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4 days Ago

Ukraine Update

Published by marco on

The article The IMF’s New Cold War Loan to Ukraine by Michael Hudson (CounterPunch) provides some interesting insight into the IMF’s machinations on behalf of its masters in Europe and the U.S.

“[…] the IMF signed off on the first loan ever to a side engaged in a civil war, not to mention rife with insider capital flight and a collapsing balance of payments.”

The IMF has hard and fast rules for loaning money and is famous the world over for being an exceedingly unforgiving creditor…unless the creditor is the European continent’s newest democracy, the propping up of which is an opportunity to provoke the Russian bear that is just too good to pass up.

“Based on fictitiously trouble-free projections of the ability to pay, the loan supported Ukraine’s hernia currency long enough to enable the oligarchs’ banks to move their money quickly into Western hard-currency accounts before the hernia plunged further and was worth even fewer euros and dollars.”

Not only does propping up Ukraine’s currency help keep that civil war alive—and keep Russia occupied—but it also—and this is purely coincidental, mind you—provides enough cash for all of the usual exceedingly rich suspects to continue being exceedingly rich. This by the usual mechanism of roping the collective taxpayers of the world into paying for said rich individuals’ bad investments by their respective governments, most of which are also comprised of rich people or those who would like to be rich people or who are otherwise beholden to them.

“In practice, the IMF simply advances however much a government needs to bail out its bankers and bondholders, pretending that more austerity enhances the ability to pay, not worsen it.”

As the rulers of the world have realized that people are much more interested in bad housewives, cute cat pictures and an explosion of inanity on social media (first-world version) or are utterly distracted by the sheer misery that is every waking hour of their lives (third-world version), they make less and less of an effort to hide how they’re ripping everyone off.

“Ukraine looks like a replay of the Greek situation with an exclamation mark! One official last year called its Debt Sustainability Analysis, “‘a joke,’ a [European] commission official described it ‘a fairy tale to put children to sleep’ and a Greek finance ministry official said it was ‘scientifically ridiculous.’””

I mean, why even bother to expend any effort hiding what’s going on when (A) very few are paying any attention at all and (B) no-one can really do anything about it. And the analysis that we do get on issues of merit are skewed by the authors’ paymasters. Here, Hudson describes the obvious and reprehensible cherry-picking of history that an ostensibly serious analysis engaged in when she tried to declare some debt as “odious”.

“The double standard here is that instead of labeling Ukraine’s entire series of post-1991 kleptocratic governments odious, she singles out only Yanukovich, as if his predecessors and successors are not equally venal. But an even greater danger in trying to declare Ukraine’s debt “odious”: It may backfire on the United States, given its own support for military dictatorships and kleptocracies.”

The designation “odious debt” carries with it a freight of baggage. As Hudson points out, the U.S. has instilled no small amount of such debt in its various puppets over the decades. This is, however, an argument that concerns Hudson, but not the original author he attempts to chastise. As they say, “if you have no taste, you can do anything”. A useful corollary for today would be: “If you don’t care about consistency or hypocrisy on your own part, you can write throw as many stones as you like”.

The article Gaza and the Threat of World War by John Pilger (CounterPunch) contained another likely futile attempt to point out the parallels to even very recent debacles of failed diplomacy and deceitful motives: the most recent invasion of Iraq. Though the U.S. media has seemingly formed a diamond of fact out of the coal dust of rumors of Russian invasions and troop involvements, there are others who are a bit more gun-shy.

“What matters is a Russian “invasion” of Ukraine that seems difficult to prove beyond familiar satellite images that evoke Colin Powell’s fictional presentation to the United Nations “proving” that Saddam Hussein had WMD. “You need to know that accusations of a major Russian ‘invasion’ of Ukraine appear not to be supported by reliable intelligence,” wrote a group of former senior US intelligence officials and analysts, the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “Rather, the ‘intelligence’ seems to be of the same dubious, politically ‘fixed’ kind used 12 years ago to ‘justify’ the U.S.-led attack on Iraq.””

But what of those who are perhaps not so stupid, who make what, on the surface, seem to be cogent arguments in support of a free Ukraine and a liberated Russian people, free from the yoke of Putin? The article Back to Yalta? Stephen Cohen and the Ukrainian crisis by Nikolay Koposov (Eurozine) is one such article. In this article, Koposov takes on Stephen Cohen, painted as a Putin-lover but who I’ve found to be relatively balanced and coherent in the few interviews I’ve heard. Anyway, let’s let Koposov describe his thesis,

“For his part, Cohen presents himself as a “political realist” and an American patriot whose concern is the security of the United States, which according to him has been consistently undermined by US policymakers and experts whose incompetence and “Putinophobic follies” have deprived the United States of “the best potential partner we had anywhere in the world to pursue our national security”.”

I fail so far to see the problem with Cohen’s positions as described in this article. The conclusion implied by the tone is unsupported by the evidence provided. That the tone is so snide, disparaging and dismissive indicates strongly that the author will not be as even-handed as one might hope or as his introduction suggests. He seems to see everything as black and white, with poor Stephen Cohen seemingly incapable of doing anything right.

If you don’t support the U.S. in its crusade, you’re a Putin supporter. The fact is that the U.S. has provably been a force for evil in the world—for pretty much everyone other than a small handful of the privileged. It has been an overall detriment for the people it bombs and for its own citizens, who are constantly short-changed by its policies. The changes proposed by the U.S. have come to tears for many other countries, Iraq being only the most recent and prominent victim. Afghanistan, Libya and Palestine may also have something to add about the effectiveness of U.S. policy for improving their countries.

Should the U.S. get its way in Ukraine, there is every reason to believe—simply by looking at the history books, which are clear—that conditions will be worse for Russians than even the awfulness of the reality of today’s kleptocracy. Said state of affairs being something for which the U.S. and its allies are largely responsible. It’s not a coincidence that the rich and powerful did so well in the post-Glasnost years.

“Cohen blames Bill Clinton for beginning “NATO’s eastward expansion”, which hurt Russia. Is he suggesting Clinton’s only legitimate concern should have been Russia’s security, as opposed to say Estonia’s? Did Russians occupy Estonia in 1940, or did Estonians occupy Russia? Who has better grounds for feeling insecure? Or is it the case that only nuclear giants may have legitimate concerns about their national security? ”

Now I’m thinking that this guy is a facile idiot who seems to honestly believe that NATO has Estonia’s concerns at heart. It’s not that only nuclear giants can express their concerns, but that for the last twenty years we have heard only one voice: that of the U.S. Even when Estonia talks, it’s either the U.S. or—hardly better—the EU that makes its mouth move. The U.S. and the EU have shown themselves to be self-interested to the core. They have every interest in portraying Russia as an intractable enemy and giving it the Libya treatment, if possible.

That is the dream, anyway. If they could finally topple the Russian empire, Europe would finally have its resource problem under control, or would at least have cozier terms with a Russian territory under U.S. control. Let’s not lie to ourselves, this is the dream. The U.S. doesn’t give two shits for democracy in Estonia. It wants to build missile bases ever closer to its age-old enemy, the only country capable of resisting it with nukes. China would be logically next.

Don’t think that this is not the official policy of the U.S. It’s probably even written down in no uncertain terms somewhere. NATO is a tool to be used to enact this vision; it is not there to protect European countries. To believe so is utter foolishness.

Even the Yeltsin years, during which Russians had hope, despite the torrent of capital and power rushing out of their country at the time, would likely be a paradise compared to what is to come, should the U.S. get its way. But hope dies last, as the Germans like to say, and the author is eminently hopeful to lend the U.S. support in the hopes that this time it will be different.

“For all Yeltsin’s imperfections, Russia had a moment of relative freedom (especially freedom of expression) in the 1990s, which did not end until the formation of Putin’s regime. In a similar way, conflicts between Yeltsin’s Russia and its eastern European partners over the interpretation of history were rare.”

Bullshit. There was never a democracy in anything but name in Russia. No more so than the purported democracy the U.S. enjoys in this, the second gilded age, the age of plutocrats. The Russian government was allowed to play at democracy like a little girl with her teddy bears plays tea party. Meanwhile, the country was stolen out from under the Russian people by rapacious so-called free-market capitalists, who differed in no way from the Huns or Ghengis Khan in their ruthlessness. With the approval of a handful of Apparatchiks who also benefitted, armies of lawyers and financiers dismantled the Soviet Union rather more efficiently than an invading army could have.

The Russians went from a totalitarian occupation to an economic one. As mentioned at the top of this essay, the IMF is moving full steam ahead to do the same for Ukraine.

Koposov goes on to describe the evils of Russian policy,

“The program of cultural conservatism includes a quest for stability and hatred of change, especially revolutions; an emphasis on traditional values and an alliance with the Orthodox Church; the revival of a Soviet-style anti-intellectualism and a crusade against “deviant behaviour” (including what is called “non-traditional” sexual behaviour). This politics is complemented by repression and new legislation that has considerably increased police control over Russian society.”

Is he writing about the U.S. or Russia here? Do people like the author have no sense of irony? No self-reflection whatsoever? Do they really see things only from one side, without any notion that their depiction of the world as black and white might be a touch simplistic? Anti-intellectualism, repression, gulags—doesn’t that remind you of anything? How can you piss on Russia when Guantánamo is still open? They’re both bad. But to promote the lily-white U.S. vision over the obviously evil Russian one is to lack all nuance and perspective.

This lack of perspective colors everything. Even something relatively glaringly obvious like Crimea is described thusly:

“In a very profound sense, the annexation of Crimea is also an expression of cultural conservatism, with its pre-modern land-hunger and predilection for tangible symbols of power.”

How can he fail to mention or address Sebastopol, one of Russia’s largest naval bases. Can he not even bring himself to mention that this might be the most obvious reason that Russia would want to secure Crimea? It’s not an honorable reason, but one understandable by the realities of a war-suffused world with belligerent entities crawling the earth, looking to pick a fight.

Even in describing the Ukrainian culture, he given the current ruling party the benefit of a doubt that they have not earned, not even if we ignore all of the accusations of fascism and anti-Semitism.

“What has for decades been crucial about Ukraine is that most Ukrainians acknowledged their differences, but wanted to live together. This was a structural foundation of Ukrainian democracy (and one that made Ukraine so different from “monocentric” Russia but similar to countries such as Canada and the UK, among others).”

If most Ukrainians share these feelings of commonality, why do they put up with a new parliament whose first act was to vote to outlaw the Russian language for official purposes? When more than half of the country speaks that language as their primary language? Is this the kind of democratic inclusiveness that he’s talking about? Did this fool of an author really just compare the the newborn civil-war–torn hemi-democracy/hemi-putsch–governed Ukraine to Canada? How can anyone take this seriously?

And then Koposov trots out the old saw that he’s simply trying to get Russia to help itself by trying to keep some friends rather than making everyone an enemy.

“Let me ask Cohen: is it in Russia’s best interests to be a country without friends, except for a couple of other dictatorships?”

In honesty, Russia has friends, but they lie to the east and south rather than the west and north. With the U.S. bending all of its might—both miltary and fiscal—to ensure this outcome, what can Russia realistically do? It can strengthen its ties in Asia, I suppose, for which it will also be castigated. The only solution that will satisfy is a complete capitulation to western desires.

“However, Russia has to accept the right of eastern European countries to be suspicious of it and avoid making them choose between Russia and the West. Whatever other countries’ misdeeds may be, Russia bears the lion’s share of historical responsibility for the issues it has with its neighbours, simply because they were ruled from Moscow, and Russia was not ruled from Kiev, Tallinn or Warsaw. Russia has an obligation to take the lead in peacefully overcoming these issues. I think this would be the only democratic way of defining Russia’s national interests “on its own borders”. President Yeltsin’s policy was at least for a while based upon this understanding. (Emphasis added.) ”

While he’s right that the only thing Russia can do is work with what it’s got, that little emphasized sentence absolves the U.S. and Britain and others of their entire involvement at the geopolitical level, in general, and in Russia and Eastern Europe, in particular.

