Friday, 31 March 2017

GERMANY: ''Islamic Law'' Proposal Debate

There is a fierce debate within German government rather Germany should introduce an ''Islamic law'', as it is the case in neighboring Austria, or implement laws that curtailed mosques from foreign aids. There are more than 4 million Muslim in Germany and only 1 million of them are German citizens.

The proposed ''Islamic Law'' would include cutting off foreign aids to mosques, the registration of all mosques in the country, the training of imams, language test for all Islamic clerics and a compulsory use of German language in their teachings.

The proponents of the proposal argue that the introduction of ''Islamic Law'' in Germany would insure transparency into wider Muslim community practices, in a country whose imams come from abroad and financed from foreign sources. The opponents, however, claim that the country's constitution allows religion communities to organize and administer their own affairs. 

Both proponents and opponents of this proposed introduction of ''Islamic Law'' agree that the training of imams is paramount for clear understanding of German's democratic values and religious freedom. The training of imams would provide Muslim congregations with spiritual leaders who know both the language and the realities that German Muslims face in their everyday lives – knowledge that imams coming from abroad may not be able to provide in sufficient measure.

Compared to the status of other Muslim communities in Europe, Germany's constitution contains some very notable rights for Muslims within state institutions such as the army or prisons, e.g. the right to halal food and the right to spiritual guidance by imams. But Germany’s proposal of Islam Law is  nevertheless controversial, especially when it comes to cutting Muslim communities off from foreign payments and it is being criticized by the large Muslim organizations in Germany for promoting an air of suspicion towards Muslims. 

Germany's Muslim organizations  are already threatening to take the matter to the Supreme Court, to stop the proposal becomes law. The representatives of Muslim communities disapprove of being treated differently compared to other religious communities, the main problem being that the proposal would  ban financing from abroad, which means cutting money coming mainly from Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Germany's Muslim organizations’ criticism may be understandable to a certain extent. Being recognized as a historical part of the society makes it easier to negotiate and voice concerns and problems. The proposal and the ban of foreign financing are a way of acknowledging that Germany’s Muslims are exactly that: Germany’s Muslims and not Turkey’s or Bosnia-Herzegovina’s or Saudi Arabia’s. The spirit of this proposal operates on the rationale that they are there to stay, a historical and natural part of Germany.

Germany's Muslim community organizations point out what is missing and where the proposal falls short. The main criticism – Muslim communities will be banned from financing themselves with foreign money whereas the same rule does not apply, for instance, to Russian Orthodox communities – is valid to the extent that the proposal does not treat all religious communities the same. But it does not necessarily mean that the thought behind the proposed ban on foreign financing is false. Eventually, the solution could be to also extend the ban to all religious communities. 

The problem of foreign financing for Muslim communities may also be a different one than for Russian Orthodox ones. Russian Orthodox Christianity is already fully acknowledged and integrated into all Western societies as it is part of the faith that is supposedly common to all European societies, namely Christianity. Islam has not arrived at this point yet.

If the proposal becomes law, ( I don't see that happening very soon), Germany's Muslims will have to make a choice. It is in their own interest to cut off foreign payments that are hindering both their own integration and acceptance by the larger non-Muslim German society. They can be Erdogan’s plaything in his fights with Europe, perceived as Turkish and incapable or unwilling of being integrated. Or they can emancipate themselves from this patron that can do little for them as he is not the prime minister of the country they actually live in, and pledge belonging to their actual home, Germany. This is where their lives and futures lie.

The wave of proposal of the introduction of Islamic law or Islamic law in some European countries stands as a unique reminder in Western European societies: Islam and Muslims have been part of the continent for over one hundred years. The definition of the continent’s identity as predominantly Christian may be correct, but it is incomplete. Through their geographical vicinity and also through various wars with the Ottoman Empire, Islam and Muslim communities have been part of European societies for centuries. 

European Union members such as Bulgaria or future candidates such as Bosnia-Herzegovina, both countries with large Muslim or Turkish communities, remind us that the continent has always been much more diverse than we like to tell ourselves. The sooner we start acknowledging this, the sooner we can create more inclusive societies and develop a new, more complex and historically maybe more accurate European identity.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
International Affairs Expert
Political Analyst/Author

Photo-Credit: AFP-Getty Images photo

Thursday, 30 March 2017

EUROPE: Poverty & Inequality

Socio-economic inequalities in Europe are greater today than in the 1980s. Austerity measures introduced after the financial crisis in 2007-2008 include cuts in public spending, the privatization of services, and deregulation of labor markets. All these measures have hit the poorest hardest.

