May 262020
 

Usually, when people get killed in this country, the killer is a puny character. In 2019, for instance, 75% of the killers were under the influence of some intoxicant and 56% of the victims were women. In general, killers in this country are absolute losers, sick of mind and pathetic, no matter how frightening they seem from the victim’s perspective. Moreover more than 95% of the cases end up being solved.

But we also have big-time criminals, people whose minds are no doubt warped, but not to the extent that they lose control. They don’t kill, at least not here; they merely “traffic” and use minions to do the dirty work of handling the victims. The minions get caught, of course, but not the big-timers.

On 31 October 2018, the wife of one this country’s richest men vanished from their shared home. The entire country held it’s breath: We are not accustomed to high-profile disappearances around here.

At first, the case appeared to be one of kidnapping. Apparently a note had been left in the home from which the victim disappeared. The letter demanded a hefty ransom to be paid in an obscure crypto currency. Apparently the husband did try to pay, but the currency was quite simply too obscure. The kidnappers were not heard from again until nearly a year later, when they apparently made contact. The drama was of course played out in detail in the media, mainly by the aggrieved husband’s high-profile lawyer.

A few weeks ago, the police held a press conference to inform the public that they had arrested the husband on charges of murder and with the intention of locking him away for four weeks, so that they could carry out an in-depth search of his home, second home and company. They explained that they had long since reached the conclusion that the kidnapping never occurred and that it had merely been a performance staged for their (the police’s) benefit.

Meanwhile, the rest of the audience, the general public – myself included – was gaping at the spectacle. The very idea of that very rich man sitting behind bars was absolutely extraordinary. Naturally, it did not last. After a couple of days, his very high-profile lawyer had got him out of jail and the case seems to have reached a dead end.

To make a long story short, the police are convinced of his guilt. They are certain the woman has been killed by him or at his orders. There is only one small problem: No body. Moreover, there is insufficient evidence to exclude all reasonable doubt.

Point being: If you are rich and powerful enough, you can get away with murder, any number of them, in fact.

Mar 252020
 

This is definitely not the time to hold forth about my pet issues.

What’s more, I have no suggestions either to politicians or to members of the public. For once, I don’t feel I know best. The very fact that something like this could happen without the possibility of it’s doing so having occurred to me, feels very sobering.

I didn’t understand the maths of the situation. A friend of mine saw, from day 1, on the basis of the figures from Wuhan, how this “pandemic” would unfold. (The friend in question is one of those people who learnt to do calculus before he learnt to speak.)

What I have learnt from members of the public – what we are learning from each other – is to support one another, emotionally and practically.

But still, no matter how sheepish I feel, I am not ready to bury my battle axe. One pet issue demands the floor!

Covid-19 would not have been such a killer, if we had had:

  • Satisfactory health care for all regardless of income
  • Sanitary living conditions for all regardless of income
  • Quality compulsory education and higher education /professional training, regardless of income

The Devil is in our ignorance.

Mar 042020
 

It’s Super Tuesday. Today I met a friend from the United States. We had lunch together. She was worried. I was worrid too. We both worry, of course, that Donald Trump might be given a new chance to continue his mission of global wreckage. But we worry in different ways.

President Trump blatantly disregards the very bulwark of democracy: the separation of powers (i.e. the legislative, judicial and executive powers). Democracy as we know it, surely isn’t perfect, but it is a whole lot better than any alternative we know of. Donald Trump’s interference in the trial of the long-time criminal Roger Stone departs so starkly from the principles of Democracy, that I think a lot of US citizens were seriously startled. Why did the President demonstrate so clearly his total indifference to the rule of law? Surely, he must have known that many Republicans, even, would be horrified. I have absolutely no doubt as to the answer: Roger Stone has got something on Trump, something that would put Trump behind bars for life. Unless Trump protects him, Roger Stone will talk. After all, Roger Stone is a self-declared “dirty tricster”, i.e. a crook. If that is the case, US politics may be said to be “Mafioso”. I emphasise, for the record, that I have no evidence.

