Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Are Some Cultures Better Than Others at Cultivating Empathy?

By  Gary Olson               Common Dreams                July 27, 2015

Today's pop quiz: Which of the following countries has the most medical professionals working in the world's poorest countries; has doctors who have performed 3 million free eye operations in 33 countries; created the world's largest medical school with 22,000 students; has a ratio of one physician for every 167 people (No. 1 in the world); has lower infant mortality and higher life expectancy than the United States; and has free, high quality, universal primary health care?

A. Sweden           B. France           C. Canada           D. Norway           E. None of the above

The correct answer is E. None of the above. Many Americans are surprised to learn that the country described above is Cuba. After the Cuban revolution of Jan. 1, 1959, which overthrew the brutal Batista dictatorship, about half of Cuba's doctors fled the island for more lucrative practices, most to Miami. Yet even under these dire circumstances and the crushing U.S. embargo that followed, Cuba began dispatching volunteer medical contingents abroad.

Many people are surprised to learn that Cuban medical professionals have saved more lives in the Third World than all the wealthy G-8 nations combined, plus the World Health Organization and the Nobel Peace Prize recipient Doctors Without Borders. "At any given time, there are an estimated 50,000 Cuban doctors working in slums and rural areas in as many as 30 other developing nations around the world."

And because Cuba believes health care is a fundamental human right, these totally volunteer services are provided to recipients gratis. One remarkable example among many follows from Cuba's world class specialization in ophthalmology. Under Operacion Milagro (Operation Miracle), Cuban specialists have performed vision-restoring surgery to 2 million people in 34 countries, again at no cost. Bolivian President Evo Morales expressed his gratitude for Cuba's crucial medical assistance to his country by saying, "Cuba has shown its solidarity to us by sending 'troops' who save lives — not like other countries which send troops to end lives."

For more than five decades we've heard plenty about Cuba's shortcomings, but virtually nothing about its stunning accomplishments. After the Cuban revolution of Jan. 1, 1959, which overthrew the brutal Batista dictatorship, about half of Cuba's doctors fled the island for more lucrative practices, most to Miami. Yet even under these dire circumstances and the crushing U.S. embargo that followed, Cuba began dispatching volunteer medical contingents abroad.

As noted by Cuba expert John Lee Anderson, "At any given time, there are an estimated 50,000 Cuban doctors working in slums and rural areas in as many as 30 other developing nations around the world." These totally volunteer services are provided to recipients gratis. One remarkable example among many follows from Cuba's world class specialization in ophthalmology. Under Operacion Milagro (Operation Miracle), Cuban specialists have performed vision-restoring surgery to 2 million people in 34 countries, again at no cost. Bolivian President Evo Morales expressed his gratitude by saying, "Cuba has shown its solidarity to us by sending 'troops' who save lives — not like other countries which send troops to end lives."

In 1999, Cuba founded ELAM (the Latin America School of Medicine), the world's largest medical school. It offers a free education (including a living stipend) to students from poor countries, and more than 10,000 students have graduated from its highly respected six-year program. The only requirement is that students make a moral commitment to return home and serve marginalized populations. Note: Since 2007, more than 100 young people from the U.S. have graduated from ELAM and returned to work in underserved areas of the US.

At this point, I can readily appreciate why some readers might react with cynicism. Canadian professor John Kirk, who conducted 120 in-depth interviews with Cuban medical volunteers, acknowledges a myriad of motives. However, he emphasizes that "a key element that needs to be understood is the form of socialization that Cubans are reared in throughout their formative years." Professor Kirk notes that beginning in day care, Cuban children are socialized to watch out for the weakest, to empathize with others who are less fortunate. Despite overwhelming odds, this small country of 11 million people has taken empathy from the abstract realm and brought it down to earth. We court both personal and national peril by not learning more about it.

