according to Devereaux’s tweet.
I saw a senior officer throw a younger plainclothes cop to the ground, not recognizing him. The younger cop said he was hurt.
I was just manhandled by massive police officer. I was standing on the sidewalk. He was pushing his fist into my throat.
I repeatedly said I was trying to get back and he wouldn’t let me go. Eventually he pulled me away to arrest me. I kept telling I was press.
My neck is red, my press pass was ripped. I was doing nothing but standing on the sidewalk doing my job.
My colleague, a credentialed cameraman, was punched in the kidney three times.
For the second time today my credentialed cameraman was struck by the police. This time with batons. […]
READ AND PHOTOS @ http://www.pixiq.com/article/nypd-continues-its-rampage
* WITH LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR SOME: SIX QUESTIONS FOR GLENN GREENWALD
By Scott Horton, Harper’s Magazine
In the wake of September 11, Glenn Greenwald emerged as the nation’s premier chronicler of the war that U.S. officials waged on the nation’s civil liberties under the pretext of battling terrorists. Persistent and technically skilled, he played a key role in unmasking shameless betrayals by government attorneys of their oath to uphold the law—exposing those who enabled the torture of prisoners, the introduction of a massive warrantless surveillance system, and the merciless war against loyal Americans who attempted to blow the whistle on such abuses. I put six questions to Greenwald about his new book, With Liberty and Justice for Some, which examines the emerging doctrine of impunity for politically powerful elites in the United States:
1. You start your account of the doctrine of elite immunity in the United States with Gerald Ford’s decision to pardon Richard Nixon. How did this one decision, among the numerous incidents you describe, provide a point of rupture in the nation’s rule-of-law tradition?
American history is suffused with violations of equality before the law. The country was steeped in such violations at its founding. But even when this principle was being violated, its supremacy was also being affirmed: resoundingly and unanimously in the case of the founders. That the rule of law—not the rule of men—would reign supreme was one of the few real points of agreement among all the founders. Arguably it was the primary one.
There’s an obvious element of hypocrisy in this fact; espousing a principle that one simultaneously breaches in action is hypocrisy’s defining attribute. But there’s also a more positive side: the country’s vigorous embrace of the principle of equality before law enshrined it as aspiration. It became the guiding precept for how “progress” was understood, for how the union would be perfected.
And the most significant episodes of progress over the next two centuries—the emancipation of slaves, the ending of Jim Crow, the enfranchisement and liberation of women, vastly improved treatment for Native Americans and gay Americans—were animated by this ideal. That happened because “blind justice”—equality before law—was orthodoxy in American political culture. The principle was sacrosanct even when it was imperfectly applied.
The Ford pardon of Nixon changed that, radically and permanently. When President Ford went on national television to explain to an angry, skeptical citizenry why the most powerful political actor would be fully immunized for the felonies he got caught committing, Ford expressly rejected the rule of law. He paid lip service to its core principle—the “law is no respecter of persons”—but then tacked on a newly concocted amendment designed to gut that principle: “but the law is a respecter of reality.”
In other words, if—in the judgment of political leaders—it’s sufficiently disruptive, divisive, or distracting to hold powerful political officials accountable under the law on equal terms with ordinary Americans, then they should be exempt and the rule of law suspended, all in the name of political harmony, of “moving on.” But of course, it will always be divisive and distracting, by definition, to prosecute the most powerful political leaders, so Ford’s rationale, predictably, created a template for elite immunity.
The rationale for Ford’s pardon of Nixon was subsequently legitimized, and it created a precedent for shielding the most powerful elites from the consequences of their lawbreaking. The arguments Ford offered are the same ones now hauled out over and over whenever it is time to argue why the most powerful among us should not be held accountable: It’s not just for the good of the immunized criminal, but in the common good, to Look Forward, Not Backward. This direct assault on the rule of law was pioneered by the pardon of Richard Nixon. […]
* DEMOCRATS: HERE’S HOW TO FORCE PRESIDENT OBAMA TO DEBATE ENDLESS WAR, INDEFINITE DETENTION, SOPA AND OTHER ASSAULTS ON OUR FREEDOM, AND THE OUT-OF-CONTROL FEDERAL RESERVE
By Washington’s Blog
Banks Got Bailed Out … We Got Sold Out
We voted for Obama because we wanted change.
