Archive for March, 2014

Putin jokes


Joke #1: President of Israel calls up Putin and says: “Vladimir Vladimirovich, I didn\’t know you were a Jew!” Putin says, “I didn\’t either; what makes you think I am a Jew?” President of Israel says: “You got Americans to pay you $5 billion to take over Crimea. You must be a Jew!”

Joke #2: Putin is watching TV. Calls up his Chief of Intelligence: “Give Tyagnibok a medal for banning the use of Russian in Ukraine. What do you mean he isn\’t one of ours? Ok, give Yarosh a medal for the idea of blowing up Ukrainian gas transit lines. What do you mean, that\’s his own doing? How about that cretin Lyashko? How about those cretins from Svoboda—Miroshnichenko and others? So, DO WE HAVE ANY AGENTS ON THE GROUND IN UKRAINE AT ALL?! Where the hell are they? What the hell do you mean they bought a dump-truck of pop-corn and a tanker truck beer and are watching it like a movie?!!!” Hangs up in disgust. Calls again: “How could you let Muzychko get killed?”

Muzychko, killed in a shootout with Ukrainian police

My interview on the Pete Santilli Show

My interview starts one hour into the segment.

Book Announcement: Communities that Abide


Over the past few months I\’ve been living in a place that agrees with me in a lot of ways. I like the fact that pets and children here roam free. The dogs roam about in playful packs, and temporarily attach themselves to humans they like. The cats stand their ground against dogs, and bring presents of dead animals to humans they like. There are even some wild horses that graze in the jungle during the day and go to the beach in the evenings, to be petted by tourists. The children quickly develop an ecosystem of their own, and look out for each other, with random adults providing whatever parenting might be required from time to time. Indoor cats, dogs on leashes and “helicopter” parenting are unheard of here. I also like how schedules here are for buses, while people do what they like when they like, depending on the general mood and the weather (which fluctuates between pretty nice and extremely nice). Having such great neighbors does a good deal to heal one\’s soul.

One group of neighbors I have particularly come to enjoy is a large colony of Montezuma Oropendola, which is a sort of large, tropical, yellow-tailed blackbird. They are colony breeders, and there was a colony of well over 50 individuals nesting in a dead tree pretty much right in my backyard. I tend to spend a lot of time hammering on a laptop, and so having a view like that on which I could rest my eyes periodically was most welcome. The Oropendola are good-sized birds—the size of the average chicken—but much better flyers. They weave huge sock-like nests out of long strands of grass in which they sleep and rear their chicks. They are gregarious and talkative bordering on raucous, and some people don\’t like their endless chatter punctuated by loud yodeling, but I got to like them.

After a while spent watching them, I realized that most of the yodels have to do with security and air traffic control. The Oropendola tend to claim an exclusive right over a given large tree, where they post a sentry. They are peaceful (I am yet to see a squabble) but they are so well organized that other birds, from eagles and vultures to the various tiny ones, tend to avoid them.) The sentry\’s job is to check everyone in and out of that tree (although when the sentry is left alone guarding a tree, smaller bird species are welcome to visit). Most of the flights are straight line courses between trees, where they are bid adieu in one tree and greeted in another, using two distinctive series of squawks from the sentries.

These birds are late sleepers, hiding in their nests until broad daylight, whereas other birds wake up and sing at first light. Dusk is their favorite time of day; this is when they all congregate and socialize, and mate. They mate in mid-air, like eagles and vultures, but unlike these, they don\’t just grab onto each other and plummet but do a maneuver reminiscent of pairs figure skating.

* * *

For about a year now, I\’ve been working on an e-book on resilient communities: Communities that Abide. I certainly have collected enough material for one, but until now I have lacked the impetus to put it all together. When I write, I often look for a picture on which to anchor the words. (My wife thinks that this is childish, but it works for me.) And this Oropendola colony seemed like the perfect subject for cover art for a book about resilient communities. Here they were, thriving in a dead tree, just like we are attempting to thrive, while still tied to a civilization that is nearing collapse due to resource depletion, rapid climate change and the suicidal stupidity of those who are running the show.

I took a number of pictures of this tree, during different times of day, until I got the one I wanted: the tree is deserted, with the entire colony out foraging for fruit and insects, except for the ever-present sentinel. And then, one rainy morning a few days after I took this picture there was the roar of a chainsaw, and then a loud crash. I came out to look, and the dead tree was missing. Instead, there was a large number of Oropendola up in the sky, circling around the spot where their tree had stood in uncharacteristic silence. The object lesson of the Oropendola just became a bit more poignant: this is what collapse looks like.

