US-UK Empires, Parallel Decline

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“The mightiest adversary that snaps great empires like twigs isn’t chimerical
“globalization” — it’s glittering hubris, bedecked in the finery of denial.”
Umair Haque, Harvard Business Review (HBR.org)

by Mike Booth

The Biology of Empires

No empire is eternal. The lives of empires correspond to biological models. They are born, grow old and die. That process has not varied from the times of Cyrus the Great, founder of the Persian Empire around 550 B.C. It took the Byzantine Empire more than eight centuries to wind down to zero, and the Holy Roman Empire lasted roughly the same amount of time. In terms of longevity the British Empire doesn’t even make the list of the top 15. It survived for less than 400 years, though it was the largest. In 1922 the “empire on which the sun never set” ruled 458 million people spread over almost a quarter of the earth’s surface. As for the American Empire, it’s a mere upstart. If we look at it from the end of the Spanish American war, the United States already controlled part of Mexico thanks to the “Mexican Cession” land grab at the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848, including today’s states of California, Nevada, Utah, and parts of New Mexico and Arizona. In 1898 they added Puerto Rico, the Philippines and the Island of Guam. These latter two aquisitions were the jumping off points for American establishment in the Pacific.

What has varied in these imperial processes is the speed at which they deteriorate. Far back in history everything was slower, including decline. Today, with everything functioning at electromagnetic speed, the duration of empires tends towards zero. That’s why United States imperialism which, if we include the undeniably imperialistic treatment of native Americans, has only been around since the 17th century, doesn’t look terribly promising. After all, the Ottomans conquered and held Mesopotamia (Iraq) from the 16th century till the end of World War I. Afghanistan was conquered and ruled successfully by the Persian Empire (Iran) from 539 until 331 BC. These primitive successes don’t say much for recent American efforts in those places. “But we’ve got the greatest military power the world has ever seen!” you say. That ‘s true, but it’s not winning many wars, and the the expenditure it requires is impoverishing your country unduly.

How Are Today’s Empires Faring?

Today’s patent reality is that Great Britain’s empire terminated in 1997 witht the return of Hong Kong to China and is now submerged in a disastrous post-imperial Brexit process. The headline on today’s (April 6, 2019) Brexit story in The Guardian:

“A shambles on which the sun never sets: how the world sees Brexit”

Here’s their lead to that story:

A New York Times columnist believes the UK “has gone mad”. How, asks a Russian TV host, can Britain fail so spectacularly “to correlate its capabilities with reality”? For Australia, it’s like “watching a loved grandparent in physical and mental decline”.

From China to Israel and Russia to Brazil, a world well beyond Europe is watching Britain’s Brexit bedlam with sorrow, bafflement and amusement – and, in those parts of the globe once told that Rule Britannia meant order, stability and shared long-term prosperity, not a little schadenfreude.

Washington Post columnist Fareed Zakaria says in an article entitled: “Brexit will mark the end of Britain’s role as a great power” that:

The UK, famous for its prudence, propriety and punctuality, is suddenly looking like a banana republic” – and its implosion might even be the beginning of the end of “the west, as a political and strategic entity.

On the Other Side of the Atlantic

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At the same time the United States is beset by a know-nothing regime, dangerous to its own country and to the rest of of the world. We must never lose sight of the fact that, given today’s rates of change in everything, the last chapter of the American decline could be rapid, not to mention cataclysmic, and its scope would not be limited to the United States. I won’t bother citing examples to substantiate the danger that President Donald Trump and his team represent. Just pick up any newspaper, any day, and look at the front page.

In both cases these uncomfortable post-imperial situations were brought on by the cynical manipulation of the myths of their histories. Both countries are paying the price today for centuries of government-induced mass delusion regarding their glorious pasts.  We’re talking about the great tradition of American political folklore: nationalism and jingoism, exceptionalism, my-country-right-or-wrong patriotism, racism,  militarism, and, of course, heroism in the defense of freedom for markets.

History sees George Washington indifferently, from a mediocre to merely competent military commander whose primary mission was to buy time for the French to intervene to turn the tide in the Revolutionary War. The truth is that Washington’s ragtag army incurred some brutal losses on the battlefield. Yet Americans have been taught to revere him as an exemplary lad who fessed up to chopping down a cherry tree and went on to become a war hero and “the father of our country.” Washington had no children. 

All the rest of American history, as told to high-school students, is similarly rose tinted/tainted, a fact which is well documented in Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, a 1995 book by James W. Loewen, a sociologigy professor. The Goodreads.com blob says:

After surveying eighteen leading high school American history texts, he has concluded that not one does a decent job of making history interesting or memorable. Marred by an embarrassing combination of blind patriotism, mindless optimism, sheer misinformation, and outright lies, these books omit almost all the ambiguity, passion, conflict, and drama from our past.

Britannia Rules the Waves

May_736The British are similarly addicted to their Rule Britannia traditions, and their neurosis has had more time to simmer. Their very name, “Great Britain,” is pretentious and overbearing. After all, we don’t refer to Great United States, Great Germany or Great China. Fair enough, Britain could have been construed as great until quite recently, but today it’s just a damp little island abandoned in the North Atlantic. But the Great British are having none of that. The last vestige of imperial Britain was Hong Kong, returned to China in 1977, in the living memory of older Brits–and the older they are the more they cling to their country’s imperial greatness. The area in square miles of Great Britain (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) is roughly the same size as the state of Indiana. Only 12 of the 50 states are smaller than the whole of Great Britain.

British greatness today, in the light of the current Brexit debacle, is based almost exclusively on imperial hauteur, the main ingredients of which are ignorance and arrogance. Prime Minister Theresa May’s leadership has been shown by methodical European negotiators to be intellectually, politically and morally deficient, incapable of navigating the complicated waters of a European divorce between sovereign nations. EU insiders affirm that May and her inexperienced negotiating team are driving them around the bend. The mediocrity of the Brits shines even brighter in the light of May’s arrogance on her way into the negotiations in 2016, declaring herself, “a bloody difficult woman.”

