Thursday, September 24, 2015

Great Gains for the Rich by Thomas Rigins

According to the Economic Policy Institute, as reported by the Debs Foundation Newsletter (Fall 2015), the following figures represent  the real increase in income of the various levels of the U.S. population over the last 30 years: both Democrats and Republicans have controlled the government during this period.
The top 1% saw an increase of 153.6%
The next level, the 95 to 99% increased their income by 61.6%
Then the 90 through 94% went up 39.2%
That takes care of the top 90%. The super winners were the top 1%.
Now for the rest of us -- the bottom 90%: how much trickled down to us?
We got a wopping 17.2% increase in real income over the last 30 years no matter who was running the country. Is there any reason to think this disparity will be any less (or maybe more) over the next 30 years?

Friday, September 11, 2015

Clinton Crashing?

Clinton Crashing? by Thomas Riggins

According to reports in The New York Times and the CNN/ORC polls (just out)-- Clinton's new figures among registered voters puts her 10 points ahead of Bernie Sanders and in a dead heat with the top Republican candidates. Here is what today's NYT  says:

"When Mrs. Clinton is pitted against each of the top three Republican candidates, Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon, leads 51 percent to 46 percent among registered voters; Jeb Bush leads 49 percent to 47 percent; and she and Donald J. Trump, who is leading most polls of the Republican field, are tied at 48 percent. All of those numbers are within the margin of sampling error."

This country is in big trouble when the likes of Ben Carson and Donald Trump have a real shot at becoming the next POTUS! Another Bush is bad enough, but at least he is not certifiable.

These are early polls and don't take into consideration the fact that the Left and the Unions are going to be registering large numbers of new voters and actively promoting progressive ideas that will hopefully sweep this temporary Republican
surge (Trump is now leading the Republicans with 32% support ) into history's overflowing dust bin.

A positive note: Bernie Sanders is now in a dead heat with Clinton in IOWA and NEW HAMPSHIRE and only 10 points behind with Democrats nationally.  As for the CPUSA: Now is the time for all good men (and women) to come to the aid of their party.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Progressive Science Round Up

Thomas Riggins

Below you will find links to some of the most interesting science stories reported this week relating to both political and social  affairs and health news from which everyone may benefit. You can comment on these reports at the end of the round up.

New scientific research indicates that taking 500 mg of time released Vitamin C will have the same heart healthy results as physical EXERCISE for overweight and obese people. Ok, so you won't look so svelte but for the gymnophobic taking a vitamin pill instead of working up a sweat has got to be a great scientific advance and, since Republicans and the right in general  don't believe in science, progressives and socialists will benefit the most.

Scientists have found that children learn better and are more healthy over all at different times of the day depending on their ages. Presently schools start and end at times that have been standardized in such a way that the learning and health of millions of children are negatively affected. Parents will have to become politically active, I think, and ally with teacher unions if they want to protect their children and get the school times changed.

Widespread abuse of patients discovered in Indian private hospitals which force doctors to order unnecessary tests and operations simply to run up the bills and make more profits for the capitalist investors. Indian government appears complicit? Could the same practices be happening in the U.S.?

A new study shows that about 50% of the U.S. population either already has or is on the road to having diabetes. As usual the suggested remedy is education for individuals to change their eating habits and life styles. This approach alone won't work
unless Congress quits kowtowing to the lobbyists for the junk food purveyors, the processed food industries,and the sugar and soda companies that resist regulation and continue to flood the market place with unhealthy food products in the search for greater profits at the expense of the health and welfare of the American people. They should also be stopped from pushing their products on children through ads on TV and the internet

Cortisol is a stress hormone that is released into the blood stream to help us keep calm, cool and collected during the exigencies of daily life. Too much of it is not good for us and our bodies usually start the day with a high charge that will last us until bedtime when the charge has worn down and will build up again while we sleep. However, after a twenty year research project, scientists have discovered that young people (adolescence to 32 years old) who are subjected to discrimination, racism. and the daily insults and affronts dished out to minority people (consciously or unconsciously) especially African American youth, experience the effects of cortisol differently than do the youth not subjected to the racism of everyday life in the U.S.

The stress of racial discrimination causes the cortisol to build up in the blood stream during the day so that it peaks at bedtime and wears off during the night so that it is very low in the morning. The cycle is reversed. This causes these youth to have sleep problems, sex problems, mental fatigue, heart problems, problems in concentration and memory and other health disfunctions. In other words, racism makes them sick and less functional compared to the general population and this is then used as an excuse to justify racist practices.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Over Forty Percent of U.S. Children are Living in Poverty

Over Forty Percent of U.S. Children are Living in Poverty 
Thomas Riggins

A  January  2015 report from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health reveals that forty four percent of children (those under 18)  are living in de facto poverty. The Federal Government issues an artificially low annual official poverty level that radically understates the real level of U.S. poverty. For 2015 the official level of poverty for a family of four, for example, is  roughly an income $24,000 a year or less. This is for a family with 2 adults and 2 children. 