We voted for Obama because he promised to end Bush’s perpetual wars, clean up the mess which Bush’s financial tzars made, and restore the freedom and liberty which Bush attacked.
- Is implementing the Neocons plans for war throughout the Middle East
- Is prosecuting fewer financial crimes than under either Bush or Reagan
- Has appointed the very Wall Street insiders who helped cause the financial crisis to top posts. See this, this, this and this.
- Allowed the Fed to dramatically expand its powers.
As I pointed out in September, Americans overwhelmingly want:
- The Federal Reserve to be reined in if not abolished
- The never-ending, open-ended, goalpost-moving wars to stop and the troops to be brought home
- Our liberties to be restored, and the martial law indefinite detention idiocy to be reversed
As I pointed out in October:
- Obama – just like the other pimps in D.C. – has institutionalized fraud as an official (if unspoken) party platform.
- Americans want our liberties restored, our troops brought home, and the Fed reined in. But Obama has implemented plans for war throughout the Middle East crafted by the Neoconservatives a decade (or more) ago, and gotten us into 7 (oops …8) wars, attacked our liberties even more than Bush and allowed the Fed to dramatically expand its powers.
- Americans didn’t want bailouts, but Obama helped to facilitate trillions in direct and hidden bailouts.
- Obama doesn’t support the 99%. He is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
And as I wrote last month, Obama was heckled by Occupy protesters for allowing police brutality and mass arrests of the peaceful protesters, and because:
Banks got bailed out. We got sold out. […]
* OBAMA ADMIN GIVES UP PRETENSE OF COMPETITIVE MARKETS FOR ACA HEALTH INSURANCE EXCHANGES
By Scarecrow, Firedoglake
The notion that the health insurance exchanges required by the Affordable Care Act would reduce health care costs using “competition” between concentrated health insurers was always one or more unbridgeable chasms away from a plausible theory.
But the myths of competitive markets are so deeply ingrained in our political discourse it was inevitable that a nominal Democratic President not constrained by conceptual coherence and a corrupt Congress would try to sell us the conceit as the only politically feasible model for health care reform. The economists — not to mention international experience — told us it was gibberish, but nobody cared.
Now, however, the Obama Administration has given up even the pretense of a competitive model for the state-administered private insurance exchanges. From Saturday’s New York Times (i.e, a Friday night news dump):
In a major surprise on the politically charged new health care law, the Obama administration said Friday that it would not define a single uniform set of “essential health benefits” that must be provided by insurers for tens of millions of Americans. Instead, it will allow each state to specify the benefits within broad categories.
The first thing you note is that this move is one more step towards Mitt Romney, who argues that RomneyCare might be fine for Massachusetts, but each state should be free to decide for itself how best to provide health coverage — or not. The White House political geniuses who have managed to position their guy as only barely beating or even with the most embarrassing and offensive array of GOP clowns in memory apparently think moving towards Mitt’s incoherent position will leave one less reason to vote against Mr. Obama; others might conclude it’s one less reason to vote for him.
But let’s return to the unproven theory that “competition” between private health insurers will produce better quality and/or lower prices for insurance and hence more affordable quality health care. Even economists like Paul Krugman who supported the overall ACA package because, among other reasons, it promised through other means to cover tens of millions of the currently uninsured, warned us that private health insurance does not lend itself to the competitive model, but no one — including Democrats — paid attention to that point. […]
* HIGHLY TOXIC MERCURY PRESENT IN PROCESSED FOODS, YET FDA DOES NOTHING
By Anthony Gucciardi, Blacklisted News
Why has the FDA ignored the fact that mercury, an element that is highly toxic in all forms, was found in a large number of brand-name processed foods?
Specifically, the mercury content was found to be contained in high-fructose corn syrup, which also reportedly contains genetically modified ingredients.
Instead of addressing this major public health concern, the FDA is focusing their time on crushing beneficial supplements through ridiculous NDI regulations that threaten the entire infrastructure of the nutraceuticals industry.
Researchers from two U.S. studies reported that about half of tested samples of high-fructose corn syrup contained mercury. Mercury was also found in nearly a third of 55 popular brand-name food and beverage products which listed high-fructose corn syrup as the first-or-second-highest labeled ingredient.
