Britain says EU no more in historic referendum

ClzeumnWIAAW4Zs

In a surprising and historic move, Britain has voted to leave the European Union. It is important to note that this has been the decision of ordinary Brits and not by those Eurocrats whose leadership is unpopular across Europe.  EU bureaucrats be warned: if Britain who’s not as affected by the so-called peripheral countries can do it, all the more by those countries that are at the mercy of severe austerity and left to guess what Brussels is up to next.

For the uninformed, how important was this decision? Remember that the European Union project has its roots in the post-World War II economic integration, with the goal of avoiding conflict in Europe. The EU project has fulfilled this purpose quite decently in the past 60 years. It has allowed the free movement of people within the Eurozone, created a common currency (not joined by Britain), established preferential trade among member states, and most importantly the preservation of peace in the continent.

But as the unelected predatory capitalists leaders in Brussels became increasingly more focused on unnecessary bureaucracy and squeezed the life out of ordinary Eurozone citizens as banks “too big to fail” have received privileges despite their enormous failures, the Brits in this Brexit referendum clearly confirmed they have had enough.

To be fair with the British people, they have been half-footed in the EU from the beginning. Perhaps the most obvious indication is their separate currency from the Euro, as well as its non-observance of the Schengen Agreement, which allows the free movement of EU nationals without the usual hassle of traveling to other countries.

The decision to leave the EU will be not be smooth for sure. The initial euphoria the referendum created will have to come to terms with the consequences of opposing the Remain vote. Already, for instance, the conservative party in Britain has hinted it will invoke Article 50 where Britain will be faced with years of ‘proper exits’ through possibly endless renegotiations.

Elsewhere in Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the Brexit referendum “a break in Europe’s history” and that it reflects “a fundamental doubt about the current direction of European integration.”

Some British mainstream media have already propagandized a few interesting points in the Brexit referendum. For instance, some news outlets have already downplayed the public’s decision as uninformed with headlines like “Brits frantically searched what the EU means hours after voting out of the EU” and that the “EU will treat Britain like Greece.” Such fear mongering should not be surprising as before the referendum London’s mouthpiece media have already done their part to dissuade the British public from bailing out of the EU.

And of course, Mr. David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, has already intensified the drama when he resigned the next day. In a visibly emotional speech, Cameron stated that “I was absolutely clear about my belief that Britain is stronger, safe and better off inside the EU… (But) the British people made a different decision to take a different path. As such I think the country requires fresh leadership to take it in this direction.”  Indeed, the man who proclaimed “Assad must go” became the man who would go first.

Advertisements

2015: The World Ahead

hall-of-nations-232530_1280

It is undeniable that a new calendar year has its own transformational effect on everyone: if only the start of a new year has the power to recalibrate world events to more optimistic trajectories. The year 2014 saw an avalanche of disasters, from wars in the Middle East, to the unrest in Ukraine, to the triple air disasters, to the resurgence of Ebola in Africa and the collapse of oil markets towards the end of the year.

In almost every global issue, 2014 has strained not just the wits of our leaders, but also the resources that were required to tackle them. Indeed, we can only wish that humanity’s problem-solving vigor does not fatigue itself in the year 2015. What then are we to expect for the year ahead?

On the economy front, the United States, still the world’s biggest economy (but not anymore in a few years’ time), is expected to slowly move out of its unemployment woes which in effect will help in improving its GDP. Economists are looking at 3% growth with unemployment going down to a modest 5.3%. They also predict a stronger dollar against the euro and the Japanese yen.

Economists also predict continued growth for China, but at a slower pace in the months ahead. As for Germany, the Eurozone’s economic powerhouse (and savior), its giant trade surplus will likely shrink this year. Already a legitimate and a functioning entity, the Eurasian Economic Union, a rival to the European Union, already came into effect on January 2, 2015. It comprises the initial countries of Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, and Belarus. Despite its potential competition with the EU, the new EAEU called for “start(ing) official contacts between the EU and the EAEU as soon as possible”.

For the rest of the world, most economists agree that the world is headed for a better economic outlook in 2015. For instance, the International Monetary Fund predicts the global economy to expand to 3.8% this year, compared to 3.3% in 2014. Such growth is the fastest since 2011, and the downward spiral of oil prices means businesses and consumers alike will have more money to spend on other things. On the energy side, economists predict still lower oil prices in 2015, thanks to continued oversupply and the reluctance of oil majors to cut production.