That might qualify her for a pub brawl, but certainly not for negotiating one of the most complex and delicate deals in British history against the best that 26 EU countries could set against her. Her now-resigned chief negotiator, David Davis, the self-styled “charming bastard” of Brexit, was seen entering into negotiating sessions without a single piece of paper. It’s not clear whether or not he was carrying a pencil or a pen. Whatever the case, European negotiators were amazed, and not in a good way. (The complete list of British Brexit negotiators’ boutades would fill a volume you wouldn’t want to carrry in your briefcase.)

Today, Saturday, April 6, 2019, with Great Britain teetering on the very brink of EU auto-exclusion, BBC News quotes British Chancellor Philip Hammond, affirming that he’s “optimistic” that Brexit discussions between the government and Labour can reach “some form of agreement”.

But, according to the same BBC.com story, Labour’s Diane Abbott says the government has made “no movement” in the talks on the political declaration, which outlines future UK-EU relations. Three days of talks ended on Friday without agreement and Labour said no more talks were planned this weekend.

In the interest of fairness, I’ll share with you a couple of pithy quotes from a recent article (Dec. 14, 2018) in the Washington Post:

“She was given a mandate beyond her control and did not have any leverage on her side.”

“In the last two decades, Britain has left much of that work to Brussels, which meant it didn’t have a team of seasoned experts ready to swoop in.”

It seems that the Great British, long accustomed to rule, are going to have to get used to occupying a humbler place in the world, either that or sinking into deep denial, which seems to be their current state.

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Meanwhile Back in the USSA

Let’s include in our definition of “imperialism” not just countries taken over and ruled by viceroys, but also soverign nations that are “corrected” from time to time by means of invasions by imperial powers. This has been the modus operandi of the United States in Central and South America for more than a century in places like Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Grenada… Nor are they above organizing local reactionary elements to do the dirty work form them as in Chile and Argentina.

If you’re interested in seeing more details regarding the yanqui’s high-handedness south of the border here’s  a link to a recently-updated Associated Press article: Before Venezuela, US Had Long involvement in Latin America

Since Imperial America was humiliated in Vietnam 44 years ago they have limped forward at a surprisingly slow pace despite their impressive high-tech military-industrial complex and their 1,000 military bases around the world, surrounding almost everybody. Though they had little trouble subjecting tiny countries like Panama and Grenada, they had a harder time digesting more substantial places like Afghanistan, Irak and Cuba.

The imperial mindset inevitably extends into domestic affairs. Great Britain’s own Lord Acton reminded us: “Power corrupts…” A prima facie case for this is evident today throughout the American government. The US Supreme Court’s Citizens United decisión was clearly corrupt, cynically tailored to the advantage of big industrial and financial institutions. Today’s American government has been virtually bought and paid for by special interests, a fact which logically disauthorizes any of its initiatives whether at home or abroad.

The handling of the firearms situation in the US is so egregious that is without paragon anywhere else in the world. That a thuggish interest group like the National Rifle Association should call the shots on such a vital question is seen as beyond the pale in all minimally civilized countries. As for the authority of the Second Amendment to the Constitution, it’s as irrelevant today as phrenology and the Supreme Court of any advanced country would interpret it as such.

If the máximum corruption is government power beyond democratic control, then the United States, with the Pentagon’s unaccounted-for $2-trillion, takes the prize. It’s not that the sinister dwarves at the Pentagon don’t know where that money went. They’re just not telling. It’s too, well, sinister. As for illegitimate power how’s about President Donald Trump boasting aloud that, if push comes to shove, he has the police and the military on his side?

Who Will Win the Trans-Atlantic Race to the Bottom?

Keeping in mind that it’s an unfair race, since the Great British had a head start, and is currently undergoing a serious setback with Brexit, it would seem that the UK is most likely to hit bottom first. However, considering the wild and anti-natural swings of the American pendulum, one could make a case for a probable American victory. They need a victory. But we can’t relax. Their imperial downfall would most likely affect us all, and not in a good way.

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Sunday Morning, Old Book, Sheet of Contacts, Nostalgia

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A Book in Bed, Ahhh…

“Let’s have a lie-in tomorrow morning. It’s Sunday,” says Maureen. But I’m an incorrigible early riser so yesterday morning I was up at 5:30, lighting a fire in the bedroom fireplace and looking for a book. The first one to come to hand was Richard Hugo’s Selected Poems. I read it quite a few years ago but I was ready to give it another go. Books don’t change, but we do. The best example of that phenomenon that I can recall is my experience with Arthur Miller’s 1952 play, The Crucible, set in the 17th-century Salem witch trials, but universal in scope. The Crucible was required reading when I was in college but it  made no impression on me. Then, when I was 30, I had to spend a month in bed with hepatitis. Toward the end of that time The Crucible was the only book left in the house that I hadn’t read. I was poleaxed by it. It’s one of the most intelligent and moving books, theater or otherwise, that I have ever read and my discovery that it was a commentary on McCarthyism only enhanced its value. It contains this line, for me, and in context, one of the most moving in literature:

Elizabeth, gently: “They press himJohn.

 

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Richard Hugo, the Personification of Bleakness

Maureen became friends with Richard Hugo in the mid-sixties when she was running a little hotel and restaurant in Nerja, a fishing village on the Mediterranean coast of Málaga province. The town was bucolic then and an eight-liter carafe of passable red wine cost less than a dollar. Barefoot children ruled the cobblestone streets. The village was ideally placed between the coastal mountains and the sea, with kilometers of beaches and 300 days of sunshine a year. Since then it has been devoured by industrial tourism. So it goes.

The poet was in his early 40’s during his three-month stay in Nerja. It was time enough for him to fall in love with a much-younger English girl. He bought her a ring. Her parents obliged her to return it. That was a typical Hugo ending. He was already a well-known American poet at the time and later went on to edit the Yale Younger Poets series, to have two of his books nominated for the National Book awards and to direct the creative writing program at the University of Montana.

A good poet can rearrange your chromosomes and Hugo is undeniably a good poet. But he’s a poet of constant sadness and unfulfilled lives. According to Maureen’s account Hugo fought in the Italian campaign during the Second World War. Several times while she was waiting to close the bar he recounted for her his grueling experiences in the 123-day siege of Monte Cassino where the Allies lost 55,000 troops. “He never looked up from his beer while he was telling the story,” she said. Could the origins of Hugo’s world view include a case of PTSD? Who knows. In any case, there’s very little glamorous Big Sky Country in his writings. What he perceives in Montana are its numbing cold and damp, its mining-town poverty and an irretrievable love affair. And he notes that there were people in Butte named “Grubski.”

