Vladimir Putin’s billion-dollar secret palace

January 24, 2022

Over the weekend I watched two astonishing videos produced by Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s supporters.  Here is what I learned.

Vladimir Putin has a luxurious palace on the Black Sea on a 17,000-area tract of land, which allegedly cost $1.35 billion (in 2021 dollars) to build.

Construction was financed by money siphoned from Russian state-owned enterprises.  The land is owned by Russia’s Federal Security Service, but is leased to shell companies owned by Putin cronies.

The complex includes an amphitheater, , an underground hockey rink, an oyster farm, an arboretum that employs 40 gardeners, a Greek Orthodox Church that was dismantled and moved from Greece, two helipads

Inside the palace itself are in indoor swimming pool, a theater with a stage, backstage and dressing rooms, a hookah lounge, a casino, a slot machine room and what appears to be a pole-dancing stage.

The furniture comes from exclusive Italian manufacturers.  It includes a $19,700 chest of drawers, a $17,000 bed and $10,500 chairs—also $700 toilet brushes.

I hadn’t paid much attention to Alexei Navalny in the past, but now I see him as a hero, like Vaclav Havel or Julian Assange.  The top documentary was produced while he was in a hospital in Germany, recovering from a poisoning attempt.

He decided he would only release it after he returned to Russia, because it would be dishonorable to expose his reporting team to perils he himself did not share.  He did return.  He was promptly arrested and is still in prison.  That took a lot of guts.

Navalny, Maria Perchikh, Georgy Alburov and the other members of his team are not only brave dissidents.  They are outstanding investigative reporters.

They also have excellent presentation skills.  As a rule, long videos don’t hold my attention, but I couldn’t look away from the two I have embedded.

There had been reports and rumors about Putin’s palace going back to the early 2010s, but it took Navalny and his team to nail down the facts.

Their opportunity came in August, 2020, when the builders discovered that the whole structure was riddled with leaks and mold, and had to be completely remodeled.

Somebody sent Navalny architects’ drawings of the structure.  The drawings specified the furniture in each room.

Navalny’s team obtained catalogs from the furniture suppliers and manufacturers.  These enabled them to created computer-generated images of the various rooms.  This part starts at the 59-minute mark in the top video.

They could have got things completely wrong.  But workers sent pictures of the actual interiors and, according to Pevchikh and Alburov, they were surprisingly accurate.

Their update is in the second video.  Both videos are in Russian with English subtitles. The two reporters said that when they went wrong, it was in underestimating Putin’s lavishness and bad taste.

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Historical traumas in Russia, China & the USA

January 22, 2022

I have a friend who, like me, is tired of the propaganda that passes for news nowadays.  He wondered how things would seem to our counterparts in Russia and China—say, to a retired school teacher born in the 1940s.

I can only guess at the answer.  I have no first-hand knowledge of these huge, diverse nations.  But there is no harm in speculating.  

For one thing, such people would have had more radical upheavals in their lives than my friend and I did.

A Russian retiree would have experienced the period of stagnation under Yuri Andropov and Leonid Brezhnev, the euphoria and collapse of the economy under Boris Yeltstin and the slow rebuilding under Putin’s corrupt oligarchy.  

A Chinese retiree would have experienced the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, rebuilding under Deng Xiaopeng and now the tightening up under Xi Jinping.

They would remember the economic collapse in Russia in the 1990s and the Cultural Revolution in China in the 1960s.   I imagine their main desire would be to keep these traumatic events from happening again. 

We Americans may be heading into our own versions of a Yeltsin-style economic collapse and a Mao-style cultural revolution.  

Our economy primarily benefits a small number of super-rich individuals and monopolistic corporations.  The USA never really recovered from the Great Recession of 1980.  Governmental policy props up the banks and financial markets, but does little for average American wage-earners.   This is very like Russian economic policy under Boris Yeltsin.

What’s propping up the U.S. economic is the power of the almighty dollar.  The fact that the whole world needs dollars in order to do business enables the U.S. government to continually cut taxes for the super-rich and finance a huge global military establishment.  