Between 2009-2015, the number of Europeans living without enough money to heat their homes or cope with unforeseen expenses, known as ''severe material deprivation'', rose by 7,5 million to 50 million people. These are among the 123 million people, almost q quarter of the EU's population, at risk of living in poverty, while the continent is home to 342 billionaires.

Almost ten years after of the financial crisis 2007-2008 in Europe, inequality has increased dramatically. Conservative governments across Europe continue to turn a blind eye to the growing divisions in society, despite the shocking realities. In Greece, infant mortality is up 43% because of dramatic cuts to healthcare services. In Spain, over 400,000 families have been evicted from their homes. Youth unemployment affects a quarter of young Europeans on average and in some countries, like Greece and Spain, half of young people are unable to find work.

The gender pay gap stand at a depressing 16.4%, with further deteriorations in women’s pay in several countries in recent years. Spending on education has effectively dropped in over 20 countries of the European Union. Without adequate education and training and with few decent jobs available, opportunities are sadly limited on the world’s richest continent. Employment is becoming increasingly unstable; short-term and part-time contracts, temping agencies and low wages have undermined the job security of many Europeans.

Inequality is the number one challenge of the 21st century. To get out of the crisis, the kind of unbalanced, feeble recovery some countries have shown is not enough. Genuine change will require the creation of jobs with decent salaries, the wider availability of education and training and much greater upward social mobility. To this end, investment in growth and job creation is essential.

Public investment in sustainable jobs, to revitalise growth, industry and domestic demand, is key to bridging the widening gap. It is the combination of equal access to equal public services – notably healthcare and education – and decent jobs with opportunities for upward social mobility that can effectively reduce inequalities.

Europe must lead the fight for equality. Suffocating austerity measures hitting the poorest and unfair and regressive tax systems allowing multinational corporations to evade billions of euros in taxes, heaping the tax burden on individuals citizens have exacerbated inequalities. A long-term investment strategy for sustainable, high-tech and research-based jobs, as well as modern industry and manufacturing, will reduce inequalities and return Europe to its global leadership role.

Europe’s social model of welfare will no longer be sustainable if a majority of citizens can barely scrape by and have no security or opportunity instead of contributing to the welfare pots. Millions of new jobs – stable jobs with decent pay – are needed, to give people hope and opportunities, especially for Europe’s young people.

Yet the issue of inequalities cannot be reduced to socio-economic barriers, they occur elsewhere in society, too. The fundamental principles of the European project are based on the premise of opportunity. Free movement, a single market and guarantees for the rule of law and non-discrimination are pillars of an equal society.

Yet these pillars can no longer be taken for granted. Free movement is constantly attacked with xenophobia and accusations of ‘benefit tourism’ against those who seek to build lives elsewhere outside their own country. In reality, only 2.7% of Europeans live in an EU country where they are not citizens and the overwhelming majority of these contribute more and take less from the social security systems of their new home countries than its citizens do. Equality as a form of non-discrimination is under attack, with minorities, especially the Roma community and LGBTI people, regularly facing blatant discrimination. Race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation still matter when they should not.

It is the European Union’s duty to address these inequalities wherever they occur and to lay the ground for national legislators to implement policies that foster equality and social justice. If the recovery is focused on guaranteeing social justice, investment in growth and job creation can help reduce socio-economic inequalities. But beyond that, the European Union must rekindle the public’s sense that fairness is a value worth defending in our society.

Equality must be at the heart of every European policy – be it completing the banking union, protecting small savers, investment policy, creating decent jobs, protecting the environment and consumers, or ensuring the safety of European citizens.

The Socialists and Democrats are aware of the difference. Fighting for fairness means fighting for all Europeans. After the years of crippling conservative austerity which has divided Europeans and deepened the inequalities in our society, it is time to bring equality and opportunity back to the centre of EU policy making.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
International Affairs Expert

Photo-Credit: AFP

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

SCOTLAND: Self-Determination Ambitions

 The excitement around the ''Brexit'' has subsided, but the problem remains that Scotland questions state structures in United Kingdom after Brexit. 

Just a day before Britain kick starts Brexit proceedings, the Scottish parliament is expected to dismiss prime Minister Theresa May's overtures and back calls for a fresh independence referendum. 
Sturgeon and May met in Scotland on Monday, with the prime minister reiterating that ''now is not the time'' for a referendum and describing the four nations of the United Kingdom as an ''unstoppable force''. 