Following the report, organizations like the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy called on the FDA for immediate action:
‘Mercury is toxic in all its forms. Given how much high-fructose corn syrup is consumed by children, it could be a significant additional source of mercury never before considered. We are calling for immediate changes by industry and the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] to help stop this avoidable mercury contamination of the food supply,”’the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy’s Dr. David Wallinga, a co-author of both studies, said in a prepared statement.
Americans Consumed Over 37 Pounds of Mercury-Laden HFCS in 2008 […]
* OWS, WITHOUT A SPACE TO OCCUPY, FACES ORGANIZATIONAL CHALLENGES
By J.A. Myerson, The Nation
|The evening is rainy and quite warm, which is disconcerting since it is almost December. A hundred or so people gather on the east side of what we may safely call Zuccotti Park, for their General Assembly.Nothing about the park feels like Liberty Plaza anymore. Every inch of the perimeter, for instance, is lined with metal barricades, just inside which stand private security guards, husky and rude, dressed in all black, apart from their yellow vests. A massive Christmas tree has been set up in the park and barricaded off. Besides the few protesters, that’s who’s here. The guards and their barricades.There’s no kitchen, no library, no medical tent, no media center. There is no drum circle, no sign-painting station, no welcome table on Broadway, no altar around the meditation tree in the northwest corner. There are only about a hundred people, deliberating democratic minutiae, trying to get through a too-big agenda, packed with yesterday’s unattended business.This would be hard enough to do without the people who keep loudly interrupting the meeting. But every meeting I’ve recently attended—and from what I gather, every recent meeting I have not—has been brought to a grinding halt, the basic ability to debate and consent to proposals crippled by a determined few who will not to let things proceed until their issues are addressed. This is the reason for the backed-up business. The people shouting about their needs over the debate.It’s clear that the primary issue afflicting Occupy right now is the lack of an occupation. In the month since the New York Police Department violently forced the occupiers out of Zuccotti, the people whose residence was Liberty Plaza Park have nowhere to go. Some of them had previously been homeless. Others left their homes to join the movement. But deprived of the food station, the medical tent, the things that once fulfilled their needs for basic survival, they have rapidly lost faith in Occupy Wall Street’s much-vaunted democratic process to provide the supportive community that once existed here.
The Occupy activists have tried to help find shelter for those left homeless by the eviction, sending out urgent bulletins almost nightly to arrange accommodations. Some have been sleeping at a shelter in Far Rockaway, some in churches in Harlem and on the Upper West Side. As with national numbers on the homeless, it is difficult to tell exactly how many occupiers need housing, but it is surely in the hundreds. These include not just experienced urban survivalists like Ghengis Khalid Muhammed, or GKM, who works with the support organization Picture the Homeless, which helps people find food stamps and soup kitchens, but also people who have no idea how to live on the streets and who are freezing, starving and unable to get MetroCards to travel to places where shelter may or may not be available. Lauren, of Occupy’s Housing Committee, tells me that two pregnant women have so far been turned away from churches.
The activist core of the occupation—the people who met over the summer in Tompkins Square Park, who set up and continue to participate in working groups and who spend their days in meetings—sees this as an Empire Strikes Back moment, taking the opportunity to plan actions and events for the winter. In the atrium at 60 Wall Street and in the Occupied Office at 50 Broadway, they are planning important things, chiefly the continuation of the Occupy Our Homes foreclosure resistance project that kicked off last week. They have their eye on the Jedi’s return. […]
* A SIGN OCCUPY WALL STREET IS HAVING POLITICAL IMPACT
By Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone
For those saying that Occupy Wall Street hasn’t had a concrete effect, take a look at this. It’s not much, but it’s a little something. The leaders of the House Financial Services Committee announced yesterday that they will be holding hearings on the SEC’s practice of concluding settlements with Wall Street defendants without forcing the accused to admit to wrongdoing.
This whole thing seems to be the creature of ranking Republican Spencer Bachus. From his site:
“The SEC’s practice of using ‘no-contest settlements’ has raised concerns about accountability and transparency, and I’m pleased the Committee will examine these concerns in a bipartisan manner,” said Chairman Bachus.