This income figure, however, does not reveal the true level of poverty in the U.S. The National Center for Children in Poverty, located at Mailman, states that it would take twice that amount, or about $48,000 to cover just the "basic expenses" of a family of four. 

Now, any family that can't pay for its basic expenses is a family living in poverty, therefore any such family of four that has a yearly income of less than $48,000 is, despite what the U.S. government says, poor and living in poverty.

The government likes to make a distinction between "poor" and "low income" but this is just a semantic game to try and hide the true level of economic deprivation Washington is willing to inflict on millions of children in order to avoid comprehensive welfare reform and realistic taxation polices directed at Wall Street and the 1 percent.

These figures for the four person family can be extrapolated across the board to all families of whatever composition to arrive at realistic figures regarding the number of children under 18 who are suffering in poverty. There are over 30 million such children living in poverty.

Scientists have determined that children living in poverty are liable to suffer permanent physical and mental handicaps which children who are not poor will not have to face. This means it is a national crisis when 44% of the nation's children
are not getting their basic needs met and face permanent life long damage due to the policies of their own government.

These facts are well known to our elected leaders and other policy makers in the government yet public awareness does not seem high. In the  recent televised debate of the Republican presidential candidates, for example, this national disgrace wasn’t even mentioned.

Due to the institutional racism perpetuated by the present economic and political system some minorities are disproportionately  affected by these figures. According to Science Daily  over 60 percent of Hispanic, Black, and Native American children are living in de facto poverty. [ “Four in 10 American children live in low-income families, new report shows,” SD 1-21-2015].

Reflecting on these figures SD quotes Renée Wilson-Simmons, National Center for Children in Poverty director, as saying “Far too many American children live in economically insecure families, and this serious threat to our nation’s future does not get the attention it deserves.” 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Poverty and Child Brain Damage

Poverty and Child Brain Damage
Thomas Riggins

Politicians love to tell us that we live in the richest and greatest country in the world despite the fact that our actual ranking when it comes to overall living standards and democratic rights is far from numero uno. We rank 23rd on the "Satisfaction with Life Index" (Cf. Wikipedia). But no one will get elected telling us we are the 23rd best über alles in the world. 

More to the point, when it comes to how we treat children, it's telling to find out that UNICEF ranks the U.S. at 34 out of 35 industrialized countries (we beat out Romania but eight other former east European socialist countries take better care of their children than we do)-- Washington Post 4-15- 2013.

It just so happens that 22% of children in the United States live in poverty and are apt to remain there as long as the Republicans and the right use their political power to cut welfare, food stamps, day care, education, feeding programs in schools, tax breaks for low income families, elimination of the sales tax for the poor, decent wages for working people, unemployment insurance, immigration reform, and continue to obstruct the right to vote and union organization with respect to minorities and working people.

What is particularly vile about the these right-wing anti-children policies is that scientists have shown that living in poverty has horrible consequences for the normal development of children's brains, damages their emotional health, and results in under achievement academically.

Scientists have shown, according  to Science Daily 7-22-15, (“Poverty’s most insidious damage is to a child’s brain”) that low income children living in poverty have mental lags and  abnormal development in their frontal and temporal lobes resulting in test scores 20 per cent lower than the norm for children not living in poverty. 

We should also note that the brain has not fully developed into a mature organ in humans until the mid 20s. The result of temporal lobe damage will impair normal comprehension and understanding of speech and frontal lobe impairment  will effect normal thinking, planning,  and decision making ability, personality development and moral and ethical comprehension and behavior  among other higher mental functions.

The information in this article from SD is based on the research reported by Dr. Seth Pollak et. al., in “Poverty’s most insidious damage: The developing brain” published in JAMA Pediatrics, July 2015.  Besides this article there is an editorial  by Dr. Joan A. Luby  of the Washington University School of Medicine, who says “early childhood interventions to support a nurturing environment for these children must now become our top public health priority for the good of all.” Dr Luby’s own research has also shown that the brains of children living in poverty can be damaged causing problems for the the rest of their lives.

What can be done to help these children? Should the government guarantee a minimum income to families with children to keep them above the poverty line? Should pressure be applied to the Republicans and other rightist politicians to drop their opposition to food stamps, free meals, and other programs designed to help the poor? Should these programs get more funding so that no child is left behind in poverty? 

It seems it is the job of the parents of the children in poverty to solve this problem (providing of course they didn’t grow up in poverty themselves and suffer some of the problems discussed in this article). Dr. Luby’s studies have shown that properly nurturing parents “can offset some of the negative effects” inflicted on the brains of poor children.

“Our research has shown,” Dr.Luby writes, “that the effects of poverty on the developing brain, particularly in the hippocampus [part of the temporal lobe] are strongly influenced by parenting and life stresses experienced by the children.”

This suggests that if  we teach nurturing skills to parents, especially poor parents,  then maybe the children will benefit.  This is something the fiscally responsible Republican Congress might be inclined to support. We really don’t have to make any radical social changes in the way the richest and greatest  country (or at least the 23rd such country) runs its social programs (or lack thereof) , we only have to encourage and teach better nurturing techniques to parents— this shouldn’t cost too much.

