Putin’s energy strategy for isolating Ukraine

July 6, 2015

Hat tip to Vineyard of the Saker.

Gazprom North StreamPresident Putin has made an agreement with Germany, and offered an agreement to Turkey, that will enable Russia to serve its natural gas markets in western Europe while retaining the option to shut off Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic states.

The Russian government plans to expand its North Stream pipeline across the Baltic Sea directly to Germany.   This would enable Russia to cut off natural gas to Ukraine and most of the rest of eastern Europe without interrupting its sales to western Europe.

Germany, which is now the financial hub of western Europe, would become the energy hub as well.

black_sea_turkey_south_streamRussia has an alternate plan, the South Stream, a pipeline to cross the Black Sea to Bulgaria, but this has been canceled.  Instead Russia now hopes to build a Turkish Stream, which would connect directly with European Turkey.  Greece and other European countries would have the option of connecting to that pipeline.

The Turkish government also has the ambition of becoming an energy hub.  It is in a good position to do this because of its position as the crossroads between Europe and the Greater Middle East.  But, for political reasons, Turkey might have to give up plans for other pipelines to connect to Iran, Iraq and Azerbaijan if goes along with Russia’s Turkish Stream.

Not everything that is announced gets built, and in any case construction of these pipelines would take several years.   But Putin’s strategy could put Russia in a powerful position in regard to Ukraine and NATO’s eastern flank, and without firing a shot.

Read the rest of this entry »

Greece and the new cold war

July 6, 2015

The big banks in Germany and other countries lent money to the Greek government that they had good reason to believe would never be repaid, with the understanding that they would be bailed out either by squeezing the people of Greece or at the expense of European taxpayers in general.

greece_2457626a

Source: The Hindu newspaper in India

Their confidence was not misplaced.  As the chart shows, they have already been able to offload most of the Greek government debt.

The Greek leaders have spoken to the Russian government about a possible rescue.  The Russian government’s reply is that it won’t help as long as Greece is in the Euro currency zone—which, as Ian Welsh pointed out, is as good as saying it will help if Greece leaves.

Independent journalist John Helmer recalled that Victor Yanukovich, the president of Ukraine, accepted a similar bailout offer from Russia and was quickly removed from power.   Helmer reported that Victoria Nuland, the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, who engineered the regime change in Ukraine, is now working for regime change in Greece.

All this raises the question of just whose interests the U.S. government—and Germany’s—serve.

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Nuland’s Nemesis: Will Greece Be Destroyed to Save Her From Russia, Like Ukraine? by John Helmer for Dances With Bears.

Consequences of the Greek Oxi (No) Vote by Ian Welsh.

Greece Rejects the Troika by Michael Hudson for Counterpunch.

Behind the Greek Crisis by William R. Polk for Consortium News.

James Webb runs for President

July 6, 2015

James Webb, a decorated Marine combat veteran of Vietnam, former Secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration and a former Democratic Senator from Virginia, has declared himself a candidate for the Democratic nomination for President.

James Webb

James Webb

He is an interesting candidate with an unusual background.  His biography is complicated, but it has a common thread.

Webb has tried to be the champion of blue-collar working men—the troops who are sent overseas to fight, factory workers whose jobs are being lost to Japan (in an earlier era) and China and especially his own ethnic group, the Scots-Irish settlers of 18th century Appalachia.

While I seriously doubt that the Democrats or the nation are ready for his brand of politics, I would readily vote for him in preference to Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker or almost any of the other current Democratic and Republican candidates.

Read the rest of this entry »

Thoughts on marriage and gay marriage

July 5, 2015
The last statement presumably was on June 24, 2015

The last statement was on June  24, 2015 (not August)

Hat tip to Tiffany’s Non-Blog.

There are lessons in this chart for people who advocate social change, and that is to never think that electing a particular politician is enough, and especially to never settle for the lesser of two evils.

I respect the gay rights movement for working for social change and especially for withholding support for politicians who do not support their agenda.

The labor movement can learn from this.  Of course the gay rights movement had an easier task because its goals do not threaten any powerful monied interests.

Read the rest of this entry »

The immortal words of Patrick Henry

July 4, 2015

Click on Patrick Henry – Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death to read the text.