Though Hugo grew up in Seattle and studied at the University of Washington he is more associated with Montana, perhaps the place he should have been born due to its unforgiving bleakness. You can’t grow many cash crops up there, but Hugo makes it look like a perfect place to cultivate despair.

Saved by the Contacts

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I was on the verge of despair myself when a 4×6-inch sheet of glossy paper fell out of Hugo’s book. It was a sheet of what we used to call “contact proofs.” These were digital copies of black and white negatives and quite a bit smaller than standard 35mm contacts. So they were harder to read and for that perhaps more intriguing. So I got out the great magnifying glass that came with my condensed versión of the Oxford English Dictionary, 16 volumes shrunken down to two, still hard to read, even with that  magnifying glass. Judging from the age of our dog, Pachi, in the pictures they must have been taken in the mid-80’s, about 35 years ago. It was a different world then and we and our friends, though still the same people, were younger. In the meantime everything has changed. The Spanish have a phrase for this: “Ha llovido.” “It has rained.”

The first three frames at the top left are images of the Gentle Young Poet (GYP), sitting at the base of the fig tree with Pachi lying placidly in the background. GYP had already won a national poetry prize by then and would go on to write many more books of poetry and to teach literatura at university level. One of his first collections of poems was entirely about his girlfriend’s anatomy, which he considered unique, as all young men do. Today he’s the director of one of Spain’s principal international cultural projects.

Next on this glossy little sheet of nostalgia come a few shots of my best friend (MBF) and his wife in bed with their newborn baby girl. She’s precious in the pictures, as all babies are, but as she grew up she began to show symptoms of instability such as screaming her way around the house, “Leave me alone!” Today she’s a perfectly normal Canadian engineer, married and with a family of her own. You never know.

I first met MBF when he was 17. Someone told me there was an American teenager living in Málaga who was writing articles for an English-language magazine there. I went down to do a story on him for a General Motors magazine called American Youth. He was a delightful, precocious kid and we hit it off immediately. Written on the front of his guitar was a quote from a Spanish poet (Antonio Machado?). It said (my translation):  “Don’t identify yourself with the ‘you’ of my song, friend. That ‘you’ is me.”’American Youth paid $500 for the story, a small fortune in those days.

How Can I Be a Godfather?

When their second child, a boy, was born MBF asked me to be the godfather. I replied, “How can I be a godfather? I’m an atheist.” “That’s why we want you to be the godfather,” he said. So Maureen and I drove the 130 kilometers down to the ceremony on a 250cc Ducati 24 Hours. It was a great little bike but it was also the month of February and the thing I remember best from the whole experience of that day was stopping at the side of the road every 20 or 30 kilometers and flapping our arms to restore our circulation. MBF was a saint of a father and a friend. He died of lung cáncer at the age of 45. A lot of people miss him. Many of them will tell you he was their best friend.

The next three frames are photos of the Young Painter Who Wanted to Be Famous (YPWWTBF). He was the youngest of a talented and idealistic group of people, most of whom belonged to the Cultural Cell of the Granada Communist Party. A lot of them were well on their way to fame, GYP among them, as writers or musicians and he, not a bad painter, half expected to be joining them soon. It never really happened but his consolation prize is a lot of famous friends, all of whom esteem him.

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Then come eight frames of our Great Dane, Pachi, the best dog we ever had. Why does he have more pictures than anybody else? Because he deserves them. He was big and beautiful, noble and as gentle as a lamb—except for one occasion when a rough English couple came down our entrance stairs shouting demands. Pachi accompanied Maureen out to see what the ruckus was, his right shoulder pressed against her left leg. The ingleses never made it to the bottom of the stairs because Pachi emitted a deep-throated growl that inspired them to turn around and scramble up the way they came. We never saw them again.

Tragic Poet, Girlfriend Two, Petite Bavarian Painter

Then three frames of Granada’s most talented poet since Federico García Lorca. Unfortunately he, the son of a prominent Granada doctor, drank and led a disorderly life and committed suicide at 35. Maureen had painted a near-life-size double portrait of him and his girlfriend at the time and given it to him as a gift. It was one of her best. One of his subsequent girlfriends—he had a few—shredded it with a knife in a fit of jealousy.

Next  comes a single headshot of Maureen, wearing her painter’s squint, and then three shots of the suicidal poet’s former girlfriend, the subject of the ill-fated portrait. She wasn’t beautiful in a conventional way but she had a head of pitch-black hair like a stork’s nest, and beautiful breasts. She was nude in the double portrait. Perhaps that’s what motivated Girlfriend Two’s destructive rage.

The next three frames are identical bracketed (one on, one over, one under) photos of the bronze monument to Mariana Pineda—Granada’s Betsy Ross—in the plaza named after her in a quiet corner of the city. Bracketing is what photographers do when the light is tricky or when they’re insecure or just too lazy to expose carefully.

The last three photos are of the Petite Bavarian Painter (PBP) sitting in the extravagant wicker chair that figures in the aforementioned portrait, looking like a miniature Polynesian princess. The PBP has lived in Granada for some years now, running a bed and breakfast in the Sacromonte Gypsy caves, and is one of our favorite people. Before that she lived in a Bavarian town south of Munich surrounded by delightful gasthauses in the countryside where they served sausages with wonderful potatoes simmered ever-so-slowly in farmhouse-fresh butter. At one of them we could see deer bounding around the meadow below. And of course there was the beer, brewed according to the 1516 Reinheitsgebot rules, which permit only three ingredients: water, hops and malt.

We used to visit PBP and her Japanese mate almost annually during the 70’s and 80’s. PBP’s cooking—always the finest ingredients—was so good and occasionally her husband would prepare a Japanese meal. One time we stayed with them for two weeks. When they arrived in Granada to stay Maureen taught her etching.  Those were the years when I covered most of Europe and North Africa for an American hotel guide. People always ask if that was an interesting job. Yes and no. The first time you see Belgrade and Skopje they’re interesting, but by the fifth visit you start to get the feeling that you’ve been there before. Yugoslavia had its charms, though. There were no advertising signs along the road, and people were so refreshingly naive. I asked the manager of a lovely little 40-room hotel on a lake if it was private or publicly owned. He looked at me pityingly and replied, “Public, of course. Nobody has enough money to own a hotel like this.” Also, I loved Ćevapčići and Yugoslave speeding tickets which, in those days, were like a dollar and a half. The war in Bosnia-Herzogovina changed everything there for me. Sarajevo used to be one of my favorite places. But I can never go back.

