Corruption and Poverty in Bulgaria

Still from "Glory."

Still from “Glory.”

One of the more important developments cinematically over the past decade has been the emergence of social criticism films in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc. Generally, the films focus on the continuation of elite privileges under new neoliberal regimes. One of the more remarkable Russian films is Yury Bykov’s “The Fool” that I reviewed for CounterPunch in 2015 and that thankfully can now be seen on Youtube. The fool is a plumber named Dima studying construction engineering who after seeing cracks in the building where he works and lives concludes that they can widen to the point of bringing down the building over the heads of everybody within it. When he brings the emergency to the attention of local officials who don’t want to spend a penny on evacuating the tenants, they launch a vendetta to crush him and cover up their shady deals that led to the defects in the first place.

Bykov has described his film as a treatment of the central dilemma facing his country: conscience versus survival. Now playing at the Film Forum in New York is a Bulgarian film titled “Glory” that is closely related to Bykov’s film thematically. Like Nima, Tzanko Petrov (Stefan Denolyubov) is a humble worker—a railway lineman who we first see setting his watch meticulously to a radio announcement before going off to work. This is important because linemen must be aware of the exact time to the second to avert oncoming trains.

After synchronizing his watch, Petkov meets up with his co-workers on the railroad tracks they are assigned to maintain. Walking a few dozen or so yards ahead of them, he stumbles across a most remarkable find: millions of dollars in Bulgarian currency strewn across the tracks—its origin unknown. Unlike the rest of his crew or most Bulgarians for that matter, Petkov thought the natural thing to do was contact the police.

His altruistic act turned him into an instant celebrity, something that the state railway corporation—the Bulgarian Amtrak in effect—decided to turn to its advantage. The head of its PR department is a woman named Julia Staykova (Margita Gosheva) who is the quintessential post-Communist hustler. Her main interest is to make an amalgam of this most unusual worker’s idealistic behavior with that of the crooked top executives she serves.

When she goes out with a cameraman to interview Petkov, she is disconcerted to learn that he is a very bad stutterer. Her plans to turn him into a photogenic icon are thwarted by this as well as his overgrown beard that she urges him to trim. She is also not very happy with his shabby clothing. Why couldn’t this hero be more attentive to superficial details? When Staykova returns to her office, she and her underlings laugh at a tape of the interview. They agree with her boss that his stuttering practically outweighs his strengths as a human being but they are stuck with him anyhow.

Next on the PR agenda is to stage a ceremony where Petkov will receive some meaningless awards. Before the cameras roll, he sits next to the director of the railway company who will bestow the awards. Petkov cannot resist letting him in on what the average worker thinks, at least an honest one. He asks why the workers are owed back pay and when will they receive it. He also offers information about theft of railway resources by employees such as selling purloined locomotive diesel fuel on the black market. The director squirms uncomfortably waiting for the ceremony to begin. Where did Petkov get the nerve to bring up such nettlesome questions? Didn’t he understand that when it comes to conscience versus survival, it is survival that must be victorious?

At part of the ceremony, Petkov is to receive a new watch to replace his Slava (Glory), a keepsake from his father whose dedication is engraved on the back of the dial and one he has relied on for his work as a lineman. The Slava watch-making factory was established in the Soviet Union in 1924 and perhaps might be a symbol of the proletarian solidarity that men and women like Petkov foolishly still believe in.

Petkov grudgingly puts his watch in Staykova’s care while the director presents him with a cheap, brand-new watch that does not even keep accurate time. Meanwhile, Staykova misplaces the watch and keeps putting Petkov off as he grows increasingly worried over the possible loss of an heirloom that also has such practical value. The clash eventually spills over into the corruption issues that Petkov raised with the director to the point of turning him into a victim of forces deeply rooted in the Bulgarian bureaucratic capitalist machine dedicated to survival rather than conscience.