Political activity in major European countries like the UK, Greece, and Spain will see an interesting shakeup this year. Starting with Greece, concerns in Brussels will finally see the light (or dark) if a left-wing party challenges the present austerity measures and with it, bring back memories of a Greek exit from the Eurozone. At 24% unemployment, similar public sentiment in Spain will test the euro-wide policy of austerity in the coming Spanish local elections. In the UK, general elections will be held in May as well, where the dissolution of the present Parliament will likely take place, while political rivalries are expected to be ‘neck-and-neck.’

Another notable mention is the expiration of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on December 31, 2015. Discussions as to what will replace it, along with which priorities should be set, are already underway, with some prominent leaders suggesting a focus on broadly the same issues for global development, while others suggest embarking on the newer UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs). Regardless of the global issues that will be focused on, the new goals will represent the most challenge to Ban Ki-moon and represent the most important legacy as he leaves the UN after his term ends in late 2016.

The year 2014 proved the West cannot yield power to emerging powers

soldiers-1002_1280

As the world sadly ends the year 2014, perhaps capped off with another air travel disaster in Indonesia, the geopolitical situation between the West and the East (Russia, China, and the Rest) has perhaps made the world a more difficult place to live in.

The economic implications of trying to isolate Russia (and to a lesser extent, China) have had a profound effect not only in Europe and South East Asia, but also back to the energy lands of the Middle East. Not to be heard in the mainstream media to be sure, the petroleum kingdoms of the Middle East are unsure whether they can really stand the lowest oil prices not seen in many years.

The ever sluggish economic performance of the EU has not really made the peoples of Europe more prosperous.  The search for decent jobs is still a struggle for millions, while economic activity in the continent almost solely relies on a resurgent Germany. It is widely accepted that if it weren’t for Berlin, the entire EU project could’ve fallen apart.

South East Asia remains a hotspot for territorial brawls, with China on one side, and South East Asian countries becoming more ‘assertive’ and being emboldened by the ever-present United States on the other. The situation in South America, especially with the anti-West stance of Brazil and other major economies there, is a little more bearable as the recent major elections have maintained the Leftist attitude of Latin leaders.

And yet, everywhere you look at the headlines, from the resurgent Islamic movements in Syria and Iraq, to energy uncertainties transiting the Russian-Ukraine border all the way to Europe, or to expanded American military presence in Australia, Japan and the Philippines to ‘contain’ China, the West has shown it is reluctant to yield to the powers of ‘the Rest’. The problem with this of course is the intensifying clashes from the Middle East to Ukraine, which has resulted in countless lives lost.

The scandals between the NSA and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have not even put a stop to the continued moral violations the United States is committing to the world. For instance, Guantanamo Bay still exists (which is surprising especially since Obama promised he will close it during his presidency) and those curious personalities like Edward Snowden and Julian Assange continue to be described in the West as ‘traitors’.

Drone attacks, which kill significant numbers of civilians, continue pursuing their own little “Mission Accomplished” strikes in Pakistan and elsewhere in the Middle East and Afghanistan. Under Obama, the United States has committed more of these drone sorties than his supposedly war hungry predecessor.

As the geopolitical situation in most parts of the world remain unresolved, and with no resolution in sight, we can only expect to remember this year as perhaps the major turning point in a future global conflict that might finish the human populace for good. Whether that catastrophic future will arrive or not, we can only admit that the West will still play the greater role in helping foster another century of peace, or whether they will not relinquish their centuries-old power to emerging powers and risk global annihilation.

Obama affirms NATO’s self-fulfilling prophecy to relevance

100415a-HQ28-001 NATO Headquarters Brussels.

US President Obama’s visit to the former Soviet republic of Estonia can’t be more timely as talks of establishing a rapid military force to counter the perceived Russian aggression and fighting between the government of Kiev and separatist rebels in the East intensifies.

During the visit to Estonia, Obama announced that the “door to NATO membership will remain open” and reaffirmed the principles that guided NATO, such as strengthening countries outside the alliance, including Ukraine, to improve their military.

The visit comes a day before a NATO summit to be held in Wales. Dubbed as “the most important gathering of NATO leaders in more than a decade”, the summit will discuss issues relating to America’s failure in Afghanistan, the new threat of Islamic extremism, and the situation in Ukraine.

On the one hand, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk flirted with the NATO membership, stating his eagerness in making Ukraine part of the military alliance, “I consider the most correct decision would be to accept Ukraine as a member of NATO.”

Interestingly, France also made news when it changed its mind on the delivery of two Mistral warships to Russia, ordered back in 2011, because of their ‘concern’ over the situation in Ukraine. While all this is happening, four NATO warships from the US, France, Canada, and Spain will reportedly enter the Black Sea sometime this week and a military drill involving US troops will be held in Ukrainian territory this month.