“In developmental science and medicine,” Dr. Luby wrote, “it is not often that the cause [poverty] and solution [better parenting] of a public health problem become so clearly elucidated. It is even less common that feasible and cost effective solutions [teach parents how to nurture] to such problems are discovered [maybe] and are within reach.” So cost effective that the 1% won’t even have to face a tax increase or the military a budget cut.

In closing we should consider what is happening to children all around the world. If the Numero Uno country has over 20% of its children facing permanent brain damage and life long mental disabilities as a result of childhood impoverishment  what is happening to the billions of children in the third world living in areas of armed conflict, as refugees, in countries with undeveloped and ruined economic conditions? How will future Greek children compete with their German counterparts
twenty years from now if the EU is still around?

One thing is certain. The current  dominant economic system in the world will not solve the problems of these children, and the problems of child poverty will not be cured by blaming them on poor parenting as the most loving and nurturing parents in the world cannot feed and nuture their children on words alone.

Decline of Earth's Plant Life Threatens Human Life as We Know It

"Decline of Earth's plant life threatens human life as we know it."
Thomas Riggins

A recent scientific study comparing the role of plants in the sustainability of life on Earth and the current rapid destruction of such life has convinced many scientists that human civilization and well-being will be placed in jeopardy. Rain forests and grass lands around the world are being destroyed at an alarming rate to make room for palm oil plantations, commercial crops of no intrinsic value (tobacco), and the practices of illegal logging for the furniture and lumber trades, and industrialized agriculture.

This  has led to a massive destruction of the total biomass of the planet  all of which is fueled by the immense profits available under capitalism for the private exploitation of natural resources at the expense of sustainable use and of preservation in the interests of environmental conservation for the common good of humanity. The drive for profits is led by major private and state owned capitalist enterprises which, in addition to using the political systems they encounter in many countries to get control of the resources they intend to plunder, also resort to bribery, corruption and other illegal operations in order to attain their ends.

  Dr. John Schramski, of the University of Georgia, has recently completed (as lead author) a study of the effects of the over exploitation of Earth’s plant biomass (Science Daily 7/15/15 “Continued destruction of Earth’s plant life places humans in jeopardy”). The rich and diverse animal and plant life of today is the result of several hundred million years of evolution that began when simple one celled organisms developed  which were able to chemically change the sunlight they received into useful energy which they could metabolize.

The fact that  plants can create their own “food” from sunlight allowed animals to evolve using plants as their source of food: indirectly feeding off of the sun. Dr. Schramski used the laws of thermodynamics (the physics of heat in relation to mechanical energy) to calculate the amount of chemical energy the plant world produces and the amount that humanity is at present consuming or destroying via the reduction of forests and other plant  environments.

“You can think of the Earth like a battery that has been charged very slowly over billions of years,” he said. “ The sun’s energy is stored in plants and fossil fuels, but humans are draining energy much faster than it can be replenished.”

In the last 2000 years human activity has reduced half of the battery charge (i.e., the biomass accumulated from living carbon over the last several million years). In just the last one hundred years about ten percent of that biomass was wiped out according to the article.  This destruction means the Earth has less and less energy  to keep the food webs and “biochemical balances” going upon which we all depend.

Dr. Schramski pointed out that, “As the planet becomes less hospitable and more people depend on fewer available energy options, their standard of living and very survival will become increasingly vulnerable to fluctions, such as droughts, disease epidemics and social unrest.”

If humans survive this accelerated loss of biomass Dr. Schramski, and his co-authors (James H. Brown and David Gattie) predict that our species will have to abandon our current civilization and return to hunting and gathering or simple gardening (i.e., a pre-neolithic life style), as populations will crash and large-scale industrial agriculture will be impossible. [Perhaps the world population, after the die off, will be about what it was in 10,000 B.C. or so (1 to 10 million people).]

Dr. Schramski says,” I’m not an ardent environmentalist; my training and my scientific work are rooted in thermodynamics. These laws are absolute and incontrovertible; we have a limited amount of biomass energy available on the planet, and once it’s exhausted, there is absolutely nothing to replace it.”

The scientists are hopeful that we can take the drastic measures needed to halt this downward spiral to the paleolithic or extinction. “I call myself a realistic optimist. I’ve gone through these numbers countless times looking for some kind of mitigating factor that suggests we’re wrong,” Dr. Schramski said,” but I haven’t found it.”

One glance at the US Congress should give us an idea where we are headed.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Reflections on China's South Sea Trouble

Reflections on China’s South Sea Trouble
Thomas Riggins

Lying in the South China Sea between Indochina and the Philippines is a collection of 700 or so small islands, reefs, atolls, shoals, and rocks which are all very scattered about and collectively known as the Spratly Islands (named after the British sea captain Richard Spratly, 1802-1870, who "discovered" them in the early 19th century).

The Europeans were, of course, not the first to come across this collection of rocks and mini-islands in the ocean. Though uninhabited they had been explored by and integrated into the Chinese Empire for centuries. Many centuries before there was even an England, let alone the United States, ancient Chinese maps had depicted these islands.