Russia should, in effect, do what its armed-to-the-teeth NATO neighbors want. Make nice, in other words, do what the U.S. wants—expressed through its proxies.

“Stephen Cohen complains: “If Russia under Yeltsin was presented [by US media] as having legitimate […] national interests, we are now made to believe that Putin’s Russia has none at all.” But this is fairly normal: democracies often cannot accept as legitimate what an authoritarian regime views as its rights.”

What is wrong with that complaint, if one doesn’t accept a priori that Putin is evil incarnate? Or that Cohen is a shill for a new totalitarianism? That even Putin should get the same treatment as other leaders of his country is the heart of diplomacy. But diplomacy is a lost art.

Putin’s concerns cannot, by definition, be legitimate because he’s a dictator—and not one of the good ones because he doesn’t agree with the U.S. unilaterally. It has always been this way: we only keep the ones we like and we only like the ones who suck up. It’s Putin’s own fault for being so intractable. If, however, the Russians choose a different president, they better not choose one that does anything for them, else he’ll follow in the footsteps of Mossadegh or Lumumba or those poor fools in Palestine who voted Hamas into power in a democratic election. Better to choose a manipulable puppet and see if you can get something for yourself.

And to cap things off,

Russian aggression against Ukraine has betrayed the general expectation of the major powers to pursue a responsible and, therefore, predictable politics, such that the world is spared major military conflicts. This is why the current crisis, no matter what its outcome may be, has already created a new international situation. (Emphasis added.)”

That first sentence is utterly blind to U.S.—and possibly British—actions in the last half-century. It’s utterly flabbergasting. How could anyone with a passing knowledge of history say that we have been “spared military conflicts”? Oh, I suppose he means that war no longer takes place on western soil. That it is waged by western powers seemingly everywhere else doesn’t enter into it. And the subtlety of economic warfare is something not even worth raising, if this guy can’t even see the bullets and bombs that are literally everywhere.

Instead, this fool heaps his entire opprobrium on Putin’s shoulders, putting a halo on the rest of the world and white-washing history to a degree that makes me think he’s suffered a serious head injury.

From that sentence alone, there is no need to take this guy seriously. A pity he put it all the way at the end of the article or I could have saved myself some time, I suppose.

7 months Ago

Criminal Justice in the U.S.

Published by marco on

The article Theater of Justice by Molly Crabapple (VICE) is an article by an artist who also occasionally does courtroom sketches.

She tells of Cecily McMillan, who was beaten into a seizure by police offers and who two years later stands trial for assaulting a police officer, facing seven years in prison. The officer’s record of having beaten other suspects was deemed inadmissable.

Or there is the other recent case of a black woman who tried to stand her ground, as others have successfully done. She fired a warning shot into the air, killing no one, not even wounding anyone. These were the actions of “Marissa Alexander, a PhD and mom who [wanted to] stop her husband from beating her,” That’s not a good reason, is it? Are we even sure that her husband isn’t allowed to beat her in that state? And that’s not nearly as good a reason as the guy had who killed a boy in the back-seat of his SUV for playing music too loud. Not guilty! But Marissa’s going to go away for a long time for her transgression.

“[She] was offered three years as a plea deal for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. She refused, knowing herself innocent. The judge sentenced her to 20 years. Now, she’s appealing. If she loses, the prosecutor wants to lock her up for 60.

“This is a “trial tax” you pay if you annoy the courts by insisting you are innocent.”

Who does this uppity woman think she is? Does she think she’s white? Rich? A citizen? A human being? Do not speak of justice in a system that produces hypocrisy on this scale. And the system does everything it can to make being poor or disadvantaged increase chances of prosecution dramatically.

We still have jury trials in the States; this means that non-professional, easily misled and nigh-constantly deluded undereducated head-cases are deciding your fate. Those are your peers. They can’t string two logical sentences together; what are the odds that they can wend their way through the facts of the case to come to a just conclusion? Nearly zero. What are the odds that they will decide your fate based on how you dress or act rather than evidence? Nearly certain.

“The poor, the brown, the trans – to juries, they’re guilty unless proven otherwise. Innocence is the absence of guilt. It is near impossible to prove a negative. […] If you’re too poor to afford bail, you arrive in court in chains. If you have no family to bring you a suit, you wear your prison jumpsuit.”

And people who haven’t yet been convicted are made to suffer beforehand. The unconvicted are left to stew behind bars because they can’t afford ridiculous bail. The homeless guy who was recently broiled to death in Riker’s Island because he couldn’t pay $2500 for bail on his charge of loitering was in jail for this reason. He was luckier than the homeless guy in the SouthWest U.S. who was executed by police officers for the same crime. Sure, those are anecdotes, but that doesn’t change the fact that “[…] the average defendant [is] a person of colour charged with a drug crime.” And more and more prisoners are going away for longer sentences; more and more people are taking years before they get their trial.

“Because the entire system would implode if everyone demanded a trial, prosecutors push plea bargains like restaurants hawking early bird specials. But instead of money, they’re haggling over life. If you’re too poor for a lawyer or have already spent months in jail because you can’t make bail, plea bargains can be irresistible. They account for 95 percent of felony convictions.”

As mentioned above, 95% just take the plea bargain in order to get some form of a life back. This is a life with a felony record and drastically reduced chances of making anything of yourself in a society that hates its ex-cons.

“Most trials resemble not grand dramas but factory farms. The raw material is a person. The product is a prisoner. Trials are deliberately dull. They move glacially, on state time rather than human time. If you hire your own lawyers – a necessity to have a chance of winning – you’ll blow through your life savings. As the cop cliché goes, “You can beat the rap, but you can’t beat the ride.””

If you don’t plea out, you lose your life savings and may still go to jail. If you do plea out, you lose all chance of ever making decent money again. You see? In America, you still have the freedom to choose.

Russophobia: the Lunatics are at the Helm

Published by marco on

I am so tired of hearing of scintillatingly smart people who can’t seem to ever say anything that is even tangentially well-informed. We knew that the Bush administration was a booby-hatch full of cantankerous old farts who hadn’t been right about anything or even had an original thought since before it became illegal to beat your wife and black people, not necessarily in that order. That doesn’t excuse them in any way at all, but they didn’t even really have a veneer of intelligentsia to them.

And now we have a new administration full of supposed young guns, ready to take on the 21st century. Not only is the Obama administration a moral and ethical failure throughout the whole spectrum but this supposedly technically savvy and hyper-informed and educated pile of Rhodes and Constitutional scholars can’t even seem to grasp the basics of human interaction beyond that which you would find in any neighborhood sandbox. They are a bunch of kindergartners who don’t know enough to shut up and let the grownups handle things.

They are so seduced by what they continue to cling to as U.S. hegemony and power that they coast along, not even bothering to make up a story that even halfway jibes with reality. We end up with policy that is not only criminally stupid and dishonest and offensive to anyone with half a brain and half an education who’s read half a history book or even half-paid attention to current events, but it will drag the hubris-laden vessel of the U.S.—and likely a lot of the rest of world with it—to very murky depths before they’re through.

There is no need for diplomacy when you can just stamp your foot and scream and make up all of your own history and facts and information and have the sails of your stupidity belled out by the hot air blown in vast and steaming amounts by a slavish corporate media intent on selling lies that will buoy their bottom lines for the next quarter. And to hell with the rest of it. I got mine, jack.

Obama stood in front of an assembly in Bruges and dribbled out the most spectacularly uninformed and nuance-free drivel you could imagine, all but starting World War III with seemingly nary a thought that others on the planet may not have the global domination of the U.S. as a core guiding principle.

His advisors and helpmeets are no better, with the bevy of women he’s appointed to relatively high office doing absolutely nothing to provide evidence to support the theory that if women ruled the world, we’d have less violence. To the contrary, Samantha “boom-boom” Power nearly fell on her Russian counterpart with savage blows before she got herself under control.

There is a severe problem when the lunatics run the asylum. It is even worse when they forget where reality ends and their own propaganda begins.

John Kerry is another such laughable idiot—a buffoon if there ever was one—who doesn’t waste a single second trying to convince anyone of anything—instead averring with such a self-assured knowledge that he is telling the gospel truth that it is hard to believe that he could even tell the difference anymore.

All of these fools steamroll right past the ironies, hypocrisies and shocking double-standards that abound in all of their argumentation, assuming that we are so much stupider than they. It may well be that most people will simply go along with what these scholars say because they feel that such smart people could not possibly be deluded on so grandiose a scale.

Those believers are sadly mistaken. This is not the first time that the lunatics are at the helm. It is arguable that it has always been thus. That does not in any way make it more palatable.

Perhaps these leading lights of the U.S. State Department are justified in their cynicism. But I simply want it noted that people who are purportedly intelligent but spend all of their time grubbing for power and saying the most mind-bogglingly inane and provably false things should not be heeded. Their original intelligence does not matter because they are not employing it. At all. That they know better but are cynically manipulating the world for their personal gain is not even cold comfort. Far better if we could just get them to leave us alone.

And don’t think that this vapidity is confined to the administration and its hangers-on. The Republican love of Putin is a pure knee-jerk reaction against the Obama administration, nothing more. They are not handling this any better nor are they exhibiting any greater level of intelligence than does a plant when it leans toward the sun.

Putin is not a grand guy but he is rational, he can be eminently reasonable and he seems to have the best interests of his country at heart. He has also exhibited absolutely no designs on taking over other countries. Crimea was not a takeover. The situation was forced on him by any logical reading of the events. That the U.S. paints this in any other way is so disingenuous and cynical that it’s nearly warping the space-time continuum. Be that as it may, all of the things listed above could be used as levers by diplomats worth their name in order to come to an agreement with Russia. But an agreement is not what is sought.

What is sought instead by the U.S. is utter domination and degradation and capitulation on the part of any other country that has a whit of power remaining. Countries like Russia and Chine will not bow so easily—nor do they have any reason to, when one looks at the facts and the reality rather than the mythic world of American exceptionalism. The Idiocracy that is America is shooting itself in the foot time and again, thinking that it can create history and bend reality and facts to its whims. The rest of the world tires of these spoiled-child antics and just wishes the U.S. would go away.

Kerry leaps to support the rebels in Venezuela—but it is a rebellion of the rich against the poor, throwing a temper tantrum because they want their country back in the hands of a few oligarchic families. But the OAS was recently asked by the U.S. to vote for intervention and overthrow of Maduro in Venezuela. The U.S. received a resounding NO, with only Canada and Panama voting in favor. Everyone else in the OAS told the U.S. (and Canada) to go f&%*k themselves. And rightly so. Because only an immoral jackass would support a “revolution” promulgated by the upper class against the poor. When put that way, it makes sense that Kerry was for it.

When Honduras was overthrown by an extreme right-wing party, the Obama administration fell all over itself to validate the revolution and welcome the new rulers into the international community—constitutionality be damned. It was the same in Venezuela during the 24-hour coup of Chavez. It was the same in Libya. It was the same in Kosovo. It was the same in Ukraine, where the U.S. once again cheerfully supports a fascist government—as long as they accept U.S. (NATO) missiles on their border with Russia. Shooting distance to Iran is also not a bad consolation prize.

The lunatics are running the asylum and we’re all along for the ride. The media doesn’t care. They love the simple story told by the administration. Or is it that the administration loves the simple story told by the media? It’s so hard to tell who’s the dog and who’s the tail and who’s doing the wagging.