A return to NATO’S core mission

There is no doubt that the situation in Ukraine has ‘reawakened’ NATO’s reason for existing after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Contemporary observers agree that after the Cold War, with no main adversary to confront, NATO faced a nagging existential threat. For its main advocate at least, the United States has made sure wars for profit will continue to emerge, as long as it sticks to its policy of meddling in other country’s affairs.

Indeed, the alliance has come a long way of finding its raison d’etre to exist, from the much opposed Balkan wars in the 1990s to its intervention beyond Europe, namely the failed military adventure of the Afghanistan war. Eyebrows were raised during the surprise war between Georgia and Russia in 2008, but pragmatism prevailed over talks of Georgia’s annexation to the Western military alliance, as doing so might provoke Moscow’s sensitivities.

Needless to say, the situation in Ukraine today is more of an existential threat to Russia’s security than during the Georgian conflict, because of the existence of its Black Sea fleet in the Crimea. If all of Russia’s actions vis-à-vis Ukraine can be summarized in one line, then it definitely would be that Russia’s core security concerns would have been breached if Ukraine were to host the overt stationing of NATO forces there as a result of its membership.

The West’s intervention in stoking regime change in Kiev has finally paid off with the installation of a leader who is bent on welcoming imperialist money and military but with the side effect of rousing the ire of Russia. For his part though, Putin has calmly outlined his 7-step plan to stop hostilities in Eastern Ukraine. Whether his plan will be recognized by Kiev remains to be seen, but it is unlikely to be taken seriously as Ukraine’s leaders are too busy inviting the West for NATO membership.

In a recent statement, Arseny Yatsenyuk insisted on Western meddling in Moscow’s sphere of influence as if Ukraine was part of the EU, saying “we are waiting for decisions from NATO and the EU on how to stop the aggressor.” He further rejected Putin’s peace plan, stating it is “an attempt of eyewash for the international community ahead of NATO summit and an attempt to avoid inevitable decisions from the EU on the new wave of sanctions against Russia.”

The EU also has not minced its chance to further escalate their relationship with Russia, where incoming European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogheirini announced that a new round of sanctions will be decided within a week.

At the present trajectory of international relations, it is tempting to assume that over the course of 20 years, the West, particularly NATO, has had its way with its relentless expansion towards the East. Indeed, the military alliance has essentially ‘invaded’ former Warsaw Pact members. To Russia’s eyes though, a further expansion to its very borders are a real cause for concern, especially in these days of World War memories, where the wounds from Russia’s involvement in the imperialist wars are still relatively fresh. We can only hope the West does not provoke Russia to act on those memories and fears.

The Curious Case of Ukraine’s Destruction

UKRAINE/

At last, Russia is experiencing its share of the austerity madness like in the EU, but in a different form: Ukraine’s possible civil war, an austerity in the form of curtailing people’s ‘freedom to choose their own future’–or is it?

There is even no sign of decency from foreign elements, as signs of the ties with war-hungry American statesmen, such as Vietnam War veteran and former US presidential candidate John McCane toured the carnage in Kiev, proclaimed “I am proud of what the people of Ukraine are doing, so they can restore democracy to their country.” It is not hard to imagine this disrespect: just imagine a Russian statesman visiting an Occupy Wall Street movement in New York and proclaiming the same blasphemy of democracy and you get the picture.

You could be forgiven into thinking these violent protesters are a target of support by renegade former American soldiers; but behold, when a certain American Secretary of State John Kerry meets with a certain opposition leader Vitaly Klitchko and declares “we are with the opposition, we give them our full support”, then you are certain a country like Ukraine will go asunder.

In the present trajectory of bad news coming out of this Ukraine fiasco, it seems America itself is more impatient with how the EU supports the Ukrainian opposition. American interventionism clearly defies not just enemy borders but also its allies as well. In a recent phone-tapped remark, German chancellor Angela Merkel described a remark by a senior US official who said “fuck the EU” as “totally unacceptable.” On the one hand, US mainstream media were quick to dismiss this comment, focusing instead on accusing Russia of the leaked comment, described as “a new low in Russian trade-craft.”

Ukraine’s Historical ties to Russia

What they fail to see is the historical ties of Ukraine to Russia; that a significant portion of Ukraine, especially from the East and South of the country, supports and is comfortable with their Russian neighbor. Even some well-informed commentators from the West are aware of this quandary.