The Chinese were there on fishing expeditions during the Han Dynasty (Third Century B.C.). They appear on Qing (Manchu) Dynasty maps of the Empire dating from the early 17th Century but they were being regularly visited and mentioned in the literature of the Song, Yuan (Mongol) and Ming dynasties as well.

In the 19th Century China, Indochina, the Philippines, and the areas around the South China Sea were under European control. China was in no position to exert its claims in the islands. At this time the French claimed parts of them (from which the Vietnamese claim ultimately derives) due to French Indochina.

Nobody, other than the Chinese, seemed to care about these islands for many centuries but interest in them began to pick up in the second half of the last century. This interest is due to the prospects that undersea oil and gas deposits could be the source of wealth and energy and thus claims on the islands— or at least some of them — would allow the possessor to claim the territorial waters associated with the land.  So there are now five countries besides China (PRC) who have claims in the Spratly Islands.

It should be noted all the fuss over the Spratly islands involves pumping up hydrocarbons that should remain just where they are as our scientists tell us global warming is out of hand and this additional  supply should remain untapped and alternative sources of energy developed. This also applies to the arctic and all major undeveloped areas on both land and in the seas. Nevertheless, short sighted political entities will probably continue to develop these regions without any concern for the future consequences.

Who are the other five claimants to the Spratly islands in whole or in part? They are Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines.  I maintain that China, having the oldest connection with these islands (going back to the times of the Roman Empire in European terms) has the most justified claims and that if it decides to grant rights to others it should favor the claims of the Vietnamese first and foremost. 

I will deal with the Vietnamese claims last. First let’s deal with Taiwan. Taiwan claims the islands for the same reasons the PRC claims them since Taiwan, as the Republic of China (ROC), considers itself the successor state to the Chinese Empire. The PRC claims Taiwan is a province of China that will eventually be reunified with the mainland. The PRC claims simply absorb those of Taiwan and we don’t have to further consider them. 

Brunei has a partially submerged reef within its 200 mile limit (exclusive economic zone [EEZ]). Whether this reef is recognized as an ocean “rock” or an “island” will determine if Brunei gets to extend its sovereignty over additional areas of the South China Sea.  I think the Chinese could easily grant fishing rights to Brunei in areas beyond the 200 mile limit which it claims without having to acknowledge that this reef is an island. Since drilling for oil or gas is detrimental to the entire earth  Brunei’s  claim should be rejected if that is its intention. I will explain later why  it is more likely that China can be convinced not to drill in the Spratly’s than other claimants (excepting the Vietnamese).

The Philippines claims began in 1978 when the corrupt dictator Ferdinand Marcos issued a decree that parts of the Spratly islands  within his EEZ belonged to the Philippines. He then occupied some islands. If the Chinese claim has historical 
priority, however, the Philippine action would be invalidated. This claim should be decided in talks between the PRC and the current Philippine government.

Malaysia’s claim is based both on the position of  some of the islands are in its EEZ and the fact that they were unoccupied after World War II when the Japanese abandoned the Spratly Islands after their defeat. The PRC’s claim, of course, predates World War II and the fact that wars, colonialism, civil wars, the presence of hostile Western forces (the US Seventh Fleet) prevented the PRC from exercising its sovereignty  until recently does not automatically give other nations the right to claim these islands as abandoned or unowned. Malaysia and the PRC should engage in bilateral discussions to resolve this dispute.

Vietnam (SRV, Socialist Republic of Vietnam) which occupies Spratly Island itself among others, bases its claims on having taken over some islands after the French left Indochina and that the puppet government (US installed Republic of Vietnam) had put boundary markers on some islands, and that the Vietnamese Empire had claimed them as far back as the 1600s. Vietnam also says that the ancient claims made by China actually refer to those made by non-Chinese people who lived in what is today Northern Vietnam (yet this area was a province of China in ancient times.)

The SRV and the PRC have special responsibilities is resolving their disputes regarding the Spratly Islands; responsibilities that go far beyond legalistic arguments and interpretations of an international law system basically drawn up by colonial and imperialist powers to serve their interests. 

In the first place they both claim to be socialist countries and products of the Marxist- Leninist tradition, resulting from the Russian Revolution, regardless of the unique characteristics which the special historical and cultural developments of each nation has contributed to its form of socialist expression.

International working class solidarity is a basic element of their common socialist heritage and the interests of the Chinese and Vietnamese workers  should not appear to result  in antagonistic contradictions between  their governments. Such contradictions are indicative of leaders who are deviating from socialist principles. We have seen the damage such deviations have caused to the international socialist movement in the last century. It behooves the leaders of the PRC and SRV to resolve their contradictions in the spirit of working class solidarity and unity against the machinations of imperialism, especially U.S. imperialism, in the region.

The U.S. involvement is adventuristic and provocative with regard to the PRC’s activities in the island chain and on the same level with its provocations against Russia over NATO expansion in Eastern Europe and its attempt, along with the EU, to assert its interests in the Ukraine at the expense of Russian interests and those of millions of Ukrainians who wish to maintain friendly relations with both Russia and the EU. Here the U.S. seeks to drive a wedge between the PRC and its neighbors.