I soon found out that the tree\’s roots were on an adjoining property, and that the owner of that property killed the tree by pouring a foundation slab over the roots and then, once it was dead and declared a hazard, hired some locals to cut it down. That person also owns a gift shop, and Oropendola nests sell for $75 apiece. The chainsaw gang charged her $300; there were about 50 nests. I saw them sitting in a wheelbarrow and stole one. The object lesson of the Oropendola became even more poignant: what destroyed their habitat was the profit motive.

The birds circled about for an hour, and then regrouped. They posted sentries on the neighboring tall trees, and spent a few hours drilling: flying back and forth between trees single-file and having the sentries check them out and in again, as before. A day later they started collecting grass for new nests. (They first assemble a giant stockpile of long strands of grass in the crook of a tree, and then start weaving.) Three days later, they didn\’t seem any less happy than before the calamity, and a lot louder (apparently, there was a lot for them to discuss).

The object lesson of the Oropendola is now complete. We are nesting in a dead tree. The tree was killed by somebody else\’s profit motive. Our communities will abide because 1. we are self-sufficient, 2. we have the ability to self-organize and recover in the face of calamity, and 3. we are not tied to any one place but are mobile.

I expect the book will take another month or more to put together. It will include chapters from several other authors: Albert Bates, Ray Jason and Jason Heppenstall have all agreed to contribute. If you would like to contribute a chapter as well, please let me know.

Ukrainians on the verge of a nervous breakdown

[Wednesday update: In the wake of the Ukrainian defense minister walking away from his job yesterday, there is talk of mass desertion in the Ukrainian army.]

[Tuesday update:

Ukraine\’s defense minister has resigned (via El País).

“Since some don\’t like the decisions I have made, I am not going to stay in this post,” he said before the Supreme Rada (Parliament) in Kiev. The deputies, which initially rejected his resignation, ended up accepting it after an emergency meeting among the different political parties… In his speech before the Rada, he offered a new—and disheartening—tally of desertions: only 4,300 of the 18,800 [Ukrainian] soldiers in Crimea will continue in the Ukrainian army; the rest have accepted the offer by the Russians to join their armed forces.]

In this intercepted phone call Yulia Tymoshenko, a likely Ukrainian presidential candidate (but there will be no elections*) talks about using nuclear weapons on the eight million Russian citizens who live in Ukraine.

Good thing these \”Ukrainians\” don\’t have any nuclear weapons, but they do have plentiful baseball bats and AK47s looted from armories in the west of the country. Listening to the tone of her voice (these Ukrainian nationalists are speaking together in pretty good Russian, by the way; they are both urbane and Ukrainian is a village dialect) I almost feel sorry for her. Except that she is talking about murdering people like me (my father was born in Kiev, so I have the right to a Ukrainian citizenship). Ahem, President Putin, do you have a moment?

[* And the reason there will be no election is that if the election were held today, the people in power would get maybe 5% of the popular vote.]

In his novel The White Guard, Mikhail Bulgakov, writing of the events of 1918 in Ukraine, characterized Ukrainian politics as a “pathetic operetta.” We appear to be at just that point yet again.

This is not a fake: Tykoshenko fessed up that it\’s real (in Ukrainian). Here\’s her tweet:

In other news, the ever-amusing Russian Liberal Democrat leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky has proposed dividing up Western Ukraine between Poland, Hungary and Romania. Poland quickly responded that it has no interest in annexing former Eastern Poland. I can\’t blame them.

Video interview on USAWatchdog


[Thanks to Greg for making this possible and to Banana Azul for letting me use their splendid tiki hut.]
(But we spend the bulk of the time talking about Ukraine, of course.)

The Madness of President Putin

Juliette Bates

p { margin-bottom: 0.1in; line-height: 120%; }a:link { }[In italiano. Grazie, Massimiliano!]

[Many thanks to Max who helped put this together.]

Of all the various interpretations Western leaders and commentators have offered for why the president of the Russian Federation has responded the way he has to the events in Ukraine over the course of February and March of 2014—in refusing to acquiesce to the installation of a neo-fascist regime in Kiev, and in upholding the right of Crimea to self-determination—the most striking and illuminating interpretation is that he has gone mad. Striking and illuminating, that is, something in the West itself.