The danger that the rest of the world sees is that these kindergarten-level administrators and diplomats and officials have a ton of power and weapons and influence still to burn. And they have a craven and willing media at their back, which is eager to sell a ton of advertising for their Cold War Redux coverage.

We can only hope that Putin remains reasonable and picks his battles and doesn’t get drawn into the idiocy. He has been reassuringly stable and grounded so far. It is an utter shame that we have to hope for this cypher of a man to prevent the gaggle of idiots at the helms of other countries (Angela Merkel has toned down the rhetoric considerably of late, in fairness) from plunging us all into a nuclear winter.

If you’ve got so much time on your hands to poke the Russian bear, why don’t you expend some energy on doing something about climate change? You know, instead of just pretending the problem doesn’t exist because it’s politically difficult in an election year. Every other year in the States is an election year. It’s an excuse to never have to engage your giant brain and actually do something. And your giant brain has deluded you into thinking that no one else could possibly be as smart as you and therefore you should get all the toys and cupcakes. This is laziness and intellectual dishonesty at its core. Talk about entitlement.

And pro tip: Just because someone speaks English with an accent doesn’t make them stupid. Nor does it make them smart—I’m looking at you, Henry Kissinger. You are the original proponent of the take-all-the-toys-stick-your-fingers-in-your-ears-and-coast-on-your-reputation-for-smarts strategy. You and Bob Mcnamara, who admitted his oopsie only after millions of Vietnamese had died. Good timing. Lots of other people smarter than you knew that what you were doing was wrong before you even started doing it. Nobody listened to them. Just like no one is listening now, instead leaving the reins in the hands of the utter children currently in charge of the U.S.

In conclusion, stop listening to people who you’ve been told are smart but who never seem to say anything smart or reasonable or well-informed. They are going to lead us down the primrose path of destruction and make life a lot worse for everyone.


I didn’t include any citations or references in the main text although there are many good ones and they all pretty much say the same thing: the mainstream media/U.S. version of events is pure mendacity. This example from the article Obama’s Sleepwalk Toward War by Paul Craig Roberts (CounterPunch) is as good an example as any.

“The extraordinary transparent lie that Russia sent an army into Ukraine and annexed Crimea is now accepted as fact everywhere in the West, even among critics of US policy toward Russia.

“Obama, whose government overthrew the democratically elected government in Ukraine and appointed a stooge government that has threatened the Russian provinces of Ukraine, falsely accuses Putin of “invading and annexing” Crimea.”

Paul Craig Roberts continues to report well and honestly. Tariq Ali also described the hypocrisy as breathtaking, Pepe Escobar is always informative. Diane Johnstone also wrote eloquently and well on the topic and drew parallels to NATO and the U.S. in Yugoslavia. Israel Shamir continues to provide good background. And not all members of the EU are equally deluded: Gregor Gysi gave a good and impassioned speech to the German Bundestag. James Howard Kunstler notes that “In [his] lifetime, there has never been a more pointless and unnecessary international crisis than the current rumble over Ukraine, and it’s pretty much all our doing” before returning to his reporting on the ongoing global financial collapse, suggesting that this might be more important (I chose climate change above).

Even the text of Vladimir Putin’s speech to the Kremlin after accepting Crimea back into the fold, is very good and historically informative reading (and is not without humor; see emphasis).

“First, we had to help create conditions so that the residents of Crimea for the first time in history were able to peacefully express their free will regarding their own future. However, what do we hear from our colleagues in Western Europe and North America? They say we are violating norms of international law. Firstly, it’s a good thing that they at least remember that there exists such a thing as international law – better late than never. (Emphasis added)”

8 months Ago

Truthiness in Ukraine

Published by marco on

As you can well imagine, this is an exhaustive topic. Trying to get a handle on it is like drinking from a firehose. My style of research involved a lot of reading, evaluation and collection of interesting tidbits, some of which are contradictory to previous bits. Interesting for me does not mean “believable” or “true” but that it was well-written, intriguing or contributed to my knowledge. This piece will start with an attempt at an overview with some interwoven notes, followed by a lot of citations and references with less individual analysis.

Learn what not to believe

The article Ukraine: who to read, what to believe? by Chris Bertram (Crooked Timber) captures perfectly the thought that everyone should have before pretending to even have a clue as to what’s going on over there.

This goes double for anyone who was dead certain on what would/should happen in Libya or Egypt or Afghanistan or Iraq. I have been muddling through innumerable articles and opinions and views and historical recaps—of both the deep and shallow past in the region—and think I may perhaps finally have some decent idea of what I might think about the turmoil in which Ukrainians find themselves.[1]

As ever, most of such research is about discarding information that is not useful and letting that which is useful bubble up. In this, you can rely on some personalities who never fail to be wrong or disingenuous. Using such lighthouses or ignorance and self-serving venality, it is much easier to avoid the dangerous, swirling shoals in which you might otherwise disappear. John Kerry, I’m totally looking at you.

On the other hand, as I’ve read through tons of material, I’ve distilled a few reasonable authors from the mix, like Robert Parry, Israel Shamir, Andre Vlitchik, Paul Craig Roberts, William Boardman and the editors of n+1 magazine. Essayists to avoid are David Remnick, Thomas Snyder and pretty much all of the usual suspects in the Western mainstream media. As illustrated in a few links below, even some ordinarily more alert sources like Glenn Greenwald and Abby Martin have been deluded into reporting within the parameters of false assumptions.

A good rule of thumb is to trust only sources that consider themselves to be uncertain (because the situation is far from clear) and which are willing to admit mistakes and correct their picture of the situation as new data arrives. These are pretty much the usual rules for consuming media, but all the more important in this case because of the high stakes and also because many historically less-biased sources have already gone completely off the rails in their anti-Russic and anti-Putin inclinations, which is neither constructive nor likely to result in a useful picture of the situation.

Standard Operating Procedure

The standards of Western propaganda are in place: every leader you don’t like is a “dictator”. For good measure, call them “communist” as well, even though the term doesn’t even begin to apply. Yanukovich was elected three years ago. Call him a deposed dictator. That makes the putsch much more palatable. Putin is also an elected leader. Call him a dictator as well. And a communist. And crazy, don’t forget crazy. Irrational and unpredictable. Liable to do anything. A perfect justification for preëmptive military action. Hillary Clinton already played the Godwin card (Wikipedia), in utter ignorance of history.[2]

The US media and US think-tank denizens are actively detrimental to trying to figure out what’s going on. They are distracting clowns. They make up details from whole cloth and then use those to present a simplistic and straightforward interpretation that can only end in Putin’s Russia being purest evil and the US and Europe pure goodness, once more reluctantly gearing up for war. These people pose behind auspicious-sounding organizations that lend gravitas to their statements in the ears of those desperate for clarity and uncertain of their own understanding. And perhaps too lazy to look further but unwilling to abandon their quest to gain knowledge empty-handed.

For example, the Daily Show hosted a woman who writes for Foreign Policy (I’m not even going to bother looking up her name), who presented an utterly simplistic view of the situation. She made historically inaccurate statements throughout, utterly ignoring even the high points of foreign policy of the last two decades, ostensibly her milieu. If someone purporting to be an authority in this area doesn’t even acknowledge that the accusation of Western hypocrisy must at least be addressed, then their opinion is worth nothing (to me, at least). They should at least do us the honor of trying to explain why Crimea isn’t at all like Ukraine without being stupid. Or like Kosovo. Or like the fledgling 13 colonies of nearly 250 years ago.

The Colbert Report didn’t do its viewers much service either. The guy from Foreign Policy vastly oversimplified things, depicting the Ukrainian plight as a choice between the evil, Russian bear and the welcoming arms of liberty in Europe, which is utter horseshit. He also utterly failed to even hint that the opinion of the actual people living in Ukraine should be consulted in any way.

Lies, damned lies and social media

It’s insane and sickening. That’s the only appropriate description for the misinformation feeding frenzy. Did you see the picture of the Russian tank rolling on Crimea? You can be pretty sure it was a tank, but was it in Crimea? Was it even Russian? Was it even footage from this decade?

On the Internet, everything is fake unless proven otherwise. Enjoy it if you like, even if part of your enjoyment is that you think it’s real, but don’t actually believe it’s real without proof. Since journalism no longer really exists, we have only volunteer reporters in the form of social-media rumors, inundating Twitter and Facebook in a tsunami of truthiness. Even the major news organizations use stock footage all the time. Is Anderson Cooper really in Crimea? Right in the middle of Sebastopol? No, he is not. He’s in front of a green screen. This is, somehow, legal.

The other day, I saw a short clip that was strongly implied to represent modern-day Switzerland on the Daily Show. The plane taking off said “Swiss Air” on the side. It hasn’t been called that for over a dozen years. Footage is recycled. Photos are recycled. They don’t have to be real to prove a point. And even if the photo hasn’t been doctored, it doesn’t mean that it represents what they say it does.

It would be nice to be able to trust such sources, but we clearly cannot. Even when they are not being deliberately mendacious or at least very slippery with their presentation, the thoroughness of most sources has proven catastrophically bad. That is, even if “reporters” earnestly believe that what they are presenting is true, there are good odds that they themselves have been fooled or manipulated.

The remainder of this article will consist of links to other articles and citations mixed in with notes of my own. I tried to roughly group them but YMMV.

Snipers and invasions

And what about the snipers? One side says it was definitely the Ukrainian police—Yanukovich’s shock troops—who, while not disinclined to beating protesters, seemed otherwise averse to outright killing them. In fact, many of them defected during the uprising.

Others say that it’s not clear that the snipers weren’t affiliated with the opposition, which is acknowledged by all sides to be a patchwork of ideologies and groups, united in their desire to gain control of the Ukraine. Some of them might even have had the interests of the people at heart. Were they all above sniping their own citizens in order to cement hatred of the police, who would be blamed? I can’t rule that out.

Were they CIA operatives, fine-tuning a revolution to push it in the direction desired by the US? Building “facts on the ground”, as it were, in order to provide fodder for the good vs. evil narrative so earnestly desired by the West? Lord knows we can’t rule that out. It wouldn’t be the first time. Or even the tenth. We can wait 30 years for those records to be released under the FOIA and maybe then we’ll know for sure. When it no longer matters.[3]

Russian troops are descending on Crimea, right? But weren’t they already stationed there? Don’t they already have a large military presence there? We can discuss the legitimacy of a foreign nation establishing military bases in sovereign nations, but simply sending more troops to a base that already exists is not justification for DEFCON 1. No more than the US sending more troops to its burgeoning bases in Afghanistan, Iraq, Okinawa, Germany or Korea would be.

It’s the economy, stupid

The US Played Hardball Against Ukraine…and the EU by Peter Lee (CounterPunch)

“Since this new government is flat-busted, needs somewhere north of $30 billion in fresh loans to make it through the year, one might think the West didn’t get much of a bargain. However, it seems that everybody in the new government is gung-ho on accepting an IMF package through which, I suppose, the Ukraine will be comfortably chained in debt vassalage to the West for the foreseeable future and incapable of returning to the welcoming arms of Russia.”
“It will also be interesting to see if Russia yields to its spiteful feelings and neglects to pony up the $15 billion it had originally promised in order to prop up Yanukovich. (Interesting thought: was all this US-encouraged upheaval timed for the Sochi Olympics with the thinking that Putin wouldn’t dare intervene forcefully while his precious games were underway? Hmmm.)”

What Happened in Ukraine Was a Presidential Coup, Pure and Simple by Robert Parry (AlterNet)

“All of which set the stage for Ukraine. The issue at hand was whether Yanukovych should accept a closer relationship with the European Union, which was demanding substantial economic “reforms,” including an austerity plan dictated by the International Monetary Fund. Yanukovych balked at the harsh terms and turned to Ukraine’s neighbor Russia, which was offering a $15 billion loan and was keeping Ukraine’s economy afloat with discounted natural gas.”