Since neither the PRC nor the SRV, in the interests of planetary survival, should be planning to extract hydrocarbons from the South China Sea, and both need to cooperate in finding alternative sources of energy, they should bilaterally resolve their rival claims in this region in the true spirit of working class internationalism by proportionally sharing in the economic development of the region and having a united policy on resolving their problems with the non socialist governments making claims in this area. They should be united in rejecting U.S. interference and saber rattling in the South China Sea as U.S. imperialism has a record of destabilizing areas (such as the Middle East and Ukraine) in order to justify military
spending at home and a divide and conquer foreign policy abroad.

These reflections have, no doubt, overlooked some significant issues involved in the current problems in the South China Sea but I think those problems could be subsumed within the framework of discussion suggested above. In any event, I think these reflections, or something very much like them, will be foundational
to understanding what is happening in this region.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Sin, Socialism, and Sacrilege

Sin, Socialism and Sacrilege
Thomas Riggins

In some ultraconservative circles as well as groups of  “Christians"  and other misguided religious zealots the issue of gay marriage has become the cause célèbre  du jour. [I use the term ‘misguided’ to refer to bigoted and backward thinking not in tune, in my view, with modern religious and philosophical opinions.]  I propose to discuss a typical article from the right casting aspersions upon the concept of gay marriage as a constitutional right that must be respected under the law and protected from bigoted attacks disguised as authentic religious beliefs claiming also to be constitutionally protected. I will attempt to demonstrate that gay marriages should be constitutionally protected and that no religious objections to it are worthy of respect on legal, ethical, or moral grounds.

The article in question is by an ultra-right political "journalist" Charlotte Allen and was published on May 1 on the op-ed page of The Wall Street Journal: "Modern Sin: Holding On to Your Belief." What is the belief at issue? Socialists and other progressives don't usually think in terms of "sin." The term "politically incorrect" is the one that we prefer. To hold on to, and act upon, discredited beliefs such as racism, sexism, fascism, xenophobic nationalism, chauvinisms of all kinds including religious chauvinisms, and certain kinds of behaviors that are dishonest, socially destructive of people's well being, and many more too numerous to list here are considered not to be politically correct [PC]. 

So the question to be addressed by the WSJ article should really be what beliefs are people holding on to, and acting upon, that are not PC and, in religious jargon, are "sins" against other human beings  and hurtful to them. If your notion of the deity includes the idea that It wants you to act in a hurtful way to other human beings, attacking their rights and happiness in order to make you feel better about your own, my article will hopefully convince you that you are wrong and have a false notion of what "sin" is all about. 

Ms. Allen’s article is a sympathetic account of the trials and tribulations of small business owners whose bigoted interpretation of religion has led them to discriminate against gay couples who wish to marry. Their arguments are not unlike those given a few generations  ago by those who also discriminated against interracial couples on religious grounds.

There are, Ms. Allen points out, a small group of [ misguided Christian] “bakers, florists, and photographers’’ who maintain that “their Christian beliefs in man-woman marriages preclude their providing services to same-sex marriages.” Well, “Christian beliefs” are also opposed to pagan ceremonies and polytheistic worship but they don’t seem to preclude people from baking, taking pictures or providing flowers for Hindu wedding ceremonies. There are “Christian beliefs” against divorce but are divorced people getting married again refused these services?

Businesses open to the public must serve the public in a non discriminatory way.
A misguided Christian restaurant owner is not entitled to tell a couple of same sex individuals they will not be served if he overhears that their meal is a wedding brunch. Or is he? This is the issue. Does freedom of religion include the freedom to discriminate and impose your beliefs on others in the public arena?

It seems that these “Christian” business people are committing acts of common bigotry under the guise of “acts of [selective] conscience.” Ms Allen supports the business people involved. She presents the case of a Southern Baptist florist who was fined for refusing to serve a gay wedding because she claimed to have a personal relationship with [an imaginary friend called] “Jesus” who, it appears, is anti-gay marriage. This defense against anti-discrimination laws did not impress the lower courts in Washington State and is now on appeal. Her case would be strengthened if she could present her friend as a witness. But I doubt “Jesus” will appear since his constituency includes both gay and non gay people which makes this not a question of “Christian” belief so much as one of personal interpretation.

Ms Allen thinks holding misguided “Christians” responsible for their bigoted actions (no one  should object to their  private or public beliefs only their public activities if they impinge upon the rights of others under the law) goes against former California Supreme Court Justice Ronald M.George’s statement that: “Affording same-sex couples the same opportunity to obtain the designation of marriage will not impinge upon the religious freedom of any religious organization, official or any other person.” Ms. Allen is, of course, wrong and the Judge is right.

“Religious freedom” is not absolute in the U.S. It is freedom to practice your religion under the law. For instance, American Muslims don’t have the freedom to marry four wives, people can’t practice human sacrifice, people of one sect are not free to behead those of a different sect, and Amish elders don’t have the right to debeard their opponents, and people considered to be heretics, sacrilegious, or blasphemous cannot be burned at the stake or otherwise dispatched.