The end of dollar supremacy will leave the U.S. in the same position as other nations with big trade and governmental deficits.  We as a nation would have to raise taxes, cut spending, raise prices, cut wages and sell national assets to foreigners, just like Greece.  But our banks and big corporations may well come out all right.

The other problem with news coverage is what is called  “woke-ness,”  a blanket term for evolving taboos about what you must and mustn’t say in public about race, gender and sexual orientation.  The mentality in many ways is like the Chinese Cultural Revolution

Mao Zedong unleashed the Cultural Revolution in China in order to dismantle potential opponents and reassert control.  Big U.S. corporations, universities and government agencies allow woke-ness free rein because it diverts attention for their abuses.  In China, the movement got out of control.  The same could happen here.

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The radical socialism of George Orwell

January 21, 2022

George Orwell is remembered as an enemy of fascism and Stalinism and for his totalitarian dystopia, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)

But, a friend of mine asked, what was Orwell’s utopia?  What did he advocate?

It’s important to remember that Orwell was not only a hater of tyranny and lies.  He also was a hater of inequality and of social and economic class privilege.

George Orwell

His idea of a good society was a society of equals, which honored the moral values of the working class.

In The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), his book about coal miners and the unemployed in England in the 1930s,  Orwell drew a word portrait of a working class family—dad reading his racing form, mum doing her sewing, children happily amusing themselves and the family dog lying before the fire.  

Provided dad had steady work at good wages, that was probably as good as life got, Orwell wrote.  It was better than typical middle-class life, with its  status seeking, worship of success, fear of poverty and lack of solidarity.

But he said his picture of a working class family sitting around a coal fire after kippers and strong tea was something that could only have existed at this particular moment in time.

He said it would not exist in the imagined utopian future of 200 years hence, with no coal fire, no manual labor, no gambling, no horses or dogs, everything hygienic, sterile and made of steel, glass and rubber.  

But such a home could not have existed in the medieval past.  There would have been no chimney, moldy bread, lice, scurvy, “a yearly childbirth and a yearly death” and “the priest terrifying you with tales of hell.”  (Orwell, by the way, had no use for religion.)

Orwell regarded class distinctions are inescapable, something baked into the nature of British consciousness.  He accepted that he himself was a middle-class person and that he could never make himself think and behave as a working-class person did.  

But he did not agonize over it, as many white liberal Americans nowadays do over their inescapable “whiteness.”  And in other writings, he celebrated middle-class virtues and the widening of the British middle class.

In Homage to Catalonia (1938), his book about his experiences in the Spanish Civil War, he said he experienced for the first time a society truly committed to equality

When he arrived in Barcelona, he said, he was in the midst of a true workers revolution.  Every building had been seized by workers and draped with Communist or anarchist flags.   Every church had been gutted and its images destroyed.  

Every restaurant had a sign saying it had been collectivized.  There were no private automobiles; they had all been collectivized, too.

Nobody called anybody “señor” or “don,” just “comrade.”  Nobody said “buenos Dias,” just “salud.”  Nobody wore suits, just overalls or other work clothes or a militia uniform.  Waiters looked their customers in the eye and took no guff from them..

“I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for,” Orwell wrote.  Later he served in a Spanish militia, in which officers had to argue with troops to get them to agree to follow orders, but the troops fought bravely.  He admired this, too.

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One minute time machine

January 19, 2022

Time for something a little lighter. [Hat tip to kottke.org]

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Afterthoughts on Putin and Russia

January 15, 2022

The fundamental fallacy which is committed by almost everyone is this: “A and B hate each other, therefore one is good and the other is bad. [==Bertrand Russell, in 1956 letter]

Vladimir Putin

I oppose the war party in the United States, I don’t consider myself pro-Putin or pro-Russia.

Vladimir Putin is the authoritarian ruler of a corrupt oligarchy.  I never denied this.

I guess I am pro-Russia in that I sympathize with the long-suffering Russian people, but I’m not an admirer of their government.

Thomas Piketty, the French economist known for his studies of inequality, wrote that the degree of economic inequality in Russia is at least as great as it is in the USA.

