Haiti and Somalia: Thank you, dear Forges

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

In times of so much neglect, of looking the other way, of so many passive spectators, I want to reiterate my gratitude to those who, like Forges, remind us each day what we must keep in our minds and hearts, to gradually begin to change our behavior.

Haiti and Somalia, the inhabitants of these two countries: they need solidarity, especially from those who live in the world’s most prosperous areas and who very frequently allow themselves to be manipulated by information that transforms them into simple recipients without the ability to react, without the courage to cease to think only of themselves and to turn their attention to those in need. Doing so has many advantages since it not only makes you more appreciative of what you have, but also helps you understand the needs of others.

With exemplary insistence, Forges shows us the real challenges that we should bear in mind and assume as our own, especially when (although hounded by the markets –what an immense error it was in the 1980s to have replaced ethical values for those of the stock markets) we are about to celebrate our Christmas holidays and (despite it all) are wishing each other the best for 2012.

Haiti and Somalia… and all of those who live in conditions that can hardly be described as human: we will feel much better if we really show that we care. If we take into account all lives and not only our own. Forges’ reminder is the best New Year’s message of them all.

On the threshold of winter

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Six Reflections:

1) Re-founding the European Union... Re-founding on the same pillars and with the same structures that have prompted the present situation? Re-founding based solely on the economy? Re-founding based on money?

It may serve to “save the euro"... But not for saving Europe and the Europeans, which is what really matters. Europe could be saved by reestablishing the democratic principles (social justice, solidarity, equality) that were erroneously replaced with those of the market. Creating a fiscal federation with the capacity (as is the case in the US and UK) to issue currency or eurobonds; and converting NATO into an autonomous security system with immediate cuts in investments in arms and military spending... replacing an economy of speculation, delocalization of production and obedience to rating agencies with an economy of global sustainable development.

In short, replacing the values of the stock exchange with moral values...

2) Creating employment without incentives?

How can employment be created without public works and support for SMEs? I must once again underscore that it is essential to have the autonomy to quickly issue the money needed to reactivate existing enterprises and create new ones. The US has issued 300 billion dollars and the UK has minted 75 billion pounds sterling precisely for this purpose.

In contrast, in the Eurozone there are budget cuts, austerity measures and a reduction in the workforce. This is not the way. The right way is democracy, which has presently been displaced by the markets. It’s now essential to put the people first.

3) Prosecute Judge Garzón!

Prosecute the best-known judge in the whole world because he had the courage and vision to believe that justice is universal! And who believed that there can’t be a good future if we know so little of the past. For the final reconciliation of Spaniards it is essential that those who lost the civil war be able to know exactly what happened and, to the extent possible, to approach and honor the victims. Those who won have already had many years and much help in doing so.

And in view of the source of these accusations, it’s really incredible that they are going to prosecute the person who has most fought to preserve the memory of the past. We have the duty to remember. Our personal and collective memory is a fundamental part of our heritage.

And Judge Garzón will continue to receive the recognition that he deserves, both at home and abroad.

4) New Electoral Law

It is urgent to decide to reform our Electoral Law. Let’s not delay this by saying that it’s not appropriate “because we just had elections", "because the ballot boxes have just spoken"... For a long time political parties and civil society (especially the 15-M movement and internet users) have insistently demanded a change in our electoral law that is inadequate and anti-democratic. This cannot be delayed if we don’t want to have to maintain our present tightrope walker situation and a sense of weakness with respect to representing the will of all Spaniards.

It should be underscored that under the present Law, citizens will simply choose not to vote. And they will adopt this position in support of pluralism and public liberties. It’s that simple.

No more elections under the present unequal system in which there is no correspondence between the number of votes cast and the number of seats won.

In “El País”, citing Primo Levi, Manuel Rivas referred to the "vacanza morale" that is responsible for the present problems in Spain and in Europe. This moral deficit is proving to be very dangerous because, in addition to its “collateral effects” of corruption, fallacies and constantly broken vain promises, it appears to affect citizens who, distracted, preoccupied, patient (in both meanings of the term) and disillusioned with politicians and with everyone else, continue to demonstrate the same routine, submissive and mindless behavior during elections.