But the SNP leader maintained that an independence vote should be held by spring 2019 at the latest before Britain leaves the European Union, although after winning the backing of Scottish parliament, she needs approval from London for a referendum to take place. Rejecting such request would be politically risky for May, whose government is also trying to prevent the collapse of the power-sharing arrangement which governs Northern Ireland. 

The Brexit vote last year has spurred the independence campaign of Sturgeon, head of the ruling Scottish National Party(SNP), who argues that Scotland is being forced out the European Union against its will. Both Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the European Union, but they were outnumbered by voters in England and Wales, who backed Brexit.

There is a more general trend across Europe as ancient nations, regions, and peoples, currently under the jurisdiction of various states, are increasingly calling for either enhanced autonomy or outright independence and for all the benefits that go with bringing decision-making power back to the people.

Gaining independence or regaining independence is, globally, a standard democratic process. In Europe, more than half of current states did not exist just a century ago. Between the 20th and 21st century, 28 new European states have emerged. Contrary to what the mainstream media and political parties, and to an extent the EU, would have people believed, recent events show that the desire for independence and the creation of new states is completely normal, almost routine, and all part of the process for mature democracies.

Independence for Scotland will of course bring numerous benefits. Scotland is likely to follow Norway’s path and be freed up to realize its true potential as an innovative and energy-rich north European nation. But independence is about so much more than economics; it is about the right to decide on every aspect of your country’s future and not to have to follow the commands issued from capitals such as London. Independence brings freedom, the sovereignty of a people, and ultimately self-respect.

This last notion no doubt helps fuel the desire for independence. How can any self-respecting Scot look around and see their Slovene or Estonian EU colleagues sit at top table, being stakeholders in the European decision-making process, while Scots sit waiting to hear what London tells them.

Furthermore, independence is a wholly pragmatic choice, especially in a Europe that inadvertently promotes that option by only investing EU decision-making power with States and not regions. One example is, Luxembourg, Scotland and fisheries. Although Luxembourg doesn't have any coastline, it has a full seat in the EU Fisheries Council, while Scotland, with an economy partly dependent on fisheries, has no say and no seat on the EU Fisheries Council.

The self-determination issue takes center stage in  Brexit negotiations. The era of the old-fashioned nation-states is over. It’s time for a Europe of Latvia, Ireland, Scotland, Brittany and Catalonia as well as Portugal, Sweden and Austria, a Europe in which old nations can finally start to work together on the basis of equality.
Therefore, it is completely comprehensible from a European perspective that European officials should begin discussing whether an independent Scotland should simply be granted immediate entry into the European Union, after Brexit. Scotland previously belonged to the EU, and it would be in the interest of a united Europe to have no doubt of the continued existence of this association. 
By Guylain Gustave Moke
International Affairs Expert
Political Analyst/Author


Friday, 10 March 2017

WORLD: Cyber Superiority

The Europe Union and NATO accuse Russia of orchestrating cyber-war in Europe. European Union officials believe that there had been a step-change in Russia's behaviour and raise concerns that Russia is trying to influence the upcoming election in Germany and France.

Last month, Russia denied that it was involved in an attempt coup during Montenegro's election, after a Montenegrin prosecutor claimed Russia had played a role in an attempted putsch to stop the country joining NATO.

Russia officials claim that the U.S. has been doing exactly that for so many years. They base their argument on Wikileaks' publication, on Tuesday, of thousands of pages on internal CIA hacking techniques used over several years. Russia believes that the CIA hacking techniques have been also used against foreign countries, as Snowden's leaks revealed.

Wikileaks' publication appeared to supply specific details to what has been long known on the abstract:U.S. intelligence agencies, like their allies and adversaries, are constantly working to discover and exploit flaws in any manner of technology products.

In fact, in recent years, the CIA underwent a restructuring focus more on cyber war to keep pace with the increasing digital sophistication of foreign adversaries. The CIA is prohibited by law from collecting intelligence that details domestic activities of Americans and is generally restricted in how it may gather any U.S. intelligence data for counterintelligence purposes.

In the aftermath of U.S. election 2016, discussions about cyber war became more realistic and less theoretical. The volume of cyber attacks is only likely to grow. Military leaders in the US and its European NATO partners are outfitting new battalions for the impending data war.

The Pentagon launched its much-anticipated “Strategy for Operating in Cyberspace” in July 2011, it appeared the US military was interested only in protecting its own computer networks, not in attacking anyone else’s.  Today, the US Air Force budget request include $4 billion in proposed spending to achieve “cyberspace superiority,”.