In times past, the international landscape reflected a multipolar order, a multiplicity of competing ideologies, alternative schemes of social and economic organization. Back then the actions of another country could be understood in terms of its alternative ideology. Even extreme figures—Stalin, Hitler, Idi Amin, Pol Pot—calling them crazy was an example of hyperbole, an intensified way of describing the brazenness with which they pursued their rationally set political goals. But when Chancellor Angela Merkel asks whether Putin is living “in another world,” echoing a theme in the narrative presented by Western media, the question seems to imply something quite literal.

We question someone\’s sanity when we cannot explain their behavior or logic based on a common understanding of consensual reality. They become utterly unpredictable to us, capable of carrying on a normal conversation one moment and lunging at our throats the next. Their actions appear rash and disordered, as if they inhabit a world parallel to but completely different from the one we do. Putin is portrayed as a fiend, and the West acts baffled and scared. The feigned shock with which the West looks on at the developments in Crimea could be seen as a tactic designed to isolate and intimidate Vladimir Putin. The fact that this tactic is not only not working but actually backfiring changes feigned shock into real shock: Western meds aren\’t working any more—on itself or anyone else.

The West—that is, the United States and the European Union—have played the role of chief psychiatrist in the world insane asylum ever since the USSR fell apart. Prior to 1990 the world was neatly carved up into two competing ideologies locked in a nuclear standoff. But then Mikhail Gorbachev capitulated. He was a champion of “common human values” and wanted to resolve the superpower conflict peacefully, by combining the best of both systems (all the humanistic victories of Soviet socialism plus all the seductive, consumerist prosperity of American capitalism).

But in effect Gorbachev capitulated; the USSR was dismembered and, over the course of the 1990s, Russia itself came close to being destroyed and dismembered. Although in the West, where he is still a popular figure, Gorbachev is credited with orchestrating a peaceful dissolution of the USSR, the chaotic aftermath of the collapse of the USSR was an extremely traumatic event, with massive loss of life. When Putin calls the collapse of the USSR “the largest geopolitical catastrophe of the century,” he echoes the feelings of many Russians—who, by the way, like to call Gorbachev “Mishka mécheny” (“Mickey the marked”—marked by the devil, that is.)

During the post-collapse period Russia could offer no competing ideology. In fact, it had no ideology at all, except for an implant of Western liberalism which, given a lack of a viable legal framework or traditions of private property and civil society, quickly turned into a particularly brutal brand of gangsterism. But then Putin came along and, using his experience in the KGB and connections with other post-Soviet “power ministeries,” he crafted a new order, which first decimated and either supplanted or absorbed the gangsters, and then imposed what Putin has termed “the dictatorship of the law.” This is the first important piece of the new Russian ideology: law matters and nobody can be above it—not even the United States.

Now, compare the concept of the “dictatorship of the law,” domestic as well as international, as it is promulgated by Putin, to the sort of law which now prevails in the United States. In the US, there are now two categories of persons. There are those who are above the law: the US government and its agencies, including NSA, FBI, DOD, etc.; Wall Street financiers and shadowy government contractors who are never prosecuted for their crimes; the über-rich who are politically connected and can prevail legally against anyone simply by throwing money at lawyers.

And then there are those who are below the law: everyone else. These are some of the most sheepish people in the world, living in constant fear of getting sued and stripped of their savings—or arrested, intimidated into accepting a plea bargain, and locked up. They can now be detained indefinitely without a charge. They can be kidnapped from anywhere in the world, transported to a “black site” and tortured. They can be put on trial without being informed of the charge and convicted based on evidence that is kept secret from them. Their communities can be placed under martial law without cause. Individually, they can be shot on sight with no provocation of suspicion of wrongdoing. Abroad, when wedding parties and funerals are taken out by misguided drone strikes, that\’s a war crime—unless Washington is behind it, in which case it is just “collateral damage.”

Thanks to the relentless NSA surveillance, we now have no privacy and can keep no secrets. For example, German Chancellor Merkel is definitely “below the law.” When, thanks to Edward Snowden, she discovered that the NSA was listening in on her cell phone conversations, she was outraged and complained bitterly. The NSA stopped listening in on her phone and… started listening in on the phones of everyone she talks to! Now, isn\’t that cute? Notice, however, how Frau Merkel has stopped complaining. Unlike Putin, she isn\’t “mad”: she is a willing participant in a consensual reality in which what Washington says is the law, and what she says is just noise, for the benefit of maintaining the illusion of German sovereignty. For her benefit, let\’s ask her in her native German: “Frau Merkel, glauben Sie wirklich dass die amerikanischen Politiker Übermenschen und die Deutschen und Russen und Ukrainer Untertanen sind?”

