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Is Democracy Dying before our Eyes in America?

Emanuel L. Paparella, Ph.D.

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Eternal Vigilance is the Price of Freedom” –Thomas Jefferson “And at the end they go crazy”   –Giambattista Vico

[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] J [/yt_dropcap]ohn Adams, the second president of the United States, did a study on the life of Republics from their inception all the way to the 18th century. To his great surprise, he discovered that they all died, sooner or later. In other words, they were mortal. The ones who lasted longer were what he calls “republics of virtue.”

By republic of virtue Adams meant a polity based on the rule of law, concern for the common good of the whole polity, rationality, justice, personal virtues such as courage, honesty, sobriety, wisdom, harmony, enterprise, magnanimity. These were the virtues as enunciated by the ancient Greeks’ ethical treatises, considered essential components of personal as well as collective well-being.

Rome could also function as an example of that stance toward republicanism, at least at the beginning. That may explain why it lasted so long, some 500 years as a Republic based on democratic principles of people’s representation via the Senate. It was built on a solid political foundation.

But as that other great observer of republicanism in Roman history, Giambattista Vico, well observed, it too eventually succumbed to the process of an historical law wherein republican polities begin with a basis in necessity and a need to survive (the poetical era of the gods), continue with a basis in utility based on prosperity (the era of the heroes), and finally, as he puts it, they become corrupt with abundance and luxury and “they go mad” (the era of men) The process of “madness” comes in the third and final cycle. Then the process repeats itself and from extreme rationalism there is a gradual return to the poetical.

That is to say, at the end republics manage to destroy themselves. The destruction happens interiorly, with the corruption of the essential moral core of the republic based on virtue. And this was the second great surprise to Adams: they did not succumb to external invasions by fierce enemies; they committed suicide.

The best example of that sad situation is to be found in Roman history in the reign of Caligula which was the culmination of imperial corruption. Prominent on stage, at that time, there was a deranged emperor sitting on top of a pyramid of power which had lost even the memory of its virtuous republican heritage.

He was a vindictive sort of fellow and thought of himself as a magnificent god before whom his subjects had to kneel in adoration, even when he presented himself naked in every respect, especially the moral sense. Few dared shout that the emperor is naked. In effect, the Romans had become sychophantic narcissistic idolaters worshipping themselves. Caligula was the supreme representation of that narcissistic idolatry. Rome worshipped itself as a goddess. It was nothing less than the beginning of the end.

Enter Thomas Jefferson: he agreed with Adams that virtue was essential but added that it was also important to keep up one’s guard and not sleep on one’s laurels, so to speak, and not take the democratic system, as brilliant as it might be, too much for granted. That too can be corrupted. Hence he coined the famous dictum: “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.”

When Jefferson counseled “eternal vigilance” he did not mean the installment of a powerful invincible army buttressed by state-of-the-arts weapons that would keep the peace world-wide (the pax Americana, similar to the pax Romana), but the preservation of the virtues on which the republic had been built: its democracy, its checks and balances, its freedom of speech, its Constitutional guarantees, its bill of rights, its freedom of religion. Unless those were preserved, Democracy would eventually turn into a shamble of sorts. Democracy can be powerful in a military sense, but to remain a democracy, its foundations cannot be based on sheer power, in a Machiavellian mode, so familiar to European nationalism, but on virtue as the Greeks and early Romans understood it.

Let’s now briefly look at the present situation. The parallels between Trump and Caligula are uncanny. Undoubtedly we still have all the trappings of democracy in America: three branches of government, elections, congress, executive, judicial, constitutional guarantees of human and political rights, free unfettered debates.

All this in theory. In practice we have an electorate of which 50% and more does not bother to vote; of the other 50% approximately 25% have opted to vote for a madman who has somehow managed to become a president by the subversion of democracy even if never won the popular vote (which he lost by 3 million votes). He won mostly by electoral college count and, most importantly, by harnessing the help of an undemocratic foreign power run by authoritarian oligarchs, Putin at the forefront. That remains to be investigated.

To be perfectly truthful and frank, the whole process was rigged and fraudulent. Had Congress insisted on the revelation of Trump’s tax returns, as all other modern presidents had done, his financial connections with Russia, going back 30 years, would have come to the surface and would have revealed malfeasance and corruption. He has no intention of doing so, and the Republican controlled Congress has no intention, so far, to demand the disclosure; which in effect means that they are in on the malfeasance.

This illegitimate president reigning like Caligula and demanding constant adulation, has so far fooled some 40% of the electorate by making it look like populism: he feigns to be for the people and by the people. In reality he has surrounded himself with “fat cats” who are beginning to show their bias for tax cuts for the rich and diminishment of social benefits for the poor and middle class, not excluding their health insurance. This is in process as we speak.