© 2015 The Morning Call     Common Dreams           [Abridged]


Tuesday, 21 July 2015

What a choice for Egypt – a megalomaniac president or the madness of Isis

Robert Fisk                              Independent/UK                                   20 July 2015

 Egypt is following the path of so many other countries that are being torn apart. If you torture your people enough, Isis will germinate in their wounds

The images of an Egyptian gunboat exploding off the coast of Sinai last week were a warning to our Western politicians. Yes, we support Egypt. We love Egypt. We continue to send our tourists to Egypt. Because we support President Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi – despite the fact that his government has locked up more than 40,000 mostly political prisoners, more than 20,000 of them supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, hundreds of whom have been sentenced to death. The Egyptian regime continues to pretend that its Brotherhood enemies are the same as Isis. And Isis – in its dangerous new role as the Islamist power in Sinai – has killed hundreds of Egyptian troops, more than 60 of them two weeks ago, after which a military spokesman in Cairo announced that Sinai was “100 per cent under control”. However, after last week’s virtual destruction of the naval vessel, we might ask: who does control the peninsula?

Yet, while the biggest battle is fought in Sinai since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, we psychologically smother this conflict with our fears about Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen. So relieved are we in the West that a secular general has replaced the first democratically elected president of Egypt that we now support Sisi’s leadership as benevolently as we once supported that of Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Americans have resumed arms supplies to Egypt – and why not when Sisi’s men are fighting the apocalyptic Isis?

To Egyptians, though, it all looks a bit different. They are being treated to Sisi’s almost Saddam-like mega-mind. This includes his grotesque ambitions for a new super-capital to replace poor old Cairo, to be completed in a maximum of seven years, not far from the new two-lane Suez canal which must be finished – and those who know Egypt will literally gasp here – in a maximum of 12 months. The “new” Cairo is going to be 700 sqkm in size and will cost £30bn. The unveiling of this preposterous project a few weeks ago was accompanied by none other than our own Tony Blair, who used to be a British prime minister but is now (among other burdensome chores) advising the Egyptian president through a UAE-backed consultancy.

 This “spendthrift dream of modernity”, as the American writer Maria Golia puts it, betrays an indifference to Egyptians’ real interests. Over 60 per cent of Cairo – the real Cairo that exists today – was built in the past few decades and is spread across miles of tree-bald rotting concrete estates of poverty and heat. Its thousands of newly developed villa-suburbs high above the city are largely empty; no one can afford to purchase them. Could there be a better environment for Isis?

So let’s take a brief look at Sisi’s real Egypt. Rather than rejuvenate the weary, fetid city that Cairo became under the British and then King Farouk and then Nasser and then Sadat and then Mubarak, Sisi wants to start all over again. There is already a New Cairo outside the original Cairo – it was constructed as an expansion of the city under Sadat and Mubarak – so Sisi’s megalopolis will be new New Cairo, a second attempt to alleviate social failure.

The President need not worry too much about industrial disputes in his fantasy city. The Egyptian Supreme Administrative Court has made strikes illegal on the grounds (Brotherhood-like) that practising the right to strike – albeit legalised under Article 13 of the Egyptian constitution – “violates Islamic sharia”. The court has already “retired” three civil servants and imposed penalties on 14 others for striking in the governorate of Monufia, arguing that withdrawing labour “goes against Islamic teachings and the purposes of Islamic sharia”. Under Islamic law, the court announced with almost Isis-style formality, “obeying orders by seniors at work is a duty”. This was a very weird ruling. The teachings of the Prophet forbid alcohol consumption (mercifully, for millions of Muslims, cigarettes had not been invented in the seventh century), but trade unions would have been incomprehensible in any ancient caliphate.

This is the early section of a long article by Fisk.


Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Euthanasia Debate

 Ian Harris                               Otago Daily Times                            July 10, 2015

There are situations where helping someone to die must be a moral option, writes Ian Harris. But only out of love, after all else has failed.

Some moral choices are black and white – it’s wrong to lie, steal, assault or kill. Not always, though. Confronting an enemy in war, most would probably think it right to lie, steal, assault or kill – maybe not right in an absolute sense, but justified in the circumstances. Context matters.