Much of the cyber talk around the Pentagon these days is about offensive operations. It is no longer enough for cyber troops to be deployed along network perimeters, desperately trying to block the constant attempts by adversaries to penetrate front lines. The US military’s geek warriors are now prepared to go on the attack, armed with potent cyberweapons that can break into enemy computers with pinpoint precision.

The new interest in attacking enemies rather than simply defending against them has even spread to the business community. Like their military counterparts, cybersecurity experts in the private sector have become increasingly frustrated by their inability to stop intruders from penetrating critical computer networks to steal valuable data or even sabotage network operations. The new idea is to pursue the perpetrators back into their own network.

A cyberweapon could take down computer networks and even destroy physical equipment without the civilian casualties that a bombing mission would entail. Used preemptively, it could keep a conflict from evolving in a more lethal direction. The targeted country would have a hard time determining where the cyber attack came from.

Achieving “cyber superiority” in a twenty-first-century battle space is analogous to the establishment of air superiority in a traditional bombing campaign. Before strike missions begin against a set of targets, air commanders want to be sure the enemy’s air defense system has been suppressed. Radar sites, antiaircraft missile batteries, enemy aircraft, and command-and-control facilities need to be destroyed before other targets are hit.

Similarly, when an information-dependent combat operation is planned against an opposing military, the operational commanders may first want to attack the enemy’s computer systems to defeat his ability to penetrate and disrupt military’s information and communication networks.

Cyberspace is increasingly becoming a place of risk and danger, vulnerable to hacks and cyber warfare. With today's civilization dependent on interconnected cyber systems to virtually operate many of the critical systems that make our daily lives easier, it is obvious that cyber warfare can be the choice for many governments and states, for military, economic and political reasons.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
International Affairs Expert

Photo-Credit: Getty Images/AFP

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

E.U./U.S.-RUSSIA: Understanding the politics of Sanctions

Political experts both in Russia and elsewhere suggested that the election of Donald Trump as the new US president may lead to the lifting on anti-Russia sanctions by America and its allies, based on Trump's statements that he would work with Russia. However Russia officials warn against such optimism, knowingly that campaign rhetoric does not necessarily translate into policies.

Moscow believes that the sanctions tit-for-tat with the EU was beneficial to some sectors of the Russian economy, particularly agriculture, and that the government helps domestic producers capitalize on the situation.

The West sanctions were imposed in response to Russia's support of popular separatist movements in regions of Ukraine opposed to the coup in Kiev, which impose a new government hostile to Russia. The predominantly Russian region of Crimea voted in referendum to rejoin Russia, while large ports of Donesk and Lugansk in eastern Ukraine proclaimed their independence and fought against government troops. 

Responding to sanctions imposed by the EU, Moscow banned the import of the EU-produced foodstuffs. This served as protectionist measure for Russian farmers, who otherwise found it difficult to compete against subsidized European producers. The measure also caused multi billion euro damage to European companies, which lost their markets in Russia. Moscow also rejects the West's accusation of illegally annexing Crimea, accusing U.S. and E.U of contributing to the escalation of the political crisis.

The EU-U.S. sanction policy against Russia represents not only a fundamental miscomprehension of the interactions amongst the Russian structures of power, but also of the relationship between Russia’s top politicians and the worlds of bureaucracy and business.

The sanction policy is in no way, shape or form working. Sanctions cannot be used as stratagems in the traditional sense of the word. Nor can they function as valid instruments for foreign policy, especially against political giants like the EU or a political entity the size of Russia

Brussels overestimated the connections and reciprocity between the Russian economic and political elites, assuming that the former had a much greater influence over the latter than is actually the case. Europeans use their own customary political matrix as a starting point to understanding other nations, but in reality this does not correspond to how Russia works. Unlike their counterparts in the West, Russian politicians do not represent any economical advocacy groups or lobbies. On the contrary, the basic principles of bureaucracy, the secret service and the army form their foundations of power.

Here is where the key underestimation of Putin’s powers lies. The Kremlin’s dominance over the media, the widespread domestic TV propaganda and the techniques of external information warfare directly affect Russia’s media portrayal of the sanctions. As a consequence, regardless of any further sanctions that are imposed on Russia, Putin controls the perceptions of the general population.

The Common Foreign and Security Policy of the EU has certain inherent weaknesses in the way it works. On the one hand, this is due to the polarization of the positions that each member state has. On the other hand, EU member states adhere to principles of transparency and democracy, which can on occasion negatively affect the EU’s scope of action in crisis situations.