He wrote that half of Russia’s financial assets are in tax havens abroad. The Pandora Papers revealed that a large chunk of those assets are held by a crony of Putin’s.

Alexei Navalny

A friend of mine with contacts in Russia told me of a businessman who has to make kickbacks to three entities—the tax collector, the FSB (Russian FBI) and local organized crime.

This friend also tells me that, except for Moscow and a few other big cities, Russia is a sea of misery and discontent.

Opponents of the regime have a way of dying mysteriously or being killed by unknown persons. I wrote five years ago that Putin is a killer, and I have no reason to take this back.  Admittedly, not all cases are clear-cut, but unmistakable victims include Anna Politovskaya, Alexander Litvenenko and Boris Nemtsov.

The big human rights issue currently in Russia is the poisoning and imprisonment of anti-corruption crusader Alexei Navalny.   He fell sick while on an airplane flight from Siberia to Moscow in 2020.  His supporters arranged for him to be flown to Germany, where he was placed in a medically-induced coma.  Medical authorities determined that he had been poisoned.  Later, Navalny said. he tricked Russian agents into admitting they placed toxins in his underpants.

Early in 2021 Navalny flew back to Russia, where he was imprisoned on charges of parole violations.  He had been convicted of embezzlement, which his supporters say is a bogus charge.

 But now the Russian authorities have reportedly labeled him a terrorist and “extremist,” and are  going after his supporters.  Evidently the Navalny movement has them worried..

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Putin’s ultimatum and the U.S. response

January 14, 2022

Russian troops on maneuvers. Source: Reuters,

President Vladimir Putin has threatened “appropriate retaliatory military-technical measures” if the USA does offer written guarantees of no military activities in Eastern Europe, no NATO membership for any post-Soviet country and no new military bases on the territory of former Soviet states.

This is what President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker promised President Mikhail Gorbachev in return for allowing reunification of Germany and withdrawing Soviet troops from Eastern Europe.

Subsequent U.S. presidents said this was just an informal verbal agreement and not binding. Russia had to submit because it was weak. Since then Russia has become powerful and is in a position to demand that the former promise can be kept. And this time put it in writing!

For Russia, this is a matter of national security.  For the USA, it is not.  For us Americans, it is a question of avoiding humiliation, not a question of survival.

Russia does not now threaten the U.S. homeland. But this could change.

Russia has not ruled out putting troops and missiles into Cuba and Venezuela, nor deploying submarines with its new hypersonic nuclear weapons into North American coastal waters.  What awwma more likely is that Russian subs would be allowed to refuel in Cuba or Venezuela.

I do not predict these particular things would happen.  Probably what Putin does would be completely unexpected.

There is no reason to think Russia plans to invade and occupy Ukraine or any other country.  That would be foolish.

Putin has learned from Soviet and U.S. mistakes to avoid quagmire wars.  His military interventions, like the recent one in Kazakhstan, have been short and decisive.

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken does not claim Russia threatens the U.S. homeland.  He says Russia is a threat to the new “rules-based international order.”

This refers to the complex of alliances and free trade areas where U.S. hard and soft power guarantees access for global corporations and banks.

Russia, along with China and Iran, do threaten this U.S.-dominated international order.  But ordinary Americans have no stake in it.  This new international order does not benefit American working people. It does benefit the managers and stockholders of those countries.

Blinken says Ukraine and Georgia have the right as sovereign nations to ally themselves with NATO if they choose.  That is not the question.  The question is whether the USA has an obligation or need to bring these countries into an anti-Russian alliance.

I recall that we US Americans didn’t care about legal niceties when Nikita Khrushchev threatened our security by trying to put nuclear missiles into Cuba.

Besides, Ukraine is not a sovereign country in any meaningful sense.  Back in 2015 and 2016, then Vice President Joe Biden demanded that Ukraine fire the prosecutor who was investigating corruption in a company that employed his son, Hunter.  The prosecutor was fired and the investigation, after a short interval dropped.  In 2019, President Donald Trump asked the investigation be re-opened, and it was.