“Glory” is a tremendous film and likely to make it my best of 2017 feature films. It is also one that puts a spotlight on the discontent that is ripping apart the fabric of eastern Europe society. In 2013, protestors blockaded the Bulgarian parliament in protest of the corruption that “Glory” dramatized. The NY Times reported:

Metodi Litsev, 34, who has participated in the protests, compared them to clashes in Turkey and the Occupy movement, saying, “If there weren’t protests in Taksim or Wall Street, we might not have found the moral example to seek our emancipation.”

As it happens, this protest movement ebbed just as it has in the USA. Elections were held a couple of weeks ago that resulted in a victory for the incumbent GERB party (“Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria”) that is roughly equivalent to the party in power in Kiev and that stepped down in 2013 because of the street protests. Its leader is one Boyko Borisov, a former Communist whose claim to fame is mastery of the martial arts and playing soccer. Historically, many wrestlers, martial arts experts and secret agents with such skills had been pampered under Communism. Once the system collapsed, they became unemployed just like samurai warriors during the Meiji Restoration. Many like Borisov became politicians while others went to work for organized crime. As GERB’s leader, Borisov emphasized the need to end corruption in Bulgaria. Journalists have dismissed this as purely for show since he has been linked both to the Bulgarian mafia and white-collar criminals like the railway chief in “Glory”.

How bad is corruption and poverty in Bulgaria? Bad enough to drive ten men to self-immolation in 2013 as the protest movement was at its height, just like the Tunisian fruit vendor Tarek Bouazizi in January 2011. Vice Magazine reported on the self-immolation epidemic in 2013 :

Some say the inspiration for it all was a 36-year-old photographer named Plamen Goranov, who burned himself on February 20 in front of City Hall in Varna, a resort city on the country’s Black Sea coast. According to investigative journalists, Varna’s commerce is controlled by a business group called TIM, which the former US ambassador to Bulgaria, James Pardew, accused of racketeering, prostitution, and extortion in a 2005 diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks. TIM, he said, was the “up-and-coming star of Bulgaria’s organized crime.” Plamen set himself on fire to protest TIM’s alleged relationship with Varna’s mayor, Kiril “Kiro” Yordanov. Before he set his body aflame, he propped up a sign demanding the “resignation of Kiro and all the city council by 5 PM.”

Can Bulgaria’s Socialist Party bring such misery to an end? This party emerged out the country’s ruling Communist Party that renamed and remodeled itself after the system collapsed in 1989. Whether it has much to do with Scandinavian type social democracy is open to question. Most Bulgarians would probably liken it to Greece’s Syriza.

Then there is Bulgaria’s Donald Trump, a businessman named Veselin Mareshki. Like GERB, he represents himself as an enemy of corruption. He calls his new party Will, maybe having Leni Riefenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will” in the back of his mind. The NY Times described him as “a blunt-talking anvil of a populist who preaches patriotism, strict immigration controls, friendlier relations with Moscow and, above all, the need to ‘sweep away the garbage’ of a corrupt political establishment.”

If I were a Bulgarian, I’d shy away from GERB, the former Stalinist party and their Donald Trump. What’s the alternative? I’d say young people who exemplify the values of the fictional hero of “Glory” as well as the directors of that film.

Review: Nadeem Aslam’s “The Golden Legend”

Nadeem Aslam’s passionate condemnation of Islamic extremism in The Golden Legend ought to answer the question of where are the Muslim critics of fundamentalism. In four earlier novels, Aslam (who is Pakistani) has stood, almost single-handedly, as the voice of reason, writing about a troubled area of the world still almost totally misunderstood by the West. He’s a brilliant novelist, one of two or three truly great writers in the world today. His work reminds me of Orhan Pamuk at an earlier stage of his career. And, yes, like Pamuk, Nadeem Aslam ought to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. There’s a president for this because Pamuk was in his early fifties, in 2006, when he was recognized with the award. Aslam has just entered his fifties.

