Feb 082021
 

For various reasons, a growing number of people are beginning to wonder whether Democracy is just a fading daydream. The long-predicted effects of climate change are one by one starting to unfold and are shaking our faith in the future. Meanwhile, the spectacular cognitive contortions of many politicians and their followers have seemed beyond belief and have generated distrust in our governments. Finally, people like Bolsonaro, el-Sisi, Duterte, Trump, MBS, Netanyahu (Apartheid politician), Erdogan, Putin, and Burmese generals … to mention just a few, do not inspire hope for the human race, far less for Democracy.

But I put to you that in spite of all this, Democracy is not an illusion, not make-belief, not a silly fantasy!

There is nothing wrong with the concept of Democracy as outlined, however roughly
by the Encyclopedia Britannica:

Democracy is a system of government in which laws, policies, leadership, and major undertakings of a state or other polity are directly or indirectly decided by the “people,” a group historically constituted by only a minority of the population (e.g., all free adult males in ancient Athens or all sufficiently propertied adult males in 19th-century Britain) but generally understood since the mid-20th century to include all (or nearly all) adult citizens.

and recommended by the United Nations:

When the founders of the United Nations drafted the United Nations Charter, they did not mention the word democracy. In 1945, many of the UN Member States did not endorse democracy as a system, or didn’t practice it. Yet, the opening words of the Charter, “We the Peoples”, reflect the fundamental principle of democracy – that the will of the people is the source of legitimacy of sovereign states and, therefore, of the United Nations as a whole.

The problem we are facing these days is not that the concept Democracy is any more fantastical than it ever was, but that the word Democracy has been high-jacked by the United States – where it has been married to an economic (and governmental) system, commonly referred to by detractors as Neoliberalism – and where it has failed ignominiously to curb ubiquitous economic and racial injustice.

Since time immemorial there have been, here and there, patches of what could be called Democratic societies: A model example is that of the San [quote from Wikipedia]:

Traditionally, the San were an egalitarian society. Although they had hereditary chiefs, their authority was limited. The San made decisions among themselves by consensus, with women treated as relative equals. San economy was a gift economy, based on giving each other gifts regularly rather than on trading or purchasing goods and services.

True the San may not have exercised “separation of powers” (legislative, executive and judiciary) and a transparent system of checks and balances, without which I cannot conceive of a modern Democratic society. On the other hand, they managed something no “modern” society would: to survive in the Kalahari Desert.

With or without separation of powers, one thing is certain in the Kalahari Desert as in a post-modern society: Democracy is contingent on informed choices, and that is what has been missing in so many so-called democracies all over the world. The San People will not have known about quantum physics, but what knowledge they had, they shared and without shared knowledge, there is no Democracy.

Again I quote Encyclopedia Britannica:

The hallmark of democracy is that it permits citizens to participate in making laws and public policies by regularly choosing their leaders and by voting in assemblies or referenda. If their participation is to be meaningful and effective—if the democracy is to be real and not a sham—citizens must understand their own interests, know the relevant facts, and have the ability to critically evaluate political arguments. Each of those things presupposes education.

Education, then, is key!

But who gets to decide what goes onto the curriculum? A bellowing bull in Ankara (who is at this very moment clamping down on his countries’ universities)? Or a Christian fundamentalist? Well, that’s where the free press comes into the picture, isn’t it, because if either one or the other fiddles with the curriculum, the press pounces on them, unless…

Unless what? Well, the press isn’t entirely free, is it. The press has powerful owners and/or backers; military dictators, autocrats, Savonarolas, billionaires, cranks, Qanonites and nut cases who will apply every trick in the book to gain and retain control, including the tricks of editing curriculum and controlling the press.

So Democracy is not something that just falls into our laps and stays there. We have to work for it, and we have to defend it. Mind you, this is not new. Since time immemorial, the world has been hectored by power freaks, and has survived. But one thing has changed: change itself, or rather, the speed of change.

Like it or not, change happens and will continue to happen at a breath-taking speed.

Change brings us pandemics, but also improved vaccination technology. Change brings us affordable audio-visual communication across continents, but also the means to whip up insurrections through social media.

More than ever before, education – good education – is needed so that we all can contribute, each in our different ways and to the extent of our capacity – by asking questions, answering questions, squabbling about the answers; by conducting research and questioning results. Like the San, we must share available knowledge about what lies ahead so that we all can take part in deciding how to deal with it.