The article The Ukraine Economic Crisis by Jack Rasmus (CounterPunch) goes into clinical detail on the current state of the Ukraine economy, which is anything but good.

“The immediate crisis is not only associated with declining real GDP and falling average incomes. The crisis is most evident short term in the rapid collapse of the Ukrainian currency and the even more rapid depletion of its foreign currency reserves that are critical to financing its trade, to paying its already significantly high foreign debt load, and for its central bank to intervene to stem the collapse of its currency. If currency collapses and there are little foreign exchange reserves available, the crisis escalates rapidly. And the Ukraine is desperately close to that point at present.”

Ukraine needs help in order to even get through the year. Where to turn? Europe’s offer is meager—it has more than enough troubles of its own as well any number of already-crashing economies in its basket—and would funnel all aid through the IMF, a notoriously harsh and inept organization that has historically done far more for its oligarchic rulers than the people in the countries that it “assists”. Ideology has, for decades, trumped reality in that organization. And compassion and actual assistance doesn’t enter into it. It is public-relations ploy to cover a mechanism by which maximum returns on failed Western investment—private and government—are extracted.

“The IMF has initially indicated it would provide $27 billion, but that would be doled out over 7 years in delivery. As in typical IMF deals, most of that $27 billion would go to cover payments to western bankers first, to ensure they’re protected and covered. Little would be left to stimulate the Ukrainian economy or to relieve the average Ukrainian household. Moreover, the ‘terms’ of the IMF deal (as any IMF deal has shown) would prove disastrous to the real economy. Already IMF officials are making it clear the rescue package would be available only with the proviso that the Ukraine cut government spending and jobs, pensions, and especially the large subsidies now provided to Ukrainian families to offset the high gas and oil costs to households.”

“The preceding analysis is not an apology for the economic mal-performance of the Yanukovich regime. Rather it is an effort to look behind the obvious ideological and political motives of those who argue in the west today that the protestors on Maidan Square are there because of the corruption of the regime; or that they are there because of the ineptness or personal thievery of the Ukraine’s Treasury by Yanukovich. That is a political analysis wrapped in ideological trappings of a bad economic analysis.

“Clearly the Ukraine’s economic problems are deeper, much deeper. And if current economic problems have been caused longer term by western capitalism’s economic crash of 2008 and subsequent policy shifts, one should perhaps think twice whether any long term (let alone short term) solution to Ukraine’s economic crisis will result from the same source, the western economies.”

Why Joining Russia Might Be Crimea’s Most Reasonable Option by Robert Parry (AlterNet)

“If you were living in Crimea, would you prefer to remain part of Ukraine with its coup-installed government — with neo-Nazis running four ministries including the Ministry of Defense — or would you want to become part of Russia, which has had ties to Crimea going back to Catherine the Great in the 1700s?

“Granted, it’s not the greatest choice in the world, but it’s the practical one facing you. For all its faults, Russia has a functioning economy while Ukraine really doesn’t. Russia surely has its share of political and financial corruption but some of that has been brought under control.

“Not so in Ukraine where a moveable feast of some 10 “oligarchs” mostly runs the show in shifting alliances, buying up media outlets and politicians, while the vast majority of the population faces a bleak future, which now includes more European-demanded “austerity,” i.e. slashed pensions and further reductions in already sparse social services.”

Yet another regime change

The US Played Hardball Against Ukraine…and the EU by Peter Lee (CounterPunch)

“It is doubtful that heightened PRC vigilance will translate into anything near the democratic liberalization which the West ostensibly craves for China’s benighted citizens. Instead, the regime will land on dissidents early and like a ton of bricks.

“It is rather ironic that Barack Obama, the progressive paragon, took a few hits from the Dick Cheney regime-change crack pipe, and now apparently finds it irresistible.”

I’ve read some seriously differing opinions. The right-wing is controlling it, the left is triumphant, Putin is happy, Putin is sad, Putin did it, the US did, Europe provoked it, Europe is happy, Europe is sad. My $0.02? Probably most Ukrainians are gonna not notice in the short term, but a democratically elected government was just *couped*, so that’s gonna leave a mark. No matter what you think of the former president, at least half of the country might just be a bit f’in surprised that the president they elected about 3 years ago just got thrown the fuck out. There’s also the little matter of the Ukraine being seriously strapped for cash (30B just this year). Putin promised 15 of it but it remains to be seen whether Russia feels beholden to a country without an elected government. Of course, they could go to Europe and the IMF. That always turns out well for the debtor country.

Was the Ukraine Coup America’s Main Event at the Sochi Olympics? by Peter Lee (CounterPunch)

“And Putin might have the last laugh, withholding Russia’s promised contribution of $15 billion while the EU scrambles to come up with the $30 billion Ukraine needs to get through the year (amazingly, the US has to date made no commitment to provide financial aid, something the EU is probably noticing; and thinking Thanks a Billion! Not! Vicky Nuland, since the aggressive US strategy blew up the transitional government negotiated by the EU that might have kept Russia in the game and on the hook).

“A year from now it might be Vladimir Putin who’s saying Thanks! Victoria Nuland. Thanks to you I was spared the cost and trouble of propping up a dysfunctional pro-Russian government in the Ukraine. I saved $15 billion bucks…turned a nice profit since I could drop concessional pricing in the new gas contracts…and I picked up east and south Ukraine as new Russian provinces for free!”

The coup (it was a coup)

The US Played Hardball Against Ukraine…and the EU by Peter Lee (CounterPunch)

“So, by a less-than-generous view, it might be suspected that the United States encouraged demonstrators to break the truce, with the expectation that violence would occur and Yanukovich’s equivocal fat cat backers, such as Akhmetov, would jump ship because the US had already informed them that their assets in the West would be at risk under US and EU sanctions.

“If this is the case, the EU perhaps has additional reason to feel sore and resentful at the US. By blowing up the truce and the transition deal, Nuland got Yanukovich out and “Yats”—the preferred US proxy, Arseniy Yatsenyuk—in, but at the cost of terminally alienating the Ukraine’s pro-Russian segment—a segment, it might be pointed out, was actually able to elect Yanukovich in a free and fair election a while back.”

What Happened in Ukraine Was a Presidential Coup, Pure and Simple by Robert Parry (AlterNet)

“In the upside-down world that has become the U.S. news media, the democratically elected president was a dictator and the coup makers who overthrew the popularly chosen leader were “pro-democracy” activists.”

Ukraine, Omidyar and the Neo-Liberal Agenda by Chris Floyd (CounterPunch)

“Yanukovych, already unpopular before the deal, would have almost certainly been ousted from office by democratic means in national elections scheduled for 2015. But the outpouring of displeasure at this policy decision grew into a call for the removal of the government. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Washington was maneuvering to put their preferred candidate, Arseniy Yatseniuk, in charge of the Ukrainian government, as a leaked tape of a conversation between Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state, and Geoffrey Pyatt, U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, clearly showed. It is worth noting that when Yanukovych was finally ousted from power — after the opposition reneged on an EU-brokered deal for an interim unity government and new elections in December — Arseniy Yatseniuk duly took charge of the Ukrainian government, as planned.”
“American policy is based upon — dependent upon — a raging, willful, arrogant ignorance of other peoples, other cultures, history in general, and even the recent history of U.S. policy itself. The historical and cultural relationships between Ukraine and Russia are highly complex. Russia takes its national identity from the culture that grew up around what is now Kyiv; indeed, in many respects, Kyiv is where “Russia” was born.”
“Ukrainians favoring the Westward tilt, having idealized the E.U., appear to assume they are to evolve into some system roughly between the Scandinavians and Germany, as East Europeans earlier anticipated. They will thus find the I.M.F.’s deal shocking indeed. It will be bitter, after all the treacherous, carefully couched promises. (citing Patrick Smith)”

Hatin’ on Putin

Dangerous ‘We-Hate-Putin’ Groupthink Among U.S. Political-Elite Threatens World Security by Robert Parry (AlterNet)

“Yet, despite the new evidence suggesting that the coup-makers may have been responsible for instigating the violence, the mainstream U.S. press continues to revise the preferred narrative by putting white hats on the coup-makers and black hats on the Yanukovych government. For instance, the New York Times has stopped reporting that more than a dozen police officers were among the 80 or so people killed as protests in Kiev turned violent. The typical new version in the U.S. press is simply that Yanukovych’s police opened fire on peaceful demonstrators, killing 80 of them.”
“And to take a contradictory view of this conventional wisdom marks you as “crazy.” When Yanukovych and Putin raised questions about who actually opened fire, the U.S. news media dismissed their suspicions as “conspiracy theories” and proof of “delusional” thinking. It is now a virtual consensus across the U.S. news media that Putin is “unstable” and “disconnected from reality.””

“The Washington Post called Putin’s Tuesday news conference “rambling.” However, if you read the transcript (VoltaireNet), it is anything but “rambling” or “delusional.” Putin comes across as quite coherent, expressing a detailed understanding of the Ukraine crisis and the legal issues involved.

“Putin begins his response to reporters’ questions by puzzling over the reasons for the violent overthrow of Yanukovych, especially after the Ukrainian president agreed to European terms for surrendering much of his power, moving up elections and ordering police to withdraw. But that Feb. 21 agreement lasted only two hours, ended by neo-Nazi extremists seizing control of government buildings and forcing Yanukovych to flee for his life.”

I highly recommend reading the entire transcript. I cannot verify the accuracy of the translation, but the original version in Russian is also available.

Ukraine Through the Fog of the Presstitutes by Paul Craig Roberts (CounterPunch)

“For example, Martin’s denunciation of Russia for “invading” Ukraine is based on Western propaganda that Russia sent 16,000 troops to occupy Crimea. The fact of the matter is that those 16,000 Russian troops have been in Crimea since the 1990s. Under the Russian-Ukrainian agreement, Russia has the right to base 25,000 troops in Crimea.”

U.S. Provokes Russia, Acts Surprised to Get Nasty Reaction by William Boardman (AlterNet)

“Russia’s history of maintaining a military presence in Crimea is older than United States history. The Russian Black Sea Fleet [4] has been based in Sevastopol in Crimea continuously since 1783. For the Russians, this is a crucial warm water port, currently leased from Ukraine till 2042.

“To understand what this means to the Russians, it probably matters more to them than the United States would care if the Cubans decided to threaten the Naval Base at Guantanamo, and we know that wouldn’t have a happy ending.”

“Now Yanukovych has been deposed, perhaps justly, but by an unjust process spearheaded by a street mob and a disenthralled parliament. The parliament has appointed an acting president and Yanukovych is in asylum in Russia. It’s not clear that Ukraine now has a legitimate government of any sort.”

Yanukovich was placating NATO but that clearly wasn’t going to be good enough. But isn’t the NATO presence right on Russia’s borders pretty much the only thing that has reliably caused them to bristle?

“In other words, the “pro-Russian” Yanukovych was contributing to NATO, albeit in a small way that might even have been part of a balancing act reflecting Ukraine’s unfortunate but inescapable geographic location bordering both Russia and NATO members [10] Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland. As far as the NATO allies were concerned, Ukraine’s effort to be a buffer state with good relations with all its hostile neighbors was not enough. Both NATO and the European Union were pressuring Ukraine to choose sides, NATO’s side. How did they honestly expect Russia to react, sooner or later?”

Boardman gave David Remnick of the New York Times much more credit than I would have, but he also pointed out that Remnick is definitely in the camp of the “presstitutes” as outlined by Paul Craig Roberts above.