The same applies to the debate on euthanasia, focussed anew by Wellington lawyer Lecretia Seales’ court plea to allow her doctor to help her die, should her suffering from cancer become unbearable. The judge ruled the law allowed him no such jurisdiction, and Seales died before her worst fears were realised. But the issues she raised about end-of-life choice grow more acute with every passing year.

I see three underlying reasons for that: a secularising society, an evolving understanding of God, and a changing perspective on life itself. Secularisation colours everything. For as our culture loses the binding power of a shared religious consciousness, which Christianity once gave it, restraints that used to seem self-evident have weakened and grown blurry. Secular perspectives on life and death now tussle with religious convictions, individualist imperatives with those of community.

“Isn’t this my body? My life?” asked Seales. Sure, but “my body, my life” are still set within the context of a wider community, and that doesn’t suddenly become irrelevant when someone is afflicted by illness, despair or decay. Quite the contrary, the community and its resources are well-springs of support, compassion, healing and hope. Then there’s God. In traditional theology, a God beyond created the universe and everything in it, including each human life. God knows best, and since life is God’s gift, it is not for any lesser being to cut it short. That means a blanket “no” to euthanasia, not now, not ever.

But that is not the only way to conceive of God. In the modern world, it is more constructive to recognise God-talk as a very human way of probing life’s deep questions of meaning, mystery and purpose. Every culture and every generation grapples with these. And as human knowledge expands, not only do old certainties about God seem less convincing, but men and women increasingly take responsibility for things that were once God’s sole prerogative – whether and when to have children, intervening in natural processes to cure disease, prolong life, and now, perhaps, end it. The absolute sanctity of life, rooted in God as the giver of life, is undermined by more human-oriented notions of life’s “quality”, “dignity”, “autonomy” and “freedom”.

In my understanding it is we humans who, for the best of reasons, create our concepts of God. Over aeons, the creative imagination has repeatedly generated a supreme symbol for the highest values people aspire to, one which touches all they affirm as ultimate and brings a sense of meaning, cohesion and purpose.

As concepts of God change, so do people’s attitudes to life itself. That effect is magnified by our continually expanding knowledge about every aspect of life – physical, psychological, social, spiritual – including the realisation that it is Earth itself, through its processes of evolution, that gave rise to all life, including our own. Indeed, the fact that any of us is alive at all is a miracle. Our individual uniqueness is the end result of thousands of chance meetings and matings over 200,000 years, one spermatozoon among billions fertilising one ovum among hundreds, generation after generation.

Bring together God as enhancer of life rather than its origin, life as a gift of the planet finding fulfilment in community, ever-increasing human power – what do they suggest in relation to dying well (which is what euthanasia means)? First, life is an awe-inspiring privilege. But our right to life is not a purely individual matter. Each life has meaning only within the connectedness of personal relationships (without which we would never be born) and of community (without which we could never reach our potential).

Second, the instinct and responsibility of doctors should always be to intervene on the side of life, by relieving disease, pain and suffering. Palliative care must surely be the default setting for the terminally ill.

Sadly, there are cases where that falls short. Then the question becomes: What does love require in this unique situation? Continued suffering when all hope is gone? Or assistance to a gentler death? If the latter, on whose say-so? By what criteria? With what safeguards?

This leads to the conclusion that helping someone to die well must be a moral option – but only out of love, after all else has failed.

Jimmy Carter on Losing my religion for Equality

Reprinted in Sydney Morning Herald July 15, 2009

I HAVE been a practising Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world. So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention's leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be "subservient" to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.

 This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women's equal rights across the world for centuries.

 At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.

 The impact of these religious beliefs touches every aspect of our lives. They help explain why in many countries boys are educated before girls; why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their basic health needs are not met. In some Islamic nations, women are restricted in their movements, punished for permitting the exposure of an arm or ankle, deprived of education, prohibited from driving a car or competing with men for a job. If a woman is raped, she is often most severely punished as the guilty party in the crime.

The same discriminatory thinking lies behind the continuing gender gap in pay and why there are still so few women in office in the West. The root of this prejudice lies deep in our histories, but its impact is felt every day. It is not women and girls alone who suffer. It damages all of us. The evidence shows that investing in women and girls delivers major benefits for society. An educated woman has healthier children. She is more likely to send them to school. She earns more and invests what she earns in her family.