Let me be clear that Aslam is equally harsh in his indictment of the West and what it has done (and continues to do) in the Islamic world. The Golden Legend begins during an innocent moment in a fictive city named Zamana, in Pakistan, when school children are on the streets, in a human chain, moving books from an old library to a new one.  “The majority of the library’s books had already been taken to the new premises. The volumes in the Islamic section were the ones that would be moved this morning. Since each one of these texts contained the names of Allah or Muhammad somewhere, it had been decided they should be taken from one building to the other by hand. In a truck or cart the risk was too great of something coming into contact with uncleanliness.”

Massud and his wife Nargis (who are both in their fifties and architects) observe the human chain of children transferring the books, but then, suddenly, a vehicle driven by a Westerner stops near-by. The children look at the white man curiously. Then a motorcycle drives up and a shooting match begins that results in Massud’s as well as several other bystander’s deaths. How ironic that just before he died, Massud had been handed a large book he recognized as having been “written by his father, [and] published the year Massud was born.” The Westerner survives and frantically begins making calls on his cell phone.

From this incident of street terrorism, Aslam will build a complex narrative involving Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, the government’s complicity with the CIA, the conflicts between Muslims and Christians, and—above all—books, literature, and their influence on human lives. Contextually, in an interview, Aslam has explained the inspiration for his novel. While he was still writing his previous novel, The Blind goldenlegendMan’s Garden, “the governor of the Punjab province in Pakistan…was murdered by his bodyguard. The governor had objected to Pakistan’s blasphemy law, a law that is being misused. You can go to a police station and say I heard my neighbor say something rude about God or Muhammad, and the police arrest the neighbor and you can move into his house. Innocent people are dead or in jail because of that law.”

The abuse of the blasphemy law is carefully woven into the structure of The Golden Legend. First, the government asks the families of the people murdered on the street by the American to forgive him so that he can be sent home. Nargis is intimidated by a man from the country’s intelligence services who wants her to agree to this plan. She was born a Christian, and although she accepted Islam when she married Massud, she never told him about her Christian past. The intelligence man roughs her up and later threatens her with exposure. Massud and Nargis for years have employed a Christian family to work for them. The wife, whose name was Grace, was murdered, some years ago, and her husband, Lily, has begun a secret liaison with a Muslim woman, who has also lost her spouse. Such an arrangement is obviously forbidden. The imam of the local mosque has recently begun making announcements, identifying people who have broken the blasphemy laws. Lily, after being accused of sexual relations with the Muslim woman, has to run for his life, and during his flight a riot erupts that results in the deaths of several other Christians in the city’s minority community.

To complicate things even more, Helen (Grace and Lily’s twenty-year-old daughter) also begins a relationship that bridges religious differences. After the riot, both Helen and her father become wanted suspects with posters of their faces plastered throughout the city. When tensions heat up, the intelligence man threatens Nargis with death because she has sheltered Lily and his daughter. Obviously, there is no way this story can end happily, especially the tensions between the Muslims and the Christians. Aslam develops these conflicts in seemingly insignificant, minor incidents that act as counterbalance to the more significant threats against the novel’s main characters. For example, a boy who looks as if he might be ten years old, approaches Helen with a knife, threatening to stab her. When Helen asks what he is doing, the child responds, “I have to see [if] Christians have black blood.” These are the kind of details that Aslam adds to his story, seemingly minor but horrible in their implications.

There are dozens of similar brief incidents, illustrating Muslim misunderstandings and stereotypes of Christians /Westerners. The same holds true for Western views of Muslims. The ignorance of the each other has emerged from centuries of prejudice, intolerance, and a continued lack of curiosity about the Other. I’d also call it a failure of our religious and educational constructs. It’s much easier to hide within one’s prejudices than confront them with reason. To the remark that Islam is not compatible with the modern world, a policeman in the story remarks, “There is only one place where Islam and the modern world can meet—and that’s the battlefield.” Shockingly, it appears that current residents of the White House and their advisors also support this statement and—worse—want to hasten the day of reckoning. If this is the way our most powerful leaders act, what hope is there for the common man?