Jan 312021
 

Somebody with an Algerian IP address has been trying to hack his way into this site. That’s a novelty. Ukrainian, US American, Russian and Indian IPs, sure – I’m used to them, but never Algerian. Is he trying to tell me something?

So what’s with Algeria? Well, for one thing, the country has had an excruciatingly bloody recent history. There are people out there, less well-informed than yourselves, who would echo a typically colonialist (frankly: racist) statement: “That just goes to show that Algerians are…” something-or-other. But you and I know that colonialism comes at a terrible price, for the colonised. Just how that price is paid, however, is less known to us; there seems to be a reticence to go into detail in our school textbooks.

So let me just start by urging you – imploring you – to watch the remarkable documentary Blood and Tears: French Decolonisation.

Like so many other former colonies, Algeria has not completely managed to turn a page. To quote one of the interviewees in the said documentary: “How can you turn a page that has yet to be written?”

For instance, the journalist Khaled Drareni was jailed last year and subsequently sentenced to two years’ imprisonment simply for covering protests in Algeria. This is yet another instance of attempts to throttle the press and hide information from us. Please sign Amnesty’s call to Free Khaled Drareni.

One of Algeria’s problems is that around here, we’re too Eurocentric to notice much outside our own garden. We simply don’t know enough. There are valuable sources, though, and I recommend two:

In “The Art of Losing”, the French novelist Alice Zeniter explores the fate of an Algerian “Harki” and his family after liberation in 1962. The novel earned her the prestigious Prix Goncourt.

Aljazeera’s in-depth analysis of current issues: Critics say the new constitution does not meet popular demands for an independent judiciary and empowered parliament.

Jan 312021
 

The word “transparency” is very much in vogue these days, particularly in the EU, which attempts to monitor financial transactions and disclose hidden accounts, for instance in tax havens. Personally, I would gladly see lightning strike all shell companies whose beneficial owners are filthy rich. We use the expression “filthy rich” when someone’s inordinate wealth may have been built on the backs of underpaid labour or thanks to otherwise unethical acts or un-exposed crimes, be they financial, environmental or political, crimes against humanity or disrespect of civil rights.

People like that tend to fiercely resist being exposed, and may go to extremes to silence whistleblowers.

Yes, the keyword here is “exposed”. Just by reading Wikipedia, we have no way of knowing whether for instance Elon Musk (the now richest man in the world) has played straight throughout his career. He is obviously very smart. Personally, I believe that Mozart – to pick a politically neutral example – should have been blessed with a beautiful palace and life-long comfort, although his remarkable brain was just a fluke of nature, presumably a mutation of some sort. In view of his extraordinary output, I would not have begrudged him wealth, which would have been deserved. Instead, he was destitute at his death.

Elon Musk, who has contributed significantly to innovation and technological development may, for all I know, be some kind of wizard, a techno-equivalent of Mozart. In Wikipedia, I see that he has been sued a number of times for his views and/or statements. He is certainly entitled to having and expressing views, even if I don’t like them. But has he played straight? Wikipedia does not tell.

So to my knowledge, no serious ethical wrongdoing has been exposed on the part of Elon Musk. Yes, again: exposed is the keyword. Is there any Navalnyj in the USA?

True, the USA had Edward Snowden. He exposed – revealed – that in his country (and many others, including mine) “big brother [NSA] is watching you [us]” (cf. “1984” by George Orwell).

No matter what country we inhabit, our futures depend on those who expose serious wrongs which may or may not be punishable by law. Laws are created by humans, who are not infallible. Legislators are informed by clerics, public opinion, pressure groups, powerful lobbies, etc. Legislators are only men, after all, and sometimes women.

I don’t know about you, but I definitely lack the skills to analyse anyone’s financial empire. Even if I had them, I would never be able to devote years of unpaid labour to such a pursuit. I have not personally witnessed the war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated in the Middle East and elsewhere. Even if I had, my indignant voice would not have been heard.

We, the general public, need – here, there and everywhere – to be informed of such wrongdoings so that we can demand whatever measures are necessary to put things right. That is what Democracy is all about, informed decision-making.

We need – here, there and everywhere – to protect those who expose serious wrongdoings and inform us of them. Some of them have risked everything to do so, for instance in Italy, where the Mafia still has vastly more financial muscle than the State, and in Russia, where the State and the mafia appear to be one.