The problem with this new chapter in Ukrainian history is deeply rooted in the expansionist policies Western powers embarked on since the retreat and dissolution of the Soviet Union. During the late 1980s, then-president of the USSR Mikhail Gorbachev gave assurances about his country’s deep cuts in arms (and with it influence) in the East, as long as the West guarantees non-intervention and expansion to former Soviet sphere of influence.

History has shown the West is nowhere near at honoring its commitments to the Nobel Peace prize-winning Soviet president: NATO bombing during the Kosovo war, the annexation of former Soviet states to the EU, and now more recently their support for violent elements in the Ukrainian opposition.

And what joining the EU is for the Ukrainian people? Certainly they are aware of the social spending cuts in the entire EU are they? Surely they are aware of the unprecedented inequality in the West? Are they aware that this bloody self-destruction will haunt them again the future once they experience the EU’s austerity medicine?

Perhaps other factors are at play here, the aim of which is to destabilize the government and replace it with a pro-EU government hostile to Moscow and wreck the economy by ‘opening up the market.’ Or is it perhaps to complete NATO’s militaristic expansion in Eastern Europe, but now along Russia’s very border?

Social Upheaval of the Times: A New Perspective

socials01b

The span of time since the unraveling of socialism a little over twenty years ago has given us, contemporary observers, the opportunity to look at this event with unprecedented depth and a bigger perspective. Indeed, that span has uncovered and brought back from obscurity the real factors that contributed to the collapse of this ideology, very much like how history is vindicated well after it has unfolded. What is obvious to us today surely was not clear for that age’s participants and observers, thus, a better say on what truly happened, from the personalities who betrayed socialism to the unwelcome external elements that intervened, is aching to be told especially in this time of mass protests in Europe and privacy scandals plaguing America.

Almost exactly twenty years before the financial blunder of the West, Eastern Europe was undergoing a major political transformation; the masses are confronted with a choice that would dictate how their lives will be from then on: to keep under socialism or to succumb to the allure of the supposedly more democratic ways of their Western neighbors. The reverse is true today: Americans are increasingly becoming aware but less patient with how they should be governed, from how taxpayer money should be used in times of crisis to how their private lives are eroded by an increasingly paranoid government. Without realizing it, people are citing elements of socialism to serve as antidote (Occupy Movement) to the woes of contemporary life in ‘the land of the free.’ In Europe, calls for a loosening of the highly bureaucratic and elitist European Union is needless to say, gaining more ground as state after state succumb to strings-attached-ridden bailouts and the claws of austerity measures eating at people’s welfare and ultimately, their existence.

How can you preach ‘democracy’ when you treat your citizens with distrust, as with the recent Manning-Assange-Snowden expose reveal? In fact, even America’s allies can’t escape this inexorable surveillance menace. How can you preach ‘more integration’ for the so-called European Union if you continue to keep out the assignment of management of the continent beyond the approval of citizens? Such trappings were the wedge of classic anti-socialist/communist rhetoric during the Cold War. Can we look at who’s speaking now? Indeed we can, with the help of what others call “the ordeal of careful scrutiny.”

With Age Comes Greater Understanding: The Truth behind Socialism’s Collapse in the 1980s

The typical Western triumphalist thinking has all the success-over-socialism-the-enemy covered in the Cold War dialogue, where claims rest mostly in the belief that socialism is doomed from the beginning, as was the case with the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. In the specific case of the dissolution of the USSR, there are six theories that try to ‘explain’ why socialism failed, including:

  • flaws of socialism
  • popular opposition
  • external factors
  • bureaucratic counter-revolution
  • lack of democracy and over-centralization, and
  • the Gorbachev factor

The first theory argues that socialism was doomed from the start because it had an inherent anti-human nature flaw. It is misguided thought because it requires a predisposition that socialism in the USSR should’ve failed before even more pressing challenges, such as collectivization or the Nazi invasion, had gripped the relatively young socialist state.

The second theory subscribes to the idea that popular opposition brought down socialism in the Soviet Union and even Eastern Europe. However, subscribers to this theory fail to explain the fact that a real opposition to Gorbachev did not turn out in the beginning of his reforms. To begin with, mass discontent did not appear during Gorbachev’s early years as General Secretary. Moreover, surveys showed that people were actually satisfied with their lives and the system.

While others falsely believed that, some were comfortable with blaming external factors as behind the collapse of socialism in the Soviet Union. Proponents of this theory believe in the pressure that Reagan put on the reforming Soviet system, especially on military terms. On the contrary, despite rhetorical musings, there is no evidence of such triumphalism, especially on the buildup of arms that was supposed to ‘bankrupt’ the Soviets into spending. In fact, archives show that the American military buildup was not reciprocated by the armed forces of the Soviet Union. Proponents of this theory fail to cite the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan and the plan of Gorbachev to end conscription in the military as well as the eventual reduction of the armed forces.