Putin\’s second innovation is what he calls “sovereign democracy.” It is a system of representative democracy that is completely impervious to foreign political manipultion. Well, not completely impervious: just as it\’s good to have a low-level inflammation somehwere once in a while to keep the immune system humming along, it\’s considered healthy to have Moscow\’s and St. Petersburg\’s hipsters—many of whom, in their youthful folly, still worship the West—to go and get themselves roughed up by the riot police periodically. The worship appears mutual, and watching Wetern media worship a bunch of nobodys whose idea of public art is going into supermarkets and stuffing frozen chickens in their vaginas (“Pussy Riot,” that is) provides much-needed comic relief. But the firewall of Russian conservatism remains impervious to Western advances. (As Prof. Cohen recently pointed out, prior to Americans\’ gay rights agitation, Russian gays used to be called “faggots”; now they are being called “American faggots,” and gay rights in Russia have taken a giant leap back.)

Again, let\’s compare it to the state of affairs that now prevails in the US, where President Obama announced during this year\’s state of the union address that, since Congress won\’t cooperate with him, he plans to rule by decree (“executive order,” in American bureaucratese). In response, Congress is now drafting legislation that aims to compel the Obama administration to enforce acts of Congress. Apparently, they misplaced all their copies of the US constitution, which already describes this very process in considerable detail. Their studied appearance of endless legislative gridlock appears to be a veil designed to obscure the real work of distributing misappropriated funds among their campaign donors—funds that now run into trillions of dollars a year. Add to this the fact that half of US Congress has pledged allegiance to Israel. In Russian eyes, the US is neither sovereign nor a democracy; it is the festering corpse of a democracy being fed on by the world\’s fattest vultures.

In contemporary Russian understanding, Ukraine is not sovereign either (it is open to blatant foreign manipulation) and therefore its government is illegitimate. The December 1991 referendum which gave Ukraine its independence was conducted in violation of the constutition that was in effect at that time, and Ukrainian independence is therefore illegitimate as well. Since the recent armed overthrow of Ukraine\’s government was likewise contrary to the Ukrainian constitution, Ukraine no longer has a constitution at all. The Crimean referendum, on the other hand, is a legitimate expression of the will of the people in absence of any legitimate central authority, and therefore provides a solid legal basis for moving forward. The fact that the US government, and others following its lead, have declared the Crimean referendum illegal is neither here nor there: they do not have the power to invent laws on Russia\’s behalf, and they are walled off from Russia\’s internal politics.

* * *

One could mark the ascension of the US to the role world psychiatrist from around the end of the cold war. The Berlin Wall came down, and Western Capitalism, Democracy and Liberalism appeared to have won. The unified Western view of the way the world works, of what moves society forward, of what is the best and most productive form of economic, social, and political organization had prevailed over the entire planet. Francis Fukuyama published his inadvertently hilarious treatise on “The End of History.” In this context, in denying the Russian Federation the courtesy of allowing it to have a coherent alternative view, the US is attempting to claw back the illusion of its unquestioned supremacy, its absolute hegemony, its role as chief moralizer and arbiter of what counts as normal and abnormal in thought and behavior. Because either the world must have gone mad, or Putin must have. Prior diagnosis appears to have been faulty: “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul; a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country,” said George W. Bush of President Putin at the Slovenia Summit in 2001. The patient expertly deceived the psychiatrist, making him believe that he is sane. And now the patient is running amok, and the West is desperately trying to drag him back into the asylum.

Some sympathy for the wardens of this insane asylum is also due. The developments in Ukraine and Crimea are especially troubling for the West because they violate the West\’s linear conception of history. On this account, the advanced first world Western nations are ahead of the pack, and trying, simply out of their great compassion, to encourage stragglers like Ukraine along the path toward EU and NATO membership, monetary union and a slow-moving, controlled national bankruptcy in the hands of the IMF. The fall of the Soviet Union was a key psychological breakthrough in this story they tell themselves. They thrive on this story, for it defines them and gives them their sense of meaning and purpose. Anything that undermines its basic premises and foundations is deeply disturbing. However, many examples of unmitigated failure in the 21st century have been hard to ignore and have made this narrative sound increasingly shaky. With highlights like 9/11, the fiasco in Afghanistan, the ongoing Iraqi civil war, the global financial meltdown of 2008, intractable unemployment and economic stagnation plaguing the West in these first 15 years of the 21st century, and then the serial fiascos in Libya, Syria, Egypt and now Ukraine, and it becomes easy to see the special significance that this particular confrontation with Vladimir Putin has for the fragile Western psyche.