 It is simply self-defeating for any community to discriminate against half its population. We need to challenge these self-serving and outdated attitudes and practices - as we are seeing in Iran where women are at the forefront of the battle for democracy and freedom. I understand, however, why many political leaders can be reluctant about stepping into this minefield. Religion, and tradition, are powerful and sensitive areas to challenge. But my fellow Elders and I, who come from many faiths and backgrounds, no longer need to worry about winning votes or avoiding controversy - and we are deeply committed to challenging injustice wherever we see it.

The Elders are an independent group of eminent global leaders, brought together by former South African president Nelson Mandela, who offer their influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity. We have decided to draw particular attention to the responsibility of religious and traditional leaders in ensuring equality and human rights and have recently published a statement that declares: "The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable."

We are calling on all leaders to challenge and change the harmful teachings and practices, no matter how ingrained, which justify discrimination against women. We ask, in particular, that leaders of all religions have the courage to acknowledge and emphasise the positive messages of dignity and equality that all the world's major faiths share. The carefully selected verses found in the Holy Scriptures to justify the superiority of men owe more to time and place - and the determination of male leaders to hold onto their influence - than eternal truths. Similar biblical excerpts could be found to support the approval of slavery and the timid acquiescence to oppressive rulers.

I am also familiar with vivid descriptions in the same Scriptures in which women are revered as pre-eminent leaders. During the years of the early Christian church women served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, teachers and prophets. It wasn't until the fourth century that dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted Holy Scriptures to perpetuate their ascendant positions within the religious hierarchy.

The truth is that male religious leaders have had - and still have - an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world. This is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions - all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God. It is time we had the courage to challenge these views.

OBSERVER Jimmy Carter was president of the United States from 1977 to 1981.

First rule of refugees – don’t be a Muslim if you want help.

We now treat each refugee on the grounds of their race, religion or purpose of flight. We do not treat them as human beings

Robert Fisk                                 Independent/UK                        13 July 2015

Nineteenth-century Americans were on safe ground when they inscribed the words of Emma Lazarus on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” A comparatively new country, the United States needed the destitute of Europe – the Irish, the Jews of Russia – to expand their nation. There was no question of referring to the Irish “poor” as “economic migrants” or to those Jews “yearning to breathe free” as “asylum seekers” or “political refugees” from the Tsar’s pogroms.

In the decades to come, however, the world assumed that the “huddled masses” could be returned in safety to their land of origin. Thus US and other “Christian” nations decided that survivors of the 1915 Armenian genocide should go back to what had been their homes in “Western Armenia” (Ottoman Anatolia). And many hundreds of thousands of Armenians lingered on the edge of Turkey in the hope that the victors of the First World War would return them to lands no longer controlled by their Ottoman Turkish killers.

America’s Near East Relief was the first great humanitarian organisation of its kind, and the millions of dollars which it raised in the US saved the lives of countless Armenian refugees – especially orphans – scattered around the Arab world. Now comes a deeply moving book by University of California human rights professor Keith Watenpaugh who has studied the history of humanitarianism in the Middle East from the files of the League of Nations, the UN’s poor old predecessor.

 Watenpaugh’s book, the author acknowledges, “was written at a time when the contemporary ‘Middle East’ descended into a humanitarian disaster that, in its degree of suffering and international indifference, resembles the one that occurred during and following the First World War.”

How right he is. Only of course, the world changed. The humanitarian Americans of the 19th century who welcomed the pogromed Jews of Russia were far less keen to give sanctuary to the Jewish victims of Hitler. Before the Second World War, like European nations, they turned them away. And after the Holocaust, they preferred that Jewish survivors should go to their “true” home in Palestine rather than settle in the US.