In the event of a crisis, in which one is confronting the unapologetically incomparable military potential of Russia, as opposed to those of Syria or Iran, the EU becomes trapped in its own methods of interstate negotiation. Quite the opposite is Putin’s ability to make foreign policy or military decisions on his own. He does not need to make an appointment to discuss the current issues and hop on a plane to Brussels.

The Russian president generally confides in small circles of people whom he trusts. The actual amount of attendees to these private meetings is smaller than the number of members of the Russian Security Council, which normally meets on Mondays. However, this does not mean that Putin excludes himself from other networks. It is understood that he often has to consider the concerns of several interest groups, using the differences and inner quarrels to his advantage according to the famous Byzantine principle of divide and conquer.

The way he makes foreign policy decisions also differs substantially from that of his European counterparts. The decision making process of the EU and its disadvantages remain at fault for the lack of action taken by its member countries. Multilateral discussions of this kind rarely, if ever, play a major role in secretive, autocratic regimes such as Russia, which is why they require less time to come to a decision. Complicated supranational systems such as the EU need more time and in this regard cannot compete head-to-head with autocracies.

Russia, US and EU are not moving at the same pace. As a matter of fact, they are at different stages, working at different speeds. Putin makes operational decisions very fast. Yet at the same time, he is struggling to make key strategic decisions, because they require a broad pallet of allies, which Russia simply does not have. He has begun to doubt his own beliefs about his on-going projects, including the Eurasian Union. 

The effects of European diplomacy are weak, and the diplomacy of each individual EU state are even weaker. For European officials, diplomacy is a long list of formal and informal operations. For Putin and his subordinates, diplomacy is a chain of secret operations, where the negotiations serve a direct function. An important part of it lies in the use of violence to actively progress and gain actual terrain, as opposed to performing symbolic actions, such as supporting peace processes or freeing hostages.

After the signing of the Minsk Protocol, the situation in East Ukraine has not improved. In fact, things have actually gotten worse. Peace talks do not lead to a positive exit out of the crisis. In this respect, Europeans are scoring an own goal with their constant appeals for negotiation. 

Anti-war parties are gaining ground in France/Germany and all over Europe. A common phrase one often hears in European discourse is, “do you want German soldiers to battle once again against Russians?” Provocative questions like this, caused by a fear of Moscow, are deferring ever further any possible help for Ukraine, whose military resources today are no match for Russia. 

And, each attempt to negotiate with the separatists, already armed with mighty weapons provided by Russia, only spurs on the Kremlin and the military groups that they are in control.

The diplomatic and humanitarian efforts of current European policies are simply not enough to combat the Ukrainian crisis. The Ukrainian army needs intensive, methodical military provisions and help from its European partners. At the same time, Europeans should abstain from taking part directly in the action. No German, French, Polish or NATO troops should be sent to the battlefield.

Putin assumes that in further extending an extremely protracted war, the Ukrainian government, which previously committed to an international course of reforms, will not be able to effectively implement those reforms needed. It is very likely therefore that the government will lose the trust of its citizens and of the West. Throughout world history there have been no examples of a government that has successfully managed to accomplish a systematic reform while simultaneously waging war.

Putin’s current concerns are not to further encroach on and eventually capture Kiev. What he actually wants is the continuation of a war and the humanitarian crisis it causes, which will ultimately weaken the government of Poroshenko so much that Ukraine remains another post-soviet failed state , eventually running back into the loving arms of Mother Russia. This is the final stage in the life cycle of an aging autocrat, who is executing his geopolitical dream, and at least he is honest about it.

A failure to defend Ukraine’s sovereignty will feed the Kremlin’s appetite for military adventures and jeopardize the geostrategic stability of the European continent. Will the EU’s leaders stand up to Putin or will they emulate their predecessors Laval and Chamberlain? The answer to this question will seal the fate of Europe in our time.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
International Affairs Expert
Political Analyst/Author

Photo-Credit: AFP-photo

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

VENEZUELA: The Debacle of Socialism

Venezuela, once the wealthiest South American country with vast oil resources, is suffering under runaway inflation of 57 percent a year, the highest rate in the world. And, the growing political violence in Venezuela has its roots in the country’s calamitous economic situation.

Five years ago, Venezuela had $30 billion in foreign reserves. Now the Central Bank of Venezuela says that the country is down to just $10 billion in foreign reservesNearly $7 billion of the country's remaining reserves is gold. Dwindling foreign reserves are only exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in the country. The economic blow has led to food and medical shortages, as well as skyrocketing prices.