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The End or a Fresh Start?

Utopia, Dystopia
Utopia / Dystopia?

Where Do We Go from Here?

Let’s suppose–and it’s supposing a lot–that humankind manages to come up with a solution for its climate issues, what comes next? Apocalyptic overpopulation solutions? Ballooning prison populations? The collapse of public education? Civil war? Global war? The end of civilized society as we know it? All of the above?

Who is going to run the world, and how? That doesn’t depend upon us directly. We’ll be gone, some of us to Heaven, others to garden mulch. Only one thing is certain, the future will depend upon our children and grandchildren. Will they be as greedy, selfish and inept as we have been, with results just as grotesque as those we have attained? Yes, of course they will. Unless–and this is a big unless–we change the ways we educate them.

We are all victims of the lies we were told as children, lies about racial differences, lies about magical religions, about national superiority and exceptionalism, about patriotism, about “success” and the meaning of life. What’s more important in the long run, a limousine or the wrens nesting in your fruit trees? Your portfolio of investments or health care for all? Are our grandchildren going to be able to answer–or even  ask–these questions and others like them? This is the critical junction where our teaching comes in, because most of those children will believe–and act on those beliefs–throughout the rest of their lives what we are teaching them today and tomorrow.

Does It Sound Terribly Complicated?

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Don’t despair. We can count on the valuable help of an expert. Her name is Maria Montessori and, though she died in 1952, her legacy still vibrates and provides us with a roadmap for raising competent, compassionate and creative children, the sort of people who just might be capable of putting the world right. Will we have the wisdom and conviction to follow her lessons and act on them? That’s up to each and every one of us. History is indifferent. Its choice between utopia and dystopia is as random as the flip of a coin.

What Do Katherine Graham and Beyonce Have in Common with George Clooney and Gabriel García Márquez?

What they all have in common is that they had life-changing experiences when they were small children. Their personal development was profoundly affected by the influence of a remarkable woman of historic importance both as a teacher of teachers and a tireless activist in the cause of helping children to evolve positively in their earliest stages of development.  Thanks to María Montessori’s legacy many of these children will become better adults who will go on to create a better world. Many of them have done so already.

All of the outstanding people mentioned above, and many more, attended Montessori schools. Doctor Montessori, it seems, was a century ahead of her time. Her extraordinary person and her discoveries in the field of nurturing and teaching children from early ages were remarkable during her active life in the first half of the 20th century and remain critically relevant today, nearly 70 years after her death.

With the passage of time Dr. Montessori’s teachings and her example of dedication and perseverence have become increasingly important to the world. Today’s children face complicated scenarios in which to grow up, settings that are becoming more complicated over time in a geometric progression. Do you doubt doubt this? Compare your own childhood with that of your children or grandchildren. Try to gauge the importance of Internet and the smart phone on young people today, the confusion sown by self-seeking dishonest politicians or the effects of astronomic consumerism. Our world is a frightening place grow up in today. Does anybody know how to help children deal with this  sensory armageddon? Yes, Maria Montessori does. Thanks to her influence that goes far beyond her own schools into institutions of public and private education around the world, we have a formula for forming capable, compassionate and committed young people who will make the world a better place.

 

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How Did the Maria Montessori Phenomenon Come About?

Maria Montessori was born in 1870 the little town of Chiaravalle, in the Province of Ancona in the Italian region of Marche. It was a sleepy town whose inhabitants, shoemakers, olive farmers and herders, lived tranquil rural lives, an unlikely place for the principal educational innovator of the 20th century to have been born. Not satisfied with the lot of women in her society, Maria studied science and engineering at a boys’ school in Rome and went on, against her father’s will, to study medicine, becoming the first woman to obtain a medical degree from the University of Rome.

In 1896, at the age of 26, Doctor Montessori was chosen to represent Italy at the International Women’s Congress in Berlin where she delivered an address on rights of working women, including equal pay for equal work.  Until that time her world view had been that of a young medical doctor, but her trajectory began to change. For the following three years she audited courses in pedagogy at the University of Rome and read all major works in educational philosophy from the previous 200 years. In 1899 she attended the women’s congress in London and was received by Queen Victoria. The bright young woman from Chiaravalle was beginning to make her mark in the world.

In the preface to Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook, she elaborates on the inspiration behind Helen Keller and her revolutionary teacher:

It’s not words, but human figures to illustrate this little book intended to enter families where children are growing up. I therefore recall here, as an eloquent symbol, Helen Keller and Mrs. Anne Sullivan Macy, who are, by their example, both teachers to myself – and, before the world, living adornments of the miracle in education.

The admiration was mutual. Helen Keller referred to herself more than once as, “a product of Montessori.”

Montessori Blazed Her Own Trajectory

She dedicated the first decade of the 20th century to research and preparation for what would be her life’s work, from lecturing at Rome’s teacher training college for women, working at the Rome psychiatric clinic, and experimenting at their model school with materials for stimulating the senses of children with developmental disabilities. She took a second degree in education and experimental psychology, eventually lecturing at the University of Rome school of education. These lectures were to become the basis of her book, Pedagogical Anthropology.

Between 1907 and 1908 she opened two first “Montessori schools,” the Casa dei Bambini San Lorenzo ITChildren’s House (Casa dei Bambini) in Rome and then the Children’s House in Milan, run by Anna Maria Maccheroni. In 1909 she gave her first training course in her methods to some 100 students in Rome. There she wrote her first book, Il Metodo della Pedagogia Scientifica applicato all’educazione infantile nelle Case dei Bambini. This book, written in one month, has been translated into more than 20 languages. The English version is called, The Montessori Method. After the publication of this landmark book she resigned her teaching post in Rome and closed her medical practice in order to dedicate herself entirely to education. By the end of 1911 the Montessori method was being used in schools in England and Argentina, and quickly extended to Italy, Switzerland, Paris, New York and Boston. The worldwide Montessori revolution had begun.