On the other side, the Democratic Party Establishment understandably fears Bernie Sanders. Bernie Sanders’ programme is devoted to improving the standard of living; not for the Democratic Party establishment or their arty friends. No, his agenda is the standard of living of the people that form 70% or more of the US population: those who are under-paid, badly paid or unpaid, plus women who cannot afford maternity leave, plus men who cannot afford time from work to get to know their babies; plus kids who go to lousy schools; plus bright kids who cannot afford to go to university; plus good black kids who get arrested just for being black.What happened to the US social mobility mantra “Anybody can become president”? In the US, social mobility is a lost cause; the “American Dream” is a lost cause.

The Democratic Party Establishment want Joe Biden. Trump wants Joe Biden, too. He said so, didn’t he, at the very outset of his career as president. Because Joe Biden cannot compete with Donald Trump! Really, the idea! Joe Biden may well be a very nice man. He may even be a good and honest man. But he will not rally the young. He does not have much of a grasp on the future. He will not inspire hope. He will just know about business as usual, but business as usual – surely you must know that – will not solve the problems that await us.

The Democratic Party Establishment constitutes a certain percentage of the electorate, but frankly, is its share anything near a majority? Will the single mothers, black fathers, overworked and underpaid teachers and nurses, students and street sweepers break their necks to go and vote for Joe Biden? Would I, if I were a US citizen? Trump is bad, true, but so were many presidents before him. I reckon the US is a lost case for Democracy. Unless Sanders… Yes, even I find myself “praying”, as it were, for the United States of America. I fear, however, that tomorrow morning, when I hear the results, I shall continue advocating European disassociation from the US and its military enterprise NATO.

Nov 102019
 

I should begin by making it clear that to my knowledge, Catalonia has never been a sovereign state, though until 1714, the region enjoyed a very high degree of autonomy, see the Catalan constitutions.

I am not writing this as an expression of support to Catalonian secession. With few exceptions, I find nationalism distasteful. Bullying, however, I find even more distasteful.

There are a few aspects of the conflict I would like to highlight:

  • Most importantly there is the unresolved matter of the Franco era.
  • Next there is the matter of the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia of 2006 (2010)
  • Finally there is the issue of the methods the Spanish authorities use to this very day to bring the region to heal.

The build-up

The Spanish Civil War was triggered by a right-wing coup against the democratically established Republic. For centuries an arrogant aristocracy, supported by the clergy, had been living off the fat of the land – other people’s lands, that is – doing little if anything to develop anything in Spain other than its own wealth and status. When the Civil War broke out, there had been an attempt to develop agriculture and industry since the mid-nineteenth century, but the politically primitive state (mainly the crown and the succession of generals on which it leaned) virtually asphyxiated progress. The last of the generals before the establishment of the republic was Primo de Rivera, a dictator.

To this day, a tremendous monument, richly surrounded by flowers, is devoted to Primo de Rivera in Plaza de Arenal in Jerez. I put to you that Spain has a pending debt to its people: Confess!

The Franco era

The hate that had been seething in the population for decades if not centuries knew no limit during the civil war.

Not least in Catalonia (because Franco was determined to annul the region’s newly regained self-determination). Republicans killed a lot of people – often indiscriminately – not least members of the clergy. That was not nice of them, I admit, but you may be sure that the Spanish clergy had a lot to answer for.

Eventually, the Catalan fighters were killed, and not only during the war. By the thousands. Tens of thousands. Note that I am being purposefully vague about figures, both for Catalonia and for Spain as a whole.

Not that I haven’t often heard figures. For instance I just read that there are 33,000 unnamed graves in Valle de los Caídos, from which Franco was recently moved. The place was built by forced labour after the war. There was a great deal of forced labour after the war!

Why am I writing all this, you ask. Isn’t the war over? Franco has been dead since 1975, has he not? Spain is a democracy, is it not?

Yes. Yes and yes.