The novel addresses not only Muslim/Western conflicts of ideology and theology but also the centuries of tensions between Hindus and Muslims. In one of the most disturbing vignettes in the novel, after they have caught a Christian (accused of blasphemy), Muslim police stand around him in a circle and shoot him with their guns, believing that killing an infidel will take them to paradise. “All their lives they had lied, deceived, been envious, neglected prayers and fasts, and had disrespected their elders and brutalised innocent fellow Muslims and engaged in sordid acts, they had struck women, they had sodomised children, they had stolen from the sick and the hungry—and here was salvation, the instant guarantee of Paradise.” Isn’t this also the logic of the suicide bomber? (In The Blind Man’s Garden, Alsam exposed the duplicity of this practice by noting that imams do not pick their own children for such acts.)

Finally, there is the question of literature, books, that permeates the entire novel, beginning with the students passing books to one another as they are moved to the new library. The 987 page book, That They Might Know One Another, that Massud was holding when he was shot, written by his father, was a history of mankind’s ability to live in tolerance in spite of our differences, “the hidden or forgotten contributions that one set of humans had made towards the happiness and knowledge of another. Traditions and histories had always mingled, and nothing in the East or the West was ever pure.” Nargis took the book (which was illustrated) home with her. When the intelligence officer came to visit her several days later and convince her to pardon the American who shot her husband, and when he sensed that she would not accept his offer, he took out a knife and began mutilating the book, cutting out illustrations of human figures (which Islam forbids) and destroying the binding. His intent is clear: we can also destroy people if they do not do what we want.

All that happens early in the story, shortly after Massud is killed. And afterwards, Nargis, and Helen, and Helen’s Muslim lover will slowly repair the book’s binding, using golden thread to restore the beloved volume to what it was. Nargis reflects on the incident repeatedly, one time musing, “Some things were more beautiful and valuable for having been broken.” Late in the novel, Lily (who is illiterate) will remember what Helen told him on one occasion, “When Genghis Khan’s forces invaded Zamana in 1221, the commander had ordered every book in the city to be burned….” Books, the written word, are a force to destroy ignorance, bigotry, and prejudice. No wonder that one of the first thing dictators do is destroy them. How chilling that sentence is today when we live in the country where the president does not read books and believes that the National Endowment for the Arts and the Humanities, and NPR, ought to be eliminated.

Nadeem Aslam’s The Golden Legend is a magical book, but also a pragmatic one, offering hope in the face of violence and tragedy, bigotry, and intolerance. Aslam’s writing is lyrical and expansive, luminescent, replete with stunningly beautiful passages. His characters resist oppression, growing in strength and dignity as they refuse to bend to hateful authority. Aslam dares to write about the forces that, if left unchecked, will destroy the world. Not everything is ugly or hopeless. As he tells us, even a damaged rose still has perfume.

Nadeem Aslam: The Golden Legend
Knopf, 319 pp., $27.95

 

MOAB Music

“The earth felt like a boat in a storm,” Mohammad Shahzadah said after the Mother of All Bombs hit the Achin district in Nangarhar province in Afghanistan yesterday after evening prayers. The Guardian reported Shahzadah saying that, “I thought my house was being bombed. Last year a drone strike targeted a house next to mine, but this time it felt like the heavens were falling. The children and women were very scared.”

Joseph Haydn’s rousing chorus from his oratorio The Creation proclaimed that “The Heavens are Telling.”  Of What? “God and His glory.” The Afghan heavens were both falling and telling of the awesome power and wrathful glory of the United States of America.

Such cataclysms, both “natural” (e.g., earthquakes and hurricanes) and unnatural (the Mother of All Bombs), cannot be represented in words or in music.  Yet many composers have tried, most often conjuring biblical plagues and disasters in dramatic religious music that would instruct, elevate, warn, and terrify the faithful and the faithless.