5) Press conferences... with no questions allowed?

Journalists should no longer tolerate this lack of respect. Why do they attend press conferences when they know that they will be prevented from exercising their profession? Why don’t they get up and leave when they realize that there won’t be any interaction with the speaker? Why do they stay for sessions in which they are limited to listening to statements from a “talking head”?

I underscore this because one day they will regret having lost their rights and dignity. And the full exercise of the responsibility of journalists is essential for citizens and for genuine democracy.

6) Elections in Russia. It’s good that citizens are protesting. It’s bad that the US is intervening and criticizing.

It’s great to see thousands of citizens in Russia today freely expressing their protests and disagreement!

It’s great!... because I remember the total silence, absolute obedience and complete submission that so impressed me on my first visit to the Soviet Union in 1961. And, later, on several other trips... until Gorbachev. Citizens were for all effects invisible, inexistent. For that reason I am now quite pleased to see citizens who disagree and demonstrate freely.

In contrast, I find it totally inappropriate that Ms. Clinton has not only criticized the elections and their lack of transparency, but has likewise extended her comments to Russia’s position against the deployment of anti-missile shields initiated by President George Bush. In light of the present situation the last thing we need is to increase military spending (already excessive from any perspective) with anti-missile shields!

The United States providing lessons on how to conduct “transparent” and adequate elections? How quickly they forgot the appalling final recount in Florida that gave President George Bush the victory over Al Gore! In the country that pioneered and is the best endowed in computerized technology, votes were actually recounted by looking at the light through a hole in a punch card with one eye shut...

Sooner than many may suspect, good governance will arrive on the voices of the people. Those voices that now, in Russia and in other places, are heard and are being heard. And in support of building, among us all, a strong and efficient United Nations, to finally make the visionary “We, the Peoples” of the UN Charter a reality.

Popular Outcry in Support of the Environment: Rio + 20 Must Mark the Beginning of a New Era

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

We cannot continue to be distracted, self-absorbed, spineless spectators of the immense and certainly foreseen failure of a system that while attempting to perpetuate itself despite its state of ruin, uses all imaginable means to keep us quite numb and incapable of reacting and expressing our protests and proposals, our agreement and disagreement.

This has gone too far: everyone monitoring "risk amounts", the fluctuation of investment stakeholders values –the others were abandoned long ago- and biased press releases of the rating agencies…

And the living conditions of a majority of mankind? And the damage to the environment and to the habitability of the planet? The “system” relegates and postpones matters essential for compliance with our duties to future generations, the legacy that we must leave those who are arriving one step behind us.

It will soon be the 20th anniversary of the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. I remember how carefully and meticulously we planned it, especially in the United Nations, to ensure that Agenda 21 would provide an appropriate means for healing Mother Nature’s wounds, and preventing many others.

But the neoliberal globalizers had already taken off and tainted money and markets. And we thus arrived at the year 2000 and there was no money to implement the Millennium Objectives, because the only “objective” that the “great domain” pursued and still pursues is to earn more money: delocalizing production out of pure greed, and promoting a speculative economy, a lack of solidarity in tax havens and world governance by the wealthiest nations…

With these guidelines and roadmaps, it’s no wonder that the few attempts to reduce environmental damage and climate change have come to nothing. Kyoto… Durban…: the countries that emit the most CO2 and gases with greenhouse effects, the ones most responsible for polluting the earth, seas and air will not assume commitments, alleging reasons that are undoubtedly a serious insult to the whole of mankind, given that these processes are potentially irreversible and, thus, subject to the ethics of time.

Today I am writing these paragraphs with much urgency, because the preparatory meeting for Río+20 once more suggests that the superpowers’ attitude will be one of indifference and ambiguity, when their commitment and attention are more urgent and necessary than ever.