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Reasons for not losing hope

January 14, 2022

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

I am not an optimist. I don’t believe the arc of the universe bends toward justice. It bends toward entropy.  I often feel discouraged about the state of the world, and my own country, the USA, in particular, and I think I have good reason.

But I haven’t lost hope.  Optimism is the belief that success is inevitable in the long run.  Hope is the faith that failure is not inevitable.

What gives me hope is recalling all the things in the past that turned out better than I thought they would. This means it is possible that things in the present may turn out better than I think they would.  Not inevitable.  Possible.

Some examples of what I have in mind are:

  • The eclipse of racism.
  • The eclipse of famine
  • A healthier world
  • Doomsday deferred

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The eclipse of racism.  I grew up in the USA of the 1940s.  This was a time when, throughout the former Confederate states, a white person could kill a black person with impunity.  Lynchings of black people were still a thing.  My parents, teachers and Sunday school teachers taught me that racism was wrong, but those who spoke against it were in the minority.

The heart of racism seemed to be the loathing and disgust felt by most white Americans, especially Southern white men, at the idea of a black man having sexual intercourse with a white women.  I wish I had a dollar for every time I was asked whether I would want one of them to marry my sister—often by people who knew me well enough to know that I didn’t have a sister.

It seemed to me, and to others, that the struggle for racial equality would take decades, and that acceptance of racial intermarriage might never occur at all.  But this proved wrong.  The civil rights revolution of the 1960s really was a revolution, a cultural revolution.  By the 1970s, black students at the University of Mississippi walked around arm-in-arm with their white girlfriends, and nobody said anything about it.

That’s not so say the civil rights revolution solved everything.  Racial prejudice still exists.  The old-time white-sheet racists have been marginalized, but they haven’t gone away.  The black community still has a lot of problems, not all of them directly related to racism.  And I happen to think that a lot of what’s called anti-racism nowadays is useless and even harmful.

Still, it is a mark of progress that we Americans are debating reparations and affirmative action rather than voting rights, racial segregation laws and lynchings.

###

The eclipse of famine.   As a boy and youth, I was influenced by books such as William Vogt’s Road to Survival (1948)and Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb (1968).  They said most of the world was doomed to death by starvation because the number of people in the world (over 2 billion in 1948, 3.55 billion in 1968) exceeded the carrying capacity of the land.  I took this very seriously.

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Why do we Americans accept failure and decline?

January 11, 2022

For the past 40 years or so, the USA has been in economic decline.  The proportion of Americans who can’t pay their bills has grown, the industrial base has been hollowed out, wealth has been concentrated at the top, drug addiction and suicide have increased.

Public opinion polls indicate that most Americans understand this, and want something done about it.  But each successive administration—Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and now Joe Biden—has been devoted to propping up the status quo.

Our governmental system is a mess.  We can’t do simple things like keep our roads, bridges and electric power grid in repair, provide basic medical care for all Americans or ensure that all school children are literate and numerate.

Again, most Americans are aware of this and would like something better, but nothing happens.

For the past quarter century, the USA has waged a series of wars without a clear goal and without clear results, except to keep the military-industrial complex in existence and the world in chaos.

I think Americans are beginning to wake up to the extent to which their patriotism has been abused and to the need to rebuild at home, but the bipartisan consensus for war continues.

Back in the 1960s, there were leaders who sought to unite Americans for economic justice and for peace.  But Robert F. Kennedy snf the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were assassinated and Walter Reuther, the great labor leader, died.  Malcolm X, the Black Muslim, and Fred Hampton, the black power advocate, who had begun to turn to a more universalist message, also were killed.

Since then there have been policies from above whose effect has been to keep the peace, labor and civil rights movements apart.  The AFL-CIO was split off from the peace movement by funding by the Central Intelligence Agency to support of anti-Communist labor unions abroad.   The civil rights movement was split off from the labor movement by Ford Foundation grants to encourage separate black development; the Ford Foundation also is a major funder of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Today the majority of college-educated white liberals have given up on equal rights for all, and instead concentrate on affirmative action for more narrowly defined racial, ethnic and sexual minorities.  Not that there’s anything wrong, in and of itself, with being anti-Communist, black self-determination or any of these other causes.  What’s wrong is the rejection of solidarity by the advocates of these causes.