Inflation is expected to rise to 1,660 percent this year and 2,880 percent in 2018. Among the key factors boosting inflation experts see the crashing bolivar , huge government spending, poor management of the country's infrastructure, as well as high level of corruption.

Aside from the economic scarcity, Venezuela is still no worker’s paradise. With 82 murders for every 100,000 residents, Venezuela is high on the list of the most dangerous countries in the world. A pair of designer shoes can be enough to get somebody killed. The leftist regime seems to be leaning so far over precipice that they have now arrested the popular opposition politician Antonio Ledezma under false accusations. 

Chávez wanted to create nothing short of a shining paragon for socialism in the 21st century. In European leftist salons, it was hyped as a model for the future. The story of the charismatic Chávez was in the beginning very alluring. When the Comandante seized Venezuela, it had been ruled by two clan-like, corrupt parties. Oil money flowed only to the ruling class and their minions. The masses of the poor received nothing but crumbs. To make matters worse, those in power in the government and the oil industry hardly bothered to hide their arrogance and contempt for the lower classes.

There was something in the air when Chávez carried out a putsch against the social-democratic President Carlos Pérez. Though the state was overthrown, and the Lieutenant-Colonel was placed in prison. But for the have-nots the act was a beacon of hope, and Chávez was a hero. Finally, in December 1998 the Comandante was voted into the presidency.

Under Chávez the unemployment rate sank from 14.5% to under 8%, the poverty rate fell from 50% to around 31.9%, and secondary education for the country’s citizens was offered from 44.8% to 73.3% of the population.

But there was one problem. Chávez only thought in one dimension: the expansion of the power of the state. His supporters—the “Chávistas”—helped him create a bureaucratic leviathan that extorted full control over society. What was left of the bossed-around private sector he eventually snuffed out. There was a lack of investment in the country’s infrastructure, nor did they attempt to control foreign trade and imports.

The expropriation of the land ownership and building of food production on a socialist model was a fiasco. State-run production co-ops, large-scale breeding farms, and sugar factories soon generated—with the state’s allowance—remarkably low output. With the exception of crude oil, Venezuela today produces nearly nothing! The Socialists have to import three-fourths of their consumer goods, food included.

The development of an industrial sector did not matter. Lots of funds flowed instead to their allies around the world. Overtime Chávez gave away barrels of oil worth about 260 million euros according to the opposition. He financed his apologists Evo Morales in Bolivia and Rafael Correa in Ecuador, and he carried an ailing Cuban regime on his back.

The fact that Chávez drove a potentially rich country into the ground hasn’t mattered for a long time. At first, the price of oil could only go in one direction: up. Money kept flowing in, allowing Chávez to really play at Socialism. With rigorous redistribution politics the Caudillo succeeded in keeping millions of his followers compliant. Either they found a job in the overinflated apparatus of the state, or they profited through the subsidization of food and cheap gasoline.

Early on the Socialists armed their supporters—ostensibly in order to guard themselves against an invasion by their archenemy the USA. In reality they raised their threat potential against any opposition. In certain districts of the capital Caracas the real power lies in the thugs loyal to the government known as “colectivos.” Through its de-facto control of the media, the regime has all the means it needs for a continuous stream of propaganda and disinformation.

With the plummeting price of oil everything is now really going downhill. The collapse of “21st century Socialism” is now being felt by even the most loyal Chávez followers. The economy shrunk about 4.8 percent in the past year. This year it will be even worse. Inflation is expected to rise to 1,660 percent this year and 2,880 percent in 2018. Chávez’s hapless successor Nicolás Maduro’s only ally for maintaining power besides violence is printing money.

Venezuela can barely refinance itself on the credit market. Maduro—who in terms of charisma is closer to Dick Cheney than Chávez—recently went on a begging tour to his “allies” in Russia, China, and Algeria. Though there were friendly words from the Chinese, they are only willing to throw a limited amount of funds into a bottomless pit. Maduro stands naked.

It’s no wonder that the trained bus driver will not hold out for long. New civil unrest will break out, of this Venezuela experts are certain. Which road Venezuela will take next nobody can say for sure. From a coup by the leftist military or the powerful head of parliament, from a possible transformation to democracy to the total dissolution of the state: It’s all up in the air. The people of Venezuela have hard times in front of them.