We need – in my country and in yours – people
like Navalnyj,
like Julian Assange and
like Edward Snowden
to expose what you and me cannot see,
what media that depend on wealthy sponsors are unwilling to see.

We need them; we desperately need them. We need, in fact, more like them, not as presidents, not to govern our countries, but to expose and continue to expose what is terribly wrong.

And we need to defend them when they need us.

Jan 242021
 

I’m getting off the US’s back now. I’m hoping that after having agonised, day in and day out for four interminable years, over “how we got into this mess”, even the Democratic Party finally understands that Trump wasn’t its cause, only its regrettable result.

So I’ll cross over to another superpower: Russia. Not that Russia normally bothers me much – after all, Russia doesn’t call the shots, NATO does. Still.

But now, Russia is starting to bother me. I happen to like Navalnyj’s style, and I definitely don’t approve of killing political opponents, particularly not when the said opponents expose massive corruption – i.e. risk their lives by challenging criminal big shots. After he was poisoned, I angrily wrote that for Putin, killing political opponents seemed to be a “cup of tea” and fervently hoped health workers would be able to save Navalnyj’s life. They managed, and Navalnyj returned home to Russia.

… where he was promptly arrested.

Russia is starting to bother me.
Russia is starting to bother me in a big way.

Today, I read in the news that Navalnyj’s team has published what the Washington Post calls a “bombshell video” on Youtube, one that actually kicks Putin in the teeth.

Before I continue, let me introduce you, in case you don’t know it, to the little icon at the bottom right under Youtube videos. If you click this icon, you can chose subtitles + language.

So I looked for the famous “bombshell video”, but before I found it, I listened to Navalnyj’s own investigation into the attempted murder of his own person. This is terrific entertainment, mind you, and the translation is good:

FSB – murder attempted

Now for the kicking of Putin’s teeth. Here is a carefully prepared nearly two-hour long documentary, signed Navalnyj and his team, about how Putin became one of the world’s richest men. Two hours is a long time, but believe me, this is extremely interesting. I put to you that Mafia bosses around the world will seem like small fry in comparison. Again the translation is excellent:

Navalnyj’s bombshell video

Russia is not Putin and his gang, but 146 million people. I believe most Russians love their country passionately, I mean really passionately. Their country has been raped.

What about the prosecutors?
What about the judiciary?
What about Russia’s Federal Assembly?

Have they all been bribed?

СТЫДНО!

20 February 2021:

Bill Browder’s take on Putin’s wealth.

So who is Bill Browder? Well, apparently he’s quite a colourful character. I won’t tell you whether he is a good guy or a bad guy — personally I never trust financiers — but he is certainly more closely and unhappily acquainted with Russian powers-that-be than most.

Here is Wired’s take on the adventures of Bill Browder. Not boring at all, I assure you.

And here is the Huffington Post’s angry story about the demise of Sergei Magnitsky, Browder’s close associate; you know, the guy whose death triggered the creation of the Magnitsky Act.

From the above two linked articles, written long before Navalnyj hit the headlines, it seems clear that Putin is an extortionist who spares no effort to increase his wealth, and that murder is truly a cup of tea for him. It would thus appear that the President of Russia is a rapacious predator.

And if you feel like practicing your Russian, here is a very good place to start: The Insider. If you prefer to get a peek behind the scenes, but in English go here: https://theins.ru/en

Jan 092021
 

Two days ago, I wrote of the challenge facing the Democratic Party if Georgia granted it the two seats it so sorely needed in the Senate. Georgia did just that! Georgia’s blacks and Georgia’s young had mobilised and saved the day for the Democratic Party. What a tremendous debt that party now owes Georgia!

Later in the day, after I had written “Georgia on my mind”, checking the news again, I saw that something was snapping in Washington D.C. where thousands and thousands of Trump supporters had congregated, swarming, at Trump’s instigation.

Over the past years, Trump has been using Fox News, Twitter and other outlets to foment hatred and rabid attitudes, as well as weird ideas among certain emotionally and educationally vulnerable segments of the US population. I cannot tell you – because I do not understand – what Trump-loving evangelists have in common with laid-off rust belt workers and depressed opioid addicts. Apparently, Trump whispers falsehoods in all of their and many others’ ears, such as those of the disenfranchised so-called “working middle class”.