The fourth theory promote the belief that as Gorbachev’s reforms unleashed forces beyond the control of the state, slow-moving leaders were left with no choice but to ride the waves of a fast-emerging market economy by privatizing state assets for their own wealth. Although some in the elite saw an opportunity in the unraveling of the centralized economy, it was motivated by their interest in hanging on to power, rather than subscribing to the return of capitalism.

The fifth theory traces the root of the Soviet collapse to the inability of the state to “democraticize”, at least in the Western sense of the word. However, over time, the meaning of democracy changes. In Roger Keeran’s and Thomas Kenny’s thesis, neither capitalism nor liberalism has an exclusive claim to democracy. To be sure, democracy came to the United States in gradual terms, and was constantly improved as rights became more pervasive and expanded. In fact, ‘popular participation’ was built-in in the Soviet political and decision-making system. Indeed, the spread of power was even more dispersed than in a Western democracy. As for over-centralization, scholars miss the fact that the USSR was the first socialist country to embark on such economic path; there is no guarantee the plan will work, but nevertheless it produced a system that will achieve the goals of socialism, including free education, housing, guaranteed jobs, zero-inflation and others.

The sixth theory also has the trappings of an incomplete thesis: that Gorbachev was the man to blame, especially because of his abandonment of traditional communism. There is no denying that Gorbachev’s policies unleashed wanton forces beyond his control. However, few recall that his earlier policies where a mirror of Andropov’s reforms. At best, this theory fails to fully convince, especially since Gorbachev, according to Keeran and Kenny, “was both a legatee of a certain tradition and the product of his times and not just a lone factor making history.”

Rebuffing Western Though on the Collapse: Other Areas of Discussion

Even after the end of the First World War, it is undeniable that the Soviet people underwent a major upheaval, when the country retreated from the major war and succumbed to civil war. To think that the ‘crisis’ from 1985 onward was an insurmountable challenge would therefore be invalid, after all, the USSR had survived far greater calamities after the Second World War.

Although the economy of the USSR was slowing down in the 1980s, economists still saw the single digit GDP growth as manageable, one that did not threaten the stability of the country’s economy. Although the price of oil surely caused trouble to Soviet finances, adjusted for inflation, the price of oil was higher than in the previous decade.

The Soviet Union’s military and diplomatic standing is correctly judged as having accomplished or managed well it’s objectives in the 1970s through to the 1980s. Even with Reagan’s military buildup, especially with the threat of SDI, this did not receive serious attention by military and economic planners in the USSR; simply SDI was treated as unfeasible in the short to medium term. Years later, historian Adam Ulam would quip that in 1985, “no government of a major state appeared to be as firmly in power, and its policies as clearly set in their course, as that of the USSR.”

The real situation then was, as with the previous decade, the USSR of the 1980s was a stable one, with no unemployment, no inflation, no mass protests and strength in its foreign policy. There were problems, but there was clearly no real crisis that can threaten the country’s existence. Perhaps more importantly for a country that had many autonomous republics and regions; there were no observable conflicts among its nationalities and ethnicities.

Even with a one-party system, the Soviet bureaucratic machine had many decision makers from top to bottom. Millions participated in the collective soviets, which are institutions of power. More than 150 million workers were involved in unions, and contrary to bourgeoisie denunciations, these institution are not ‘fake’ and functioned with vitality and much room for policy. As for the people themselves, a referendum as late as 1991 showed that the majority of Soviet people (75 percent) where in favor of keeping the Union intact.

Indeed even during the end of the 1980s and early 1990s, the Soviet central planning in politics and economics was more complex than ever because of the expansion of the economy and the increased freedoms of its people. In fact, as Roger Keeran says “it was the erosion of planning and the flowering of the second (underground) economy that raised barriers to economic growth in the USSR.”

As for the Soviet leader himself, Thomas Kenny rightly observes that “we do not believe that Gorbachev ever acted consciously at the outset to betray socialism and restore capitalism. In contrast to Andropov, who was a deep and genuine Marxist-Leninist, Gorbachev was a brilliant actor…without great theoretical preparation” but that over time Gorbachev “took the conscious decision that he was no longer a communist, but a social democrat…he no longer believed any more in planning, social ownership of the means of production, the role of the working class, socialist democracy.”