BUT … the outstanding debts

  • The war and the dictatorship left hundreds (if not thousands) of mass graves.
  • No effort has been made on the part of the state to establish the real number and location of persons killed by the deeply Catholic Franco administration.
  • Even long after Franco, people were afraid to talk. In recent years, we have seen a few ancient bereaved spouses and mothers finally admitting to their children what they remember. Each opened mass grave and DNA identification of the remains has cost years of legal battles.
  • There are no records, either with the church or with public authorities of who was killed, who died in prison, and who was tortured to death. Nobody even knows how many survived harsh and humiliating imprisonment and torture.
  • Nobody has had to face charges of crimes against humanity. Perpetrators have not even been discredited.
  • No compensation has been paid to the survivors; no treatment has been offered for PTSD.

You get an impression of how much Catalonia suffered during the dictatorship if you read fiction from Catalonia. Personally, I make no effort to seek out Catalonian fiction, but for many years, I have found, almost every time I look for a nice juicy crime novel to read, that the current best-seller recommended to me is Catalonian. (My favourite Catalonian author, however, is the long since deceased Manuel Vázquez Montalbán.) In almost all the books I have purchased, protagonists have relatives who were tortured and/or killed and/or disappeared during the regime. It’s not that long ago, you know.

Franco’s spirit

Franco’s officials and supporters seem to have continued whatever line of work they had previously engaged in. This includes police officers.

Moreover, there were a lot of people who in their heart of hearts missed the strait-laced form of life he imposed. Not being one of them, I must now use my imagination: Tradition. Values. Respect to elders and to the male provider. Courtesy of men to women, modesty of women to men. Subordination of women and children. And not least: Adoration of the Church and the Crown and a firm belief that the history of the Patria was “glorious”. Finally, an almost military loyalty to the centralised state. Devolution of any form or shape was anathema to them.

They still miss it, loud and clear. Their nostalgia is being nursed by the powerful Partido Popular and the rapidly growing far-right Vox. As I write, Spaniards are casting their votes, and the two right-wing parties may well turn out to be the winners.

The Statute of Autonomy

The majority of Spain’s population was immensely relieved when Spain ceased to be a dictatorship. Both the Spanish Parliament (Cortes) and the Catalonian Parliament accepted the blessedly liberating Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia in 2006.

Not the PP. They complained to the Constitutional Court, the members of which are in essence politically elected. For four years, the court haggled over the issue, and the decision it finally reached in 2010 (to strike down 14 articles and alter 27) was not so much based on law as on the composition of the Court.

Outraged, the Catalans took to the streets.

I believe that the PP made a truly tragic mistake in contesting the Statute of Autonomy. The situation might have been put right if the Constitution had been amended to accommodate the 2006 Statute. Instead, Catalan frustration has been ridiculed and Catalan opposition has been harshly repressed. Catalans have been treated as naughty children by the national press, and the electorate outside Catalonia is becoming more chauvinistic by the day. I am fairly convinced that until 2018, the majority of Catalans were not – I repeat: NOT – in favour of secession. Certainly trade and industry were not. Now? I don’t know.

I deliver my views on this matter without referring to scholarly deliberations. The internatonal press tends to treat Spanish sensitivities kindly. After all, Spain is an EU member, and the country’s adaptation to democracy has been very impressive! The reason I am less kind is that I hope it is not too late to adopt a very different approach to the justly recalcitrant Catalonians.

Sep 172019
 

Do you remember when you started having opinions of a political nature? I do. I was about 15 when I started taking an interest in international affairs. Let me admit that I was going to a very good international school. We were even trained to debate positions that we did not necessarily hold. We had to read up on them, naturally.

My own personal opinions mirrored those of my father, whom I considered eminently respectable. He took pride in not being “biased” so he would present his views in the following manner: On the one hand, you have… and on the other hand, there is… .

This seemed an admirable approach, so I tried to be “unbiased” too, until I discovered that he was a loyal supporter of a political party and that the views I had developed on the basis of his approach were not unbiased at all. By then, I was 16-17, and we had some pretty hefty arguments.