A Life of International Travels, Training Courses and Contacts

Montessori love

Maria Montessori contributed to her education project not only the concepts and  the creation of the courses, but also their worldwide dissemination, thanks to her incessant travel and training courses all around the globe. In 1916 she moved to Barcelona at the invitation of the city government and was based there for 20 years until Generalísimo Francisco Franco’s 1936 fascist coup d’etat, when she went to England, then later Holland. During and after the Spanish Civil War Montessori extended her curriculum to include peace, as well as education campaigning. She lived in Holland until the Nazi invasion.

In 1940, after Italy entered the war on the side of the Nazis, Montessori went to India to impart some courses. She was accompanied by her son, Mario. He was 42 years old at the time and was promptly confined in India as an enemy alien. But he was soon released by Viscount Wavellthe British viceroy, as a present for his mother’s 70th birthday. (The little-known story of Maria Montessori’s son is fascinating.) Nevertheless, they were not permitted to leave India until the end of the Second World War, a twist of fate that permitted her to do extensive education work in that country. She returned to Holland after the war and lived there for the rest of her life, dying there in 1952 at the age of 82. Today there are more than 200 Montessori schools in the Netherlands. One wonders what their contribution must have been to that remarkable society.

What Was Maria Montessori’s Pedagogical Secret?

Maria Montessori had many secrets for dealing with little people but they seem to revolve around a single premise: permit children to develop their own innate talents and inclinations at their own paces, respect them, in short, as people. This approach is reflected in many of her quotes that have come down to us:

“Children’s greatest instinct is precisely that of liberating themselves from adults.”

“Any unnecesary help is an obstacle to development.”

“Help me to do it myself.”

“If salvation and help are to come, it is through the child ; for the child is the constructor of man.”

“Our care of the child should be governed, not by the desire to make him learn things, but by the endeavor always to keep burning within him that light which is called intelligence.”

“The greatest development is achieved during the first years of life, and therefore it is then that the greatest care should be taken. If this is done, then the child does not become a burden; he will reveal himself as the greatest marvel of nature.

“Personal health is related to self-control and to the worship of life in all its natural beauty — self-control bringing with it happiness, renewed youth, and long life.”

“We discovered that education is not something which the teacher does, but that it is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being.”

“The child is not an empty being who owes whatever he knows to us who have filled him up with it. No, the child is the builder of man. There is no man existing who has not been formed by the child he once was.”

“Now, what really makes a teacher is love for the human child; for it is love that transforms the social duty of the educator into the higher consciousness of a mission.”

“Only through freedom and environmental experience is it practically possible for human development to occur.”

Thank you, Maria.

Do you consider this a world view worth fighting for? What are you waiting for?

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The US Is Not a Democracy, Never Was

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Nor Is It a Secret, Never Has Been

Consider this, from the March, 2018 issue of The Atlantic:

The United States was founded as a republic, not a democracy. As Alexander Hamilton and James Madison made clear in the Federalist Papers, the essence of this republic would consist—their emphasis—“IN THE TOTAL EXCLUSION OF THE PEOPLE, IN THEIR COLLECTIVE CAPACITY, from any share” in the government. Instead, popular views would be translated into public policy through the election of representatives “whose wisdom may,” in Madison’s words, “best discern the true interest of their country.” That this radically curtailed the degree to which the people could directly influence the government was no accident.

This denial of democracy carries awesome weight, considering that it was published in The Federalist Papers by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay in the period 1787-88 and formed part of 85 essays encouraging the ratification of the United States Constitution, of which Madison was the principal author. One would be hard pressed to find an opinion with a finer American pedigree.

How is it, then, that the United States sells itself today as the model democracy, a model to be revered, emulated and exported?

A statue of the Goddess of Democracy is seen before the start of candlelight vigil to mark the 28th anniversary of the crackdown of pro-democracy movement at Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989, at Victoria Park in Hong Kong

First things first. The word “democracy” does not appear in the Constitution. How then  did the US calling card flip from “republic” (a state which is governed by an elected head of state) to “democracy” (a system of government by the people, exercised either directly or through directly-elected representatives)? This distinction, like all the rest of political philosophy is open to discussion. Some people withold that, in a direct democracy, authority pertains to the people; while in a republic it lies with the government, rendering the government the master, and the people its servant. On that seemingly-clear but distinctly-murky field the battle rages. After more than two centuries of ideological struggle not much has been clarified but the aftermath has left the field strewn with ideological scraps that can be recovered, polished up and marketed.

As the social and political realities of the country evolved, so did it’s professed political philosophy. With the arrival of masses of immigrants, the conquest of the American west, industrialization, and Andrew Jackson’s pitch to the “common man,” all of which culminated in the 1860s with the Civil War, the country’s politicians found it expedient to veer towards the more-egalitarian-sounding “democracy.” Nothing had actually changed very much except for the sales presentation.

Some Advances and Impediments

It was not until after the Civil War that some significant Democratic advances were achieved. In 1913, the 17th Amendment stipulated that senators had to be elected directly by the people, not by state legislatures. In 1920, the 19th Amendment gave women the vote. Perhaps most importantly in 1965, the Voting Rights Act set out to assure the voting rights of black Americans.

Gore_Vidal on Democracy

Those advances notwithstanding, the United States was still burdened with the heavy ballast of the distinctly anti-democratic Electoral College, a “safety barrier” between citizens’ choices as expressed in elections and the candidates ultimately elected by others. American citizens still do not vote directly for presidential candidates in national elections. They vote for 538 “electors,” who then decide who will be President. A majority of 270 electoral votes is required to elect the President. A state’s allotment of electors equals the number of members in its Congressional delegation: one for each member in the House of Representatives plus two for its Senators. Occasionally the results in the Electoral College are at variance with the “popular” vote. In those cases the votes of the 538 electors trump those of the entire voting population of the United States. One wonders how many American voters are aware of this situation and its far-reaching implications.

Thom Hartmann sums it up soccinctly on CommonDreams.org:

“The Electoral College has brought us two presidents (George W. Bush, who lost the popular vote by 500,000 and Trump, who lost by 3,000,000) who were rejected by a majority of Americans. This is fundamentally undemocratic.”

