05 November 2012

Outside the Surreality Bubble

People all around the world watch the circus of U.S. elections unfold with the understanding that the presidency of the United States affects their lives. Decisions about war and peace, whether or not to address climate change, crafting trade policies and ensuring the stability of financial institutions on the part of the “leader of the free world” reach far beyond the borders of the United States of America. But it is not a one-way relationship: conditions and events in the rest of the world also affect the lives of U.S. citizens. This is not just a result of recent “globalization.” It has long been a reality that has simply been overlooked by a contentedly self-absorbed society.

With the capabilities we now have to become more engaged in global currents, regardless of whoever it is who is declared president of the United States of America for the next four years, the impetus for joining together in struggles that are really all the same struggle to build a worldwide network of strong and healthy societies will continue to grow.

Despite the way that the media so quickly obscures the past in the shadows of its never-ending stream of quantized words and images, the “Occupy Wall Street” movement is not forgotten. Even without the symbolism of a physical occupation in the heart of the financial district to keep the issues at the front of our minds, the momentum for holding the one percent who control most of the wealth and almost all the power accountable to the needs of the 99 percent is not so easily put to rest, as we observe the obscene amount of money being spent on a broken election process – money that could be invested in other ways that would much better serve society.

And despite the media’s prepackaging of the OWS movement as a U.S. invention, a broader perspective shows that it was actually part of an ongoing wave of citizens movements that swept through Iceland, Greece, Ireland, England, France, Italy, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Bahrain, Chile, and Spain before the idea of staging an occupation in the heart of the financial district of New York was floated – by Adbusters, a Canadian organization.

So, from outside the surreality of these final days before the election, here are a few important stories from elsewhere in the world that remind us that the goal of defending democracy from greed and corruption is one that is shared across the planet and that we can all support each other in – beginning with awareness of what is happening around the world and supporting those organizations who are reporting on situations and events everywhere.

Greece: Corruption vs. Press Freedom

Freedom of speech and of the press are fundamental to democracy, and in the birthplace of democracy, one victory for freedom of the press symbolizes the importance of the fourth estate in exposing the corruption that the checks and balances that are supposed to govern power are incapable of preventing.

Kostas Vaxevanis, an editor who was threatened with a 30,000 euro fine and a year in prison, has been declared innocent of the crime of breaking Greek privacy laws for publishing a list of possible tax cheats known as the “Lagarde List.” In 2010, Greek finance minister Yiorgos Papakonstantinou requested and received from his French counterpart, Christine Lagarde, a CD containing the names of nearly 2,000 wealthy Greek individuals and companies with accounts at a branch of HSBC in Geneva who warranted investigation due to problems with their tax declarations. But both he and his successor have claimed that their offices had lost track of the CD, and when it finally did make its way recently to the financial crimes investigators, the only action taken was inaction. The list remains in ghostly limbo, not ever having been registered as an “official document” by anyone.

The issue of Greek politicians having no will to take on the powerful elite who have corrupted their government would likely have also remained a ghostly shadow if not for the international press, particularly Al Jazeera, who Vaxevanis thanked after his acquittal. He claimed that the silence of the Greek press was due to a cover-up, although the strike by the journalists union could also be said to have played a part in the lack of coverage.

So the lack of freedom of the press within Greece remains, despite this important victory. In fact, as reported by Al Jazeera’s Barnaby Phillips, it is a very troubling problem that is only the tip of the iceberg of problems that are plaguing Greece as the country struggles with through the dire consequences of the global economic crisis by facing yet another round of austerity measures. The silencing of dissent, lack of a political will to action in correcting the problems that got Greece into the mess it is in, and growing shift of blame for the country’s problems onto the immigrant population colliding with the pain of economic crisis and government cutbacks are giving rise to the sense of a Sandy-sized storm of mayhem building on the Greek horizon.

As the Vaxivanis case shows, the storm could be dissipated – through the vigilance of the international community.

Israel: In the Shadow of the U.S. Elections

4 November 2008, as we all remember, was the date on which the first black man, Barack Hussein Obama, was ever elected as president of the United States of America.

The people of Gaza remember the date for a different reason. It was the date when Israel shattered an Egypt-brokered ceasefire agreement with Hamas – of which the Israelis were not exactly upholding their promises all along – and up until unilaterally declaring a ceasefire two days before the 20 January inauguration, Israel used what Ban Ki-moon called “excessive force” to try to destroy Hamas. Israel completed their troop withdrawal on the morning after the inauguration.

While the world was spinning around the historic drama in the United States, Israel not only pounded Hamas and the people of Gaza, behind whom the Hamas soldiers were shamefully shielding themselves, the media was spinning the narrative that Israel was only doing what needed to be done, blaming Hamas for rejecting the ceasefire agreement in mid-December. However, Gareth Porter of the Inter Press Service, it was the Israelis who ignored Hamas’ proposal.

Well, here we four years later, and important events in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Once again, an offer to resume negotiations coming out of Palestine, this time by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, has been rejected. In fact, according to Xinhuanet, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman  were slammed, over the weekend, by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni for stalling the peace process, trying to convince the Israeli public that the Palestinians were not interested in peace, and creating a “lack of trust.”

Again, it is vitally important for people in the United States to know about news stories such as this because Netanyahu has been working even harder on U.S. public opinion.

image: Athenian Acropolis, via Wikipedia

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