 British power in Palestine collapsed and 750,000 Arab Palestinian refugees were created. Their existence today and that of their descendants remains a humanitarian scandal. But somewhere, the history of that “today” ended and another scandal began. In the break-up of the present-day Middle East to which Watenpaugh refers, Christian refugees from Iraq and Syria and Egypt – like those Armenians who headed for America and Europe in the 1920s – have generally been received by “Christian” countries. But most of the refugees today are Muslims fleeing Muslims and they are not receiving the same generosity.

 I’ve walked around their refugee camps in Lebanon, amid squalor and disease, and talked to mothers who have already lost their children. Last week, I watched them by the hundred streaming towards the Macedonian border with Greece, sweltering in the heat, beaten by border guards in their attempts to enter central Europe. They are tough, resilient, not unlike those Armenians who could “create bread from stones”.

There are no more safe havens; the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre this weekend is proof enough. And while we now save these people from the waters of the Mediterranean, we do not want them. Why? Because they are Muslims and not Christians – or “Westerners” as we prefer to call ourselves today? I fear so.

Alas, we now treat each refugee on the grounds of their race, religion or purpose of flight (“migration”). We do not treat them as human beings. And thus we betray all our religions and all our cultures. I have met no one with an answer to this great moral dilemma of our times. 

The Middle East refugees possessed such a man after the Great War, an individual who cared for the poor and the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. He inspired the creation of an international travel document for refugees recognised by 54 states in the case of former Russian citizens (Russians, Poles, Latvian Ukrainians, Turkic Muslims), and 38 in the case of Armenians. He was a polar explorer whose name is now almost forgotten: Fridtjof Nansen. He even won the Nobel Peace Prize. And that, too, has been forgotten. [Abridged]


Monday, 6 July 2015

Throughout history, debt and war have been constant partners

As Greece’s spending on weapons shows, it’s not pensions or benefits that cripple economies, it’s the military-industrial complex

Giles Fraser                             Guardian/UK                      3 July 2015

Somewhere in a Greek jail, the former defence minister, Akis Tsochatzopoulos, watches the financial crisis unfold. I wonder how partly responsible he feels? In 2013, Akis (as he is popularly known)
went down for 20 years, finally succumbing to the waves of financial scandal to which his name had long been associated. For alongside the lavish spending, the houses and the dodgy tax returns, there was bribery, and it was the €8m appreciation he received from the German arms dealer, Ferrostaal, for the Greek government’s purchase of Type 214 submarines, that sent him to prison.

There is this idea that the Greeks got themselves into this current mess because they paid themselves too much for doing too little. Well, maybe. But it’s not the complete picture. For the Greeks also got themselves into debt for the oldest reason in the book – one might even argue, for the very reason that public debt itself was first invented – to raise and support an army.

The state’s need for quick money to raise an army is how industrial-scale money lending comes into business (in the face of the church’s historic opposition to usury). Indeed, in the west, one might even stretch to say that large-scale public debt began as a way to finance military intervention in the Middle East – i.e. the crusades. And just as rescuing Jerusalem from the Turks was the justification for massive military spending in the middle ages, so the fear of Turkey has been the reason given for recent Greek spending. Along with German subs, the Greeks have bought French frigates, US F16s and German Leopard 2 tanks. In the 1980s, for example, the Greeks spent an average of 6.2% of their GDP on defence compared with a European average of 2.9%. In the years following their EU entry, the Greeks were the world’s fourth-highest spenders on conventional weaponry.

So, to recap: corrupt German companies bribed corrupt Greek politicians to buy German weapons. And then a German chancellor presses for austerity on the Greek people to pay back the loans they took out (with German banks) at massive interest, for the weapons they bought off them in the first place. Is this an unfair characterisation? A bit. It wasn’t just Germany. And there were many other factors at play in the escalation of Greek debt. But the postwar difference between the Germans and the Greeks is not the tired stereotype that the former are hardworking and the latter are lazy, but rather that, among other things, the Germans have, for obvious reasons, been restricted in their military spending. And they have benefited massively from that.

Debt and war are constant partners. “The global financial crisis was due, at least in part, to the war,” wrote Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, calculating the cost of the US intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq, pre-financial crash, to have been $3tn. Indeed, it was only this year, back in March, that the UK taxpayer finally paid off the money we borrowed to fight the first world war. “This is a moment for Britain to be proud of,” said George Osborne, as he paid the final instalment of £1.9bn. Really?