How Did the American People Become Victims of Such a Roccoco Voting System?

Electoral College distortion

They shouldn’t be suprised. Voting systems that instert buffers between voters and the candidates who are ultimately elected have a long history and are still the preferred option in some advanced countries such as Holland. The undeclared philosophy that underlies all of them is the conviction that the untutored and unwashed mob should not be trusted to elect its own governors. The different variations on electoral colleges guaranteed–and continue to guarantee–just that. Even the Pope is elected by the College of Cardinals.

The Electoral College inserted into the American constitution by the founding fathers is a special case. It was  included there to solve the spiny problem of a slave population that was not entitled to vote. After careful consideration, the framers of the Constitution decided that the votes of all free citizens would be counted plus three fifths of the number of the unfree–black slave–population. The mechanism for implementing this system was the Electoral College. Voting rights, by the way, were limited to white male property owners.

A Few Flaws in American “Democracy”

The much-touted “separation of powers,” supposedly a mechanism built into the Constitution to assure that no single branch of government (Legislative, Executive and Judicial) could assume unfettered control of the country, is perfect in theory, but less so in practice. Theoretically, only Congress can declare war. In practice, the last time the US declared war was in 1941, the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Since then the country has been virtually continuously at war without declaring anything. A series of US Presidents simply attacked and/or invaded countries around the world capriciously, a grave lapse of democratic procedure, not to mention international law.

A series of “emergencies”–most notably 911, but there are others–have been instrumentalized in order to erode democracy by providing pretexts for the executive branch to decree constrictions on civil rights at home and human rights abroad. The Congress was actually complicit in this exercise in curtailing its own Constitutional powers.

The separation-of-powers provision of the Constitution was flawed from the outset, as the President was given a medium and long-term stranglehold on the judiciary. According to the Constitution it is he/she who appoints Supreme Court justices to lifetime terms. This can be construed as a too-generous privilege for Presidents with twisted ideological convictions or limited understanding of the historic reach of their appointments.

This is the Court That Ruined the Country

Citizens United Court
The justices who decided the Citizens United Supreme Court case.

The most garish recent example of this was the Court’s 2010 decision to uphold the Citizens United contention that corporations and other organizations were persons for the purposes of election campaign donations. Enough time has passed since then for us to discern that, thanks to Citizens United, members of the US Congress can effectively be bought by uber-powerful economic interests, precisely at a time when congressional oversight and regulation in many areas is increasingly important. This Supreme-Court-declared cesion of sovereignty to big-money private interests may prove to loom as large in American history as the Civil War or Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Thanks in part to the Electoral College but also to regular misuse of election procedures and voter qualifications the American pseudo-democracy has been further damaged. President Donald Trump tried to put a patch on this state of affairs with his post-2016 Presidential Commission for Election Integrity. To head this high-sounding investigating body he chose a well-known election meddler, rendering the whole project a farce (Flawedfromthestart.org.)

One wonders how American elections would fare under the scrutiny of the Carter Center. Since its foundation in 1982 President Jimmy Carter’s foundation has undertaken the impartial expert monitoring of 107 elections in 39 countries. The objective of this monitoring process, according to their website, is “to help establish and strengthen democracies.” (CarterCenter.org). Unfortunately the United States does not figure on this list of countries scrupulously monitored for free and fair elections.

And They Export This Half-Baked Democracy?

Amazingly, yes. But then, the Americans can export anything. Their biggest success is sugar water. After that comes jet fighters that do everything badly and regime change that will set your country back three generations. The export version of American democracy is so versatile that it can be delivered by drone.

To expect the world to accept their moth-eaten version of democracy is a bridge too far. Perhaps that’s why they’re having trouble peddling it around the world. Seen from the point of view of an impartial observer,  it looks more like a smokescreen more useful for concealing their regime-change program. We have seen the democracies they have achieved in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Libia… There’s a term for a person–or a country–that preaches one thing and practices another: hypocrite.

Is There a Way Out?

There may be. Have a look at this: https://youtu.be/TfQij4aQq1k.

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How the Israeli Tail Wags the American Dog 2/2

Israel Lobby 1

AIPAC, the Motor of the Israel Lobby

The driving force within the Israel Lobby is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), founded in 1951 by Isaiah L. Kenen, a former employee of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs who headed the organization until his retirement in 1974. AIPAC declares that it has more than 100,000 members, seventeen regional offices, and “a vast pool of donors.” Congressman Brad Sherman of California has called AIPAC “the single most important organization in promoting the U.S.-Israel alliance.” It has also been called one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the United States.

The group does not raise funds for political candidates itself, but its members and sympathizers raise money for candidates through political action committees and other means. Though AIPAC declared more than $77 million in revenues (2014), the amount of money it funnels indirectly through like-minded informal organizations into its lobbying efforts in the US Congress and executive branch is much greater. A popular accusation against AIPAC is that it virtually buys American legislators. Otherwise, how could it have gained such powerful clout in Congress? In 2005, Lawrence Franklin, a Pentagon analyst pleaded guilty to espionage charges of passing US government secrets to AIPAC policy director Steven Rosen and AIPAC senior Iran analyst Keith Weissman, in what is known as the “AIPAC espionage scandal.” Rosen and Weissman were later fired by AIPAC but in 2009 the charges against the former AIPAC employees were dropped. (Source: Wikipedia).

For more detailed information on AIPAC’s influence on the US Congress, have a look at this excellent interview on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal with John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, the authors of the Israel Lobby article that blew the lid off the issue in 2006.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Paladin of the US Israel Lobby

Benjamin Netanyahu (“Bibi” to his friends) was a bright, personable lad who enjoyed a stroke of extraordinary luck early in life.  So lucky was Bibi in his childhood that, if you wanted to create the ideal interlocutor between Israel and the United States, you could not come up with a better model  with a better preparation than Bibi Netanyahu.

His parents were secular Jewish immigrants to Israel, his father a historian and promoter of the Jewish homeland in Palestine. The Balfour Declaration, which opened the door to Jewish settlement in Palestine, took the form of a letter, dated Nov. 2, 1917, from Arthur Balfour, foreign secretary of the British government, to Lord Walter Rothschild, head of the organization of British Zionists. This letter promised that the British government would work to bring about “a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine.”

