100 year anniversary of the Christmas Truce of 1914

December 2014 will mark the 100 year anniversary of the Christmas Truce of 1914. During 2014 VFP National will plan activities to share with chapters to celebrate this memorable moment in history.

Christmas Truce of 1914

During World War I, on and around Christmas Day 1914, the sounds of rifles firing and shells exploding faded in a number of places along the Western Front in favor of holiday celebrations in the trenches and gestures of goodwill between enemies.

On Christmas Eve, many German and British troops sang Christmas carols to each other across the lines, and at certain points the Allied soldiers even heard brass bands joining the Germans in their joyous singing.

At the first light of dawn on Christmas Day, some German soldiers emerged from their trenches and approached the Allied lines across no-man’s-land, calling out “Merry Christmas” in their enemies’ native tongues. At first, the Allied soldiers feared it was a trick, but seeing the Germans unarmed they climbed out of their trenches and shook hands with the enemy soldiers. The men exchanged presents of cigarettes and plum puddings and sang carols and songs. There was even a documented case of soldiers from opposing sides playing a good-natured game of soccer.

Some soldiers used this short-lived ceasefire for a more somber task: the retrieval of the bodies of fellow combatants who had fallen within the no-man’s land between the lines.

The so-called Christmas Truce of 1914 came only five months after the outbreak of war in Europe and was one of the last examples of the outdated notion of chivalry between enemies in warfare. It was never repeated—future attempts at holiday ceasefires were quashed by officers’ threats of disciplinary action—but it served as heartening proof, however brief, that beneath the brutal clash of weapons, the soldiers’ essential humanity endured.

During World War I, the soldiers on the Western Front did not expect to celebrate on the battlefield, but even a world war could not destroy the Christmas spirit.

Courtesy of History website

Why Is VFP Involved?

Veterans For Peace is celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the Christmas Truce. We urge our leaders to follow the example set by the Christmas Truce soldiers who rejected militarism and the glorification of war. We call on the nation to honor veterans and all those who have died in war by working for peace and the prevention of war.

Who better than veterans who work for peace to tell the story of these soldiers’ celebration of peace in the midst of war? There is no better way to honor the dead than to protect the living from the fear, terror and morale deprivation of war.Our society needs to hear this story that peace is possible.

Here are ways that you can be involved in the efforts to celebrate the Christmas Truce:

  • Sign the Call For Peace, by the Veterans Peace Council
  • Check out the Christmas Truce Podcast
  • Read and share Christmas in the Trenches
  • Download and pass out the VFP Christmas Truce Handouts
  • Spread the message on social media. In the month of December, VFP National will post daily at least one relevant article, image, or Op Ed about the Christmas Truce on our social media networks. Be sure to join in the conversation!

- See more at: http://www.veteransforpeace.org/our-work/remembering-christmas-truce/#sthash.v65SudGe.dpuf

Wall Street surge another sign of instability

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By Nick Beams
22 December 2014

Instability in the global economy is not solely indicated by sharp falls in financial markets. Large swings and rapid rises can, at times, also point to mounting problems. The events of last week were one such occasion.

It began with the plunge of the Russian rouble under the impact of falling oil prices, down more than 40 percent since June, and of tightening economic sanctions which have cut off the access of Russian corporations to capital on global financial markets.

The turbulence surrounding Russia, which saw the central bank announce at midnight on Monday the lifting of its rate to 17 percent, sent tremors through the markets amid fears that there could be a repeat of the 1998 financial crisis, when Russia defaulted on its debts.

However, the rate hike of 6.5 percentage points failed to halt the plunge. On Tuesday, the deputy chief of the Russian central bank, Sergei Shvetsov, described the situation as “a nightmare that we could not even have imagined a year ago.”

Despite such concerns, the week ended with a three-day surge on Wall Street which took the Dow and the S&P 500 indexes close to their record highs. The Dow experienced a rise of more than 700 points, with a one-day rise on Thursday of more than 400 points.

The impetus for the turnaround came on Wednesday when the US Federal Reserve announced that it was not going to cut off the supply of ultra-cheap money to financial markets any time soon. The key phrase in the Fed’s statement was that it would be “patient in beginning to normalize the stance of monetary policy.”

Concerns had been expressed in financial circles that a change from the previous language that interest rates would remain between zero and 0.25 percent “for a considerable time” would signal a rapid tightening. Fed chair Janet Yellen was at pains to reassure the markets. The new language, she said, did not represent a change in policy intentions.

And so, like a drug addict being informed that his supplier would continue to meet his cravings, the markets celebrated.