I am writing this much about myself because I think that for most of us, political outlook is initially based on that of our parents, then on whatever analytical training we get at school, and then…

… well, then things start to get a little fuzzy. For most of us, the guiding light will be the media, and our opinions will basically echo those voiced by the media we are attracted to, including social media. Some of us make friends from the other side or perhaps even travel to the other side, whatever side that may be. But it goes without saying that most of us will hold “mainstream” opinions, i.e. the opinions voiced by mainstream media.

Now what are mainstream media? In Norway, the main news outlets, apart from the National Broadcasting Company, are owned by the Schibsted Group. Among the newspapers it owns are the most “respectable” one (Aftenposten) and the far less respectable but bestselling VG. Both are obviously available online. So the majority of people in Norway will hold views that tend to be voiced by these two very different news outlets.

It is true that if you read either of them, you will find a range of opinions, but I would be able to list, without hesitation, a few of my own that you would only rarely find. If you ask the editorial boards of the papers in question why they do not more frequently print articles advocating that we leave NATO, they will reply: Only 10 % of the population votes for a party that wants us to leave NATO.

Now, let me remind you of the chicken and egg causality dilemma:

  • Why do people vote for parties that do or do not want the nation to be part of NATO? How are they informed?
  • Who stands to gain from our continuing to be a NATO member? How do they make sure voters continue to endorse membership?
  • Why would anybody bother to invest in a newspaper? (If I were rich, I would lay my eggs in another basket.)

Above I wrote: “Some of us make friends from the other side or perhaps even travel to the other side, whatever side that may be.” I did just that. I made friends from other sides and I travelled to other sides. One of the other sides I travelled to was Chile. I was advised that El Mercurio was THE respectable paper. I ask you to please listen to the story told on this link:

https://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/listeningpost/2019/09/talk-chile-el-mercurio-190914083123442.html

May 192019
 

You might be wondering how come a person who pretends to care passionately about human rights (in every which interpretation) hardly ever refers to the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya from Myanmar.

Very simple: I have no first-hand knowledge of the past and ongoing crimes apparently committed not only by the army and government but even by the majority population in Myanmar. I only know about it through the media.

Now the US emperor appears to hold a grudge against “the media”. However there are others, too, who distrust the media, and with good reason, if I may say so. Many of us also distrust the pharmaceutical industry, politicians, doctors, wolves, etc., again with good reason. The media and the pharmaceutical industry will engage in pretty shady practices to boost profits and satisfy share holders, and more often than not, their ruses will not be exposed. Of course, if a pharmaceutical company fails to alleviate or cure medical ills, as evidenced by statistical breakdowns, it will loose its share holders anyway. Doctors are not always as conscientious or skilled as they should be and, finally, wolves occasionally manage to kill a dog or four or even a human every few hundred years. I’ll get back to the politicians later.

But first, I would like to make a few points:

  • Without the media, we would not only have been confused, but blind kittens awash in a sea of conflicting events.
  • The pharmaceutical industry and doctors have contributed to a dramatic lengthening of our life expectancy.
  • Wolves keep the deer population within reasonable limits (just as foxes limit the rabbit population) and deer, whereas pretty to look at, nourish the ticks that infect thousands and thousands of people every year with Lyme and other serious diseases.

Yes, we are often misinformed. Yes, some media are so self-serving that they can destabilise nations, not least if their audiences lack certain necessary tools – the kind of tools delivered by decent educational systems – to assess information. There are, moreover, tens of thousands of hard-working journalists dedicated to learning and presenting what is truthful and exact. Many of them are up against serious obstacles, even oppression. Some even risk or even lose their lives. We need them! We need to defend them!