Bibi Absorbs America

Between 1956 and 1958, and again from 1963 to 1967, Netanyahu’s family lived in the United States in Cheltenham Township, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia, where his father held an academic post and Bibi graduated from Cheltenham High School. His participation in a debate club there has stood him in good stead. That and the rest of his high-school and university experience gave him both a solid understanding of Americans and the capacity to communicate with them in their own idiom.

After returning to Israel to participate in an elite unit in the Six Day War in 1967 he returned to the States to take bachelors and masters degrees in science at MIT. He then worked for as an economic advisor at the Boston Consulting Group before returning to Israel in 1978 to found the Yonatan Netanyahu Anti-Terror Institute, named after his older brother Yonatan, who died leading the Entebbe hostage-rescue operation in Uganda in 1976. Bibi served as the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations from 1984 to 1988. (Source: Wikipedia)

Elected Israeli prime minister in 2009 (after serving earlier as PM from 1996-99), Bibi never looked back. Despite his promising beginnings, Benjamin Netanyahu, has devoted himself to hatching and executing hard-line policies that are seen around the world as human-rights abominations. The scenario is aggravated by the absolute acquiesence of a series of American administrations and under the umbrella of Israel’s own nuclear arsenal. Bibi bombs and slaughters wherever he pleases, either with his own Israeli Defense Force (IDF) or by means of proxy armies, a strategy used by the Israelis at least as far back as the massacre of Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon in September, 1982.

More Partners, More Motives

The ideological congruence between the Israeli right and the American neo-cons and Trumpeteers facilitates their mutual collaboration. All have a vivid interest in disrupting Arab Middle East cohesion by smashing it into smaller, weaker units unable to pose a threat either to Israel or to US pretensions to the region’s oil resources. And both are determined to neutralize if not annex Iran. The US is motivated, at least in part, to take revenge for the Muslim clerics’ overthrowing the Shah and taking the American embassy hostages in 1979. Israel’s interest forms part of their traditional  Lebensraum ambitions. The supposed Iranian nuclear threat is just a cruel joke. The only country in the Middle East with nuclear arms is Israel, and they are formidable, though the Israelis don’t acknowledge them and the Americans pretend not to notice.

UNITED CHRISTIANS FOR ISRAEL

The power of American Evangelical and Christian Zionist sects is also a  factor in the Middle East mix. There are several sects of varying stripes that consider themselves “dispensationalists,”  ranging from those who believe that the establishment of the modern state of Israel in the Holy Land is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy, to all-out loonies working to bring about the Apocalypse by promoting a war in the Holy Land. Most of them are tacit or explicit allies of the Israel Lobby and their influence on all aspects of American Israel policy is massive, due both to their numbers and their fanaticism, hence their ability to decide American presidential elections with their votes. More information on dispensationalism here, if you’re interested.

The Netanyahu Endgame

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s murky past has finally caught up with him. The headline of Nehemia Shtrasler’s article in yesterday’s (March 5, 2019) Israeli newspaper Haaretz reads, “The Die Is Cast. Netanyahu Is History.” The article goes on:

The prime minister’s political career of nothing but himself is over and it doesn’t matter whether it happens in the coming election or immediately afterwards. The Israeli Attorney General, Avichai Mendelblit, executed him the moment he presented the three harsh indictments. True, there is still a hearing to be held – but it will be impossible after the 57 difficult pages that contain a very detailed and exceptional description of the crimes of fraud, breach of trust and bribery – for all this to be overturned in a hearing. Mendelblit has been working on this for years, and he knows each and every detail.

Does the expected end of Netanyahu’s political career mean that the Israel Lobby in the United States will be hindered in any way? Not at all. AIPAC never pretended to represent Netanyahu nor his Likud Party. It will be easy for them to simply brush his dust off their shoulders and continue to march. Have no fear. The United States government will be marching with them in lockstep.

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How the Israel Tail Wags the American Dog–1/2

The Israel Lobby’s Sway Over the US Agenda Is About Expert Lobbying, Politicking, and Tricky Payoffs to Members of Congress

Israel Trump

How Much Power Does the Israel Lobby Wield in Washington?

Lots. They can count on the unconditional backing of the US Congress economically–to the tune of some $3 billion annually, making them the US’s most-favored aid recipients both militarily and diplomatically. The State of Israel’s excesses in the Middle East have been protected by US vetoes in the United Nations Security Council 43 times (a UN veto record) since 1972, most recently  a draft UN Security Council resolution on June 1, 2018, that rejected President Donald Trump’s move to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. (Source: middleeasteye.net) Here’s a link to the full list of vetoes compiled by Jewish Virtual Library.org.

A flagrant example of the Israeli government’s clout in Washington was the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 2015 speech before a joint meeting of Congress. The speech, essentially a harangue against the Obama administration’s Iran nuclear deal, lasted 43 and a half minutes. It would have been shorter had it not been repeatedly interrupted–by standing ovations. That meeting was convened between House Speaker at the time, John Boehner, and Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, to arrange a speech before Congress for Netanyahu, in defiance of President Obama and without his knowledge. Obama only found out about Netanyahu’s scheduled speech to Congress after it was accorded.

See the Washington Post‘s transcript of the full speech, along w ith a video version.

Support for Israel in the United States Congress is overwhelming. Only 50 members of both houses of Congress boycotted Netanyahu’s 2015 speech. The US and Israel clearly have shared interests–in their pretensions to co-dominance in the Middle East, their virulent allergy to Iran, and their decades-long efforts to conceal Israel’s nuclear arsenal, for example, but are those common interests so powerful as to justify slavish American adherence to all the Israeli extreme-right-wing Likud party’s policy and junkyard-dog defense of all Israeli human-rights abuses?

Outside of Congress there are grave doubts on these questions, including within the American Jewish community. The subject, which had been simmering for a long time, gained notoriety in 2006 when university professors, John Mearsheimer (University of Chicago) and Stephen Walt (Harvard University), wrote an article entitled The Israel Lobby that was finally published on the other side of the Atlantic in The London Review of Books (Vol. 28, No. 6, March 23, 2006) after being rejected by all the relevant American media. Why was it so universally shunned in the US? The most convincing answer to this question reinforces the main theme of the article: the Israel Lobby’s power was so great that nobody in the US dared to publish an article that criticized Israel.