Behind the scene, pulling the strings, there is his strategist Steve Bannon, who is in possessions an historical theory of clash of civilizations and white supremacy. His allies are those who believe that there is an alternate government at work (consisting mostly of Intelligence agencies) which they call “deep alternate government.”

It stand to reason that the enemy would be perceived to be intelligence agencies, globalization in any shape or form, the liberal media, and, by default, genuine democracy itself. And that is exactly what we have been witnessing for the last few weeks. Few pundits and media experts have shouted “the Emperor is naked.”

The allies, on the other hand, are perceived to be “white supremacist” authoritarian fascist-leaning nations like Russia or Hungary who have little use for democracy and social justice. It’s all “grab what you can” for yourself, at the personal and collective level and to hell with democracy.

We have now reached the sorry stage when some 30% of Americans have more sympathy for Russia than for our traditional allies in the European Union. The same people continue deluding themselves that they live in a thriving democracy. I suppose derangement is like a disease: it spreads exponentially.

So the urgent question resurfaces: are we witnessing the beginning of the end of American and Western democracy as we know it? Will Jefferson’s dictum come back to haunt us when America and the EU will have destroyed themselves by destroying their own principles and ideals? Indeed, Jefferson had in on target: “eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.”

Let me end with a modest proposal. The Romans had in place a system of emergency in case of a political disaster. It was the equivalent of desperate measures to confront desperate situations, like a Hannibal, for example. We should install such a measure, democratically installed and approved, of course: when the republic is in mortal danger, and it is discovered that a national election was rigged and fraudulent, it should be declare null and void and the citizens be invited to return to the urns and vote again, this time in a legal and fair mode. Any takers? Let those who have ears, let them hear.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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Americans fear punishment for Afghan war crimes

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Lo and behold! Looks like the “great and terrible” United States can be scared to the point of hysteria. Another myth about American omnipotence is being debunked before our very eyes now that the big shots in Washington are dreading the prospect of being held accountable for the crimes their soldiers have committed in Afghanistan.

Well, it’s been a long time since the Yankees have last been scared of anyone anywhere, save, perhaps, for Soviet missiles. Still, the challenge they now have thrown out to the International Criminal Court (ICC) has laid bare their cowardice for the whole world to see. And all this under the guise of threats and warlike rhetoric, of course.

Washington saw red when, in November 2016, Foreign Policy journal wrote that “the prosecutor’s office of the International Criminal Court (ICC) is ready to initiate a full investigation of a range of possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan, including some by US personnel.” Washington was incensed even more after the very same publication wrote that “the chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, will seek to initiate an investigation,” and that “the prosecutor’s office repeatedly called attention to alleged abuses of detainees by US personnel between 2003 and 2005 that it believes have not been adequately addressed by the United States.”

The ICC report noted that “crimes were allegedly committed with particular cruelty and in a manner that debased the basic human dignity of the victims.” 

Shortly afterwards, US officials visited The Hague where the ICC was meeting to discuss the potential investigation and to express concerns about its scope in what was seen as their first attempt to intimidate the court.

A report by the UN mission in Afghanistan added fuel to the flames of the ICC probe. According to the report, in 2016 alone, 11,418 civilians died there at the hands of all the warring sides, including the Taliban (banned in Russia). Still, the main culprits are US invaders and their NATO allies.

Despite the mounting pressure, the ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda of Gambia persisted with the investigation. Washington then ramped up the pressure by simply revoking her entry visa to the United States. Simple as that.

Bensouda’s office said she had an “independent and impartial mandate” under the Rome statute governing the ICC, and described Washington’s move as an attempted attack on the ICC by the US Administration bringing a sigh of relief from “law-abiding” Americans. And no one in the “free and independent” US media raised his voice against this arbitrary practice.

Such voices of disagreement came from the European Union and the United Nations though, with the UN Secretary General’s official spokesperson Stephane Dujarric expressing the hope that “the United States government will continue to comply with its obligations… and that the prosecutor, when she needs to come to the United Nations, will be afforded a visa for work done at the United Nations,” where Fatou Bensouda was to present a report to the Security Council on the progress of ongoing investigations into the events in Libya.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini likewise backed the ICC: “We will continue to fully and strongly support the ICC and its work,” she said.

It has also been said that Washington’s disregard for the ICC, which comprises 123 countries (excluding Russia and the US), is fraught with an international scandal. However, President Trump will hardly bother to worry about trifles like this. Responding to the start of the investigation into the crimes committed by the Americans in Afghanistan, the US State Department vowed to revoke or deny visas to ICC staff “seeking to investigate alleged war crimes and other abuses committed by US forces in Afghanistan or elsewhere.” 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threatened “to take additional steps, including economic sanctions, if the ICC does not change its course.”