“Writing with a Cold War approach that denigrates or omits anything that makes sense of Russian behavior, Remnick compares the Russian deployment in Crimea to Georgia in 2008, Afghanistan in 1979, Checkoslovakia in 1968. He omits any mention of Sevastop[ol or NATO. He argues instead that this is all about Putin’s psyche.”

The article goes on to provide a much more even-handed and reality-based listing of Putin’s actual crimes—things for which he should actually be denigrated—rather than the cartoonish Lucifer-like image that the Western press is much more comfortable with.

“But here we are, headed into another media wonderland where the actual context of putting missiles near another country’s borders is expected to elicit a reaction different from the one the Russians would get if they tried to finagle Mexico into a military alliance or base missiles in Canada.”

History of the region

The article Ukraine, Putin, and the West (n+1) provides an excellent and extremely evenly and well-written article describing the history of the revolution—to the degree possible from disparate sources—from late last year until the present day.

For example, they discuss how the more media-savvy elements of the opposition tried to ensure that the situation would be reported in a black-and-white way conducive to their goals.

“As the protests stretched on, despite the freezing cold, some supporters of the protests began to worry that talk of right-wing groups was giving Maidan a bad name. A group of Ukrainian, Russian, and Western scholars circulated a strange petition urging Western media outlets to stop talking about the right-wing groups. In the US this campaign was taken up by Yale historian Timothy Snyder. In a series of articles and posts in the New York Review of Books, Snyder insisted, misleadingly, that the right-wing groups had nothing but a marginal presence at the protests, and that to say otherwise was to toe the party line being issued from the Kremlin, which was, it’s true, filling the national airwaves with talk of Ukrainian fascists. Snyder was answered by Stephen Cohen of the Nation, who argued that the American media was simply taking its usual anti-Russia line, regardless of the content of the protests. As usual, Cohen went too far, suggesting that rather criticize Vladimir Putin, the US should be grateful to him for all he’s done. Snyder answered that Cohen, a noted historian of the anti-Stalin opposition, was giving aid and comfort to the enemy. And on it went.”

Before I’d read this, I’d already discarded Snyder as a reliable source simply because he wrote as if he was writing a film script—his prose is lovely but whitewashed and indistinguishable from propaganda. Similarly, Stephen Cohen was one of the earlier interviews I’d read and, though he struck me as reasonable, he seemed also too sure of himself and too pro-Russia in the sense that he was also too willing to depict the situation as black and white, this time holding Russia utterly blameless, which is also not true.

As with other sources interested in getting to the heart of the unrest in Ukraine and the possible reasons why Russia wasn’t so interested in retaining it or why Europe was only willing to take it on if it could get Ukraine for free, n+1 examined the underlying economic situation.

“Instead, Ukraine, a country which in 1991 had hope that, left to its own devices, it could flourish—with its highly educated workforce, its proximity to Europe in the West and the Black Sea to the south, and the many industrial enterprises inherited from the USSR—has instead lagged miserably behind its neighbors. Its per capita GDP is one half of Russia’s, one fifth that of the US. Its economic performance lags behind that of its authoritarian neighbors Kazakhstan and Belarus. It is a country about as poor as El Salvador. And the poorest regions are in the west, which sends many undocumented migrant workers further west, to Europe, and north to Russia. It is the disjuncture between Ukraine’s solid democratic performance and its miserable economic one that provided the protests with much of their pathos and durability. (Emphasis added.)”

There were fascists among the protesters and they were a driving force behind the ultimate takeover—but the throngs that showed up to protest in the freezing cold were not all fascists. Nor were they proponents of Western democracy. No, they were mostly people who were intensely interested in where their meals would be coming from in the ensuing years and were strongly convinced that a Ukraine with Yakunkovich at the helm wasn’t going to provide them with the stability that they craved.

Once things turned shitty, though, a lot of those people melted away. They were frustrated and wanted their voices to push the revolution forward to get the reforms they wanted, but they weren’t fighters. The increasing chaos distilled the fighters from the throng.

“The determination of the protesters hardened. What had once been a crowd with iPhones had been transformed into men in battle fatigues, balaclavas, orange construction helmets, welder goggles, knee pads, shin pads, greaves, metal shields, and all sorts of improvised weaponry—two-by-fours, Molotov cocktails, flails, the occasional hunting rifle, sticks, and rocks. They looked like some army of the damned, out to fight zombies—but in fact they were facing down their own police.”

Let us imagine how many dead there would be in the US were there to be similarly equipped protestor shock-troops in the streets of an American city, say New York. I think that 80-100 dead in total would be a relatively low number in that case. This is not to argue that everyone acted splendidly, do not misunderstand, but that a death tool in the low triple digits is ridiculously low for the overthrow of a government in a country of 50 million people. The revolution was about as bloodless as could be expected. It could have been even more so as expressed by a mystified Putin in a press conference (see below), where he detailed that Yanukovitch had already signed over all power and capitulated to all demands before the protestors kicked the violence into high gear.

While the editors of N+1 acknowledged that the troops referenced by Western sources were drawn from those already stationed in Sebastopol, they also noted that the Russian military there didn’t stay on base, as they always had before.

“Less than a week later, in gross violation of the conditions of their longstanding lease on Crimean territory, Russian troops left their bases in the Crimea and began to take up positions around the peninsula, disarming Ukrainian troops where they could.”

It’s also interesting to muse on the value of the propaganda coming from both sides. The Western propaganda is objectively more insidious in that it deviates much farther from the actual facts and is also clearly designed to influence decisions in ways that are grossly pro-Europe and pro-U.S. What about the various media sources that parrot this information, though?

“It’s hard to know how much of what gets written in various places leads to American policies in actual fact. Does it matter what’s in the Nation? What about the New York Review of Books? The New Yorker? It’s impossible to say. And the media or publishing game has its own rules, irrespective of politics. Evil Putin is just going to get more airtime than Complicated Putin or Putin Who is Running a Country in a Complex Geopolitical Situation.”

Money, IMF and Austerity

Problems in Ukraine? Blame Russia! by Peter Lee (CounterPunch)

“Unless Russia can be prevailed upon to pony up the remaining $12 billion of the $15 billion it promised Yanyukovich, the new government is going to have to turn to the EU for the Western financial shovels that, hopefully, will dig the Ukraine out of its hole instead of digging it deeper.

“Apparently, the standard recipe for a country that can’t pay its bills (Ukraine is looking at a couple of likely bond defaults this summer) is an IMF rescue package contingent on implementation of austerity measures.”

“What will be particularly interesting will be the effort to try to get Russia to bring a few billions to the table to help with the bailout, while at the same time berating Russia for fostering dissatisfaction with the current government. Heroic efforts by the Guardian and the rest of Western prestige media will be needed to keep that particular ball rolling.”

Whither Ukraine? by Marilyn Vogt-Downey (CounterPunch)

What Yanukovich should have done/said:

“His refusal to sign this Agreement on November 21, 2013 has been called the “spark” that led to the current crisis and his overthrow. However, if, for example, he had summarized the terms of only one part of it–the Agreement’s “Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area”–and explained what it would mean to the Ukrainian people, he would have severely dampened enthusiasm for this Agreement. This Free Trade section alone–removing tariff barriers and export duties–would convert Ukraine into one big “free trade zone,” where the anti-environment, anti-labor, and pro-business laws would prevail.

“This is what “European integration” and “joining” the glamorized “West” would really mean to Ukraine’s massive working-class population of 46 million. It would create the economic devastation of the type that NAFTA has created in Mexico.

““You want a free, independent Ukraine?” Yanukovych could have asked, were he a man of integrity. “Well, so do I! That is why I cannot–in good conscience–sign this Agreement.””

“The IMF loans will require in Ukraine, as they do everywhere, that the government undertake broad-scale privatization of resources and basic public services, cut government spending on education, health care, pensions, housing, and benefits for the needy, as well as laws that hinder the accumulation and free movement of capitalist profits. And that’s just for starters. All this will further lower the wages and standard of living of the mass of the population of Ukraine, which are already lower than the European average.”
“This man, like everyone present, claimed to support an independent Ukraine. Yet he was promoting what amounted to the negation of this independence. Europe, like the rest of the capitalist world is in a deep-going crisis. Did he want Ukraine to end up like Greece, Italy, and Spain?”

Snyder’s a hack

The article Ukraine: The Haze of Propaganda by Timothy Snyder (New York Review of Books) has no compunctions about spreading its own haze:

“Struggling to pay his debts last year, the Ukrainian leader had two options. The first was to begin trade cooperation with the European Union. No doubt an association agreement with the EU would have opened the way for loans. But it also would have meant the risk of the application of the rule of law within Ukraine. The other alternative was to take money from another authoritarian regime, the great neighbor to the east, the Russian Federation.”

This telling of the story places the entire blame squarely on Yanukovich and makes the EU deal look much sweeter than any other source I’ve read. It is unlikely to be true. Just as it is unlikely that Yanukovitch is solely responsible for the $30 Billion hole in the Ukraine budget, as Snyder also intimates, if not outright alleges (“If a leader steals so much from the people that the state goes bankrupt, then his power is diminished. Yanukovych actually faced this problem last year.”). The rest of Snyder’s telling educes much more clarity than the situation warrants, finding a “a lonely, courageous Ukrainian rebel”—otherwise largely unmentioned in other sources—to imbue this revolution with the proper Hollywood backdrop. “When protesters followed, they were shot by snipers who had taken up positions on rooftops.” Who were the snipers? Snyder does not say. We are left to assume that they were police or supporters of the regime. It makes for a better story, anyway, and the pacing of the article is much more like a movie script than journalism. Ukraine under its new leadership (usurpers, recall) is portrayed as a paradise of thought and openness.

“The grotesque residences of Yanukovych are visited by tourists, but they are not looted. The main one is now being used as a base for archival research by investigative journalists. […] The speaker of the parliament and the acting president is a Baptist preacher from southeastern Ukraine. All of the power ministries, where of course any coup-plotter would plant his own people, were led by professionals and Russian speakers. The acting minister of internal affairs was half Armenian and half Russian. The acting minister of defense was of Roma origin.”

Young women were observed in squares across the country, placing early crocuses stem-first into the barrels of rifles. Tears rolled down scarred cheeks behind scarred faceshields.

Snyder sees far more leftists involved in this coup than other accounts I’ve read. It would be somewhat unusual for the left to be so strong in the Ukraine, when anti-communist purges lay so recently in the past. And when Europe is so lacking in anything approaching a useful left at all. It’s possible that the Ukrainians are worlds ahead of countries like France and Switzerland, which have of late been so reactionary, but it’s hard to believe.

Snyder ends with a plea:

“Insofar as we wish for peace and democracy, we are going to have to begin by getting the story right.”

I fear that the word “story” here will come back to haunt him.

Biased Coverage

“The New York Times coverage of the Ukrainian events is in sharp contrast, for example, to its coverage of the far more pervasive violence by the US-backed military government in Egypt, which has arrested and killed 100 times more protesters in recent months. Both are awful, but it is the contrast in coverage that is being emphasized here.”
“What would Dick Cheney have done if Russian NGOs sponsored separatist movements in Texas, California or New England? How would US police have reacted against armed revolutionaries seizing the armory and throwing Molotov cocktails and bombs at public buildings, killing police, painting swastikas on Jewish houses and claiming vigilante justice?”

Masking Tragedy in Ukraine by Chris Floyd (CounterPunch)

“Take his astonishing attack on Vladimir Putin for “interfering” in Ukraine. That Obama could make this charge with a straight face — days after his own agents had been exposed (in the infamous “Fuck the EU” tape) nakedly interfering in Ukraine, trying to overthrow a democratically elected government and place their own favorites in charge — was brazen enough. But in accusing Putin of doing exactly what the Americans were doing in Ukraine, Obama also fabricated yet another alternate world.