The Most Powerful Card in the Israeli Deck?

The most powerful card in the deck where US-Israeli relations are concerned, the one that trumps all the others, is and has been for many years the “anti-semitism” card. It’s the Israel Lobby’s ace in the hole. Whenever any American, whether journalist, academic,  notable private citizen or politician objects to any of the policies or actions of Israel’s far-right Likud Party government, the Israel Lobby in the United States whips out the anti-semitism card, whingeing vociferously, “This is anti-semitism!” Actually it usually isn’t. Usually it has to do with clear and present issues of human rights or international law, subjects like the massive building of illegal settlements on Palestinian land–what little is left of it–or deploying snipers to maim and kill unarmed Palestinian demonstrators–men, women and children–on the other side of the Israeli fence/wall.

Ironically, the very word “semitic” doesn’t even belong exclusively to the Israelis, though they have appropriated it for their own use, much in the way the Americans have appropriated “America” and “American,” terms that rightly refer to all the lands and peoples of two entire continents. According to Britannica.com “semitic” refers to:

Semite, person speaking one of a group of related languages, presumably derived from a common language, Semitic (see Semitic languages). The term came to include Arabs, Akkadians, Canaanites, some Ethiopians, and Aramaean tribes including Hebrews.

US Representative Ilhan Omar, the Most Recent “Offender”

The citizens of Minnesota have recently seen fit to elect Ilhan Omar, a young Somali-American woman, to the United States House of Representatives. She’s outspoken, and had the impertinence the other day to suggest that the Israel Lobby was able to use “Benjamins” to get their chosen candidates for the United States Congress elected. (“Benjamin” is slang for a hundred-dollar bill.) A summary look at successful congressional election results, collating them with candidates’ stands on issues that the Israeli Likud Party considers sensitive, would seem to corroborate Omar’s veiled allegation that sympathizers of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and other members of the Israel Lobby were buying elections. But truth is scarcely an issue here, any more than it is in so many other questions on the current American agenda. Besides, who isn’t buying elections in the United States these days?

The immediate pro-Israel backlash was led by President Donald Trump himself who said he thought Omar should resign. Both the newly-elected representative from Minnesota and the House’s other new Muslim representative, Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian- American, have criticized the Israeli government for its grotesque treatment of the Palestinian people.  The mere mention of the Israeli apartheid system is politically dangerous for American elected officials. In 2016, when presidential candidate Bernie Sanders dared to say that “We are going to have to treat the Palestinian people with respect and dignity,” it became a major media event.

Ben Ehrenreich, writing for The New Republic on Feb. 15, 2019, sums up the back story of Ilhan Omar’s alleged faux pas in a single eloquent paragraph:

By the time Ilhan Omar walked onto the national stage, a lot had changed, and not much at all. Since 2006, we’ve seen three devastating and overwhelmingly one-sided Israeli assaults on Gaza, the massive expansion of settlements in a brutal and seemingly endless occupation, the collapse of U.S.-sponsored peace negotiations and anything that could be called an Israeli “left,” a widening gulf between Israeli and American Jews, and an Israeli prime minister who went out of his way to embarrass a popular Democratic president and to embrace the neo-fascist right. Ever-larger cracks are appearing in the defensive wall the U.S. media has for years erected around Israel: Critical voices—even Palestinian ones—are increasingly making it into the op-ed pages. Space for debate is finally opening up. And the controversy that blew up around Omar is a foretaste of how bitterly that space will be contested.

Money Talks

According to Alex Kotch, writing in The Guardian on Feb. 13, 2019:

Aipac played a role in forming separate pro-Israel Pacs and has encouraged its members to donate to its favorite candidates for decades; it spends more money than any other pro-Israel group every year to lobby the federal government; it holds annual conventions featuring sympathetic members of Congress; and it’s spent nearly $16m since 2000 to send groups of congresspeople to Israel to learn about the two countries’ relationship through the Aipac lens.

In part because of AIPAC’s political efforts, the US has remained Israel’s strongest ally, funding its military and selling it weapons, siding with Israel on UN resolutions, and hardly slapping Israel on the wrist when it expands its illegal West Bank settlements or its soldiers kill hundreds of unarmed Palestinians, Including children, medics and journalists.

Kotch adds in his Guardian article:

The furor over the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement has led more than half of US states to pass laws attacking BDS. These laws clearly trample on the constitutional right to free speech and expression, but that didn’t stop the US Senate from passing the very first piece of legislation this session, which forbids Congress from pre-empting such state laws.

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Veteran Truth Teller John Pilger Takes a Critical Look at the Venezuelan Crisis

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I thought I had said what I had to say about the situation in Venezuela but yesterday I received an email from an old friend with an article by John Pilger attached.

Australian journalist and documentary film maker, John Pilger, is one of the world’s essential old-pro, big-C communicators, along with the likes of Sy Hersh, Noam Chomsky, Robert Fisk, Patrick Cockburn and very few others. Based in the UK for most of his life he worked all over the world for the Daily Mirror from 1963 until shortly after the Murdoch takeover in 1985. He never looked back, writing for quality publications worldwide and making 60 documentary films for ITV, always from the point of view of a professional and compassionate observer, always prepared to speak truth to power. He said this on Twitter yesterday:

Like a page from Alice’s tea party, the Trump administration has presented Guaido, a pop-up creation of the CIA-front National Endowment for Democracy, as “legitimate President of Venezuela”. Unheard of by 81% of the people (source: ), Guaido has been elected by no one.

Martha Gellhorn, the American novelist, journalist and war correspondent, has said:

John Pilger has taken on the great theme of justice and injustice… He documents and proclaims the official lies that we are told and that most people accept or don’t bother to think about. He belongs to an old and unending worldwide company, the men and women of conscience. Some are as famous as Tom Paine and William Wilberforce, some as unknown as a tiny group calling itself Grandmothers Against The Bomb…. If they win, it is slowly; but they never entirely lose. To my mind, they are the blessed proof of the dignity of man. John has an assured place among them. I’d say he is a charter member for his generation. (Source: Wikipedia)

Given the rapidly-evolving crisis in Venezuela I feel obliged to pass his article on to you:

The War on Venezuela Is Built on Lies

Thanks, Tariq

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