From God’s fury on earth manifested in hurricanes and fires to the final cataclysm of the Last Judgment, musicians were long charged with painting vivid tableaux of death and destruction. Nowadays we often witness on television catastrophic events unfolding in real time, though no such footage is yet available of the MOAB. Before the advent of instantaneous mass media, newspapers could describe events and disseminate information soon after the fact, but the job of evoking visceral reactions to distant battles, earthquakes, typhoons, and tidal waves was left to the politicians, preachers and composers.

During his Italian sojourn Handel commemorated the Roman earthquakes of 1703 in his Marian cantatas of 1708, spurring terror, awe, and sympathy with his gifts for depicting the unpredictable natural world in musical sound; a half century later, Handel would portray another earthquake at the outset of his most famous work, Messiah.

The Donnerode (Thunder Ode) by Handel’s friend, George Philipp Telemann, responded to the greatest natural disaster of the eighteenth century, the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. Telemann’s musical mission was not only to give the listeners a charge of fright through timpani tattoos and terrifying violin bolts presaging the apocalypse, but also to loosen the pocketbooks of his audience so as to aid the Portuguese victims. Some of the music was meant to elicit compassion, but the more effective money-raiser was terror, as in the duet for two basses rumbling “he thunders.” The low pair of voices trembles furiously amidst the shrieks of the organ and orchestra and the shuddering of the kettledrum. Such frightening passages had people envisioning the distant devastation in their own minds, scenes even more frightening since they feared that God’s wrath might be turned against them and their own sins.

As Handel, Telemann and other pictorially talented composers demonstrated, music could conjure scenes of disaster, especially when there was a separate program or explicit relation to a recent cataclysm. Musical works, even when equipped with a text, were by definition indefinite, a trait that could prove to be an advantage when evoking distant catastrophes. Music has an unmatched capacity for sparking that most transgressive of human faculties: the imagination.

Telemann’s impetus for composing his Donnerode had been charitable. But thrill of the works’ sublime terror made it a huge favorite in Hamburg. In 1760 Telemann responded to this popularity by equipping the oratorio with a sequel, second part. Musical depictions of the supposed glories of war and the terrors of natural disasters easily take on an aesthetic and economic life of their own.

While composers sought to imitate the natural world at its most furious and vengeful, music was also deployed for the cause not just of commemorating wars, but also of making it. Sonic technology was deployed on the field of combat to organize troops, as in the fife and drum corps of the British Grenadiers (depicted with chilling detachment by Stanley Kubrick in his 1975 film, Barry Lyndon, and in the Janissary bands of the Ottoman Turks that struck terror into the hearts of their European adversaries and led composers such as Mozart to appropriate these exotic strains for their own operatic and orchestral entertainments.

In contrast to Kubrick’s cool, the great Beethoven went for bombast in his Wellington’s Victory, a fifteen-minute orchestral work the marked the British triumph at the Battle of Vitoria in Spain against Bonaparte’s forces in 1812. Wellington’s Victory was wildly popular in its day before it came to be seen as meretricious and was overshadowed by composer’s own symphonies, especially the turbulent and ultimately triumphant Fifth. Yet the music historian Nicholas Mathew has shown in his brilliant 2013 book, Political Beethoven, that the two pieces have much more in common musically and ideologically than purist Ludwig worshippers would like to admit. Present-day reenactors and concert-organizers sometimes light up Beethoven’s musical battle scenery with real firepower, as in a Nighttime Prom concert from Highclere Castle mounted in 2013, the bicentennial of Wellington’s Victory.

While musical instruments were used to evoke the sounds of armed conflict, the instruments of war could, conversely, be endowed with their own violent music. Nothing was louder in the pre-industrial world than the din of battle, and imagining martial mayhem-makers as music-makers was both strangely calming and emboldeningly unsettling.