“Obama unilaterally declared that Ukraine should overturn the results of the 2010 election (which most observers said was generally “fair and free” — more so than elections in, say, the US, where losing candidates are sometimes wont to take power anyway, and where whole states dispossess or actively discourage millions of free citizens from voting). Instead, the Ukrainians should install an unelected “transitional government” in Kiev. Why? Because, says Obama, now channeling all Ukrainians in his own person, “the people obviously have a very different view and vision for their country” from the government they democratically elected.” And what is their vision, according to Obama the Ukrainian Avatar? To enjoy “freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, fair and free elections.” Something you might think they had enjoyed by having free elections 2010, and exercising freedom of speech and assembly to such a degree that a vast opposition force has occupied much of the central government district for months.”

“And the fact is, not a single one of the Western governments now denouncing Ukraine for its repression would have tolerated a similar situation. Try to imagine thousands of Tea Partiers, say, having declared that the elected government of Barack Obama was too corrupt and illegitimate to stand, setting up an armed camp in the middle of Washington, occupying the Treasury Building and Justice Department for months on end, while meeting with Chinese and Russian leaders, who then begin demanding a ‘transitional government’ be installed in the White House. What would be the government’s reaction? There is no doubt that it would make even Yanukovych’s brutal assault this week look like a Sunday School picnic.”

What Happened in Ukraine was a Presidential Coup, Pure and Simple by Robert Parry (AlterNet)

“In these cases, it is typical for the mainstream U.S. news media to obsess over perceived flaws in the ousted leaders. On Wednesday, for instance, the New York Times made much of an unfinished presidential palace [4] in Ukraine, calling it “a fugitive leader’s folly.” The idea seems to be to cement in the minds of impressionable Americans that it is okay for the U.S. government to support the overthrow of democratically elected presidents if they have flaws.

“The outcomes for the people of these countries that are “saved” from their imperfect leaders, however, often tend to be quite ugly. Usually, they experience long periods of brutal repression at the hands of dictators, but that typically happens outside the frame of the U.S. news media’s focus or interest.”

Russia was uninvolved compared to the U.S./EU

The Brown Revolution in Ukraine by Israel Shamir (CounterPunch)

“While foreign ministers of EC countries and their allies crowded Kiev, Putin sent Vladimir Lukin, a human rights emissary, an elder low-level politician of very little clout, to deal with the Ukrainian crisis. The Russian Ambassador Mr Zurabov, another non-entity, completely disappeared from public view. (Now he was recalled to Moscow). Putin made not a single public statement on the Ukraine, treating it as though it were Libya or Mali, not a neighbouring country quite close to the Russian hinterland.”
“Yanuk’s electorate, the Russian-speaking people of the Ukraine (and they are a majority in the land, like English-speaking Scots are majority in Scotland) were disappointed with him because he did not give them the right to speak Russian and teach their children in Russian. The followers of Julia Timoshenko disliked him for jailing their leader. (She richly deserved it: she hired assassins, stole billions of Ukrainian state money in cahoots with a former prime minister, made a crooked deal with Gazprom at the expense of Ukrainian consumers, and what not.) Extreme nationalists hated him for not eradicating the Russian language.”

The Ukrainian Pendulum by Israel Shamir (CounterPunch)

“American and Russian troops entered Ukrainian territory, both under cover.

“The American soldiers are “military advisors”, ostensibly members of Blackwater private army (renamed Academi); a few hundred of them patrol Kiev while others try to suppress the revolt in Donetsk. Officially, they were invited by the new West-installed regime. They are the spearhead of the US invasion attempting to prop up the regime and break down all resistance. They have already bloodied their hands in Donetsk.

“Besides, the Pentagon has doubled the number of US fighter jets on a NATO air patrol mission in the Baltics; the US air carrier entered the Black Sea, some US Marines reportedly landed in Lvov “as a part of pre-planned manoeuvres”.

“The Russian soldiers ostensibly belong to the Russian Fleet, legally stationed in Crimea. They were in Crimea before the coup, in accordance with the Russian-Ukrainian treaty (like the US 5th fleet in Kuwait), but their presence was probably beefed up. Additional Russian troops were invited in by deposed but legitimately elected President Yanukovych (compare this with the US landing on Haiti in support of the deposed President Aristide ). They help the local pro-Russian militia maintain order, and no one gets killed in the process. In addition, Russia brought its troops on alert and returned a few warships to the Black Sea.

“It is only the Russian presence which is described as an “invasion” by the Western media, while the American one is hardly mentioned.”

“Members of Parliament were manhandled, and in some cases their children were taken hostage to ensure their vote, as their houses were visited by gunmen. The putsch was completed. The West recognised the new government; Russia refused to recognise it, but continued to deal with it on a day -to-day basis.”
“ The Kiev regime banned the Communist Party and the Regions’ Party (the biggest party of the country, mainly supported by the Russian-speaking workers). The regime’s first decree banned the Russian language from schools, radio and TV, and forbade all official use of Russian. The Minister of Culture called Russian-speakers “imbeciles” and proposed to jail them for using the banned tongue in public places. Another decree threatened every holder of dual Russian/Ukrainian nationality with a ten-years jail sentence, unless he gives up the Russian one right away.”
“But Putin is not a Russian nationalist, not a man of Imperial designs. Though he would like the Ukraine to be friendly to Russia, annexing it, in whole or in part, has never been his ambition. It would be too expensive even for wealthy Russia: the average income in the Ukraine is just half of the Russian one, and tits infrastructure is in a shambles. (Compare to the very costly West German takeover of the GDR.)”
“President Yanukovych will be historically viewed as a weak, tragic figure, and he deserves a better pen with a more leisured pace than mine. He tried his best to avoid casualties, though he faced a full-scale revolt led by very violent Brown storm-troopers. And still he was blamed for killing some eighty people, protesters and policemen.”


Ukrainian Hangovers by Jeffrey Sommers and Michael Hudson (CounterPunch)

“Russia today has watched covert attempts from the US State Department to the National Endowment for Democracy and other NGOs to break up their country as part of what is becoming a triumphalist global pattern. This threatens to remake their “near abroad” into a neoliberal periphery. Today’s confrontation has taken on an existential character for Russia since it saw NATO’s moves toward Georgia as cutting too close to the bone.”

Let’s You and Him Fight by James Howard Kunstler (Clusterfuck Nation)

“So, now we are threatening to start World War Three because Russia is trying to control the chaos in a failed state on its border — a state that our own government spooks provoked into failure? The last time I checked, there was a list of countries that the USA had sent troops, armed ships, and aircraft into recently, and for reasons similar to Russia’s in Crimea: the former Yugoslavia, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, none of them even anywhere close to American soil. I don’t remember Russia threatening confrontations with the USA over these adventures.”
“The Russians, on the other hand, have every right to protect their interests along their own border, to protect the persons and property of Russian-speaking Ukrainians who, not long ago, were citizens of a greater Russia […]”

The analysis in Why the Crisis in Ukraine Isn’t the Start of a New Cold War by Zack Beauchamp (AlterNet) comes to what is probably the right conclusion but for the wrong reasons. It does, however, examine more closely the issue of Sevastapol in Crimea—and the vital importance of the Russian naval base there. But when it states that Russia “can’t make progress towards bending the world to its will using the sort of strategies it has tried to date”, it smacks a bit too much of trying to re-awaken the cold war.

This especially because, as Ukraine: One ‘Regime Change’ Too Many? by Ray McGovern (AntiWar.com) and many other articles state,

“Putin has many other cards to play and time to play them. These include sitting back and doing nothing, cutting off Russia’s subsidies to Ukraine, making it ever more difficult for Yanukovich’s successors to cope with the harsh realities. And Moscow has ways to remind the rest of Europe of its dependence on Russian oil and gas.”

Why Obama Shouldn’t Fall for Putin’s Ukrainian Folly by Anatol Lieven (Zocalo Public Square)

“During George W. Bush’s second term as president, the U.S., Britain, and other NATO countries made a morally criminal attempt to force this choice by the offer of a NATO Membership Action Plan for Ukraine (despite the fact that repeated opinion polls had shown around two-thirds of Ukrainians opposed to NATO membership).”
“Russia attempted to draw Ukraine into the Eurasian Customs Union by offering a massive financial bailout and heavily subsidized gas supplies. The European Union then tried to block this by offering an association agreement, though (initially) with no major financial aid attached. Neither Russia nor the EU made any serious effort to talk to each other about whether a compromise might be reached that would allow Ukraine somehow to combine the two agreements, to avoid having to choose sides.”

This seems to directly contradict what Stephen Cohen (see below) said.

“But Western governments, too, have put themselves in an extremely dangerous position. They have acquiesced to the overthrow of an elected government by ultra-nationalist militias, which have also chased away a large part of the elected parliament. This has provided a perfect precedent for Russian-backed militias in turn to seize power in the east and south of the country.”
“The EU has allowed the demonstrators in Kiev to believe that their actions have brought Ukraine closer to EU membership—but, if anything, this is now even further away than it was before the revolution.”
“The issue here is not Crimea. From the moment when the Yanukovych government in Kiev was overthrown, it was obvious that Crimea was effectively lost to Ukraine. Russia is in full military control of the peninsula with the support of a large majority of its population, and only a Western military invasion can expel it.”

This is a much stronger point than I’ve seen made elsewhere.

“As it proved in August 2008, if Russia sees its vital interests in the former USSR as under attack, Russia will fight. NATO will not. War in Ukraine would therefore also be a shattering blow to the prestige of NATO and the European Union from which these organizations might never recover either.”

Rumors of NATO’s death are greatly exaggerated. Almost a quarter of a century after it lost its entire reason for being, it is larger than ever and has had any number of military adventures in the meantime.

The Anti-Empire Report #126 by William Blum

“Since the end of the Cold War the United States has been surrounding Russia, building one base after another, ceaselessly looking for new ones, including in Ukraine; one missile site after another, with Moscow in range; NATO has grabbed one former Soviet Republic after another. The White House, and the unquestioning American mainstream media, have assured us that such operations have nothing to do with Russia. And Russia has been told the same, much to Moscow’s continuous skepticism. “Look,” said Russian president Vladimir Putin about NATO some years ago, “is this is a military organization? Yes, it’s military. … Is it moving towards our border? It’s moving towards our border. Why?””

Crimea, This Time by Andrew Levine (CounterPunch)

“We know, for instance, that the United States has been playing picador with Russia at least since Ronald Reagan lied to Mikhail Gorbachev about how America had no intention of bringing NATO right up to Russia’s borders.

“Why wouldn’t Gorbachev believe him? Without a Soviet adversary, NATO had no reason for being.

“But the military-industrial complex and the Cold War establishment were not about to give it up, and Bush the Father was not hard to convince. With its Security Council vetoes and Third World member nations, the UN was all but useless for endorsing projections of American power. NATO gives the U.S. a free hand.

“We know too that in the War on Terror, the CIA has taken over many missions that would formerly have been the military’s – targeting and deploying Obama’s drones, for example. And we know that when the job calls for creating chaos abroad, the State Department is the new CIA.

“It works mainly through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and other ostensibly “non-governmental” organizations. The NED has been all over Ukraine and other former Soviet republics. It even operates in Russia itself.

“What we don’t know yet, for sure, is what role the NED and the others played in instigating the events that started on the streets of Kiev. We know they served as catalysts, but we don’t know how extensive their involvement was.

“We do know, however, that, at the very least, the Americans and Europeans supported a coup against a democratically elected government, ostensibly for democracy’s sake; and we know that, in the process, they reinvigorated the long suppressed demons of the eastern European Right.