If they actually do something about this, then it’ll be time to give them a pat on the back. But in the meantime, we can expect to see a lot of things like this in an election year marked by an absence of a real galvanizing message coming from either party. With OWS and populist anger generally filling that messaging void, there are going to be a lot of politicians who will look to capitalize by doing things like, for instance, beating up on the SEC in a few days of well-publicized but ineffectual hearings.
Spencer Bachus to positioning himself as a champion of Wall Steeet reform is, of course, hilarious. Not only was he one of the leaders of the opposition to even the very mild Dodd-Frank reform, he went out of his way to stall changes to the rules governing derivative trades that would have prevented abuses like JP Morgan Chase’s rape of Jefferson County, Alabama. This was particularly egregious because Bachus, who was the House’s third-biggest recipient of Wall Street money and a heavy beneficiary of donations from Chase, happened to be Jefferson County’s congressman.
So this guy is no enemy of the banks. What yesterday’s move does show, however, is that politicians are listening to the specific complaints of OWS. A year ago, we would never have even seen hearings like this coming from the likes of Bachus and Barney Frank, who also supported them move. But now, everybody is trying to find a way to ride the wave. It’s too early to celebrate any of this, but it can’t be a bad thing. […]
* IMAGE OF UNKNOWN WOMAN BEATEN BY EGYPT’S MILITARY ECHOES AROUND WORLD
By Ahdaf Soueif, AlterNet
[…] Until 25 January. The Revolution happened and with it came the Age of Chivalry. One of the most noted aspects of behaviour in the streets and squares of the 18 days of the Egyptian Revolution was the total absence of harassment. Women were suddenly free; free to walk alone, to talk to strangers, to cover or uncover, to smoke to laugh to cry to sleep. And the job of every single male present was to facilitate, to protect, to help. The Ethics of the Square, we called it.
|Now our revolution is in an endgame struggle with the old regime and the military.The young woman is part of this.Since Friday the military has openly engaged with civilian protesters in the heart of the capital. The protesters have been peacefully conducting a sit-in in Ministries’ Street to signal their rejection of the military’s appointment of Kamal Ganzouri as prime minister.Ganzouri announced that no violence would be used to break up the Cabinet Office sit-in. Moments later the military took on the protesters. For a week Military Police and paratroopers had kidnapped activists from the streets, driven them off in unmarked vehicles, interrogated them and beaten them. On Friday they kidnapped Aboudi – one of the “Ultras” of the Ahli Football Club. They gave him back with his face so beaten and burned that you couldn’t see features – and started the street war that’s been raging round Ministries’ Street for the last three days.The protesters have thrown rocks at the military. The military has shot protesters, and thrown rocks, Molotov cocktails, china embossed with official parliament insignia, chairs, cupboards, filing-cabinets, glass panes and fireworks. They’ve dragged people into parliament and into the Cabinet Office and beaten and electrocuted them – my two nieces were beaten like this.
They beat up a newly elected young member of parliament, jeering: “Let parliament protect you, you son of … “. They took a distinguished older lady who’s become known for giving food to the protesters and slapped her repeatedly about the face till she had to beg and apologise. They killed 10 people, injured more than 200, and they dragged the unconscious young woman in the blue jeans – with her upper half stripped – through the streets.
The message is: everything you rose up against is here, is worse. Don’t put your hopes in the revolution or parliament. We are the regime and we’re back.
What they are not taking into account is that everybody’s grown up – the weapon of shame can no longer be used against women. When they subjected young women to virginity tests one of them got up and sued them. Every young woman they’ve brutalized recently has given video testimony and is totally committed to continuing the struggle against them.
The young woman in the blue jeans has chosen so far to retain her privacy. But her image has already become icon. As the tortured face of Khaled Said broke any credibility the ministry of the interior might have had, so the young woman in the blue jeans has destroyed the military’s reputation.
* GREECE IN CHAOS
“They are stealing our lives”
By NOËLLE BURGI, CounterPunch
“Who knows what tomorrow will bring?” people ask in Athens, Salonika and right across Greece. There’s a sense of collective imprisonment, individual uncertainty and impending catastrophe. Yet Greece has had a turbulent history, and the Greeks have always seen themselves as a gifted people, sturdy and accustomed to adversity. “There have always been difficult times, and we always made it through. But now, all hope has been taken from us,” said a small business owner.