Normally, what little I write here, is about matters of which I have first-hand knowledge. First-hand knowledge may stem from various sources. Once in my youth, when I was to go on in-house duty for three consecutive weeks, I first went to the library and borrowed a large stack of books about Armenian history. I read them all, taking meticulous notes. The other day, I found the old notes and was touched by my devotion to the topic. This I did, not for school nor for work, but because I was truly interested. I cannot remember why. What I remember is only my keen interest in the topic. There are countless other people out there who want to understand and who desperately want to learn.

I do have first-hand knowledge about Palestine, for reasons I will not go into. Likewise I have first-hand knowledge about dictatorships in Latin America and in Spain. I have lived in several countries and have seen more than has been good for me. But I have not lived in Asia or Oceaniea, and I need the media. I desperately need the media. I often check what I read against other outlets, and of course, like others, I distrust some more than others, depending, of course on the issue.

One source I have been particularly fond of is “The Listening Post” on Al Jazeera . It discusses various news outlets’ take on hot topics. Take Narendra Modi’s BJP in the recent Indian elections:

Now that is a text-book example of a successful marriage between self-serving media and dishonest politicians. I know very little about India, but listening to the podcast from the Listening Post, I get the impression that in the so-called Western countries, we would do well to study the nuts and bolts of what is often referred to as the world’s largest democracy. We might learn something about ourselves.

By the way, Merriam Webster’s definition of “democracy” does not mention the role of the market, of media outlets owned by oligarchs, of powerful investor interests, of phenomena such as Breitbart and Fox News. What is Democracy, I ask you?

Apr 152019
 

Have you read “Bleak House”?

To my mind this was Charles Dickens’ very best novel. In fact, to my mind, this is one of the very best works of fiction ever written and possibly the best I have ever read.

Nevertheless, it is far from perfect. Dickens is reported to have treated his wife appallingly, yet his female protagonists are literally better than life. They are so good that they are downright daft, moreover totally implausible. More often than not, they are golden-haired, blue-eyed and have no will of their own. There are several “good” females, all equally unbelievable. True enough, there are also some “good” men, more flawed than their female counterparts, hence slightly more believable.

Bleak House is remarkable not for its portrayal of Good but for its portrayal of Evil, which has not changed much since the late nineteenth century, I see.

The concepts “Good and Evil” are not unique to Christianity, far from it. Even ancient Norse beliefs toyed with them. So did the Nazis. The Islamic religion is devoted to the pursuit of Good as are innumerable NGOs.

But just exactly what are Good and Evil? Well, I guess we all have a pretty fair idea of what is Evil: Greed, lust for power and vanity are the most common traits found in the people we generally consider bad – including many presidents, kings and prime ministers, the ones that enrich themselves – and their friends and families – and impoverish their constituents. In their wake: desolation, droughts, hurricanes and floods. Ahead of them even the flowers wilt, and stars vanish from the sky.

Worse, though, is the fact that such traits are ubiquitous. In many Scandinavian folk tales, if you chop off one of the troll’s heads, he’ll grow two new ones. There will always be somebody to replace the Ns – oops, no names! – of the world.

So what is Good? Why, now that I think of it, I have really no idea. Giving alms to the poor is generally regarded “good”, as is tending the sick (i.e. giving them water to drink, and soothing feverish foreheads). Telling the truth is generally considered a good thing, but not always. Not if you expose the “best country in the world” committing crimes against humanity. Obviously, “the best country in the world” is incapable of committing crimes against humanity since everything it does must necessarily be democratic and just and good. Telling the truth about the “best country in the world” and its equally democratic and just and good best mates in the Middle East may in fact be a very serious criminal offence subject to capital punishment.

Hounding people out of their homes and locking them up on a piece of land generally referred to as the world’s largest prison is considered good by some as it will hasten the return of the Messiah. To put it very plainly, Good is a very bewildering business. Maybe if the Messiah did return, some good would come of it, but I very much doubt it. In fact, he would probably be so disheartened and shocked, he would just sit down and weep,

Can Good only be defined as absence of Evil – absence of greed, vanity and lust for power? That would be a terribly disheartening sort of definition. For one thing: would Good, defined like that, dissipate smog and bring back the stars? Would it stave off floods and droughts and hurricanes? Would it bring back the butterflies? Would it light up the faces of the little children on the Gaza strip? Would it bring the murdered Hondurans, Guatemalans and Mexicans back to life?