Thus the largest artillery pieces of the eighteenth century like those leveled at the church spires of Dresden by Frederick the Great in 1760 in the midst of the Seven Years’ War were called Sängerinnen—the word for female singers.

These siren siege-makers rained their song down on the magnificent dome of the Frauenkirche, the very symbol of the city, called the Florence on the Elbe.  Intent on breaking the spirit of the inhabitants, Frederick had, according to an English traveller who arrived in the city a decade after the attack, pointed his cannons at the city’s proudest landmark:  “The King of Prussia, in his last bombardment of Dresden, tried every means in his power to beat this church … but in vain, for the orbicular form of the dome threw off the balls and shells, and totally prevented their effect.” The dropping of some 650,000 bombs on the city by Allied forces in February of 1945 effected the destruction Frederick could not achieve.  The church was reconstructed in 2005, the blackened stones of the post-war rubble heap built into the façade as a reminder of the destruction.

Canon in German is Kanone—a feminine noun. It therefore made grammatical sense for eighteenth-century soldiers to refer to the beast with the word for female singer. Comparing these phallic monsters of destruction to refined musicians was an eardrum-bursting joke. That the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb dropped yesterday in Afghanistan could, through acronymic parallelism, be made into a mother, and her apocalyptic blast into a lullaby of freedom, is an infinitely more deafening and destructive irony.

Does Anybody Know What Our Russia Policy Is?

After steadily-increasing tension under the Obama Administration, candidate Trump wondered why it was a bad thing to get along with Russia. Hillary Clinton promised more of the confrontational Obama approach. More conflict. The people chose Trump. What happened? President Trump has thus far brought us closer to war with Russia than at any time since the height of the Cold War. Does Trump have a Russia policy and if so what is it? We discuss in today's Liberty Report:

12 April 2017 – the world is once again dragged into war, by Thierry Meyssan

The White House has finally aligned itself with the Coalition composed of the neo-conservatives around the United Kingdom and a variety of multinational companies. The United States have once again taken up the imperialist policies upon which they decided in 1991, and have reactivated NATO. The rupture with Russia and China was consumated on 12 April 2017. The world is once again on the brink of nuclear war.

Russia is all set for a nuclear war

On 6 April, the US attacked Syria, a sovereign state which is also a member of the United Nations. Following this, the Russian forces have been once again fitted out with nuclear weapons. The unilateral attack on Syria is a crime in international law. 96 % of the Russian nuclear triad is at permanent operational capacity. 60 % of the triad is equipped with last generation atomic bombs. Let us not forget that only four States (China, the United States, India and Russia) have a nuclear (...)

Nato Obsolete? Donald Trump resuscitates it

On 12 April 2017, President Donald Trump received the Nato Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, at the White House. President Donald Trump presented a somewhat revisionist account of the history of the Alliance, which he considered to have conquered the Soviet Union and liberated Eastern Europe. He thanked Nato for its support against Syria during the illegal attack on the base of Chayrat, on 6 April. Revising as well his previous remarks, he declared that the Alliance was no longer (...)

President Trump, with respect, start ruthlessly purging the US general officer corps

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President Trump:

Last time we discussed your refusal to abide by the Constitution’s hard-and-fast war-making provision, a decision that merits — as it did for most of your post-1945 predecessors — impeachment proceedings. Waging war in the manner you did in Syria is the work of an absolute monarch or a dictator, not that of a popularly elected president of this republic.

Today, we must discuss a topic that has been covered in this space on multiple occasions; namely, the need for you to immediately purge — via forced retirement — scores of your general officers. The American fetish for treating these officers as god-like wonders is baseless, and must be curtailed to the greatest possible extent. Among the most obvious reasons they merit forced retirement are:

–They and their predecessors have not won a war since 1945. In truth, they have won nothing in the most war-filled 72 years in American history.