While the austerity measures are piling up, an avalanche of laws, decrees and edicts is sweeping aside the social, economic and administrative frameworks. Yesterday’s reality is crumbling. As for tomorrow — who knows?
Greek citizens are subject to a Kafkaesque bureaucracy, with its incomprehensible, fluctuating regulations. Addressing colleagues, a civic employee in the Cyclades said: “People want to conform to the law, but we don’t know what to tell them, [the authorities] haven’t given us any details.” A man had to pay € 200 and present 13 papers and proofs of identity to renew his driving license. Salary cuts among public employees have disrupted the public sector. “When you call the police to alert them to a situation, they reply, ‘it’s your problem, you deal with it’,” said a retired engineer officer from the merchant navy. Tensions are rising. Reports show a big increase in domestic violence, theft and murder (1).
Salaries are falling (by 35-40% in some sectors) while new taxes are invented, some backdated to the beginning of the calendar year. Net incomes have fallen drastically, in many cases by 50% or more. Since the summer, a solidarity tax (1-2% of annual income) and an energy tax (calculated on the consumption of petrol and natural gas) have been levied. Further novelties include the lowering of the tax threshold from € 5,000 to € 2,000, and a property tax of € 0.5 to € 20 per square metre levied as part of electricity bills, payable in two or three instalments (failure to pay results in power cuts and penalties).
Since the start of November, pensioners and public and private employees cannot anticipate their monthly earnings. Many workers go without pay altogether. The state is reducing its workforce drastically as part of its restructuring programme. Between now and 2015, 120,000 public employees over the age of 53 have been earmarked for “semi-retirement”, the precursor to full mandatory retirement after 33 years of service, during which employees are obliged to stay at home, and only receive 60% of their basic salaries. Once fully retired, many public employees will be reduced to living on very little. A group of ex-railwaymen, aged 50 and above, said they used to earn between € 1,800 and € 2,000 a month, a relatively comfortable salary in Greece. They have now been posted to jobs as museum guards as part of a “voluntary transition” package (2) and their basic monthly income fluctuates between € 1,100 and € 1,300; semi-retirees are restricted to € 600. All are barred from taking on extra paid work to supplement their income — the penalty, immediate loss of revenue, is enforced.
’Insurance payments have stopped’
The loss of income is tearing society apart. Bills are not paid, consumption is down, stores are closing and unemployment rising. In May the official unemployment rate was 16.6% (10 points higher than in 2008) and 40% among the young. The actual rate is likely to be much higher. The social, economic and political crisis has shaken the national health service. Hospital and public health care centre budgets have been cut by 40% on average. More patients are admitted to the emergency room, others go to Doctors of the World health centres, and many choose to do without medical care altogether. People report being denied access to crucial medicine. One journalist said her father suffers from Parkinson’s disease: “His medication costs € 500 a month. The pharmacy told us it will stop supplying him, because insurance payments have stopped.” […]
* NOT VERY WELL AND ALL ALONE: THE UK AND THE EU: IRREVERSIBLE DECLINE AND DEEPENING CRISIS
By Michael Faulkner, TPJ Magazine
[…] December 10. The two days that have elapsed since the preceding paragraphs were written have served to render them no more than a preface to the main story.
There is a famous cartoon by David Low which appeared in the Evening Standard on June 18 1940. It depicts a lone British Tommy standing, fist raised and defiant, on the storm-swept channel coast facing darkening clouds from the European continent and approaching Luftwaffe bombers. It carries the caption “VERY WELL, ALONE”. The cartoon appeared just a month after Churchill had replaced Chamberlain as prime minister and ten days after the evacuation from Dunkirk. A week later France capitulated to the Germans and the whole of western Europe lay under the Nazi jackboot. Britain stood alone.
This is the spirit that the Europhobic Tory press and the triumphant gaggle of Tory backbenchers now invoke following David Cameron’s return from Brussels. They seek to present his cheap and specious claim to have defended Britain’s vital interests by vetoing the EU-wide treaty intended to prevent the collapse of the euro, as an act of Churchillian grit and courage in the face of overwhelming adversity. But this is definitely not Britain’s finest hour. In fact it is more like the shabbiest act by a British prime minister in living memory. While still in opposition, Cameron de-coupled the Tory party from the centre-right grouping of EU conservatives, to join up with the most right-wing ultra-nationalists in Eastern Europe. This was to reinforce his Eurosceptic credentials with his own backbenchers. Far from recalling Churchill in 1940, Cameron’s trumpeted defense of Britain’s vital interests is reminiscent of Chamberlain’s return from Munich in 1938, claiming that he had defended Britain’s interests by securing “peace in our time”. He also received a rapturous reception in the House of Commons from an adoring Tory party. But, just as then, the euphoria will not last long once the dust has settled.