The martyrdom of Venezuela is an example for why Socialism cannot work, even when it is pumped with petroleum-millions. Corruption, cronyism, bureaucracy and the lack of private wealth have impeded every initiative. Also, state planning is less efficient than the market. For example, Maduro fixed price caps –now in the time of inflation—fully out of touch with reality. Milk must be sold below cost—which is a maximum incentive for smuggling. 

What this reveals: 21st century Socialism and economic rationality are operating in parallel universes, which was just as true for 20th century Socialism. But the leftist salons will continue to dream of a better Socialist world.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
International Affairs Expert
Political Analyst/Author

Photo-Credit: AFP-Photo

Friday, 3 March 2017

WORLD: Understanding-The Left & Capitalism-

The current crisis of capitalism has sent shock waves through the world markets that have reverberated through national governments into the lives and homes of millions of working people across Europe. 

From one perspective, what we are seeing is a crisis of neoliberalism, that is, the strategy of capital since the 1980s to undo the gains of the postwar social-democratic settlement and enrich the minority capitalist elites at the expense of the rest of us. This model seemed to be working very well; it even provided economic growth in many countries for a short time, though, as was later revealed, the growth was predicated on an unsustainable model of debt and financialization which destabilized the world economy.

Nowhere can we better see the barbaric consequences of the present capitalist system and the logical conclusion of the neoliberal paradigm at work than in today’s huge global inequality: a recent Oxfam report showed that 85 people now own more wealth than the poorest 3.4 billion people on the planet.
Now that the gloss has come off capitalism, its democratic credentials look tarnished. We see diktats imposed on countries, autocrats in place of democrats, and increasing surveillance on people by our governments – otherwise known as spying. No longer can we expect those of each generation to live better lives than those of the previous one. No longer can we say that the market, left to its own devices, can make the world a better place. 
In the face of the inevitable attacks on the working class and the poor, there have been protests and resistance, but much of it has been muted and has failed to really threaten the austerity agenda. Why is this? Part of the problem is that the leaders of these movements (social democrats, trade union leaders and so on) know what is at stake. 

In such a deep crisis of capitalism, it is necessary to raise a protest only about the austerity, not to create a movement that could challenge the system. These people are afraid of their own shadows; they are too afraid to unleash the forces at their command lest they accomplish the one thing they don’t want to do – win. After all, that would pose the question: What kind of alternative is there to austerity? More fundamentally, what kind of alternative is needed to a system that creates the need for austerity?
The debate here is based on the view that the Left is impotent and weak in the face of the crisis. There is some truth to that. The Left has been caught in disarray, unable to rise to the historic struggle in which it finds itself. But this is not true everywhere.  

Since the 1960s, the Left has split into an authoritarian-nostalgic Leninism, committed to a party form and a class politics whose historical moment seems to have passed, and a supposedly “new” Left which rejects institutions and the centrality of the class struggle and puts all its faith in the capacity of the people to mobilize autonomously and to produce outside capitalist social relations.

The new left parties that have emerged across Europe in the last decade are caught between trying to reclaim the space vacated by social democracy as it transformed itself into social liberalism and reforging a new radical left agenda. There is serious debate within these parties about policy and direction, but what they think is their strength – an appeal to a nostalgic, left, social-democratic model of the past – is actually their weakness. The Right are the ones setting the agenda, the ones who have claimed the word “reforms” and turned them into something that is used to undermine our working conditions and wages and to dismantle the social wage.
The rational basis for the radical Left is still clear today and is in some ways even clearer. But the disjuncture between its arguments and its level of support is even wider. Breaking out of the far left ghetto means finding new ways to connect with people for whom the 1917 revolution is a bygone era. It means breaking from limiting oneself to only defensive struggles in order to advocate an alternative vision of society
If the Left is to make gains elsewhere, it cannot pull its punches. It needs a more through anti-capitalist critique of the crisis simply because it is only possible to marshal the full moral and martial arguments against capitalism from a proposed alternative. Otherwise, all we do is tinker with the system at the edges. A bold and clear call for more democratic control of the economy, for a system in which the 1% no longer control the commanding heights of industry and finance but in which the people, the workers, the service users make the decisions. 