 All of these practices are, be it noted, sincerely held religious beliefs, some of them by Christians, and to the list should be added discriminatory practices and hateful deeds directed against gay people or any other subsections of society which lawfully seek to enjoy life and peacefully practice their beliefs and life styles in ways not detrimental to the legally protected rights of others.

 Businesses serving the public whether they be caterers, bakeries, florist shops, photo stores and studios, wedding planners or any business permitted to engage in services by the state should not, and generally cannot, discriminate against people based on their race, religion (or lack of religion), sex, gender preferences, ethnic origins, looks or age, etc. This means that individuals or groups, including institutionalized religious organizations cannot engage in discriminatory practices against others based on their own shared and practiced beliefs and feelings. They can do as they please as long as it is legally permitted and does not infringe upon the legal rights of others. If there are existing laws permitting such discriminatory actions they must be repealed.

If you have a sincerely held religious belief that same sex marriage is immoral and against the will of God (although God is quite capable I should think to see to it that his will is not violated without any help from humans)  then no one can force you to marry someone of the same sex. It is wrong, however, for you to seek to prevent others from engaging in same sex marriage or refuse to serve them if you have a business open to the public.

Ms. Allen fears that if the Supreme Court finds that gay marriage is a constitutional right  then a “persecution of Christians” will follow. All that will follow is that Christians, and others, who have a long history of persecutions against others themselves will find it more difficult, if not impossible, to engage in the hate crimes and discriminatory behavior against gay people that they believe their Imaginary deity requires of them. I say “imaginary” because no purportedly perfect and good deity would countenance such behavior and truly religious persons should consider it a sacrilege to believe otherwise.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Conclusion: Fateful Steps That Led to the Crisis in Ukraine (Part Two)

Fateful Steps That Led to the Crisis in Ukraine (Part Two: Conclusion)
Thomas Riggins

This article picks up where Part One left off and explains in more detail the two conceptions of Ukrainian statehood discussed by Richard Sakwa in his new book Frontline Ukraine

First the 'monist' conception of Ukraine. In this view Ukrainian culture and statehood had been held back for the past several hundred years. In fact, ever since the Treaty of Pereyaslavl of 1654. This was a treaty between the ruler of much of what is now Ukraine and Russia in which Russian suzerainty became established. A program of Russification had been undertaken in the 1800s. Basing themselves on the primacy of the Ukrainian language as the official national language the monists seek to undo the Russification they think has been imposed on them in the past. This will entail their imposing monist values in turn on those segments of the population not sufficiently infused with their version of Ukrainian nationalism-- especially those who speak Russian as their first and preferred language.

One of the major influences on this outlook was Dmytro Dontsov (1883-1973). Dontsov had been a Marxist in his youth but morphed into an ultra-right Ukrainian nationalist after the Bolshevik revolution in Russia. He became a Russophobe who wanted Ukraine to become a major nation on the European model. Sakwa quotes him as follows: we want, "unity with Europe, under all circumstances and at any price -- that is the categorical imperative of our foreign policy."

The most important monist organization was (and is) the OUN (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists) a home spun fascist group which has integrated the teaching of Dontsov into their ideology. Dontsov was never a member but he wrote for them and provided a fascist outlook of his own creation distilled from the Italian and German (NAZI) models he had studied.

The OUN’s ideology is based on something called “integral nationalism.” This ideology views the nation as an organic whole— the state is supreme and superior to the individual. There is a supreme leader, a totalitarian one party state, and hostility to all forms of socialism (especially communism) as well as to bourgeois democracy. The Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine describes it as follows : “The nationalists insisted on the primacy of will over reason, action over thought, and practice over theory. Their doctrine of nationalism was infused with aspects of the irrational, voluntaristic, and vitalistic theories popularized in Western Europe by such philosophers as Henri Bergson, Friedrich Nietzsche, Gustave Le Bon, Georges Sorel, and Oswald Spengler. In the place of objective scientific discovery the nationalists propagated myths and favored an ideologically ‘correct’ image of the Ukrainian past.”

 The same source describes their political program as follows: “The political order of the future Ukrainian state was to consist of a one-party system and would be based on a principle of supreme leadership (vozhdyzm). There would be only one political organization, which would consist of a supraclass of ‘better people.’ The state [i.e., the OUN] structure would be formed from a hierarchy of leaders under the supreme leader (vozhd), who would function both as leader  of the movement and head of state. Propaganda and educational materials for young cadres would consistently underline the role and authority of the leader.”

In the late 1930s Stepan Bandera became the leader of the OUN. During World War II the OUN alternated between working with the German occupation and participating in the massacre of Jews, Poles, and Russians, and fighting against it, depending on its perceptions as to whether or not the Germans would go along with an independent OUN run Ukraine or not. In 1943 Bandera’s followers massacred 70,000 Poles the majority of whom were unarmed men, women, and children (the future Ukrainian state was for Ukrainians). This mass killing took place in Volyn in the Western Ukraine. Also, Sakwa says, by 1945 the OUN had, in Eastern Galicia, killed 130,000. Many people had their eyes gouged out (including women and children) and were then hacked to death. This was the fate of suspected “informers” and their families.