The West\’s ascendant trip through linear history appears to be over. The paradox underneath this confrontation is that a situation with such low stakes—Crimea and the political leanings of a minor failed state—has taken on such vast proportions, and this suggests a deeper significance. The political turmoil that has taken root in the fertile soil dividing West and East, in Ukraine, which literally translates as the “borderland,” functions as a powerful symbol of the declining hegemony of the West. This confrontation continues to cast shadows of historical proportions because the authority of the world psychiatrist and world policeman is being openly challenged. The brief illusion of the triumph of the West is cracking. We have not entered into some post-historic phase, some fundamentally new future. The inmates are breaking free, and it looks as if the psychiatrist was the crazy one all along.

Consider the asymmetry. What is Ukraine to the West but an impoverished Eastern European political pawn on the geopolitical chessboard, one that has to be prevented from joining up with Russia in line with the overall trend? But to Russia Ukraine is a historic part of itself, the place of the earliest Russian capital of Kievan Rus (from whence it was moved, eventually, to Moscow, then to St. Petersburg, then to Moscow again). It is a region with which Russia has eleven centuries of joint linguistic, cultural and political history. Half of Ukraine consists of Russian lands capriciously adjoined to it by Lenin and Khrushchev. I grew up thinking Kharkov was Russian (because it is) and was at one point amazed to discover that I would now need a visa to go there—because it got stuck on the wrong side of the border and renamed Kharkiv. (In case you are wondering, to convert to Ukrainian, you take Russian and replace ‘y’, ‘o’ and ‘e’ with ‘i’, ‘i’ with ‘y’, and ‘g’ with ‘h’. To convert back—you ask a Russian.) As of last December, the Russians in Kharkov and other Russian regions of Ukraine have been stuck on the wrong side of the border, as subjects of an unstable, dysfunctional and remarkably corrupt governent, for 22 years. It is little wonder that they are now waving Russian flags with wild abandon.

Even the muddle-headed John Kerry was recently heard to concede that Russia has “legitimate interests” in Ukraine. In challenging Russia over Ukraine the West isn\’t just crossing some imaginary “red line” that Obama is so fond of proclaiming again and again. In installing a neo-fascist, rabidly anti-Russian regime in Kiev, it has crossed the double-yellow, guaranteeing a head-on collision. Question is, which side will survive that collision: the Russian tank column, or John Kerry\’s limo? The West\’s opening gambit is to deny visas and freeze accounts of certain Russian officials and businessmen, who either don\’t have bank accounts in the West or have already pulled the money out last Friday (to the tune of a couple hundred billion dollars) and aren\’t planning to travel to the US.

Russia promised to respond “symmetrically.” In its arsenal is: popping the huge financial bubble and causing a resumption of the financial collapse of 2008 by any number of means, from requiring gold instead of fiat currency as payment for oil and gas, to dumping US dollar reserves (in concert with China), to putting the EU on a fast track to economic collapse by giving the natural gas valve a slight clockwise twist, to leaving US and NATO troops in Afghanistan (who are about to start evacuating) stranded and without resupply by declaring force majeure on the cooperative arrangement currently in effect, where much of their resupply route is allowed to pass through Russian territory. That\’s if Russia chose to act decisively. But Russia could also choose to do little or nothing, and then just the financial contagion from Ukraine\’s forthcoming bond default and financial jitters over Ukrainian chaos disrupting natural gas deliveries to Europe could be enough to topple the West\’s teetering financial house of cards.

So what remains of Western global hegemony and of the West\’s right to play the world\’s psychiatrist? Make of it what you will, but some lessons seem quite clear. First, it now appears that, from Russia\’s point of view, having good relations with Washington is quite optional, but that Ukraine is quite a bit more important. All Russia really needs from Washington is that Washington stop its meddling in world affairs. America is dispensable. Washington, on the other hand, needs Russian cooperation if it wants to pull its troops out of Afghanistan in one piece, or if it wants to keep visiting the International Space Station, and even if it just wants to save face after its endless blunders in places like Syria and Iran.

Second, the EU isn\’t being asked to choose a new master, but slavish obedience to Washington\’s dictates has led to mischief and may leave it shivering in the dark come next winter through no fault of Moscow\’s, so the EU should start acting in accordance with its obvious self-interest rather than against it.

Project Unspell First Quarterly Update


It\’s been three months since the fundraiser and the project is moving along nicely. Details are available here.

Is anyone really in control in Ukraine?