The likelihood now is that Cameron will have isolated Britain from the rest of the EU, not just the 17 members of the Eurozone but also the nine that remain outside. They have refused to follow him in vetoing the proposed revision of the Lisbon treaty and seem likely to sign up to whatever procedures may now follow to consolidate tighter fiscal union amongst the seventeen. To have used the veto to protect the City of London from a financial transaction tax in the name of defending Britain’s vital interests, hardly accords with the coalition government’s supposed commitment to tighter regulation of banks. It will be interesting to see whether the Lib. Dems in the cabinet will insist that the government accepts the report by the Independent Commission on Banking recommending that high street banks be ringfenced from investment banks. But it is doubtful whether Cameron’s action to “protect the City” will succeed. The Association of British Insurers, which lobbied hard against a financial transaction tax, believes that the British veto might not prevent the passage of EU legislation that could still “damage the financial services industry in Britain.”
Cameron went to Brussels determined to veto the proposed treaty revision come what may. He knew that to have acceded to it would have meant a full-scale backbench revolt which would have made it virtually impossible to resist the demand for a referendum. This would have torn the coalition apart. But whatever satisfaction he may draw from the cheers of his Europhobic supporters is likely to be short-lived. The Europhobes hope and expect that this is the first act in a drama that will end with Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. They also think (and hope) that the present crisis in the EU will end with the collapse of the euro and the break-up of the union. Such an outcome can no longer be dismissed as fanciful. But to imagine that having jumped ship the UK can stand by and watch the European enterprise sink beneath the waves (or to use Tory grandee Michael Heseltine’s metaphor, to imagine that the UK can drift off into the Atlantic) is naïve in the extreme. If the EU breaks up, the UK, whether inside or out, will be irreparably damaged. Notwithstanding the delusions of the little Englander Europhobes, the whole of Europe, including the UK, is sliding into a deep recession. The ruling classes of Europe will, as always, seek to resolve their crisis at the expense of the working people who were not responsible for causing it.
There is little to indicate that the measures contemplated by the EU leaders are likely to be any more effective in dealing with the crisis than those already undertaken. The present disputes reflect conflicts of interest between the ruling classes of the strongest European powers. Germany has the most powerful economy in Europe and as the dominant force in the EU is determined to impose fiscal discipline on its recalcitrant southern subordinates. But the Germans are determined to resist allowing the European Central bank to be used to prop up defaulting and potentially defaulting countries of the “southern periphery”. So far, there is no indication of how, short of allowing the ECB to undertake “quantitative easing” (printing money) on a large scale (which would be in the teeth of German opposition) the European Financial Stability Fund will be able to accumulate the 2 – 3 trillion euros said to be necessary to meet such eventualities. Given that there seems to be no workable solution in sight, all the “crisis summits” appear to be doomed to failure. So, the collapse of the eurozone , and possibly the EU itself, cannot be ruled out.
Whatever happens in coming weeks and months, one thing is certain: the 1% will continue to try to shift the burden of their crisis onto the 99%. Whether they succeed will depend upon how effectively resistance develops. Every effort must be made, everywhere, to ensure that it does.
* HAVEL THE DISSIDENT: A LEGACY WORHT CLAIMING
By Richar RJ Eskow
Václav Havel, playwright and former Czech president speaks at the Forum for Creative Europe.
On a warm evening in 1991, a colleague and I found an out-of-the-way café in the old part of Prague. Two men with blank expressions stood outside. The interior was dim and close, with room for only eight or nine tables. The place was almost empty. Just a sleepy waitress, a bartender polishing glasses, and a single patron who sat alone drinking wine and chain-smoking cigarettes.