Would it even prevent future murdering and future crimes against humanity? It certainly would do nothing of the kind unless the truth about such matters were told! And if the truth is not volunteered – and I ask you, how many callous villains admit having committed their crimes unless they are forced to? – it must be sought, wherever it can be found, and taken. The truth about crimes against humanity must be told!

Let us be very grateful that there are still a few souls who dare reveal the truth, even if they are made to pay a horrible and injust price for doing so.

We allow people from the past to speak the truth – after all, the currrent powers that be were not around then, and everything is different now. Dickens spoke the truth about greed, vanity and lust for powers. See if you don’t recognise a thing or two. The following is a quote from Bleak House about the slum the author calls Tom-All-Alone’s.

Darkness rests upon Tom-All-Alone’s…., and Tom is fast asleep.

Much mighty speech-making there has been, both in and out of Parliament, concerning Tom, and much wrathful disputation how Tom shall be got right. Whether he shall be put into the main road by constables, or by beadles, or by bell-ringing, or by force of figures, or by correct principles of taste, or by high church, or by low church, or by no church; whether he shall be set to splitting trusses of polemical straws with the crooked knife of his mind or whether he shall be put to stone-breaking instead. In the midst of which dust and noise there is but one thing perfectly clear, to wit, that Tom only may and can, or shall and will, be reclaimed according to somebody’s theory but nobody’s practice. And in the hopeful meantime, Tom goes to perdition head foremost in his old determined spirit.

But he has his revenge. Even the winds are his messengers, and they serve him in these hours of darkness. There is not a drop of Tom’s corrupted blood but propagates infection and contagion somewhere. It shall pollute, this very night…. There is not an atom of Tom’s slime, not a cubic inch of any pestilential gas in which he lives, not one obscenity or degradation about him, not an ignorance, not a wickedness, not a brutality of his committing, but shall work its retribution through every order of society up to the proudest of the proud and to the highest of the high. Verily, what with tainting, plundering, and spoiling, Tom has his revenge.

Nov 232018
 

I assume, though I might be wrong, of course, that most people feel very strongly about justice or, at least, that they resent injustice. We tend to think that the concept justice needs no explanation, that it merely requires that everybody does his or her bit.

However, situations of discord remind us that what each of us considers injustice depends on where we live and with whom, what we’ve seen and heard and, of course, our means or lack of them.

In my country, some of the most bitterly resentful voices are not those of the poor or dispossessed, but of owners of expensive cars. Yes you heard me. It goes like this: The media are heaping guilt on us all, telling us that we – yes, we – are to blame for the climate change. Obviously, all consumers are covered by the collective pronoun we and made to feel guilt, but in my country, those who are actually made to pay are owners of powerful cars running on gasoline or diesel.

And they hate the likes of me, “climate people”, who keep ranting about an apocalyptic future. Frankly, I understand them! Because people like me drive electric cars, which are heavily subsidised, while gasoline and diesel driven vehicles are subject to heavy taxes. I mean heavy. Really heavy. It seems very unfair.

Do I feel pity? Yes. (It is well known that ownership of an expensive car does not necessarily reflect the owner’s social status. Where I live, there are a lot of immigrants, and a strikingly large proportion of them drive Mercedes, Audis and Teslas.) Will I do anything to oppose the taxes? No. I honestly believe that every effort must be made to stop people from driving hydro-carbon driven vehicles. (In my country the transport sector (not including international air traffic) accounts for 31% of greenhouse gas emissions, up 24% since 1990).

Now for the international scene: We are currently witnessing touching global consensus about the Saudi killing of a Washington Post journalist in a foreign country. There are limits to impunity, it seems. Good. However, I don’t quite understand why this undoubtedly heinous criminal act raises a greater outcry than the ongoing crimes of, to my mind, genocide in for instance Burma, Jemen and Palestine. No doubt the perpetrators feel that theirs is a just cause. But what do the rest of us feel?