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[Monday update:

More tweets from our deep throat at Kiev Airport:

The military and the border police continue to confiscate equipment that is being sent for the failed National Guard.
All cargo planes are inspected by the army. From what I can tell, they are of the same opinion as the Air Force.
The military command of Ukraine will make a decision in the next few days and communicate it to Russia, and their government, in that order.

70% percent of soldiers in Crimea have already communicated officially that they are transferring to the Russian army.
The EU, the USA and their blasted mother don\’t recognize the referendum, yet in Kiev most people accept it and care little or nothing about it.
It\’s incredible that [the referendum] is more accepted here than in the rest of the world. Why don\’t they leave these people alone, may I ask?
Military neighbors, friends, colleagues, consider [the referendum] legit and understand it and accept it. The world that gives opinions about these people, doesn\’t. Strange.]

[While everyone is concentrating on the referendum in Crimea, let\’s not lose sight of what\’s happening in the rest of (formerly independent) Ukraine. As we already know, the government in Kiev is dead broke; the aid that is forthcoming from the US is barely enough to cover its debt to Russia\’s Gazprom, for natural gas. Ukraine\’s bond yield has spiked to 50% while $15 billion of these bondsmature and haveto be rolled over this year.

A lot has been made of the Russian and Belarussian troops massing all around Ukraine and in Crimea, but so far little has been heard of the state of the military within Ukraine itself. But now it appears that Ukraine\’s military (which has never been involved in any armed conflict anywhere and is poorly trained and poorly armed) is mostly on the Russian side already, and, in any case, not willing to follow orders from Kiev. It also appears that the National Guard goon squads being hastily organized by the government in Kiev may be effective at intimidating civilians, but that they won\’t be much of a military force.

This information comes from a well-positioned source. There is a Spanish-speakingair traffic controller working at the Borispol International Airport in Kiev, who has been tweetting in Spanish and giving a blow-by-blow account of the goings on in the air and on the ground, along with some useful commentary. What follows is a summary of some of the recent tweets. Many thanks to Francisco for putting ittogether.
Here is what I see as the best case scenario for Ukraine: Russian and Ukrainian militaries fraternize and merge without a single shot fired, followed by a joint mop-up operation against the nationalist thugs. Once the nationalists\’ ability to intimidate the populace is neutralized, the country can be reorganized, ideally as a federative structure that supports local languages, dialects and cultures.]

The Ukrainian military are by and large refusing tofollow orders from he government. Many if not the majority of them are incredibly angry. Some generals have openly declared that they will not follow orders from some foreign-imposed government. The chief of the Air Force is a major problem for the government: so far he has flatlyrefused to fly any missions at all,and has grounded all the planes. He says that he will not follow orders except from a freely elected governent. Until such a time, he will follow only his own orders.

In this ATC\’s opinion,this attitude withinthe military is a good thing, because there would already be lots of casualties had they had followed their orders. It looks like at least half, and probably more, of the military feelsmuch more affinity toward their Russian colleages than towards the Ukrainian Nationalists who are nominally in power. The government is frantically trying to recruit and organizea National Guard, with whatever western help they can get. There is no equipment or money in the country.

The problem with this National Guard is that it\’s being recruited based on an ideology of nationalistic bigotry and hatred rather than any useful aptitude. The people in Kiev are much more afraid of the nationalists and the National Guard being created than of the military. It appears that the sentiment towards the Russians is in general very friendly, that most Ukrainians consider Russians to be theirbrothers. The exception is theultra-nationalistic faction, whichsuperficially seems to be gaining a lot of power through intimidation.

Picture of the day


The Crimean “Crisis” and Western Bias

[Saturday update:

Rumors are flying that the US has confiscated Ukraine\’s gold reserves. It would make sense that the Fed would be gold-hungry, given the trouble they are having \”finding\” German gold that is \”on reserve\” with them (but has actually been \”leased\” to China, where it\’s been smelted down). And the US did confiscate Iraq\’s and Libya\’s gold reserves…

Ukraine\’s defense minister is trying to whip up hysteria, claiming that the Russians tried to invade and were repelled. (Had the Russians wanted to invade Ukraine, they wouldn\’t have “tried to”—they just sort of would have.) Looks like the Kiev junta is desperate to start an actual war ASAP, for lack of any other options, while the Russian strategy is to let them simmer in their own juices until the meat falls off the bone.

Two good reads: Vladimir Goldstein\’s “Let Kerry rethink the arrogance of America” and Ryan Faith\’s “Why Putin will get everything he wants in Crimea.”]