Recommended reading for Independence Day

July 4, 2015

flag-fireworksThe custom of listening to patriotic speeches on Independence Day seems to have died out.  The next best thing—or maybe a better alternative—is to read about how the United States came to be and the ideals that inspired its Founders.

Here are links to material I think worth reading.

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Speech on Conciliation With the Colonies by Edmund Burke to the House of Commons on March 22, 1775.

Edmund Burke gave all the reasons why Britain’s American colonists had such a powerful love of freedom and independence that any attempt to suppress them would be futile.  Reading this made me feel proud and grateful to be an American.

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Common Sense by Thomas Paine, published on February 14, 1776.

Thomas Paine’s arguments helped convince Britain’s American colonists that they should become an independent nation.

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The Declaration of Independence – In Congress, July 4, 1776

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King George’s response to both houses of Parliament on October 31, 1776.

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The American Crisis – Chapter One by Thomas Paine on December 23, 1776.

Thomas Paine’s writings reminded George Washington’s Continental troops what they were fighting for.

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Washington’s Farewell Address 1796.

George Washington reflected on the past and future of the nation he helped found.

My country, right and wrong

July 4, 2015

Rod Dreher, a Louisianan who writes for The American Conservative, objects to fellow white Southerners who deny the reality of the South’s history of slavery, lynching and white supremacy.

He objects even more to self-righteous white Northerners who condemn everything about the South as if the North had nothing to answer for.

Taking the good and the bad together, he is part of the South and the South is part of him.

I completely understand what he is saying because that is the same as my attitude toward the United States as a whole.

AmericanflagWhenever the Star-Spangled Banner is played, I stand at attention and put my hand over my heart, even when I am the only person who does so.

At the same time I can understand why, for many people, the Stars and Stripes is as much a symbol of oppression as the Confederate Stars and Bars.

I think of people in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and other Latin American countries that have been ruled by U.S.-backed dictatorships.  I think of how U.S. intervention has spread death and destruction spread through the Greater Middle East during the past 15 years.

      I remember the U.S. Constitution was ratified based on a compromise with slavery, and the USA acquired its present territory through ethnic cleansing of the native people and a war of aggression against Mexico.

That’s not the whole story, of course.   American history is also the story of black and white Americans who fought slavery and Jim Crow.  It is the story of the first important modern nation to be founded on democratic ideals, which we have sometimes lived up to and never completely forgotten.

It is the story of a nation to which the whole world looked as a land of opportunity, and which was the first important modern nation to achieve mass prosperity for ordinary people.

The French writer Ernst Renan said a nation is a group of people who have agreed to remember certain things and to forget certain things.  I don’t accept this.  I believe it is possible to be patriotic without historical amnesia.

I identify with the comment of another French writer, Albert Camus, at the time when the French army was fighting Algerian rebels by means of torture and atrocity.  He said he wanted to be able to love his country and also love justice.

That should be less of a dilemma for Americans.  The United States is a nation whose patriotism is based not on loyalty to an ethnic group, but on the willingness to uphold, protect and defend a Constitution.

We Americans can love our country without having to love our government.

But my love of country is not based these arguments or any other arguments, any more than my love of family is based on arguments.   I love America because I am part of it and it is part of me.

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Loving the South by Ross Douthat for The American Conservative.

Kevin Drum on the purpose of democracy

July 3, 2015

student-vote-democracy-word-cloud

When people tell me “this is a Republic, not a democracy,” my first question is who they think is entitled to rule over them.

I like the following observation by Kevin Drum of Mother Jones:

It’s true that humans are hairless primates who naturally gravitate to a hierarchical society, but there’s little evidence that “most humans” prefer non-democratic societies.  There’s loads of evidence that powerful elites prefer elite-driven societies, and have gone to great lengths throughout history to maintain them against the masses. Whether the masses themselves ever thought this was a good arrangement is pretty much impossible to say.

Of course, once the technologies of communication, transportation, and weaponry became cheaper and more democratized, it turned out the masses were surprisingly hostile to elite rule and weren’t afraid to show it.  So perhaps it’s not so impossible to say after all.