No wonder, then, that his thugs actually stormed and vandalised the seat of the USA’s national assembly, its congress, lovingly referred to by the population as Capitol. They did so to obstruct Trump’s opponents. (Trump, of course, will have his own reasons to dread leaving the White House.) Legislators were rushed off to safety by the police and none of them were harmed, as far as I know, except by an inrush of Covid-19, which may of course yet kill some of them.

There is no doubt that Trump is directly and fully responsible for the mob’s storming and vandalising of Capitol. Many of his supporters will, however, be saddened and shocked. BUT they may nevertheless continue to idealise their hero until they can find someone to replace him. I believe it’s important to realise that Trump is seen by many as some sort of Wat Tyler, or even as God’s special envoy. Indeed, many of the people who believe in him have much in common with 14th century British peasants.

Unlike Wat Tyler, however, Trump is anything but an oppressed labourer. He and others who will turn up in his wake – super rich and callous – will continue to discombobulate the emotionally and educationally vulnerable for their own ends.

President elect Joe Biden has since held a forceful speech about the “rule of law”. He chose his words well, and his majesterial speech offered disconcerted US Americans a chance to believe once again in the greatness of their country. But I fear that the expression “rule of law” means little to the country’s more poorly educated citizens. In a land that used to boast that anybody could become president, that used to pride itself on being meritocratic, there is much undeserved poverty and hopelessness, much fear, much understandable anger, much corruption, and much untreated physical pain.

Something snapped in Washington D.C. That snap was just a warning, but there may still be time to put things right.

Jan 062021
 

Dear friends

Never before have I prayed for the Democratic Party – to be honest, I never pray at all – but now I am praying passionately for the Democratic Party. Mind you, I don’t like or trust the Democratic Party anymore than I like or trust Jeff Besos, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg or Larry Page. The Democratic Party has failed in every conceivable respect, but its voters include most of the USA’s great scientists, artists, computer experts (including hackers, and I have a penchant for hackers) and voting Blacks (though I deeply sympathise with non-voting Blacks).

Reading the News this morning, I almost choked. There is actually a glimmer of hope! If Georgia salvages the Senate for the Democratic Party, there will be no fucking excuse – none! – to fail, once again, the poor, the disenfranchised so-called “working middle class” and the Blacks. In fact, if the Democratic Party wins the Senate, their politicians will have their once-in-a-lifetime chance of showing Trump’s voters that they, not Trump, can and will improve conditions for life and work in, e.g. the Rust Belt.

At the risk of counting my chickens, if the Democratic Party wins but fails to do its duty by the 50 % of the USA’s population that owned (even before Trump!) less than 1 % of the country’s wealth and the 89 or so per cent that owned (before Trump!) only 10 % of it, there will be hell to pay not only for the Party and its long-suffering country (that is already paying a great deal), but for all of us. The rest of us will see the final disintegration of a country that claimed to be, but was so evidently far from, a bastion of “Democracy.”

I write this expecting some gruelling hours and probably even days of suspense for Georgia.

Let us all cross our fingers.

Dec 272020
 

Jeg hadde ventet 30 min. foran en enslig opptatt hurtiglader langt fra sjapper, kiosker og toaletter. Det snødde vått og kaldt, jeg var tissetrengt og det var ingenting å gjemme seg bak på den store sletta omgitt av småhus. Da jeg endelig slapp til laderen, var jeg så trengt og så kald at jeg ladet bare noen få minutter før jeg dro videre til neste ladested. Der var det, foruten spisested og bensinstasjon, 20 tesla-ladere, 3 hurtigladere for oss andre – alle opptatt og med 4 biler i kø – og 1 ladestolpe. Den var ledig. Jeg koplet bilen til stolpen og trasket av sted til spisestedet for å gå på do og varme meg.

Men spisestedet var stengt. Heldigvis var det også en Macdonalds et stykke unna, og der fikk jeg lettet det mest presserende av mine behov.

Da jeg kom tilbake til bilen 20 minutter senere, hadde den ikke tatt lading. Jeg prøvde en 10­–15 ganger å koble fra og koble til, men nei, bilen ville ikke ta lading. Så kom det en ung mann med lyseblå øyne og tilbød seg til å hjelpe. “Jobber du her?” spurte jeg overrasket. “Nei, jeg skal bare hjelpe.” Jeg frøs litt og var for oppgitt til å vurdere om det var grunn til å mistenke onde hensikter; dog ikke så oppgitt at jeg ikke registrerte et snev av utlendighet i språket hans. Kanskje polsk, tenkte jeg.