In the face of a market system spun out of control, we need to repopularize the idea of democratic planning as the only credible solution to inequality and environmental destruction at the hands of profit-mongers. In the words of the late Rudolf Bahro, worth thinking about today if politics is the art of the possible, the Left has to be resolute in its belief that “Communism is not only necessary, it is possible”.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
International Affairs Expert
Political Analyst/Author


Thursday, 2 March 2017

FRANCE: Le Pen- Losing EU Parliament Immunity

The French political landscape is heading for some dramatic changes as Francois Fillon is pressured to drop off in the presidential race, following allegations of ''fake jobs'', Benoit Hamon's lacklustre campaign. Now ''Front National'' leader Marine Le Pen dominates the news for the wrong reasons.

The European Parliament has voted to strip Marine Le Pen, France’s far right presidential candidate, of her immunity from prosecution in a case relating to violent images she posted on Twitter. Voting in Brussels on Thursday, parliamentarians concluded that the Front National leader’s posting of images of executions by ISIS was likely to have violated “human dignity.” Ms Le Pen is under investigation by French authorities over the incident, which involves photos from 2015 showing the killing of three hostages.

Front National leader's, Marine Le Pen, tweeted the images with the remark “This is Daesh,” in an apparent reaction to comments made by an academic linking support for the Front National to the rise of the terrorist group. The investigation is unrelated to a separate probe into Marine Le Pen concerning allegations of having systematically misappropriated EU funds for party purposes in the European Union Parliament. 

Marine Le pen's immunity shields her from prosecution. lifting it would pave the way for legal action to be taken against her. The offence being considered is ''publishing violent images, which under certain circumstances can carry a penalty of three years in prison and a fine of 75,000 euros. It is not the first time that Marine Le pen's immunity is lifted. Marine Le Pen's immunity was lifted before in 2013. She was then prosecuted in 2015 with incitement to discrimination over people's religious beliefs, for comparing Muslims praying in public to the Nazi occupation of France during World War II. Prosecutors eventually recommended the charges to be dropped.

In the race for the French presidency:one candidate after the other has stumbled. Nationalist Marine Le Pen campaign is the latest to come almost undone after the European Parliament lifted her immunity.  Currently, a big question mark is hovering over Marine Le Pen candidacy, who has looked until now one of the promising contenders. But the European Parliament vote ( stripping Marine Le Pen off her immunity from prosecution ), puts a gigantic stain on her white vest.

Europeans are keeping close tabs on France in this decisive election year, and the French are giving them plenty to watch. Two months before the final round of voting in the presidential election on May 7, a good portion of the political establishment has already been weeded out of the race. And it currently looks as though the purge won't be slowing down any time soon.

Right from the get go, President Francois Hollande's disastrous showing in the polls prevented him, the incumbent from running for re-election. His then prime minister Manuel Valls, also got derailed. The conservative Francois Fillon is under immense pressure within the his own party to drop off.

Now the slate of contenders has completely changed and is considerably more exciting than what had been anticipated only a few short weeks ago. France's third most popular sport behind football and rugby--that of calculating the probability of every possible ( and impossible) post-election coalition--has begun filling myriad columns and television programs.

Marine Le Pen has transformed the fascist clique surrounding her father into a modern party, the right-wing populist Front National, with her at the center. Yet even as she hits the stump, she is comfortably secure in the knowledge that she has the support of at least one quarter of the country's voters no matter what she says, and no matter what European Parliament might say about her. 

Indeed, a look at the line-up of candidates with two months to go before the final round of the election leads one unavoidably to the conclusion that the greatest threat facing Front National and Marine Le Pen is the party itself. The European Parliament vote, stripping Marine Le Pen of her immunity, could speed up prosecution case against the Front National leader in another unrelated allegations of misappropriated EU funds for party purposes in the European Union Parliament, derailing her presidential ambitions.

Nevertheless, it remains unlikely that Marine Le Pen will become France's president. The polls may show her making it into the second round of voting, but once there, the current data also shows that she would likely be defeated by an opposing candidate, no matter who it is. At the moment, for example, polls show Macron getting 65 percent of votes in a run-off against Maine Le Pen. One of the certainties you can rely on in France is that Marine Le Pen is constantly seen as the greatest of two evils.

Still, the rest of Europe is gripped by a feeling of uneasiness as it looks to France in this decisive election year. People have not forgotten that it looked as though Brexit wasn't going to happen until the British actually did vote to leave. And in the U.S., there was widespread confidence, even a week before the election that Donald Trump wouldn't win. In France, the party primaries followed the exact same pattern, the favorites, praised by those in the Paris bubble and in the media, all lost. And outsiders won. Will that trend continue? We won't know until May

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Author/International Affairs Expert

Photo Credit: AFP photo of Madam: Marine Le Pen, au Salon de l'Agriculture, le 28 février 2017