But even amid the euphoria there were signs that all is far from well. The New York Times noted that a “major fear is that sluggishness in large overseas markets will eventual eat into confidence and corporate earnings.” Europe is the major centre of concern because economic output has not even returned to the level it reached before the eruption of the global financial crisis more than six years ago.

The article pointed out that yields on 10-year treasury bonds had risen, implying a worsening outlook for the American economy. It cited a hedge fund analyst who said that, while the most abundant commodity on Wall Street was optimism, “we appear to have gone off the road and the disconnect between stock prices and the real economy is being stretched.”

Notwithstanding the halt to the rouble’s plunge and a slight upturn in oil prices in recent days, Russian financial markets remain on a knife-edge with the rouble having lost half its value in the course of a year.

Companies that need dollars to roll over their debts are being denied access to international capital markets because of the sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union. As a result they have dumped roubles on the market to try to meet their requirements, putting downward pressure on the currency. According to financial analysts, the downgrading of Russian debt to junk status is only a matter of time.

The mounting financial crisis in the Ukraine could be indicative of what is coming. Last week the country’s credit rating was further cut by Standard & Poor’s—it now stands well below junk status—amid warnings that “a default could become inevitable in the next few months” unless present circumstances change.

The Ukrainian government needs an additional $15 billion on top of a $17 billion bailout. S&P said that delays in disbursements from the International Monetary Fund and a rundown in foreign currency reserves “increases the risk that the … government might not be able to meet its obligations.”

There are, of course, particular circumstances driving the financial turbulence in Russia and the Ukraine—the impact of international sanctions in Russia and the ongoing war in the Ukraine. However, both countries are an expression of a deeper set of financial problems that are beginning to confront so-called emerging market economies.

The quantitative easing program of the US Fed, which has seen up to $4 trillion pumped into the financial system over the past six years, has fuelled an explosion of debt in these countries, most of it dollar denominated. This means any move towards normalisation of the interest regime in the US, leading to an increase in the value of dollar, increases the debt and interest rate burden of these countries and their corporations.

The numbers involved are significant. According to the Bank for International Settlements, there is $2.6 trillion worth of outstanding international debt securities issued by corporations in emerging market economies, three quarters of which are in dollars.

On top of this, international banks have lent some $3.1 trillion in hard currency to emerging market borrowers. In other words, $5.7 trillion worth of debt is vulnerable to a rise in US interest rates and the dollar. The scene is being set for a repeat of the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98, only on a much larger scale because emerging markets are far more integrated into the global financial system than they were then and their economies now account for around half of global economic output.

There are signs that financial stress is extending beyond those countries, such as Nigeria, Russia and Venezuela, immediately affected by the oil slump. The Turkish lira has fallen throughout this month and is down by 12 percent and Indonesian authorities had to intervene last week to defend the rupiah. The Brazilian real is at a 10-year low against the dollar as is an index of emerging markets currencies.

There is an inherent contradiction in the present situation. The more the US economy shows evidence of a “recovery,” the greater will be the upward pressure on interest rates and the US dollar. But such a movement could well set in motion a crisis in emerging markets which will rapidly impact on the US and global financial system.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/12/22/econ-d22.html

Zapatistas host world festival of resistance and rebellion

By Leonidas Oikonomakis On December 21, 2014

Post image for Zapatistas host world festival of resistance and rebellionThis month, the Zapatistas are organizing a major international meeting in Chiapas: the World Festival of Resistance and Rebellion Against Capitalism.

Caracol II, Oventik, Los Altos, Chiapas.

They don’t say “how are you?” Instead, they prefer to ask “what does your heart say?” If you are well, you respond “jun ko’on” (my heart is united). If not, you have to respond that your heart is in pieces (“chkat ko’on“). And you have to be honest.

The verb “to struggle” does not exist in their language. Instead, they use the phrase “to form the word.” If one wants to understand the Zapatista struggle, it is important that first you understand their language.

They are the tsotsiles Zapatistas of the Los Altos region and the Caracol II of Oventik, and they are getting ready to host the first World Festival of Resistance and Rebellion against Capitalism. The festival will take place between December 3 and January 3, and the main  celebration (which will also be the commemoration of the Zapatista rebellion of January 1, 1994) will be hosted here in Oventik on December 31.

“Oventik, lindo Oventik…”

The caracol II of Oventik, the caracol of “Resistance and Rebellion for Humanity” as the Zapatistas call it, lies in the mountainous region of Los Altos. This region is inhabited by indigenous Mayan people — Tsotsiles mostly, but a minority of Tseltales as well. The Oventik caracol is the one closest to the city of San Cristobal de las Casas, which probably also makes it the caracol most visited by the internacionales, the international compas who happen to visit Chiapas.