In fact, most humans throughout history probably haven’t favored “meritocratic” rule, but mostly had no practical way to show it except in small, usually failed rebellions.  The Industrial Revolution changed all that, and suddenly the toiling masses had the technology to make a decent showing against their overlords.  Given a real option, it turned out they nearly all preferred some form of democracy after all.

Which brings us to the real purpose of democracy: to rein in the rich and powerful.  Without democracy, societies very quickly turn into the Stanford Prison Experiment.  With it, that mostly doesn’t happen. 

That’s a huge benefit, even without counting free speech, fair trials, and all the other gewgaws of democracy. It is, so far, the only known social construct that reliably keeps powerful elites from becoming complete jackasses.  That’s pretty handy.

via Mother Jones.

Washington’s victory at Monmouth, 1778

July 3, 2015

monmouth-3

When I think of the Revolutionary War, the first names that come to mind are Bunker Hill and Valley Forge.

But Bunker Hill was an exercise in survival, like the evacuation of the British army at Dunkirk in 1940.  And Valley Forge was an exercise in endurance.

I read a couple of articles the other day that make the case that the Battle of Monmouth on June 28, 1778, in which George Washington’s Continentals met the best of the British army head-on, and won, was the real turning point, and the battle we should remember.

Whether or not you agree with that particular contention, you will see, if you read the articles linked below, that the battle showed the greatness of Washington as a commander and the valor of Americans fighting for their independence.

LINKS

June 28, 1778.  Battle of Monmouth by “streiff” for RedState.

Battle of Monmouth by the HistoryNet staff.

John Paul Jones, American hero, Russian admiral

July 2, 2015
John Paul Jones in 1781

John Paul Jones in 1781

John Paul Jones is remembered by Americans as a naval hero of the Revolutionary War and the founder of the American Navy.

He then had a remarkable short second career in the service of the Empress Catherine the Great in Russian’s conquest of Crimea.

He was born John Paul, the son of a poor gardener in Scotland, in 1747.  He went to sea at age 13 and was a captain by age 21.

In 1773, he was put on trial in Tobago in the West Indies for allegedly running a would-be mutineer through with his sword.  He fled to Virginia instead and changed his name to Jones.

When the Revolutionary War began, he took service in the new United States Navy, and quickly rose to the rank of captain.   On his first command, he captured 16 British ships in six weeks.

jpj4-05He was sent to French waters in 1778 to take the war to the British, which he did.   As captain of the Ranger and later of the Bonhomme Richard, he raided British ports, captured British merchant ships and defeated British warships in British waters.

This was astonishing achievement.   The American rebels had no navy or naval ships at the outbreak of the Revolution, and the British Navy was regarded as invincible at sea.

John Paul Jones’ most famous battle was in September, 1779, when he commanded a squadron that attacked a British merchant fleet protected by British ships of war.

He sailed directly for the lead British warship, the H.M.S. Serapis.  They fired broad-sides at each other at close range, and within an hour or so, the two ships were actually lashed together.

bhrichrdCaptain Pearson of the Serapis asked Jones, who was getting the worst of it, if he wanted to surrender.  Jones replied, “I have not yet begun to fight”—or words to that effect.

Jones personally fought with a pike to help repel a boarding party from the Serapis.  Then one of his crew threw an exploding grenade at one of the hatches of the Serapis, igniting gunpowder that lay along the deck and slaughtering many of the British crew.  The British captain surrendered soon after that.

The Bonhomme Richard sunk, but Jones sailed back to port in possession of the Serapis.

After the war ended, Congress disbanded the Continental Navy.   Jones took service with Catherine the Great of Russia in 1787 under the name Pavel Ivanovich Jones.

Read the rest of this entry »

If all consent were treated like sexual consent

July 2, 2015

11166-3xe7rq-1Source: Alli Kirkham for Everyday Feminism

Hat tip to my expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack

There are more TPPs in the pipeline

July 1, 2015

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is just the beginning.

POLITICO reported that four more trade agreements are now being negotiated.

Following Congress’ hard-fought approval of “fast-track” trade authority last week, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman vowed not only to complete the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership but an even bigger pact with the European Union and three other major trade deals — all in the 18 months remaining in President Barack Obama’s term.