–They have regularly betrayed the military men and women entrusted to their care by American parents by taking those troops to fight in wars that neither they nor their political masters intended to win. I do not know of a single case, since 1945, when a general officer resigned and told the citizenry that he did so because he refused to lead their soldier-children into a war no one meant to win, and in which the rules-of-engagement made those soldier-children targets rather than killers.

–They hold their positions for venal self-interest. To understand why no general has resigned and told the foregoing truth to the public, just survey the membership of America’s corporate boards of directors. Those boards are loaded with former generals who are making more mounds of money to add to their already luxurious pensions. The formula-for-success for US general officers obviously is: keep silent, get use to losing, get your troops killed for nothing, and you will be generously rewarded when you retire.

–They are incompetent and, apparently, shoddily educated men and women. One example should suffice. They have been waging war, at various levels of intensity, against Islamists since Osama bin Laden’s declaration of war in 1996, and they have lost on every field of battle on which they have engaged the Islamists. Mr. President, did you know that our Islamist enemies are not professionally trained soldiers; that they are armed almost entirely with small arms, some of Korean War vintage; that they have no air cover or naval support; and that their funding, supply lines, and safe havens are always at risk? Did you know that this is the kind of paramilitary force that has consistently humiliated the United States and its military for two decades, one that has forced your canting generals to obliquely admit to being losers and fantasists with the words like “There is no military solution to this conflict” and “The Islamists have nothing to do with Islam.”

–They are thoroughgoing liars. Again, one example will suffice. Since at least 2003-2004, every Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and every US general officer commanding in Afghanistan, has told the American people that: (1) the remnants of the Taleban, al-Qaeda, and other Islamist groups were being eliminated; (2) that our democracy- and nation-building efforts were bearing durable results; and (3) that the Afghan military was on the verge of being able to defend its country with minimal foreign assistance. Each statement was a transparent lie every time it was spoken, and the general officers who spoke them knew they were lies. Today, the truth is that al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, and the Taleban are thriving in Afghanistan, while the Afghan government and its military are collapsing. No number of additional lies will save either. Are these dishonest men and women the ones you are going to trust to restore America’s greatness? They are much more likely to again cover the republic in infamy.

Now is the moment, Mr. President, to fall back on you instincts, commonsense, and, most important, the non-interventionist demands of the people who elected you. America has no life-and-death national interests in Syria or the rest of the Middle East. Very few citizens want to expend trillions of additional tax dollars and their kids’ lives on a war there that is not necessary; which would be fought for Israeli, Saudi, and U.S. corporate interests; and which your generals would surely lose. So, dump your in-house, Cheney-sounding, Neocon war-monger, General McMaster; immediately ban the self-admitted criminal General Petraeus– who lost wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and then deliberately compromised classified information — from the White House grounds; and then get on with a wide-ranging purge that can do nothing but improve the the quality, commonsense, and nationalism of the US general-officer corps.

With this done, Mr. President, recall how much essential work you have pledged to do at home, and how sick your supporters are of unnecessary, interventionist, and always lost wars. Then, Sir, look around the nation and understand two irrefutable facts: (a) that America is located in North America, 5,000 miles from the Middle East’s idiot wars, wars which cannot come here save through the continued lax enforcement of border and immigration laws, and (b) that the republic’s security, unity, and prosperity would not be damaged if those distant peoples killed one another for however long it takes for their wars to burn out, or until there is not a single living soul from Morocco eastward to India.

America First, Mr. President, always, America First.

Reprinted with permission from Non-Intervention.com.

Venezuelan Opposition Keeps Killing Mockingbirds to Serve their Agenda

Last week we have seen an escalation of violent activity that we had not experienced since the sad events that started in February 2014 as Guarimbas. Nevertheless today we see a change in the scenery, since Unasur has been momentarily demobilized and the OAS has gained new right wing allies to demolish any revolutionary process around the continent.