It is also a caracol that is extremely well organized when it comes to questions of education. Each caracol and each region has its own autonomous system of education, formed by the very people of each zone, from below, according to their own needs and dreams. The Zapatista Rebel Autonomous Education System of National Liberation of the Highlands of Chiapas (SERAZLN, ZACH —Sistema Educativo Rebelde Autónomo Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, Zona de Los Altos de Chiapas) consists of three autonomous projects:

  • The EPRAZ (Escuelas Primarias Rebeldes Autónomas Zapatistas), the Zapatista Autonomous Primary Schools that now exist in every Zapatista community;
  • The ESRAZ (Escuela Secundaria Rebelde Autónoma Zapatista), the Zapatista Autonomous Secondary School, a boarding school — the only one in Chiapas — that is located inside the Caracol of Oventik;
  • The CELMRAZ (Centro de Español y Lenguas Mayas Rebelde Autónomo Zapatista), the Zapatista Autonomous Center of Spanish and Mayan languages.

The latter center lies inside the caracol, and through its activities generates resources that are necessary for the sustainability of the primary and secondary schools. Here, people from all over the world who share the Zapatista principles of democracy, liberty and justice can come and learn Spanish or Tsotsil, living together with the other Zapatista students and promotores, and exchanging experiences, stories and songs. In other words, the enter is a meeting point ofcultural exchange for all the people of the world.

“En este caracol yo de ti me enamoré…”

Participating even for a short while in the Zapatista Rebel Autonomous Education System of the Los Altos region, one cannot fail to notice “a silent revolution” that has been taking place in these lands ever since the Zapatista uprising of 1994: that of the emancipation of the women.

Here, the compañeras study, work and share all the responsibilities with thecompañeros — ranging from cooking to participating in the Good Governance Councils. In addition, the compañeras also live and study in the secondary boarding school, away from their families, sometimes many kilometers away from their communities, and for a long time.

They live together, study together, watch movies in the legendary Cine Pirata, and sometimes even sing together, sharing their music and culture with the international alumni of CELMRAZ. All this in a land where women would in the past be “exchanged” for cows in wedding arrangements, or where women were not allowed to choose their partners — they were chosen for them by their male family members.

A few years ago, a Basque friend who had been in these lands back in 1996, two years after the rebellion, told me that what struck him back then was the position of women in the society. He recounted that women, Zapatista women even, used to walk a hundred meters behind their husbands, and when the men would stop to talk to somebody, the women also had to stop and wait — carefully maintaining their distance.

Twenty years later, when he returned, the thing that surprised him most was the women did not only work with the men, as equals at all levels, but also that they would now openly ask him to dance together in local concerts. He would probably have danced to the tunes of Otros Amores, a Zapatista band named in honor of the LGBTQ communities all over the world, which Zapatismo refers to with the term “other loves.” All the above have been achieved thanks in part to the Zapatista Autonomous Education System.

First World Festival of Resistance and Rebellion Against Capitalism

It’s been a long time since the Zapatistas last organized a major international meeting like this one.

However, at a time when people all over the world — from the squares of Spain and Greece to Zucotti Park, Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey, Mexico and beyond — all turn their gaze towards Chiapas looking for an autonomous, direct democratic and horizontal system of self-governance from below, while the only alternative we are being offered back home is the same old parliamentary democracy, the Zapatistas respond by saying: “come and we’ll find our way together, without leaders and hierarchical structures.”

Maybe at the time when we need them the most, the Zapatistas (together with the National Indigenous Congress) invite the people of the world to Mexico once again — to meet, discuss, organize and decide the way forward towards our own emancipation. Just as the women and men of Chiapas have been doing for the past twenty years.

The programme of the Festival can be found here.

Leonidas Oikonomakis is a PhD researcher in Social Movement Studies at the European University Institute, a rapper with the Greek hip-hop formation Social Waste, and a contributing editor for ROAR Magazine. He is also an alumnus of the Centro de Español y Lenguas Mayas Rebelde Autónomo Zapatista — CELMRAZ.

http://roarmag.org/2014/12/zapatista-festival-resistance-rebellion/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

When Robots Replace Workers

An article in the Harvard Business Review by William H. Davidow and Michael S. Malone suggests: “The “Second Economy” (the term used by economist Brian Arthur to describe the portion of the economy where computers transact business only with other computers) is upon us. It is, quite simply, the virtual economy, and one of its main byproducts is the replacement of workers with intelligent machines powered by sophisticated code. … This is why we will soon be looking at hordes of citizens of zero economic value. Figuring out how to deal with the impacts of this development will be the greatest challenge facing free market economies in this century. … Ultimately, we need a new, individualized, cultural, approach to the meaning of work and the purpose of life. Otherwise, people will find a solution — human beings always do — but it may not be the one for which we began this technological revolution.”