This was massive ethnic cleansing. Russians and Jews were also targeted. One can perhaps understand why many Russian speakers in the eastern Ukraine took up arms in 2014 when they saw the flags of the OUN proudly displayed in Kiev after the overthrow of the elected government.

After WWII the OUN kept fighting against the forces of the USSR and People’s Poland until 1949. Bandera had been imprisoned by the Germans during the war when he was no longer useful and had started to fight against them when he saw they would not support an OUN run independent Ukraine but had been released towards the end of the war to fight against the USSR.  He stayed on in West Germany and was eventually hunted down and assassinated by the KGB in 1959. 

When Ukraine became independent in 1991 liberal-democratic forms of government and a market economy began to replace the Soviet forms that preceded them, but they have not really taken root. It turned out that all the old animosities and contradictions from the past had not been overcome but had only lain dormant.

After 2007 statues in honor of Bandera started cropping up in cities in the western Ukraine. The home grown fascism and ethnic hatred of the OUN was on the march again. The Maidan demonstrations in early 2014, which led to the overthrow of the legally elected Ukrainian government, even witnessed 15,000 people marching in celebration of Bandera’s 105th birthday. The Svoboda Party, a neo-fascist mass party tinged with anti-semitism along with the Fatherland Party of Yulia Tymoshenko (a right-wing anti-Russian pro NATO nationalist mass party) both supported this commemoration of the former Nazi ally and war criminal.

The Russian speakers in the eastern Ukraine who saw the Soviet era in a positive light were shocked. They were the core of the original Soviet Ukraine to which much of the western Ukraine was added as new territory after WWII and which had been been ruled until then as parts of other European states (Czechoslovakia, Romania, Poland). These new areas are part of the heartland of the OUN and are permeated with fascist ideology left over from their pre Soviet experiences. It is in these troubled waters that US imperialism and its NATO puppets are currently fishing.

Sakwa sees the core of the problem between the Donbas area rebellion (eastern Ukraine) and the western Ukrainian integral nationalists as primarily ideological. The Kiev government and rebels represent opposite world views. Basically, Kievian monism has an idealized conception of a pure Ukrainian nationalism that must be imposed on the country. It denies the reality on the ground of a pluralistic national population and seeks to make reality conform to its vision rather than adapt its political outlook to reality. (Sakwa points out this is also going on in the Baltic states.)

So what does the pluralist view entail? Due to all the changes in the boundaries of Ukraine over the last hundred years or so— territories switching back and forth due to wars and then to governmental policies-- the borders of the Ukraine today are very different than they were before WWII. 

There are other peoples, nationalities and languages in Ukraine besides the Ukrainians (even though they are the vast majority). About 78% of the people are Ukrainian, 17% Russian and 5% are others (about seventeen different ethnic groups). About 7 million Russians live in the country and they want their language and customs respected— as do the other ethnic groups as well. [The 2.4 million people in the Crimea are included in the above breakdown.]

The official national language is Ukrainian with 18 regional or territorial languages also recognized. The pluralists want Russian also recognized as a national language while also agreeing that Ukrainian has pride of place— i.e., should be taught to all. 

As Sakwa puts it, “The pluralist model argues that all the people making up contemporary Ukraine have an equal stake in the development of the country, and thus opposes the nationalizing strain, although without repudiating some of its concerns.”

The reason there is a rebellion going on in parts of the eastern Ukraine is that the extreme nationalists who are in the western Ukraine (although monists and pluralists are to be found everywhere they do predominate in some regions) feel that since they are the majority they can force their views on all the other people in Ukraine (the others are not “true” Ukrainians).

As V. Goldstein writes (pointed out by Sakwa) in Forbes magazine (5/19/14) “the culture, language and political thinking of western Ukraine have been imposed  upon the rest of Ukraine.” Dr. Goldstein (who teaches Slavic studies at Brown University) also explains why this imposition was attempted (rebellion was the backlash): “the objective has been to humiliate and put down Ukraine’s Russian speaking population. The radical nationalists of western Ukraine, for whom the rejection of Russia and its culture is an article of faith, intend to force the rest of the country to fit their narrow vision.”

It is this vision, with its roots in irrationalism, fascism and the anti-Semitism and ethnic massacres  of  WWII, that President Obama, Secretary of State Kerry and NATO along with the leaders of the EU, as well  our domestic right wing jingoists and puppet mass media are defending as “democracy, freedom, and national sovereignty.”  Blut und Bodin.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Fateful Steps That Led to the Crisis in Ukraine (Part One)

Fateful Steps That Led to the Crisis in Ukraine (Part One)
Thomas Riggins

The crisis that struck Ukraine last year-- the overthrow of the elected president, the Russian annexation of Crimea, the rebellion in the Russian speaking eastern provinces— was the result of problems that had been festering, not only in Ukraine but all along the former frontiers of the USSR since the end of the cold war and the collapse of eastern European socialism over twenty some years previously. 

There were many pressure points and areas of potential conflict along this defunct border. Over the years they became more and more exacerbated mainly as a result of the triumphalist attitude of the US and its allies over the end of the Cold War which they considered as a "victory" of their side over the Russians and their allies.