Han prøvde 10­–15 ganger å koble til og å koble fra kabelen på bilen min, og fikk samme resultat som jeg. Det snødde fortsatt, og jeg var igjen begynt å bli tissetrengt og aldri så lite realt bekymret. Jeg hadde helt klart ikke nok strøm til å komme meg hjem. Mannen prøvde da å sette i gang ladeprosessen (på MIN bil) fra SIN telefon. Da tok bilen lading. Vi hadde altså fått bekreftet at det ikke var noe galt hverken med stolpen eller bilen min.

Han avbrøt ladingen – som han ellers ville måtte betale – og prøvde igjen med min ladebrikke. Niks. Så startet han uten videre nok en gang ladingen fra sin telefon, ba meg ringe seg når jeg hadde nok strøm, lovet å sende meg beskjed om hva det kostet slik at jeg kunne Vipse ham beløpet, og forsvant. Forvirret satte jeg meg inn i min kalde bil, som nå pent og pyntelig la på seg kilometer etter kilometer, og ventet til jeg hadde fått nok strøm.

Da ringte jeg ham slik at han kunne avbryte ladingen, og minnet ham om å sende SMS om hva jeg skyldte ham. Etter en stund kom det melding fra ham: “Det var så lite… se på det som en liten julegave. Hilsen Krystian”.

Takk Krystian!

Dec 012020
 

In a phone conversation with a talkative friend the other day, my counterpart’s initial volubility subsided, so that in the end, I was the only one still talking. Afterwards, wondering why his cheeriness had morphed into discouragement, I reached the conclusion that it was my fault.

Over the decades, I have been considered a lefty, and he has been the slightly patronising advocate of what he believes is “the middle ground”. Had I asked him, or for that matter almost anybody else, what is “the middle ground”, he would have given the glib reply “neither right nor left” and I might insolently have retorted, “neither right nor wrong?”

Yes, over the decades, he has patiently countered my impatient allegations about systemic racism, perpetuated social inequality, injustice etc., etc. with kindly smiles, and “sensible” arguments. More often than not, I for my part tended to have forgotten the statistical details informing my views and chaffed at the bit of my own ignorance, unable to prove my point.

The other day, though, the tables had turned. I didn’t remember the details about the tipping point, but I did have a pretty clear understanding of the concept “exponential”.

Likewise, I didn’t remember the details of Piketty’s statistics about rising wealth and income inequality, but since I follow international news pretty closely, the word “exponential” lurked at the corners of my mouth.

As another acquaintance predicted a few days ago: “Before long, we won’t be picking them up out of the Mediterranean, we’ll be shooting them.” He was referring to the not so distant future when most of the African continent will be uninhabitable and when Europe … no, I won’t go into that just now.

I won’t, because that was what I did during the said phone conversation with my friend the other day. I did not have Piketty’s figures at hand, but I certainly was able to outline approximately where Europe is heading, and it’s not somewhere nice. That is unless…. But before I could finish my lecture, my friend had wilted like a plane falling out of the sky. I had halted the trajectory of an optimistic man full of confidence in himself, his country and the future of humankind. I had brought him down. Now that was certainly not my intention.

Mind you, he knew that what I had said about the future of Europe, “unless…”, was correct. So why was he not willing to discuss the terms of the “unless” clause?

As for the tipping point, no reasonably sane, informed person can possibly doubt its reality, yet we just sit around doing exactly what we have been doing since we were born, with regard to the tipping point, that is: NOTHING.

Well, strictly speaking, that is not correct. Somebody is doing something, but that somebody is not me. It probably isn’t you either. I am very very sorry to say that it is not a government in any country, nor any powerful multinational company or mainstream media outlet. Extinction Rebellion is courageous, passionate and truly called for, but – alas – not my style; I’m no better than the rest of us law-abiding, spineless citizens, the gutless “we” I keep referring to.

We have been tranquillised and rendered non-combatant by a lullaby of promises about “climate neutrality by 2050”. Read that again: 2050. Thirty years hence, the planet will be unrecognisable.

Why? Why do we allow doctors to medicate us with tranquillisers and false hopes?