[Friday update:

Unlike what seems like 99.9% of Western media, Michael Cohen of The Guardian gets it right: there is pretty much nothing the US can do about Crimea, beyond John Kerry\’s endless harrumphing and Botox-impaired frownies.

Former Ukraine security chief speaks out on the mercenaries who massacred people in Kiev. Moscow wants an investigation, Washington\’s response is “duh.”

Germany\’s opposition leader blasts Merkel for supporting the US-installed junta in Kiev: “They are fascists!” But they are “our” fascists, so that makes it OK, right?

Crimean self-defense forces intercepted a US drone over Crimea, gained control over it and forced it to land almost intact. Russian troops are in Crimea based on a long-standing agreement. And the US drones are there out of sheer respect for Ukrainian territorial integrity. Is there a dead horse in the room, or is that just the rotten stench of American hypocrisy?]

[Wednesday update:

Here is some detailed background information on the Ukrainian neo-fascists and a good overall write-up on the situation. Eight neo-fascists now hold ministerial posts within the new, US-supported Ukrainian government. The following quote illustrates their ideology:

To create a truly Ukrainian Ukraine in the cities of the East and South, only one lustration will not be enough, we will need to cancel parliamentarism, ban all political parties, nationalize the entire industry, all media, prohibit the importation of any literature to Ukraine from Russia… completely replace the leaders of the civil service, education management, military (especially in the East), physically liquidate all Russian-speaking intellectuals and all Ukrainophobes… execute all members of the anti-Ukrainian political parties…

It\’s hard to tell how far they\’ll get with this ambitious program, but they\’ve already outlawed the use of Russian language and are busy shutting out Russian television. Book-burnings may be next. To understand what this means, consider the following:

The population in the core Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine outnumbers the population in the core Ukrainian-speaking regions by almost two to one. Of the country’s ten largest cities, only one, Lviv, is predominantly Ukrainian-speaking. Russian is, by a wide margin, the language of choice in education, commerce, and entertainment. A 2012 study found that over 60% of newspapers, 83% of journals and 87% of books, and 72% of television programs in Ukraine are still in Russian. Even more troubling, from the western Ukrainian perspective, is that the internet has only reinforced this cultural dominance. Russian is by far the preferred language on web sites in Ukraine (80.1%), followed by English (10.1%), then Ukrainian (9.5%), while the Russian version of Wikipedia remains five times more popular in Ukraine than the Ukrainian one. [source]

By banning Russian, Ukraine is effectively lobotomizing itself.]

[Tuesday update:

The guest post from Renée last week appeared on this blog because Huffington Post refused to run it. And now I hear that no comment linking the new Ukrainian government to the neo-Nazis or the neo-Nazis to the mass murder in Kiev can get through on any news site. It seems like there is an actual news blackout on this message:

\”It appears that the US State Dept. gave $5 billion to Ukrainian neo-Nazis who used some of the money to hire mass murderers who massacred protesters, policemen and bystanders in order to provide a rationale for overthrowing the democratically elected government of Ukraine and installing an anti-Russian puppet government.\”

That\’s about as short and sweet as I can make it. Please go and see how many places you can cut and paste that sentence. It would give us an idea of the extent of the censorship in the US. First they take over Ukraine, then Huffington Post, what\’s next? Your living-room?]

[Ukraine update:

Everybody now admits that the Kiev massacre was a false flag operation, just like I said it was. The leading theory is that the snipers who fired indiscriminately on policemen, demonstrators and bystanders were hired by the Ukrainian opposition. (Interesting question: Were they paid with US State Dept. funds?) But in response the newly installed authorities in Kiev have gone full-retard and are blaming… why, Russia, of course! So obvious! Russia had just signed a historic deal with Yanukovych, accepting Ukraine into the Customs Union and giving it a huge discount on natural gas, plus the Winter Olympics in Sochi were underway. Of course Russia would want to throw all of that away, watch helplessly as Ukraine\’s government gets overthrown and replaced by US-financed neo-Nazis, and now face sanctions for defending the rights of its citizens in Crimea. No, not really.

Meanwhile, Putin is having trouble explaining to Western leaders that Russia is not doing anything illegal: Russian troops are in Crimea legally, based on a long-term agreement with Ukraine and the self-defense forces in charge there are irregulars who do not report to the Russian military. Crimea is about to hold a referendum on independence from Ukraine (having ended up as part of Ukraine as an accident) but the West says the referendum is illegal. You see, unlike the Albanians in Kosovo or the South Sudanese or just about any other group, the Russians in Crimea do not have the right of self-determination. Why? Because they are Russian?