The phrase “military-industrial complex” is one of those cliches of 70s leftwing radicalism, but it was Dwight D Eisenhower, a five-star general no less, who warned against its creeping power in his final speech as president. “This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence – economic, political, even spiritual – is felt in every city, every state house, every office of the federal government … we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.” Ike was right.

This week, Church House, C of E HQ,
hosted a conference sponsored by the arms dealers Lockheed Martin and MBDA Missile Systems. We preach about turning swords into ploughs yet help normalise an industry that turns them back again. The archbishop of Canterbury has been pretty solid on Wonga and trying to put legal loan sharks out of business. Now the church needs to take this up a level. For the debts that cripple entire countries come mostly from spending on war, not on pensions. And we don’t say this nearly enough.

@giles_fraser http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2015/jul/03/throughout-history-debt-and-war-have-been-constant-partners

Europe’s Attack on Greek Democracy

By Joseph Stiglitz                      Common Dreams                     June 29, 2015

NEW YORK – The rising crescendo of bickering and acrimony within Europe might seem to outsiders to be the inevitable result of the bitter endgame playing out between Greece and its creditors. In fact, European leaders are finally beginning to reveal the true nature of the ongoing debt dispute, and the answer is not pleasant: it is about power and democracy much more than money and economics.

Of course, the economics behind the program that the “troika” (the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund) foisted on Greece five years ago has been abysmal, resulting in a 25% decline in the country’s GDP. I can think of no depression, ever, that has been so deliberate and had such catastrophic consequences: Greece’s rate of youth unemployment now exceeds 60%. The troika is demanding that Greece achieve a primary budget surplus (excluding interest payments) of 3.5% of GDP by 2018.

Economists around the world have condemned that target as punitive, because aiming for it will inevitably result in a deeper downturn. Indeed, even if Greece’s debt is restructured beyond anything imaginable, the country will remain in depression if voters there commit to the troika’s target in the snap referendum to be held this weekend.

In terms of transforming a large primary deficit into a surplus, few countries have accomplished anything like what the Greeks have achieved in the last five years. And, though the cost in terms of human suffering has been extremely high, the Greek government’s recent proposals went a long way toward meeting its creditors’ demands.

We should be clear: almost none of the huge amount of money loaned to Greece has actually gone there. It has gone to pay out private-sector creditors – including German and French banks. Greece has gotten but a pittance, but it has paid a high price to preserve these countries’ banking systems. The IMF and the other “official” creditors do not need the money that is being demanded. Under a business-as-usual scenario, the money received would most likely just be lent out again to Greece.

But, again, it’s not about the money. It’s about using “deadlines” to force Greece to knuckle under, and to accept the unacceptable – not only austerity measures, but other regressive and punitive policies. But why would Europe do this? Why are European Union leaders resisting the referendum and refusing even to extend by a few days the June 30 deadline for Greece’s next payment to the IMF? Isn’t Europe all about democracy?

In January, Greece’s citizens voted for a government committed to ending austerity. If the government were simply fulfilling its campaign promises, it would already have rejected the proposal. But it wanted to give Greeks a chance to weigh in on this issue, so critical for their country’s future wellbeing.

That concern for popular legitimacy is incompatible with the politics of the eurozone, which was never a very democratic project. Most of its members’ governments did not seek their people’s approval to turn over their monetary sovereignty to the ECB. When Sweden’s did, Swedes said no. They understood that unemployment would rise if the country’s monetary policy were set by a central bank that focused single-mindedly on inflation.

And, sure enough, what we are seeing now, 16 years after the eurozone institutionalized those relationships, is the antithesis of democracy. After all, it is extremely inconvenient to have in Greece a government that is so opposed to the types of policies that have done so much to increase inequality in so many advanced countries, and that is so committed to curbing the unbridled power of wealth. 