The time for mobilizing the people has come. It is time to demand, without further postponements, the attention that Mother Earth deserves. A few (the G-8…, G-20…) cannot and should not impose their will on 196 countries.

Let’s activate a broad and dense web in Cyberspace, let’s sign the petitions that arise from all corners of the earth, so that there will soon be millions who demand that Río+20 should represent the beginning of a new era, a historical change of course in which ethical values and democratic principles will finally prevail.

If we are many, it will be possible.

Governance and the “legacy received"...

When I hear so many newly-elected leaders complain of the “state in which they’ve found their offices"... I recall the Russian story "The Three Envelopes", that I published years ago (El País, 13 November 1982) and which is certainly applicable today, those who will soon assume office are following the well-established custom of initially exaggerating the situation, despite the fact that in the specific case that I allude to here and in many others they were quite aware of the seriousness of the situation from their own “homegrown” experiences in the Autonomous Communities where they have governed for quite some time.

There are more than a few predictable new comers who are talking of the urgent necessity of making “structural reforms”, in general, just like that... as in the Russian story:
"The new Rector still speaks favorably of you?". I vigorously indicated that he did, making gestures with my lips and head to show my full conviction that it was so, which perhaps did not disguise my surprise at the question. “Well, he will soon cease to do so, you’ll see", observed a well-know Russian scientist visiting the University of Granada. His assertion that my successor would inevitably blame me for many of his problems had left me quite perplexed. Observing that, he continued: "Do you know the story of the three envelopes? It’s an old Russian tale that is applicable to all transfers of power. When leaving office, the out-going official discreetly leaves the newly-elected official three envelopes numbered 1, 2 and 3, telling him to keep them in the middle drawer of his desk and to open them in numerical order when he feels he is really in trouble.

After a few days, perhaps a few weeks, the initial favorable perspectives have faded; everything becomes difficult, there are many urgent problems... and in the loneliness of his office, the new official decides to open his predecessor’s first envelope. The letter it contains simply says “Criticize me. Blame it on me"... And despite it all, the advice worked and, in effect, for several months the new leader was able to manage the situation by referring to his predecessor’s mistakes, the “lamentable state in which he left all of this” or “the former leader’s total lack of foresight", etc.

But of course the time comes when the transfer of power is too distant a memory to blame everything on the predecessor. And things are not going well and, why deny it? It is improbable, very improbable that such complicated situations can really improve substantially. And the time arrives when the lonely, stressed leader opens the center drawer of his desk and takes out the second envelope. The letter inside reads: "Nothing can be done with the present structures. Change them". The structural reforms bring our man much personal satisfaction and prompts great expectations. For a while the reforms implemented (some of them so admittedly irrelevant, such as moving the 6th floor offices to the 2nd floor, and the 2nd floor archives to the 6th) boost the leader’s image and warrant the praise of his superiors.

But although it may be a result of the logical wear and tear of holding a position of power, or more frequently due to the leader’s ineffectiveness and incompetence in office –and here my colleague’s expression was dark and fatalistic- sooner or later a point is reached in which even new structures don’t resolve the serious problems faced by the protagonist of our story.

Circumstances become such that, recognizing that it is his last recourse, he nervously opens the third envelope which reads: "Rapidly prepare three envelopes for your successor. Your dismissal is imminent".

Since then I have frequently reminded this splendid Russian story. And I am reminded of it today with satisfaction that the fundamental changes that have taken place in our country allow it to be told again... And as then, but even moreso now, we can revisit the story in light of the fact that here there have been no resounding dismissals in the governmental change of power, but rather an ordered transfer of functions prompted by elections. Moreover, regardless of whether the first-envelope measures may sometimes be warranted and the second-envelope measures reasonable, alternation in power characteristic of democratic countries precludes their being a third envelope, because those in power in truly free countries know that they are being watched by the real protagonists of democracy: the people.

And the people are well aware of the moral of the Russian story of the three envelopes...