My theory is that we are sincerely frightened. And now that we are social distancing or in quarantine, we’re also not happy. If your day has been miserable, what do you do? Well, I don’t know about you, but most of us put on a brave face and tell ourselves and each other that tomorrow will be better. Yes, tomorrow must always be better, otherwise, we would not endure being alive. If baseless optimism hadn’t been part of our genetic makeup from the start, our species would not have survived locust swarms, bubonic plagues, famines, Hiroshima, the Holocaust, Apartheid, etc., and even Trump.

I put to you that optimism is not a crime. Stupidity, however, is. I assume that mankind will survive the next thirty years, in some form or another. I hope that having learnt from the mistakes we are making now, future civilisations’ penal codes will deem stupidity on the part of “whomsoever has been endowed with normal intelligence and adequate social/economic conditions” a criminal offence.

Today is 1 December. According to the calendar, winter has come to the Northern hemisphere. But according to the trees, spring has come and the buds are opening. Maybe by Christmas the lilacs will bloom and the birds will be singing. Maybe in January, we can go swimming in the sea again. That would be so nice.

Nov 092020
 

My friends both in the USA and in my own country are ecstatically congratulating one another on the Biden/Harris victory, and I too am relieved to see the imminent end of Trump’s barbarian one-man show. But this may not be the end of his methods, and I think it is important not to be carried away by triumphalism.

The difference was, after all, only four million votes. True, we are rid of Trumpism for four years, but many poor and/or non-white prospective Democratic voters told interviewers that they intended to vote only to get rid of Trump, not because they thought Biden would “make a difference” for them. Will they come out again in four years?

Who voted for Trump and why? I agree with those who maintain that the media played a big part. But Trump, too, blamed the media. In fact, far from all the media was pro-Trump. So I must ask: What is the main difference between people who believe a headline like “chlorine kills Covid”, or who subscribe to the Pizzagate conspiracy, and those who don’t? I maintain that by substantially improving educational opportunities for all young citizens, we would substantially reduce vulnerability to false news in the course of only three or four years.

Evangelical Trump followers were loyal regardless of the press, and there were very many of them, even though they knew what sort of person he was. They believed God was using him because he had promised to continue helping Israel engulf Palestine. I’m not privy to their beliefs, but as I understand it, they are convinced that all of this will hasten the return of the Messiah. Not much you can do about that, I guess.

I have the impression that the past decades (since the 70s) have seen a downhill slide for a large part of the US population as is described, for instance, in the Guardian: Who will speak for…

The so-called “divided America” is not just about Trump. It is to a large extent about despair, humiliation and loss of dignity. It is also about anger.

Trump is angry, too. He claims to hate the elite. To many voters it seemed that because of his ostentatious and iconoclastic alleged anti-elitism, Trump was being humiliated, ridiculed and harassed by mainstream press, just like them. He told them he was on their side, and they hoped he would get rid of some of the multinational corporations that had gobbled up their livelihoods.

I believe that what Trump really hates is science, education, etc.,and anything that stands in his way. Getting rid of him does not, however, mean you get rid of his voters who want something neither Trump nor Biden can or will give them: decently paid work, education and proper health care.

From Thomas Piketty’s book (see the Harvard Gazette article How political ideas keep economic inequality going) we learn that inequality in all of the western world has been rising steadily ever since the seventies, and is now back at where it was before WWI. This trend is not due to Trump, is not limited to the USA, and is not going to stop by itself.

Meanwhile, to quote the above Guardian article, “It is one thing to be spinning your wheels stuck in the mud, but it is even more demeaning to watch as others zoom by on well-paved roads, none offering help.”

Take a look the below graph from the Fed.

Oct 302020
 

There is absolutely nothing I can do about the shoot-out between Trump and Biden, other than to commiserate with US citizens in both camps who have had to watch their American dream go down the drain.

Had I been a US citizen, I would have voted, sure, but as I am not, I do not intend to sit up all night, every night of this last week, waiting for the election results, so please have me excused. Nor do I intend to incur headaches, hypertension, muscular pains, insomnia, or psychosis by following the news byte by byte. It is nearly all about Trump and Covid, even in my country. You could almost envy the people in Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan, who have issues that take their mind off Covid-Trump.