The President of Czechoslovakia wasn’t reviewing official papers. He was reading a book, a startlingly un-Presidential act to our American eyes. My companion, a neoconservative State Department official, already admired him for defying and defeating a Communist state. He’d impressed me by bringing a writer’s sensibility and an affinity for true underground culture to his role as head of state.
Václav Havel even tried to appoint Frank Zappa as his Minister of Culture. “We’re not rock musicians,” Zappa told a reporter back in the sixties. “We’re electronic social workers.” The State Department wouldn’t let Zappa assume the post, but Havel had made his point to the Czech public by offering this apparatchik’s position to the composer of songs like “What’s the Ugliest Part of Your Body?” (“Some say your nose, some say your toes, but I think it’s your mind.”)
We never spoke to Havel that night. It didn’t seem polite to offer anything more than the curt nod of acknowledgement any café patron gives another at that hour. But Havel spoke to us, to all of us. And on the occasion of his death, the real lessons of his life’s work are in danger of being lost.
Today we’re told that the Occupy movement is too idealistic, too naïve. Naïve? Try Havel’s words if you want naïve: “May truth and love triumph over lies and hatred.”
Think of that as the Velvet Revolution’s “one demand.”
Portrait of the President as a Young Freak
As millions of people know, the underground playwright Havel first made his political mark in Charter 77. That group was formed to defend the Plastic People of the Universe, a banned and imprisoned rock band working in the Zappa mold of musical dissonance and cultural dissidence.
The Occupy movement is not on the cultural fringe, despite what its detractors say. But Havel’s movement began as a Yippie-like creature of the underworld. Charter 77 rarely had more than a thousand members. It was a strange blend of political idealism and the hippie subculture where people proudly labeled themselves “freaks” to the conventional world. Despite its later alignment with economically conservative forces, it was more Allen Ginsburg than Alan Greenspan.
And it was created to defend the Plastic People of the Universe, whose grating music makes Occupy’s drum circles seem like a children’s choir serenading the bored residents of a home for aging veterans.
Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité – what wonderful words! And how terrifying their meaning can be! Freedom in the shirt unbuttoned before execution. Equality in the constant speed of the guillotine’s fall on different necks. Fraternity in some dubious paradise …
Havel addressed the liberal democratic West on words in the 1970s, noting that the suppression of speech can give language enormous power:
I … live in a country where a writers’ congress speech is capable of shaking the system … a manifesto served as one of the pretexts for the invasion of our country one night by five foreign armies … a system in which words are capable of shaking the entire structure of government, where words can prove mightier than ten military divisions.
When a system has become inflexible and is in danger of collapsing, what it fears most is words. Think about that the next time you see a phalanx of cops tear down a tent city on television.
Havel had been burned by language, too:
The same word can at one moment radiate great hope, at another it can emit lethal rays … true at one moment and false the next, at one moment illuminating, at another, deceptive. On one occasion it can open up glorious horizons, on another, it can lay down the tracks to an entire archipelago of concentration camps.
And as we approach an election year that will be filled with the rhetoric of freedom, this observation still resonates:
The same word can at one time be the cornerstone of peace, while at another time machine-gun fire resounds in its every syllable.
In 1975 Havel had the presumption to write directly to Czechoslovakian head of state Gustáv Husák with a few suggestions. There’s more than a passing resemblance between the fear-driven Communist society Havel condemned in that letter and the financial anxiety many Americans endure today:
The technique of existential pressure is … universal. There is no one in our country who is not, in a broad sense, existentially vulnerable. Everyone has something to lose and so everyone has reason to be afraid. The range of things one can lose is broad, extending from the manifold privileges of the ruling caste… down to the mere possibility of living in that limited degree of legal certainty available to other citizens.
Today, one out of two Americans lives in financial insecurity. Even many upper-middle-class citizens live from month to month, just one layoff notice away from medical bankruptcy or home foreclosure.
“Everyone has something to lose,” observed Havel.
Havel’s description of his 20th Century Communist society echoes our own:
The more completely one abandons any hope of general reform, any interest in suprapersonal goals and values, or any chance of exercising influence in an ‘outward’ direction, the more one’s energy is diverted in the direction of least resistance, that is, ‘inwards.’”
People today are preoccupied far more with themselves … They fill their homes with all kinds of appliances and pretty things, they try to improve their accommodations, they try to make life pleasant for themselves, building cottages, looking after their cars, taking more interest in food and clothing and domestic comfort …They turn their main attention to the material aspects of their private lives.