It is hard to advise Greeks how to vote on July 5. A yes vote would mean depression almost without end. Perhaps a depleted country – one that has sold off all of its assets, and whose bright young people have emigrated – might finally get debt forgiveness; perhaps, having shriveled into a middle-income economy, Greece might finally be able to get assistance from the World Bank. By contrast, a no vote would at least open the possibility that Greece, with its strong democratic tradition, might grasp its destiny in its own hands. Greeks might gain the opportunity to shape a future that, though perhaps not as prosperous as the past, is far more hopeful than the unconscionable torture of the present. I know how I would vote. [Abbrev.] 
http://www.commondreams.org/views/2015/06/29/europes-attack-greek-democracy ©                Joseph Stiglitz received the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2001.

His Soul Wrapped in a Confederate Flag

 By Robert C. Koehler                        Common Dreams                   25 June, 2015 

At the bond hearing, grieving loved ones forgave Dylann Roof. This was reported as news, but it was so much more than that. It was the light embracing the darkness.

And white America absorbed this forgiveness through the eyes of the 21-year-old terrorist, who watched the proceedings on a video screen from his jail cell. Whatever he heard and felt is unknown, but beyond him, in the world he believed he was saving, something gave. The solidarity of whiteness — the quiet assumption of white supremacy — shuddered ever so slightly.

The flag, the flag . . . The fate of this symbolic relic of the slave era is now the big story in the aftermath of Roof’s murder of nine African-Americans. He acted in such clear allegiance to the Confederate flag that politicians everywhere — even Republican presidential candidates — are demanding, or at least acquiescing to, its removal from public and official locations, such as in front of the South Carolina State House. Not only that, “Walmart and Sears, two of the country’s largest retailers, will remove all Confederate flag merchandise from their stores,” CNN reported. This is what atonement looks like in a consumer culture.

“The announcements,” according to CNN, “are the latest indication that the flag, a symbol of the slave-holding South, has become toxic in the aftermath of a shooting last week at a historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina.” A few days later, Amazon and eBay also announced they would remove Confederate flag merchandise from their sites. No longer available, CNN reported, would be such flag-decorated items as folding knives, T-shirts, blankets or (God help us) shower curtains.

Roof’s act of terror has forced mainstream America to begin consciously disassociating itself from the lethal margins of white solidarity, to wake up to what it really means. But this waking up, so far, seems limited to the symbolism of Confederate paraphernalia. All our guilt is being dumped here, while the pain that Roof’s act of terror has caused ebbs and slowly vanishes from the social mainstream. In fact, an undead racism still stalks the American consciousness and it will, once again, regroup, Confederate flag or no Confederate flag. What this moment of awareness calls for is true atonement for our history.

“I forgive you.” These are the words of Nadine Collier, the daughter of 70-year-old Ethel Lance, one of Roof’s victims. “You took something very precious from me. I will never talk to her again. I will never, ever hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.”

Atonement begins with cradling the pain. “We welcomed you Wednesday night with open arms,” said Felicia Sanders, who was not only present in the church during the murders but the mother of Tywanza Sanders, 26, the youngest of those killed. We must cradle this as well: the open souls of the murder victims.

Do we value such openness as a nation? The killer — who was, as he entered the church, simply an unknown young man — did not go through security clearance as he walked through the open door. He had complete freedom of movement as he entered the historic African-American church, where he was accepted simply for his humanity. Yes, such openness and acceptance are also part of who we are as a nation, but . . . do we value these qualities? Do we have the least faith that they matter now more than ever, now that they’ve been so violated?

But all such questions lead back into the depth of American history and the need for atonement and transformation. A Reuters story, addressing the segregated nature of most American churches (11 a.m. Sunday is “the most segregated hour in the nation,” Martin Luther King once said), pointed out: “The story of this division began in America’s earliest moments, when slaves and freed African-Americans alike were often expected to pray in the same churches as whites, but in areas cordoned off, often called ‘slave galleries.’”

The U.S. is enslaved by its past. That’s what no one has said yet. One hundred fifty years after the Civil War ended, we’re thinking maybe it’s time to lower the flag that symbolizes this enslavement.