I put to you that what the rest of us feel is bewilderment.

I turn for a moment towards past crimes against humanity. (You tend to get a better understanding of the landscape from the top of a mountain, than from down by the river.) The Spanish Civil War has been described by some as a Holocaust. The figures regarding the number of people killed and/or mutilated are still very disputed, not least in Spain, where the conservative party is adamantly opposed to opening the innumerable mass graves.

In my country, we learn in school that the Franco side was notoriously bad, while the republican, democratically elected government was fighting for a noble and highly legitimate cause. And though we politely admit that “atrocities were committed on both sides”, we are convinced that the Franco side killed 4 or 5 times as many people as the republicans during the war, and continued killing on a large scale throughout the following decades.

The trouble about mountain tops is that by zooming out, you fail to see a few important details that are absolutely crucial for warring parties. In fact, even in peacetime, not least in peacetime, they are crucial. Now take the Spanish Cicil War again: How do you think a decent lower-middle-class mother or father might have felt to hear that atheists had taken power? At the time, people were good Catholics, devout even. Spain was a fairly medieval sort of country, where most people still were unbelievably poor, accustomed to harsh treatment. The Church was immensely powerful on the political stage, and at the micro-level, every sinful thought went on record, as it were, during confession. Most people dared not even think, let alone speak or act.

I am convinced that very many people supported the Falange for highly legitimate reasons: They wanted to defend the church, to uphold morality. They defended respect for their forebears, the crown, everything they had always been told to believe in. They loathed and feared anarchy, not to mention communism, just as most people do to this very day. They were defending justice.

In fact both parties were laying down their lives in a ghastly battle for justice, against injustice.

The US is still not on the brink of a civil war. Europe is still not on the brink of internecine war. For that we should be glad. However, maybe it is time for the so-called “left” to try to understand the people who voted for Trump, maybe even to talk to them! Maybe it is time for us lefties in Europe to understand the growing proportion of voters who are turning to politicians that claim to be defending traditional patriotic values. These politicians might well be sincere, but they are also very rich neoliberal wolves, just like Trump.

Maps, like technology, like globalism, should be used discerningly.

Mar 292018
 

After two world wars, Europeans had had enough of wars, and so we saw the slow but inexorable development of the EC, which has evolved into the EU.

Now, it is true that many considered this multinational organisation a bureaucratic and undemocratic mastodon, and for many years the Scandinavian countries, for instance, refused to join, with good reason, you might say. There are certainly grounds for maintaining that joining the EU weakens national sovereignty, and there is undoubtedly the matter of the “democratic deficit”.

On the other hand, where is there no “democratic deficit”? Personally, I’m not really sure what “democracy” means, in spite of all we can read about the topic in various sources. Forget about the ancient Greeks, for a moment, though the concept is said to stem from them; in Athens only a small proportion of males, i.e. landowners, were “eligible” to vote, as it were. So Athens doesn’t really count as a model.

In modern-day western societies, we see more or less fascist movements gaining ground through fair elections. We also see elections that are not blatantly unfair but dubious. I won’t detail what I mean by dubious – each country has its own turgid electoral issues with or without the involvement of the Russians, fake-news factories, abused Facebook data etc. Be all that as it may, we are left with a lot of question marks regarding even so called “fair elections”.

Regardless of our doubts, however, most of us in the west still agree that we value certain standards of law. We need to trust that our courts and law enforcement are politically, financially and personally impartial and just. Most of us also firmly adhere to the importance of civil liberties.

So where does that leave us?

I knew a man who used to say, “nowhere in the Bible have I found any statement to the effect that parents must love their children”. I believe him. He had actually read the Bible many times. The Bible only commands us to love and obey our parents, and that’s it.