This week\’s guest post is by Outlook Zen. It strikes me as exceptionally balanced; the one quibble I have is against mentioning Godwin’s Law while ignoring this. Goodwin rightly called out people who use the terms “fascism” and “Nazi” and gratuitously compare people to Hitler. But what about those who don jackboots and Swastika armbands and stomp around saluting each other with the Hitlergruß? Is the comparison still gratuitous? There seems to be a taboo in the US against mentioning that there were neo-Nazis behind the putsch in Kiev. The allegations that they hired snipers to shoot other protesters, to produce a rationale for overthrowing the government, are being hushed up too. Too embarrassing? Well, it should be! But there should still be a full investigation.]

Just two weeks ago, we had discussed the bias in international reporting, and the tendency of media outlets to report the most sensational facts without providing proper context and a full-view of the situation. How time appropriate, given the outbreak of the Russia-Crimea situation in the past few days. As we hear the reporting of the situation in US and western media, I’m reminded over and over again of my earlier complaints. So many of the articles seem so sensational and biased in their reporting. What stands out glaringly is the extent to which Russia has been condemned. Over the past days, I’ve seen Putin compared to Hitler, Russia compared to Nazi Germany, and the Crimean annexation compared to Hitler’s invasion of Poland. The same media that has always jumped to condemn Bush-Hitler comparisons, is now the first to invoke Godwin’s Law when describing Russia and Putin.

Personally, as someone who has no ties to Russia, neither positive nor negative, none of their actions thus far strike me as being outrageous. Hence why the hyperbolic media reporting in the US strikes me as being a bit too biased & extreme.
A recap of the key events in recent days:
Ukraine’s democratically elected government was overthrown by mass-protests in the capital, Kiev.
These protests represent popular sentiment in Western Ukraine, but not in the East. Eastern Ukraine is strongly pro-Russian, and it was this faction that won the most recent elections and installed the President Viktor Yanukovych. The protests could thus be seen as a non-democratic overthrow of a democratically elected government, by the losing minority. It can also be credibly cast as the political censorship and subjugation of the pro-Russia Eastern-Ukraine, by the pro-EU Western-Ukraine.
Russia, in protest of the above, annexes/liberates Crimea, the already semi-autonomous and most heavily pro-Russian province in Ukraine. It was a bloodless takeover, with no casualties. There is no local protest or uprising against the Russian occupation. The Russian army is cheered on and; greeted warmly by the local population. Secession fever breaks out all over Eastern Ukraine, as people protest against the protester-installed government in Kiev. Pro-Russian protesters drape Russian flags over government buildings. Ukraine’s own Admiral Berezovsky, who was appointed by the interim government in Kiev, orders Ukrainian naval forces on the peninsula to disregard any orders from the “self-proclaimed” authorities in Kiev. Pro-Russian leaders in Crimea have scheduled a referendum to be held later this month, that will let the locals decide on secession and ties with Russia. Ironically, both Kiev and the West are opposed to this democratic vote that would allow the locals to chart their own future. Recapping these events, I’m having a hard time expressing outrage over anything Russia has done in the past weeks.
To be sure, this is a very complicated situation, and I certainly do not mean to oversimplify it. What exactly the locals in Crimea and Eastern-Ukraine want, and whether this is aligned with Russian intervention, is certainly a debatable topic. There are good arguments that can be made both for and against Russian intervention in Crimea. If the day ever comes when Russia ignores or suppresses the popular will of the Crimean people, I will be the first to condemn Putin.
However, what I do find most objectionable today is the hyperbole with which Russia is being regarded by Western media. The bias inherent in almost all reporting, and the arguments presented to justify only 1 of the 2 sides, is virtually bordering on propaganda. Even worse is the lack of context with which Russia’s actions are being presented. Consider the following list of US interventions in foreign countries over the past half century.
After looking at this list, it’s hard to make the case that Russian intervention in Crimea is outrageous compared to what we have been doing for decades. At no point during any of the above controversies did the media question whether our country is deserving of economic sanctions, whether we should have our G8 membership revoked, or whether we’re becoming a police-spy-war state like Nazi Germany. And yet, Russian intervention in Crimea has been deemed worthy of all the above.

[…P]atriotism is no excuse for biased reporting & hyperbole against Russia. It’s been 25 years since the Cold War ended. It’s time we evaluated Russia’s actions objectively, and not from the narrow prism of Western ethnocentrism.