Meanwhile the Russians and their remaining close allies had considered the end of the Cold War as a cooperative undertaking in which, with western help, the leadership of the USSR would dismantle the Warsaw Pact and replace state socialism with a European style market economy thus eliminating the threat of nuclear war and allowing for the eventual flourishing of a united European civilization stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

The "we won, you lost" attitude assumed by the US (and its NATO puppet) along with the EU has led to economic and political actions the Russians and their allies believe threaten their interests and rights. This is the theses of professor Richard Sakwa of Kent University (UK) in his new book Frontline Ukraine. This article will attempt to highlight the fateful steps that have led to the current crisis as professor Sakwa annunciated them (any misinterpretations or errors are mine).

One of the major steps was the growth of NATO right up to borders of Russia after the Russians had been given assurances by the US that that would not happen. The US now argues that the growth of  NATO  was necessary due to the 
security problems along its borders. This overlooks the fact that it is the new borders that are the location of these problems. As Sakwa puts it, “NATO’s existence became justified by the needs to manage the security threats provoked by its enlargement.” This kind of mendacious logic is typical of the US ’s (and to a lesser extent the EU’s) dealings with Russia. Echoed by the corporate media in the US, it is one of the main reasons the American people are ignorant of the true causes of the Ukraine crisis and for their antipathy toward Russia.

The reason there are so many problems between the US (and its satellites) and Russia is because there are many systemic contradictions between them left over from the end of the Cold War and there has been little, if any, attempt by the West to  seriously try to resolve them by good faith negotiations. When a problem boils over, as in the Ukraine (and earlier in Georgia), all the blame is put on Russia and the solution is framed as the need for the US and the West to make the Russians back down. This, Sakwa points out, only makes the contradictions between the interests of the Russians and the US side worse. 

A major consideration with regard to the West’s relations with Russia is that after the collapse of the USSR Russia was economically in turmoil and politically weak. The West could pretty much do as it wanted as Russia, as well as Ukraine, were dominated by corruption, oligarchs calling the shots, and the need to concentrate on internal problems not foreign affairs.

Russia  was able to economically benefit during the early years of the 2000s, due to high profits of oil, and Putin was able, despite democratic short comings, to curtail the power of the oligarchs, reassert state ownership in many strategic areas of the economy, and reinvigorate the Russian economy and state. This allowed the Russians to reengage in foreign affairs and begin to reassert their perceived interests vis a vis those of the West once they realized it was not part of the West’s intentions to work in partnership with them to peacefully resolve contradictions to the mutual benefit of all concerned. If not a cold war the US was starting a “Cool War.” In contrast Ukraine remained mired in corruption and the control of oligarchs
despite a democratic facade.

Another important point made by Sakwa concerns the makeup of the Ukrainian nation. There are two contradictory views which he calls the monistic and pluralistic views. In short, the monistic view, held by the Ukrainian government and the ultra nationalist faction which dominates western Ukraine is that the country is a unique cultural whole bound together by its national language which has its own historical destiny to fulfill as part of the European continuum and is thus more closely bound to the EU than to Russia which is seen as an alien foreign influence.

The pluralistic view, which dominates in the eastern Russian speaking Ukraine, maintains that the peoples of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine are related by a common cultural ancestry born of their participation in a common early state and religion (orthodox Christianity since 988 AD). The common state (Kievian Rus) was destroyed by the Mongol invasion in 1240, nevertheless the common cultural unity persists and the three peoples are more closely bound to one another than to the EU and its people. This is admittedly simplified and Sakwa will expand upon it later.

Surveys and polls show that as late as 2005 around 67% of eastern Russian speaking Ukrainians identified with Ukraine as their country and there was no great feeling to join with Russia or become independent. There were major problems, however, which included worries and complaints about the status and use of Russian, negative attitudes towards NATO and no desire to identify with Europe and the West at the expense of Russia. 

All of these issues could have been dealt with democratically within Ukraine by means of parliamentary processes and constitutional guarantees. What has led to the present crisis in Ukraine was the perception by the Russian speaking east that the undemocratic overthrow of the elected government in February 2014 brought to power ultra-nationalist forces that were seeking to force their views on the east and that eastern concerns, beliefs, and rights were being ignored and even abrogated.

This eastern crisis is a separate issue from the Crimea. The Russians in the Crimea were never happy about being separated from Russia due to the fact that in 1954 the USSR transferred the area to Ukrainian administration for purposes of cost efficiency. No one then even dreamed of the possibility that the Crimea would be cut off from Russia in an independent Ukraine. Sakwa points out that the Crimea, after all, "is the heartland of Russian nationhood." 

The annexation of the peninsula  by Russia was welcomed by the majority of people living there and while its return to its motherland set off the storm that has now descended upon US and European relations with Russia (totally provoked by the West and its backing of the overthrow of the constitutional government of Ukraine) it is unlikely to be reversed. The issues in the eastern provinces of Ukraine have to be settled independently of those of the Crimea which is now a part of Russia and likely to remain so. (To be continued.)