“Needless to say, the Ukrainian people had legitimate grievances against their government; it was corrupt and its economic policies were ruinous. The Libyan people had legitimate grievances against their government too, as did the Syrians and the Egyptians, and so on.

“But whether by ineptitude or design, American and EU meddling inevitably makes things worse; usually, much worse.”


Israel and Ukraine by Uri Avnery (CounterPunch)

“[Ukrainians] want to join the West, enjoy independence and democracy. What’s wrong with that? […] Nothing, except that they have dubious bedfellows. Neo-Nazis in their copycat Nazi uniforms, giving the Hitler salute and mouthing anti-Semitic slogans, are not very attractive. The encouragement they receive from Western allies, including the odious neocons, is off-putting. […] On the other side, Vladimir Putin is also not very prepossessing. […] But Putin has some logic on his side. Sevastopol – the scene of heroic sieges both in the Crimean War and in World War II, is essential for his naval forces. The association with Ukraine is an important part of Russian world power aspirations.

“A cold-blooded, calculating operator, of a kind now rare in the world, Putin uses the strong cards he has, but is very careful not to take too many risks. He is managing the crisis astutely, using Russia’s obvious advantages. Europe needs his oil and gas, he needs Europe’s capital and trade. Russia has a leading role in Syria and Iran. The US suddenly looks like a bystander.”

Not to Reason Why: A New Crimean “War”? by Juan Cole (Informed Comment)

“Of all the ways in which Russian President Vladimir Putin will see the revolution in the Ukraine as dangerous to Russian interests, the potential loss of Crimea as a Russian ‘near abroad’ is among the more serious. Crimea was given to the Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine by Nikita Krushchev (himself Ukrainian) in the 1950s, but more Russians think they have a claim on Crimea than think they have a claim on Chechnya.”

Crimea by Justin Erik Halldór Smith

“Crimea has a long history as a Russian colony, and when it fell into Ukraine’s hands at the collapse of the Soviet Union this was effectively the transfer of a colony, rather than the consolidation of a historical nation.”
“ To this extent, the re-annexation of Crimea is to be vigorously opposed, not because it fractures a natural unity (as, say, a Russian invasion of Western Ukraine would), but because it marks the renascence of a properly imperial power. Ukraine had simply enjoyed temporary usufruct, by geographical circumstance, of a sliver of that empire.”

But somehow the alternative, that a current imperial power increase its dominion, is assumed even by someone like Smith to be somehow preferable to anything that the Russians could offer.[4] That the region will be left to its own devies by the West is a possibility too ludicrous to even seriously contemplate. Witness the manipulations that went on in Kiev in the vacuum left by Russia’s initial—and mostly continuing—indifference. The underlying benevolence of Western hegemony infects even Justin’s work these days.

“One rises to the position of statesman, under Putin’s regime, by the display of virtues that would not have been out of place a millennium ago: strength, mightiness, ferocity in the field of battle.”

Granted that this is likely very true. But is not the same true of the purported shining knights of Europe or the U.S.? Are we supposed to believe the implication that these are better because they are ‘not Putin’? Have they not proven their evil sufficiently? When assholes like Cheney and Rumsfeld and (Condaleeza) Rice are replaced by morally bankrupt harridans like Samantha Power, Susan Rice and even John Kerry.[5] Far better indeed are these subtle and cold-hearted interventionist warmongers, who are less ostentatious than these gauche Russian barbarians but who rack up so much more carnage.

“The enemy shows force, we show more force in retaliation, and we demonstrate our invincibility by demonstrating our indifference to the loss of innocent lives on either side. The regime acts as force majeure, as a power of nature that can’t be talked down or made to see things differently. We are in the realm of stereotypes here, and there is nothing natural or inevitable about Russia taking up the ancient role of the Scythians. But I am convinced that Putin himself believes in these stereotypes, that playing out these stereotypes is a winning strategy for his political career, and that this does not bode at all well for Russia’s neighbors.”

I am almost astonished to note that Smith thinks he is describing only Putin’s regime in the above citation. Again, let us for the sake of argument, assume that this characterization of Putin as overarching evil is true (good-guy deeds in Syria and Iran notwithstanding). In the case of Ukraine, however, the Putsch of an elected government was engineered by the West. Charges leveled against Putin are allegations. Those leveled against the West are facts disputed by no one. Why the special animosity for the arguably least-involved party in this dispute to date?

by Justin Erik Halldór Smith

“The Circassians were exterminated, or relocated to Turkey. There is still today an active political lobby, based in Turkey, pushing for greater recognition of the Circassian genocide, but its voice is of course muffled by the Olympic juggernaut.”

Oh bullshit. It was almost two-hundred years ago. Nobody cares about the Armenians, the Aztecs, the Mayans and so on. Why should they care about this? Get in line. The Olympic juggernaut is responsible for much, but suppression of the Circassian genocide? That one’s just bad marketing.

“[…] on reflection, no less troubling: a flawless Olympics means, for Putin, the consolidation of symbolic power in a contested part of the Caucasus […]”

Really? No terrorist attack would have been just as bad? The worst thing you can imagine is Putin getting bonus points for the Olympics? How brainwashed did you actually get in the Ukraine? Clearly they are way better than the “grovelling and sycophantic western left”, who also happen to be actively suppressed, utterly powerless and politically insignificant. But go ahead and pile on them and blame the Ukrainian mess on an ineffective Western left-wing movement, I suppose.

Notes from Far Muscovy by Justin Erik Halldór Smith

“In the west it is impossible to simply be a man in the way Russians such as Putin take for granted, since the gestures or styles in which this would consist are continually being taken up by people who would like to subvert, invert, or at least question the process by which something so minor as gestures or styles could ever constitute something so fundamental as identity.”

Not sure I agree. Again, maybe his ivory tower is a touch too high, as evidenced by his implied pride about being clueless about hockey, despite having spent years in Canada. As a self-styled assimilator of culture and language, Smith is sounding quite out of touch. The statement is patently untrue, at least in most corners of America. Perhaps not at universities.

“Instinctively, though, here more than anywhere else I’ve been, one perceives the police and other officials warily, sensing that protection and service are the furthest thing from their minds. Life as a visible ethnic or sexual minority here would be a life of constant fear.”

Talk about a guy who’s either only experienced white middle-class America or is choosing to only channel that part for this essay. The years where this statement applied to almost any non-WASP in America are not that far in the past.

Natural gas pipelines

If You Want to Be Truly Pessimistic about the Ukraine Crisis’s Geopolitical Consequences … by Henry (Crooked Timber)

“Efforts to find a quick and dirty way of escaping dependence on Russian gas are likely to focus on fracking as the obvious low cost alternative, and will ditch regulations that get in the way of hydraulic fracturing a-go-go. This, in turn, will create new and powerful business interests who have an interest in keeping the fossil fuel racket going as long as possible. Which means that Europe will scuttle backwards even more quickly from its global commitments, and from any process that might oblige it to make new ones. And then, basically, goodbye to any hope of tackling global warming in this generation or the the next, since Europe is the only major global actor plausibly willing to push for action.”

U.S. and European meddling

The U.S. barely even attempted to hide its involvement, although this may have been mostly due to the new-found ineptness of the young ambassadors in the region, epitomized most recently by “Victoria Nuland, now Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs”:

“More important, recall her amateurish, boorish use of an open telephone to plot regime change in Ukraine with a fellow neocon, U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt. Crass U.S. interference in Ukrainian affairs can be seen (actually, better, heard) in an intercepted conversation posted on YouTube on Feb. 4.”

The Brown Revolution in Ukraine by Israel Shamir (CounterPunch)

“The West has no such inhibitions and its representatives were extremely active: the US State Department representative Victoria “Fuck EC’’ Nuland had spent days and weeks in Kiev, feeding the insurgents with cookies, delivering millions of smuggled greenbacks to them, meeting with their leaders, planning and plotting the coup. Kiev is awash with the newest US dollars fresh from its mint (of a kind yet unseen in Moscow, I’ve been told by Russian friends). The US embassy spread money around like a tipsy Texan in a night club. Every able-bodied young man willing to fight received five hundred dollar a week, a qualified fighter – up to a thousand, a platoon commander had two thousand dollars – good money by Ukrainian standards.”
“[…] it was a carnival in the centre of the capital, and it began to attract the masses, as would happen in every city in the known universe. This carnival was paid for by the oligarchs and by the US embassy.”
“The world media, this powerful tool in the hands of Masters of Discourse, decried “Yanukovych massacred children”. The EC and the US slapped on sanctions, foreign diplomats moved in, all claiming they want to protect peaceful demonstrators, while at the same time beefing up the Maidan crowd with armed gunmen and Right Sector fighters.”
“The Spectacle-like unreal quality of Kiev events was emphasized by arrival of the imperial warmonger, the neocon philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy. He came to Maidan like he came to Libya and Bosnia, claiming human rights and threatening sanctions and bombing. Whenever he comes, war is following. I hope I shall be away from every country he plans to visit.”

There’s another bellwether of wrongness: good ol’ BHL himself. Just do the opposite of what he says and you’re generally in good shape.

Obama isn’t much better, effectively doing all but declaring war on Russia if it fails to shut sit down and shut up while Europe and the US dismantle countries on its borders, setting them up at NATO bases.

“By now, Russian President Vladimir Putin is accustomed to Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, et al. telling the Kremlin where its interests lie, and I am sure he is appropriately grateful. Putin is likely to read more significance into these words of Obama:

“‘The United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine … and we will continue to coordinate closely with our European allies.’”

This despite the fact that Russia was quite instrumental in brokering non-violent resolutions to chemical weapons in Syria (reductions proceed apace and on schedule) and enriched-uranium stockpiles in Iran (reserves dipped below a landmark just last week).

What Happened in Ukraine Was a Presidential Coup, Pure and Simple by Robert Parry (AlterNet)

“That strategy was going swimmingly until Putin helped bring Iran to the negotiating table over guarantees that its nuclear program would not lead to a nuclear weapon. Putin also brokered a deal to avert threatened U.S. air strikes on Syria over disputed evidence regarding who launched a chemical attack on civilians outside Damascus. Putin got the Syrian government to agree to eliminate its chemical weapons arsenal.”

Or perhaps it’s because of these things; who can tell with these homicidal fools? Maybe they’re all just pissed at Putin because he took away their fabricated excuses for making more war. We’re running out of other explanations.

It’s hard to fault the logic in the article Ukraine and the IMF by Norman Pollack (CounterPunch)

“I’m rooting for Putin, Russia, and Crimea, free from any illusions of their impeccable record of democracy and freedom, because arrayed on the other side are world historical forces under US leadership which articulate the policies of repression, waste, intervention, widening class differences, and hegemonic-oriented global military engagement, all more menacing both to domestic society and the global order.”

Everything you know about Ukraine is wrong by Mark Ames (Pando Daily)

“[…] the people who are protesting or supporting the protesters are first and foremost sick of their shitty lives in a shitty country they want to make better—a country where their fates are controlled by a tiny handful of nihilistic oligarchs and Kremlin overlords, and their political frontmen. It’s first and foremost a desire to gain some control over their fate.”
“I’d say the neo-fascsists from Svoboda and Pravy Sektor are probably the vanguard of the movement, the ones who pushed it harder than anyone. Anyone who ignores the role of the neo-fascists (or ultranationalists, take your pick) is lying or ignorant, just as anyone who claims that Yanukovych answered only to Putin doesn’t know what they’re talking about.”
“The point is this: What’s happening in Ukraine is not a battle between pro-fascists and anti-fascists. There are fascists on both sides; the opposition happens to like fascist costume parties more […]”
“The point is this: Ukraine is not Venezuela. This is not a profoundly political or class fight, as it is in Venezuela. Yanukovych represents one faction of oligarchs; the opposition, unwittingly or otherwise, ultimately fronts for other factions. Many of those oligarchs have close business ties with Russia, but assets and bank accounts—and mansions—in Europe. Both forces are happy to work with the neoliberal global institutions. […] In Ukraine, there is no populist left politics, even though the country’s deepest problem is inequality and oligarchy. […] So they wind up switching from one oligarchical faction to another, forming broad popular coalitions that can be easily co-opted by the most politically organized minority factions within—neoliberals, neofascists, or Kremlin tools. All of whom eventually produce more of the same shitty life that leads to the next revolution.”