This follows the recent discussion of “Economists Say Newest AI Technology Destroys More Jobs Than It Creates” citing a NY Times article and other previous discussions like Humans Need Not Apply. What is most interesting to me about this HBR article is not the article itself so much as the fact that concerns about the economic implications of robotics, AI, and automation are now making it into the Harvard Business Review. These issues have been otherwise discussed by alternative economists for decades, such as in the Triple Revolution Memorandum from 1964 — even as those projections have been slow to play out, with automation’s initial effect being more to hold down wages and concentrate wealth rather than to displace most workers. However, they may be reaching the point where these effects have become hard to deny despite going against mainstream theory which assumes infinite demand and broad distribution of purchasing power via wages.

As to possible solutions, there is a mention in the HBR article of using government planning by creating public works like infrastructure investments to help address the issue. There is no mention in the article of expanding the “basic income” of Social Security currently only received by older people in the U.S., expanding the gift economy as represented by GNU/Linux, or improving local subsistence production using, say, 3D printing and gardening robots like Dewey of “Silent Running.” So, it seems like the mainstream economics profession is starting to accept the emerging reality of this increasingly urgent issue, but is still struggling to think outside an exchange-oriented box for socioeconomic solutions. A few years ago, I collected dozens of possible good and bad solutions related to this issue. Like Davidow and Malone, I’d agree that the particular mix we end up will be a reflection of our culture. Personally, I feel that if we are heading for a technological “singularity” of some sort, we would be better off improving various aspects of our society first, since our trajectory going out of any singularity may have a lot to do with our trajectory going into it.

WINTER SOLSTICE

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In 2014, the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere will begin on Dec. 21 at 6:03 p.m. EST. To calculate the turning point in your time zone, click here.

Officially the first day of winter, the winter solstice occurs when the North Pole is tilted 23.5 degrees away from the sun. This is the longest night of the year, meaning that despite the cold winter, the days get progressively longer after the winter solsticeuntil the summer solstice in 2015.

The winter solstice is celebrated by many people around the world as the beginning of the return of the sun, and darkness turning into light. The Talmud recognizes the winter solstice as “Tekufat Tevet.” In China, the Dongzhi Festival is celebrated on the Winter Solstice by families getting together and eating special festive food.

Until the 16th century, the winter months were a time of famine in northern Europe. Most cattle were slaughtered so that they wouldn’t have to be fed during the winter, making the solstice a time when fresh meat was plentiful. Most celebrations of thewinter solstice in Europe involved merriment and feasting. In pre-Christian Scandinavia, the Feast of Juul, or Yule, lasted for 12 days celebrating the rebirth of the sun god and giving rise to the custom of burning a Yule log.

In ancient Rome, the winter solstice was celebrated at the Feast of Saturnalia, to honor Saturn, the god of agricultural bounty. Lasting about a week, Saturnalia was characterized by feasting, debauchery and gift-giving. With Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity, many of these customs were later absorbed into Christmas celebrations.

One of the most famous celebrations of the winter solstice in the world today takes place in the ancient ruins of Stonehenge, England. Thousands of druids and pagans gather there to chant, dance and sing while waiting to see the spectacular sunrise.

Pagan author T. Thorn Coyle wrote in a 2012 HuffPost article that for many contemporary celebrants, solstices “are a chance to still ourselves inside, to behold the glory of the cosmos, and to take a breath with the Sacred.”

In the Northern hemisphere, friends gather to celebrate the longest night. We may light candles, or dance around bonfires. We may share festive meals, or sing, or pray. Some of us tell stories and keep vigil as a way of making certain that the sun will rise again. Something in us needs to know that at the end of the longest night, there will be light.

In connecting with the natural world in a way that honors the sacred immanent in all things, we establish a resonance with the seasons. Ritual helps to shift our consciousness to reflect the outer world inside our inner landscape: the sun stands still within us, and time changes. After the longest night, we sing up the dawn. There is a rejoicing that, even in the darkest time, the sun is not vanquished. Sol Invictus — the Unconquered Sun — is seen once again, staining the horizon with the promise of hope and brilliance.