Luis Almagro has used all the tools he has at hand in order to demonize Nicolas Maduro’s government, calling it “authoritarian”.  Last year he was already saying that Maduro was on the brink of becoming a “petty dictator”. Since what you do with dictators is to oust them, then that should be the easy solution, an international intervention, a humanitarian invasion, a quick solution, but nothing is so easy.

This very week, Williams Davila, an opposition representative of the state of Merida, declared to the international news agency EFE, that their intention is not to get Venezuela suspended from OAS, but to force the government to call elections. This is funny since they are accusing the legitimate government of “breaking the constitutional order”, but calling an election, after failing to comply with the appropiate steps to revoke the President’s mandate, is inconsistent at best.

Davila also said that between 2005 and 2015 they never managed to sit down in a OAS meeting, since José Miguel Insulza would not even receive them, but Almagro is different.  He has sat down with all Venezuelan opposition leaders and those from other nations. Definitively this man has an agenda to fulfill.

In any case, the escalation of political violence along with this international “pressure” threatens to build up to an outcome dangerous not only for Venezuela but for the entire region. On Thursday April 6th night I was talking to a friend who remembered the hell of 1989, about how the police entered impoverished neighbourhoods with live rounds of ammunition in order to detain people after the Caracazo, and how this situation went on for days. I replied, the opposition leadership is looking for a dead body, a martyr.

Between 8 and 9 pm. there were people involved in some isolated riots in different areas of the city, including one very near a military zone in El Valle. There had been a skirmish between youngsters and the security forces in Carrizal, a middle-class neighbourhood between Caracas and Los Teques. Some people were banging pots and pans from their buildings and people registered the events in social media.

“Twitter video of the situation in Carrizal” https://twitter.com/DiarioAvanceWeb/status/850171287150481408

And it was about that time the opposition had their prize — a young fellow student of the Universidad Bicenteraria de Aragua was shot dead. Jairo Johan Ortiz Bustamante, 19 years old, who was in a Guarimba probably near his very home in the area of Carrizal, Los Salias Municipality of Miranda State.

For a few hours Jairo Ortiz and Carrizal were the topics among the opposition. Maria Corina Machado (opposition leader and presidential candidate) stated: “This is a Bloody dictatorship”.

On the other hand Capriles boldly accused the Ministry of the Interior and the National Guard of ordering the deadly attack.

Venezuelan national Ombudsman, Tarek William Saab was quick to respond to this terrible event and he sent several messages via Twitter firmly condemning the shooting and assuring that the Ombuds Office as well as all competent instances would investigate the event surrounding this death so that justice is met. Actually, on Friday the Ministry of the Interior and the National Prosecutor announced the material author of the crime was a police officer and he is being prosecuted (we would like to see justice delivered so fast in the States or in Turkey).

Nevertheless, a life has been lost and that is something you can never recover. On Thursday we saw how Henrique Capriles was carried out of the violent demonstration at Fajardo Highway. Allegedly the effects of the tear gas were too much for him. Another opposition leader, Freddy Guevara, was also calling for people to walk toward the Ombudsman’s Office: Guevara was nowhere to be seen after 4pm. The opposition leadership keeps stirring up young people’s sentiment with the promise of a “change” in order to serve their own agenda of ousting Nicolas Maduro and reinstating a regime that is servile to U.S. interests, such as Argentina Macri’s or Brazil Temer’s.

“This crisis is reaching a breaking point”, says Almagro, and in Caracas while we try to reach either our workplace or our home, we can find some of the people’s opposition representatives shouting and screaming at a Metro station saying people must rebel against this repressive regime.

“Opposition Representative Julio Montoya calling to demonstrate on April the 6th” https://twitter.com/sol651/status/849757885848588288 

On Saturday the 8th of April we saw another “peaceful” demonstration by opposition members. This time they destroyed a national Supreme Court office in Chacao, Caracas. Every time there’s violence, these elements attack any state office (transport units sometimes) they have at hand. I suppose they intend to privatize all this once they are in power. This is 2014 all over again.