I find a parallel in our faith in “democracy”: We believe in it as though it were the Bible, but nobody requires us to vote for what is best for the country, for society or for humankind. All a voter needs to do is to vote for whoever will best serve his or her personal interests. Now.

Right. And now we have a situation of impeding serious climate change. Left to choose between a policy that will impose inter alia serious restrictions on personal travel and make a dent on our personal finances, or, on the other hand, business as usual, what do you and I choose?

And we have a situation in which parts of the world population are destitute, desperate and/or even angry. Do we choose to leave them to their own devices, put them into concentration camps, or even exterminate them? Or do we consider a different order?

Finally, we have a situation in most western countries where a growing proportion are growing poorer by the year, where the welfare state is crumbling and where young women are increasingly reluctant to bear children for fear of what the future may bring. It is very tempting to blame “the others”, i.e. China, Russia, the immigrants, and all the oddballs that make a society colourful. Are there any other sources of concern?

The EU may be a bureaucratic mastodon, but from my perspective, the EU is a relatively civilising force in Europe at the moment. Not that I trust the EU. The EU was from its inception, and still is, a fundamentally capitalist animal. But so far, no successful alternative to capitalism has been devised. (Russia and China are, after all, as capitalist as the rest of us.) The EU aims, at least, to resist individual countries’ and companies’ attempts to undermine the rule of law, and to defend civil liberties. The EU even defends, to a certain extent, its members’ welfare state. And the EU realises, unlike most of us, that in the end, we will all be the losers of climate change.

There is no punch line here, except that if you are itching for a new war, you may not be disappointed. I only hope that the majority of Europeans take to their senses. Soon.

 

Feb 242018
 

From my rooftop terrace in the old town on top of the cliff, I might perhaps be excused for imagining that this is a beautiful world. Squinting against the sun, I see undulating green fields, pink almond blossoms, pale against the rich green foliage of orange trees, frolicking birds, a twinkling river – all carefree under a warm mid-February sun. From my long walks in the mountains just a few kilometres away, I know that some wild animals still survive , and even here, in this very village, by the river, there are exotic birds and otters. On one of my walks near the town I actually saw a mongoose.

Yes, this part of the world is without doubt beautiful, at least for some of us, it is.

A financial crisis struck Spain in 2007, and banks had to be bailed out with tax payers’ money. Now, they say, the crisis is over, but a large part of the middle class has been pauperised since 2007, as by a stroke of lightning. More than 37% of those who are 25 or younger are still unemployed.

As for this village, time has forgotten it, has passed it by. In the old town, many have moved out, and lots of the town’s 16th–19th century mansions have been partially or entirely abandoned and left to crumble, while people who still live here try as best they can to whitewash their erstwhile seigniorial dwellings in time for Easter every year.

My neighbours live on what they can gather from day to day. Wild asparagus, for instance, which is sold in the streets, or snails. But Spain is still, after all, in the EU, and people are not allowed to die of starvation. There are social services. And neighbours help each other as best they can. One neighbour is nearly a hundred years old, and her mind has long departed. Her six children take turns nursing her. Lifting her out of bed, dressing her, feeding her, taking her to the toilet, putting her to bed… They have been doing so for years. And years. And years.

This is a kind village. A very kind village. Very little crime. You can walk safely home at night.

Meanwhile, hearing the faint echoes of the news, I ask myself: Why is mainstream media so pusillanimous about discussing the essence of each disaster? I mean ALL mainstream media, not just US media, though my example now is about the NRA: Just exactly what is the National Rifle Association? What is the socio-economic profile of its members? What is the average level of education of its members? What are the NRA’s links to the Republican Party? How much does the organisation as a whole plus individual members pay to maintain their political sway, officially and unofficially? And not least, what is the extent and the nature of the NRA’s links to the arms industry?

Such questions are important, are they not? Why do I hear so little about them? True, I am not a US American. But are these questions loudly addressed in the USA? Do US Americans understand why the NRA holds so much sway? For that matter, do US Americans understand why they are being ruled by a Donald Trump?