It could add up to the biggest trade blitz in history, transforming the rules under which the world does business.

sw0625cd_590_356“We’ve got a lot of pots on the stove,” Froman told POLITICO while watching senators cast their final votes to send the legislation to the president. We want to get TPP done and through Congress. We want to get TTIP negotiated. We’re going to finish ITA. I’m hoping to finish EGA and TISA.”

Those would be, in order: the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement with the European Union, an even bigger pact than the TPP in terms of economic size; the World Trade Organization’s Information Technology Agreement, which covers about 97 percent of world IT trade; the Environmental Goods Agreement, accounting for 86 percent international commerce in green goods; and the 24-party Trade in International Services Agreement, which involves three-quarters of the United States’ gross domestic product and two-thirds of the world’s services, such as banking and communications.

via POLITICO.

I’d heard of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), but not the Information Technology Agreement or the Environmental Goods Agreement until now.

Read the rest of this entry »

Playing at work in an imaginary office

July 1, 2015

3036728-inline-i-1-business-live-action-role-players-blarp-is-a-thing.

stackswell620.

3036728-inline-i-4-blarp-1.

These are the internal documents of an imaginary company born on the Facebook page of an Australian teen-ager named Thomas Oscar.  It exists only on the Internet, but has more than 2,500 bogus “employees”.

LINKS

Office Role-Play?  Meet the People Who Pretend to Work in an Office Together by Justine Sherrock for Fast Company.

Teen’s office parody gets out of hand by News.com.au.

Read the rest of this entry »

Yorktown 1781: Glory to the French

July 1, 2015
Lord Cornwallis surrenders to French and Americans at Yorktown

Lord Cornwallis surrenders to French and Americans at Yorktown

As we Americans prepare to celebrate Independence Day, it is worth remembering that we didn’t win our freedom all by ourselves.

And when an American mouths off about French military history, he’s not just being ignorant, he’s being ungrateful.  I was raised to think ungrateful people were trash.

When I say ungrateful, I’m talking about the American Revolution.   If you’re a true American patriot, then this is the war that matters.  Hell, most of you probably couldn’t name three major battles from it, but try going back to when you read Johnny Tremaine in fourth grade and you might recall a little place called Yorktown, Virginia, where we bottled up Cornwallis’s army, forced the Brits’ surrender and pretty much won the war.

Well, news flash: “we” didn’t win that battle, any more than the Northern Alliance conquered the Taliban.  The French army and navy won Yorktown for us.  Americans didn’t have the materiel or the training to mount a combined operation like that, with naval blockade and land siege.  It was the French artillery forces and military engineers who ran the siege, and at sea it was a French admiral, de Grasse, who kicked the shit out of the British navy when they tried to break the siege.

Long before that, in fact as soon as we showed the Brits at Saratoga that we could win once in a while, they started pouring in huge shipments of everything from cannon to uniforms.  We’d never have got near Yorktown if it wasn’t for massive French aid.

So how come you bastards don’t mention Yorktown in your cheap webpages?  I’ll tell you why: because you’re too ignorant to know about it and too dishonest to mention it if you did.

via Gary Brecher – The eXiled.

Expressed a bit harshly, but true.

His whole article, which is about French military history, is worth reading.

LINK

The War Nerd: Glory to the French by Gary Brecher for The eXiled.

Jobs, productivity and inequality

June 30, 2015

destroying.jobs_.chart1x910_0.

destroying.jobs_.chart2x910

David Rotman, writing in MIT Technology Review, made the case that advances in technology and growth in productivity have not paid off for working Americans.

He considered whether there is something in the nature of technology that rewards highly-trained employees and eliminates the jobs of unskilled employees.

I think the problem is the priorities of the people in charge, not the nature of technology.

It is not technological progress that leads to public libraries having shorter hours, or public utilities have deferred maintenance, or customer service centers keeping people on “hold” for endless minutes.  Rather it is the priorities of the people in charge.

To the extent technology is the cause, I think the reason is that the impetus has been to develop technologies that eliminate jobs rather than technologies that provide better services and improve the quality of life for the majority of Americans.

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How Technology Is Destroying Jobs by David Rotman for MIT Technology Review.


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