Havel concluded that “Despair leads to apathy, apathy to conformity, and conformity to routine (political) performance – which is then quoted as evidence of ‘mass political involvement.’”
Havel understood the psychology of greed and power, too. From his letter to Husák:
If it is fear which lies behind people’s defensive attempts to preserve what they have, it becomes increasingly apparent that the chief impulses for their aggressive efforts to win what they do not yet possess are selfishness and careerism.
It is not surprising that so many public and influential positions are occupied more than ever before by notorious careerists, opportunists, charlatans, and men of dubious record.
From Prague to Washington, from Moscow to lower Manhattan, the opportunities change. But human nature never does:
Seldom in recent times has a social system offered scope so openly and so brazenly to people willing to support anything as long as it brings them some advantage; to unprincipled and spineless men, prepared to do anything in their craving for power and personal gain; to born lackeys, ready for any humiliation and willing at all times to sacrifice their neighbors’ and their own honor for a chance to ingratiate themselves with those in power.
It’s a historical irony that those who claim they’ll govern with the most efficiency usually wind up governing with the least effectiveness. Today corporate-funded politicians from both parties argue that the country should be led by “technocrats’ who’ll govern without messy “ideologies.”
That’s a false premise Havel knew well. He called it the “process by which power becomes anonymous and depersonalized, reduced to a mere technology of rule and manipulation.”
Washington’s technocratic “bipartisans” dream of a world where, in Havel’s words, the “professional ruler is (seen as) the ‘innocent’ tool of an ‘innocent’ anonymous power … legitimized by science, cybernetics, ideology, law, abstraction, and objectivity – that is, by everything except personal responsibility to human beings as persons and neighbors.” Havel’s Prague is our Beltway:
States grow ever more machinelike; people are transformed into statistical choruses of voters, producers, consumers, patients, tourists, or soldiers, (where) in politics good and evil, categories of the natural world and therefore obsolete remnants of the past, lose all absolute meaning (and where) the sole method of politics is quantifiable success.
Havel condemned a system of state-orchestrated political theater, and the self-perpetuating failures of imagination which mistook the indifferent and pro forma participation of its citizens for genuine democracy. And he saw its universal nature:
(It) has a thousand masks, variants, and expressions. Essentially, though, it is the same universal trend … the essential trait of all modern civilization, growing directly from its spiritual structure, rooted in it by a thousand tangled tendrils and inseparable even in thought from its technological nature, its mass characteristics, and its consumer orientation.
“The contemporary concept of ‘normal’ behavior is,” Havel wrote, “deeply pessimistic.”
“I favor ‘antipolitical politics,’” said Havel, “politics not as the technology of power and manipulation, of cybernetic rule over humans or as the art of the utilitarian, but politics as one of the ways of seeking and achieving meaningful lives, of protecting them and serving them.”
I favor politics as practical morality, as service to the truth, as essentially human and humanly measured care for our fellow humans.
None of us–as an individual–can save the world as a whole, but . . . each of us must behave as though it were in his power to do so.
Decades later he said this to the leaders of Western countries:
Today, more than ever before in the history of mankind, everything is interrelated … Because of this, the future of the United States or the European Union is being decided in suffering Sarajevo or Mostar, in the plundered Brazilian rain forests, in the wretched poverty of Bangladesh or Somalia.
Havel had glaring faults. American neocons offered him small favors during his final rise to power. He reciprocated, consciously or unconsciously, by aiding their destructive military ventures and adopting their foolish economic policies. He succumbed to the politics of personality, both his own and those of the leaders who courted him. But it would be a shame if that’s all the world remembered.
Havel seemed unhappy in the role of leader. It’s possible than he lost sight of his deepest insights, his truest gifts. It was the outsider Havel, the dreamer of the impossible, the surrealist and absurdist, we should remember. That’s the Havel who can and should inspire dissidents everywhere.
“Is the human word truly powerful enough to change the world and influence history?” he once asked. With his life and his words, Václav Havel gave us his answer. He showed us the power in each individual and the responsibility that accompanies that power.
At his best, and above all else, Havel was a dissident outsider who realized his power and used it. Now it’s our turn. […]