However, there are actually enjoyable pieces of news out there, would you believe it? True, my country’s national broadcasting company did not see fit to inform us about the outcome of the 25 October plebiscite in Chile, but we still have internet. (By the way, did you know that in Kashmir they don’t, thanks to “Democratic” India’s rabid PM Narendra Modi’s having slapped a one-year-long internet blackout on Kashmir.) So I watched a Chilean TV channel for – yes, for a whole night.

General Pinochet, whose US-assisted dictatorship had engaged in a particularly sadistic effort to exterminate the regime’s political opponents, stepped down in 1990 following a plebiscite he had allowed, believing that it would grant his dictatorship legitimacy. To everybody’s surprise, it didn’t. See the film No! directed by Pablo Larrain (trailer).

However, Chile was not rid of Pinochet. He left his mark in a Constitution (adopted back in 1980, when people were too terrified to oppose it), a constitution that seemed a hymn to Milton Friedman’s market fundamentalism.

Subsequent legislative efforts to protect the population from the effects of that constitution have been a seemingly hopeless uphill battle.

Milton Friedman often proudly referred to “the miracle of Chile”. Moreover, the father of Neoliberalism (albeit Neoliberal economists indignantly declare there is no such thing as Neoliberalism) Friedrich Hayek, visited Pinochet. If you are an economist, and if you still adhere to the “classical” economic precepts of Hayek, I suggest you take a look at Wikiquotes and search “Chile”.

Chile’s economy has been a model of stability, the darling of the IMF, with steady and uninterrupted growth in terms of GNP. But let me declare loudly, let me stand on a chair, let me shout, let me scream, as the Chilean protesters have been screaming: GNP does not reflect the welfare of the vast majority of a country’s inhabitants.

True, the number of people defined as living in extreme poverty has declined markedly from year to year. However, how do you define poverty? I put to you, that the majority of Chile’s population is living in what I consider poverty. I am sure you would agree if you were put to the test.

I quote from the think tank www.americas.org:

Fifty percent of the economically active population earns less than 550 dollars per month, with the minimum wage equivalent to 414 dollars. Overwhelmed by the narrow strip that separates it from poverty, an important part of the population lives in fear of seeing their income fall. In Chile, downward social mobility is greater than upward social mobility, and downward mobility is more highly correlated to political protest than poverty itself.

The biggest factor that exacerbates inequality is probably the nation’s pension system, in force since 1982. Designed during the military government, the pension mechanism has not met Chileans’ expectations. According to the group No + AFP (No More Pension Fund Managers), which in 2016 organized a march of 600,000 people, these are “undercover banks of the richest entrepreneurs in our country who use the pension funds to expand their investments and further concentrate capital in a few hands”. The average pension for retirees is $286 per month, and 80% receive pensions below the minimum wage. The amount of pensions is on average close to 40% of people’s income at the time of retirement.

Education is the second major source of inequality. In 2006 and 2011, students organized massive demonstrations calling for profound reforms in the education system. Chilean education is characterized by the huge gap between public and private education. The withdrawal of the State from its functions as generator, regulator and supervisor of the education sector led to the gap as part of neoliberal reforms beginning in the 1980s.

The above quote is far too polite, in my mind. (The NY Times does a better job of it.) Then again, I suspect that working and living conditions for more than half the population in the USA is not very much better than for the majority of the population in Chile.

Now back to the night when the votes were being counted. The below link will take you to the infamous Stadium in Santiago during the last minutes before voting ends. Then you will see how counting starts at various polling stations, how amazed silence follows the first signs of what seems to be happening,

If you go on watching, you will see that dazed spectators surrounding the polling stations (las mesas) start to understand that they may actually have won. Eventually, they will find themselves in the streets, deliriously celebrating, and although there is a curfew, neither the police nor the army intervenes.

What emerges when all the votes have been counted is that only 5 of the 346 electoral districts were opposed to the trashing of Pinochet’s constitution. Two of them are so small they are statistically insignificant. Three of them, however, constitute the part of Santiago that houses the top of the social pyramid, the epicentre of political and economic power: Vitacura, las Condes and Lo Barnochea. In an interesting article, BBC explains that Santiago consists of two distinct universes. What is clear is that from the top of a pyramid, you don’t see the ants swarming down below.

President Piñera deserves praise for at least not having declared a civil war on the night when it became clear that 78.2 % of the population of Chile, had declared the country’s constitution worthless.

Look to Chile, my friends. Change is indeed possible.