Washington reserves the same treatment also for the ICC staff investigating alleged crimes by the Israelis in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and President Trump has confirmed this. Paraphrasing George Orwell, all people are equal before the ICC, but some people are more equal than others.

However, here the Americans’ strength turns into weakness and uncertainty. President Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton threatened prosecutions and financial sanctions against ICC staff, as well as against countries and companies assisting in ICC investigations of US nationals. If this is not a sign of panic, then what is?

However, the mere fact that an official investigation has been launched against the United States is unprecedented in modern-day politics. When even a Gambian national can see that a global superpower is losing strength and is vulnerable, one can only imagine what will happen if everyone else in the world realizes this too.

Fully aware of this prospect, the Americans have applied all levers of political and economic pressure available to them and showed everyone that they are still a power to be reckoned with. On April 12, the ICC  unanimously (sic!) rejected prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s request to investigate criminal offenses allegedly committed by NATO coalition forces against civilians in Afghanistan on the very dubious grounds that such an investigation at the present time “would not serve the interests of justice.”

The ruling states that the prosecutor’s request “establishes a reasonable basis to consider that crimes within the ICC jurisdiction have been committed in Afghanistan and that potential cases would be admissible before the Court.” However, the Chamber noted “the time elapsed since the opening of the preliminary examination in 2006 and the political changing scene in Afghanistan since then, the lack of cooperation that the Prosecutor has received and which is likely to go scarcer should an investigation be authorized hampering the chances of successful investigation and prosecution, as well as the need for the Court to use its resources prioritizing activities that would have better chances to succeed.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is happy: “I am very pleased that the ICC made this decision today. It is the right one. When Americans misbehave, whether it’s our military, intelligence officers, we have a robust democratic process that holds them accountable. You’ve seen us do that for those that misbehaved. There is in no way or any need for the ICC to intervene,” he said.

This is a striking example of national legislation taking precedence over international law – especially in critical situations.

President Trump was equally pleased hailing the ICC’s refusal to consider the actions of the US military in Afghanistan as “a major international victory not only for these patriots, but for the rule of law (?)”. He reiterated US reservations about the Hague-based ICC, saying that its “broad, unaccountable prosecutorial powers” present a threat to US sovereignty. Which means that Yankees are immune from prosecution – something we should all keep very much in mind.

The whole situation turned out to be pretty ambiguous: the Americans got scared, but the ICC ended up bending under Washington’s pressure. It still looks like the days of America’s complete domination are over, just as the current scandal proved beyond any reasonable doubt.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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Russia in Venezuela

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Russia´s interests and presence in Latin America is not new. We should remember Russian activities in Cuba during the Cold War, which almost generated a nuclear war between Moscow and Washington. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, it was quite clear that Central and South America were not among the top priorities of the Russian Federation.

Anyway, at the beginning of the 21st century Russia returned to that region and Venezuela and other Chavist anti-imperialist (mainly understood as anti-American) populist governments were eager to deep their diplomatic, economic and military relations with Moscow.

From the Russian side we can identify a general objective, which is to gain influence in Latin America at the expense of the United States and a particular one: to secure lucrative economic opportunities in the oil and gas sectors.

A marriage of convenience between Venezuela and Russia was born at that time. Moreover, it lasts until today.

In the case of Venezuela, after the death of Hugo Chavez in 2013, his successor, Nicolás Maduro, the reduction of the international oil prizes and the mismanagement of the national economy generated a crisis that began as economic, then social and finally political.

In this situation of institutional weakness, foreign powers as Russia, China, and the United States intended to gain influence and to get benefits for their companies. However, since Maduro continued its anti-American rhetoric were mainly Russian and Chinese companies those that obtained the lion´s share. It is important to note that according to international studies Venezuela has larger oil proven resources than Saudi Arabia, which helps to understand the interest of those extra regional powers in that south American country.

The regional and international pressure on Maduro´s government and the growing domestic opposition lead to a political and economic isolation of Venezuela. As a consequence of that the government increased its dependence on Russia and China.

Russian oil and gas companies are very active in Venezuela and the main interest of Putin´s administration is to secure their interests and protect their investments. More than investments, Venezuela is highly indebted to Moscow and Beijing since during the last five years those two countries were the only external creditors to Maduro´s government.

Behind the so-called strategic partnership, there is pure economic and geopolitical interest.