Problems in Ukraine? Blame Russia! by Peter Lee (CounterPunch)

“The biggest problem for image-makers in the West and in Kiev will be to gloss over the Ukrainian-chauvinist feelings in the central government by celebrating painstaking efforts to set up a “unity” government (while ignoring the sizable contingent of out-and-out Ukrainian fascists who were central to the coup’s success, and embarrassing artifacts like the outlawing of Russian as an official language).”

America’s Staggering Hypocrisy by Robert Parry (Consortium News)

“If Putin is violating international law by sending Russian troops into the Crimea after a violent coup spearheaded by neo-Nazi militias ousted Ukraine’s democratically elected president – and after he requested protection for the ethnic Russians living in the country’s south and east – then why hasn’t the U.S. government turned over George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and indeed John Kerry to the International Criminal Court for their far more criminal invasion of Iraq?”

More economics, the IMF and backroom deals

Is Ukraine’s Opposition a Democratic Movement or a Force of Right-Wing Extremism? by Anton Shekhovtsov & Stephen Cohen

In this interview, Anton Shekhovtsov says that “many people in the West buy into Russian propaganda which is saying that Euromaidan is infiltrated by the neo-Nazis and anti-Semites. And this is completely untrue.” Many other sources disagree with that blanket statement, including professor Stephen Cohen, also in this interview. There’s also this video, Neo-Nazi threat in new Ukraine by BBC (YouTube), originally broadcast on BBC Newsnight, that includes interviews with rebel leaders who are not shy at all about their extreme right-wing/fascist/National Socialist beliefs and affiliations. BBC Newsnight has a relatively good history of factual reporting.

“Who precipitated this crisis? It was the European Union, in this sense. It gave the Ukrainian government, which, by the way, is a democratically elected government — if you overthrow this government, just like they overthrew Morsi in Egypt, you’re dealing a serious blow to democracy. So if the crowd manages to essentially carry out a coup d’état from the streets, that’s what democracy is not about. But here’s what the European Union did back in November. It told the government of Ukraine, “If you want to sign an economic relationship with us, you cannot sign one with Russia.” Why not? Putin has said, “Why don’t the three of us have an arrangement? We’ll help Ukraine. The West will help Ukraine.” The chancellor of Germany, Merkel, at first thought that was a good idea, but she backed down for various political reasons. So, essentially, Ukraine was given an ultimatum: sign the E.U. economic agreement or else.

“Now, what was that agreement? It would have been an economic catastrophe for Ukraine. I’m not talking about the intellectuals or the people who are well placed, about ordinary Ukrainians. The Ukrainian economy is on the brink of a meltdown. It needed billions of dollars. What did the European Union offer them? The same austerity policies that are ravaging Europe, and nothing more — $600 million. It needed billions and billions.

“There’s one other thing. If you read the protocols of the European offer to Ukraine, which has been interpreted in the West as just about civilizational change, escaping Russia, economics, democracy, there is a big clause on military cooperation. In effect, by signing this, Ukraine would have had to abide by NATO’s military policies. What would that mean? That would mean drawing a new Cold War line, which used to be in Berlin, right through the heart of Slavic civilization, on Russia’s borders. So that’s where we’re at to now.”

So Ukraine gets 600 million to become the next Greece, which is a nice consolation prize, I guess. At least some of the rioters are still deluded into thinking that Europe will treat them better than Russia. Many of the others would like to get the hell away from both of them and stand on their own. Not going to be easy at all, though. Ukraine wants be Switzerland.

Europe’s deal included a neat little underhanded clause that requires them to host NATO bases and forces—right on Russia’s doorstep. And Russia’s offer to help the Ukraine was *not* contingent on them refusing help from Europe. Europe’s offer required the Ukraine to turn down Russia. But the big, bad bear will always be the big, bad bear, I guess. That’s how we was raised!


See the article Israel and Ukraine by Uri Avnery (CounterPunch). Avnery is over 90 years old and has managed to avoid the right-wing bias and insular thinking that comes with age. He wrote the following:

“People around the world find it also hard to choose sides. […] The usual Cold-War zealots have it easy – they either hate the Americans or the Russians, out of habit. […] As for me, the more I try to study the situation, the more unsure I become. This is not a black-or-white situation.”

In the article Is Ukraine’s Opposition a Democratic Movement or a Force of Right-Wing Extremism?, Stephen Cohen—professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton University—says,

“I think that the vilification of Putin in this country, demonization, is the worst press coverage by the American media of Russia that I’ve seen in my 40 years of studying Russia and contributing to the media. It’s simply almost insane. This idea that he’s a thug — and that explains everything, passes for analysis in America today.”

I found this sentiment echoed in the article Must Putin Save Us Again? by Andrew Levine (CounterPunch) :

“Therefore don’t count on [the liberal media] to understand how, when Obama and his minions blame Putin for all that they have done, how much like the “orphan” throwing himself on the mercy of the court they are. It will be clear as can be to future historians, just as Vietnam and Iraq now are to almost everyone; but, by then, it may be too late.”
[4] He is ordinarily much more thoughtful and careful to strain out such emotional sentiments. It may be due to his having steeped himself in the Russian left on a recent trip to Moscow and Kiev.
[5] Let the ordinarily gender-specific epithet emasculate him as well.

10 months Ago

Police stories from the trenches

Published by marco on

The first rule of policing

The post Dallas Cops Fight For the First Rule of Policing by Scott H. Greenfield (Simple Justice) defines that rule as “make it home for dinner”. No matter what else is going on that day or how a given situation develops, the first rule is self-preservation. Everything else—including gunned-down innocents—can be handled later and usually papered over with the help of others, both on the force and on the bench.

This post discusses a shooting incident in Dallas, in which a 48-year–old officer was, believe it or not, actually found guilty of using “deadly force […] without fear or justification” and summarily fired. A mere mortal would have been charged with “assault with a deadly weapon” or perhaps even “attempted murder” and would most certainly not be getting even a part of their pension, but let’s not quibble. The termination of employment is enough of a pleasant surprise that we should enjoy it.

The decision leads to an effort to revamp policy to avoid future, similar incidents, which isn’t sitting well with the rest of the Dallas police force. Not being able to shoot people that “surprise” them or aren’t otherwise already lying face-down on the sidewalk in tasered glory is going to seriously impinge on their ability to “get home for dinner”.


“To the cops, the message is that they are to risk potential death at the hands of a threat rather than shoot first as required by the First Rule.”

It’s understood that a cop’s life is on the line in a way not found in most other jobs. But

“[t]here is a wide berth between certainty of safety and certainty of threat […] Ranging from deafness, to confusion, to frozen in fear, to the mistaken grasp of the nature of the police encounter that good people don’t get shot for no good reason, will cause a person to behave in a way that a cop perceives as having the potential to be threatening […] they want the authority to shoot them anyway. Just in case. And not lose their job if it happens that they just shot an unarmed, harmless fellow […] (Emphasis added.)”

This amounts to the same protections demanded by torturers and their backers in US federal employ. Because they’d like to be able to use torture if they deem it necessary, they also want it to be legal. Such a priori legalization benefits only the person who intends to do harm. Anyone who would wield such power carefully would also be willing to bear the responsibility and blame should something go wrong.

“It appears to elude police officers that the harmless people they shoot, just in case, have children too. But what non-police officers do not have is the First Rule of Policing, and that trumps all other rules when it comes to the job of a cop. Something has to give in ambiguous situations, and it’s not going to be the life or job of a cop.”

Engendering fear of police to this degree is going to cause a backlash that can only end in a death-spiral of violence, one that has arguably already begun quite some time ago.

This just in: court does not believe bullshit planted-drugs story

The post 2d Circuit: Aw, Come On. That Can’t Be True by Scott H. Greenfield (Simple Justice) tells the tale of a court that “[did] the unthinkable: reject the government’s allegations as “unreasonable.””

The situation involved an arrested and handcuffed bystander. He was “arrested for being in the vicinity after a fight occurred”, which I didn’t even know was a thing. He allegedly managed to squirrel away drugs into the backseat of a police vehicle. To this, the court found that,

We cannot say it is an absolute impossibility for a person with his hands securely handcuffed behind his back to extract a substantial quantity of crack cocaine from his person or clothing and wedge it into the space where the quantity was found without leaving a trace of cocaine on his fingers or clothing, but we can say that the possibility of such an occurrence is so exceedingly remote that no jury could reasonably find beyond a reasonable doubt that it happened. (Emphasis added.)”

Nicely put. Greenfield goes on to mention that this case really is noteworthy because, while the conclusion is obvious to we lay-people, it is not a foregone conclusion that upholding the “laws of physics [trumps] the rule of law […] when it comes to contraband”.

Kelly Thomas’s killers found innocent

The post The Outrage of the Kelly Thomas Cops’ Acquittal by Scott H. Greenfield (Simple Justice) discusses the recent conclusion of the case against two officers who beat a mentally handicapped man named Kelly Thomas to death.

The beating was captured on video (YouTube). After officers antagonized him for just over 15 minutes, Thomas stands up. This is enough for the officers to pull out their nightsticks and go to work on him. For once, the description of a YouTube video includes some useful information:

““Now you see my fists?” Fullerton police officer Manny Ramos asked Thomas while slipping on a pair of latex gloves.

““Yeah, what about them?” Thomas responded.

““They are getting ready to fuck you up,” said Ramos, a burly cop who appears to outweigh Thomas by 100 pounds.”

You can hear him screaming for help and apologizing as the beat continues for about 10 minutes, culminating in his motionless body lying on the sidewalk under a pile of about a half dozen officers. When he was finally taken to the hospital, he looked like he’d been run over by several trucks (Friends For Fullerton's Future) (brace yourself; it’s pretty horrific).

The officers charged for this beating/murder were acquitted by a jury of their peers. As Greenfield put it:

“There is nothing more to say about the Kelly Thomas verdict but that your fellow citizens have spoken.”

This should be the end of the matter. The cops were tried and found not guilty. That’s all we can do in America because of a little thing called the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution. However, “the Thomas family has called for a federal prosecution for the denial of Kelly Thomas’ civil rights”. They can do this under something called “dual sovereignty”, which (sometimes) allows a person to be tried at both the state and the federal level for the same crime. Greenfield provides a lucid, logical and well-written summary:

“The visceral reaction is that this should be the next step, as the acquittal of these cops is such an outrage as to demand redress.


“Dual sovereignty is an insidious legal construct designed to circumvent the double jeopardy clause. […] When they fail to get you the first time, they get a chance to nail you again. This is what double jeopardy should prohibit, but for the tricks of law.

“It’s wrong to circumvent double jeopardy when it comes to a non-cop, and that makes it just as wrong when the target is a cop. […] Maintaining intellectual consistency is key to the viability of the law, even when it pains us to do so.


“Sometimes the guilty beat the rap. It happens. The integrity of the system must go on, and we must be vigilant not to sacrifice a system just to get some particularly despicable defendants. This is one of those times to be vigilant, as hard as it may be.”