The main problem that face Russia (and China) is how to convince to the Venezuelan opposition, headed by Juan Guaidó, to recognize their position in the case of changes on the government. Due to the determined support received from Washington it is not clear that Moscow and Beijing will get what they want. Washington want a new beginning, to begin from scratch and not any kind of compensation or share with Russia and China. From our perspective, those are extreme positions (Russia and China from one side and United States on the other side) and diplomatic channels could open the ground for negotiations and compensations.

Russia´s deployment of troops has to do with media more than with a military need. We can argue that those forces are there to protect Russian interests (Russian infrastructure and investments) not Maduro´s government.

Any military clash would be hard to sustain for Russia due to the impossibility to maintain a logistic chain and the financial costs involved. It is more rational to consider the deployment of troops as an insurance for its interests and a leverage for any potential negotiation.

At that moment, nor the United States nor any other South American country (mainly Colombia and Brazil) is eager to a violent regime change in Venezuela and a military intervention. If Washington (and Guaidó) recognize the interests of Russia and China, Maduro´s government will lose its main political and economic supporters and will be open to a transition. In the meantime, the Venezuelan people is trying to survive. Venezuela has generated more refugees than Syria. Just to note it.

Russia’s deployment of troops in Venezuela has caused a new standoff between the U.S. and Russia with the U.S. accusing Russia of intervening in Venezuela’s internal affairs. But is the U.S. really in the “moral high ground” of such accusation given its history of intervening?

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The Only Way To Solve America’s Immigration Border Crisis Without Losing Its Humanity

Rahul D. Manchanda, Esq.

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The United States of America is under unprecedented turmoil these days over its border crisis problem with Mexico, more with the political forces at work both for, and against, erecting a wall, cracking down and jailing and removing illegal aliens, giving more authority to local law enforcement to work with federal law enforcement in these efforts, as well as more scrutiny and hammering down of immigration applications of all types.

Truly there is a fury of activity within the United States with allegations of “racism” and “xenophobia” being thrown around, responded to with “national security” and “safety” being hurled back.

There doesn’t seem to be an end in sight because the Republicans and the Democrats are locked in a fight to the death, with neither side willing to budge or even negotiate a way out of this mess.

Suffice it to say that one of the main origins of this now boiling over immigration border crisis lay with the people that elected Donald Trump to be President – more commonly known as “Nationalists,” or “America Firsters.”

These people are characterized as being staunchly against Globalism, or Internationalism, and share many commonalities with their cousins across the Atlantic in the United Kingdom, otherwise known as the supporters of “Brexit,” who wanted to pull away from both the European Union and the globe in general.

But the problem lies in the fact that for at least the past 70 years, the United States and Europe have literally operated on an “Ordo Ab Chao” (“Order out of Chaos”) approach, destroying and starving other nations and their sovereignty with outright war, terrorism, election overturning, sanctions or just cutting them off from the global economy.

The “blowback” of these interventionist policies of the past 70 years has resulted in incidents such as September 11 and other terrorist acts in its most violent form, but also in mass illegal immigration as another form of blowback, albeit much less violent but still just as disruptive to the economy, safety, health, and cohesion of the United States.

This is also happening in Europe wherein the people of those countries that they destroyed, are now flowing back into theirs, through the millions of refugees created by the unforgivable, wilful, wanton, and intentional destruction of their infrastructure, waterways, electrical grids, arable land, cities, hospitals, schools, everything.

One of the major reasons that the Establishment in both America and Europe were so vehemently against the Presidency of Donald Trump, or the people behind Brexit, is because they were still not finished with that “Ordo” portion of the phrase, only finished with the “Chao” part, wherein they were still right in the middle of massive project finance, foreign loans through the World Bank and IMF, public and private massive investment and international business, as well as other mechanisms designed to replace foreign nations with leaders, infrastructure, and cultures that were more amenable and in line with this Establishment.

Now that Trump is in office, he has surrounded himself with other like-minded people who simply don’t care about the thousands of private and public international agreements, treaties, loans, funding, relationships, or understandings by and between the U.S. and foreign nations/leaders, and simply thinks that these countries can either “take care of themselves,” “save their own people,” “pay their fair share,” and other isolationist principals – but in reality, after 70 years spent destroying those nations and making them promises, this type of abrupt “cutting off” policy, while disallowing them to enter or do business with the USA, is nothing short of a slow motion genocide of the world’s people.

To that end we as a nation, if we are to begin to solve this endless illegal alien immigration crisis, must bite the bullet and forge/build relationships (and even provide funding) to those nations where the majority of these people are coming from, so that this sieve is turned off, as much as possible.

Merely building a wall, while turning away or denying all immigrants their basic human rights, is simply not enough.

The USA (and Europe) has had a significant role in destroying those nations from where these illegal immigrants have come from, and must do more to assist those nations in controlling their own “emigrant” problem, so that the USA (and Europe) does not have to.

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