I think things may change when people high up in the power structure realize that the lack of national unity endangers their own lives and fortunes.  They are threatened by COVID-19.  They are threatened by global climate catastrophe.  They would suffer if the U.S. blunders into war with Russia.

But maybe not.  Maybe they’ve come to believe their own propaganda.  Then it will be up to we the people to rise above our differences and do what’s needed.

LINKS

The Double Bind of Maintaining The Schismogenesis: A Theory of Wokeness by Howie Klein for Down With Tyranny!  Very clear (despite the fancy title) and important.

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More about upheaval in Kazakhstan

January 9, 2022

I don’t claim to understand what’s going on in Kazakhstan, but I think the rebellion there is going to be important for the world, not just for the unfortunate people who live there.

I have a feeling it is a turning point, like the 2014 crisis in Ukraine.

First, Kazakhstan is important to Russia. About 3.5 million Kazakhstan’s nearly 19 million population are ethnic Russians and a large fraction are Russian citizens. If Kazakhstan collapses, Russia would be flooded with refugees—not all of them Russian.

The Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan is the heart of Russia’s space program. It is Russia’s main source of uranium. Russia conducts its anti-ballistic missile testing in Kazakhstan. Russia depends on Kazakhstan for uranium for its nuclear weapons and nuclear energy programs.

Kazakhstan is important to China, too.  As the largest Central Asian nation in area, it is a important crossing point for roads, railroads and oil and gas pipelines in China’s Belt and Roads (aka New Silk Roads) initiative.

I don’t know what’s behind the revolt. There are many understandable and justifiable reasons why the Kazakh people might rebel. But Russian military and political leaders perceive it as an act of what they call hybrid warfare.

In their eyes, the script is this.  Ordinary citizens are encouraged to gather to protest real injustices, often with the advice and funding of the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy.  Then some violent clash takes place, or mysterious snipers start shooting. The protests become an armed uprising, supported by the U.S. and other foreign governments.

I don’t know whether these suspicions are justified.  Certainly there are many reasons why Kazakh people would want to revolt against their corrupt oligarchy.  I do say Russian suspicions are understandable.

President Vladimir Putin has already said he will not tolerate Ukraine becoming a base for NATO troops, from which they could attack Russia. Presumably that also goes for Kazakhstan.

I am not saying that Putin, backed into a corner, would start a nuclear war, or even risk one.  I do say that Russia is the only nation with a large enough nuclear arsenal to wipe out the USA, and I do not want to put Putin’s restraint to a test.

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Some things I just learned from maps

January 8, 2022

How the Netherlands expanded by reclamation from the sea

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Annual hours of sunshine in Europe and the USA

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The wandering North magnetic pole

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The passing scene: Links & comments 1/7/2022

January 7, 2022

Here are links to some articles I found interesting.

The Cuban Missile War Timeline by “Amerigo Vespucci” for altnernatehistory.com.

I remember the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. I didn’t take the danger of nuclear war seriously at the time because I understood that neither President Kennedy nor Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev were crazy enough to start one. What I didn’t understand was how easily things could get out of control.

A contributor to the alternate history web log wrote an interesting speculation as to what might have happened if a few things had gone otherwise than as they did—a U-2 plane shot down over Cuba, a Soviet submarine commander who thought he was under attack firing his nuclear missile.

The writer is well-informed about U.S. and Soviet capabilities, positioning of armed forces and likely military strategies. He presents a convincing account of what a nuclear war would have been like and what the aftermath would have been.

Yes, the USA could have “won” a nuclear exchange. More of us Americans would have survived than those on the other side. I don’t think the Chinese would have escaped unscathed as the writer assumes. Daniel Ellsberg’s book tells us that the U.S. nuclear strategy, in the event of war, was to obliterate the USSR and China both.

All too many people make light of the risks of going to the brink of nuclear war.  They say it hasn’t happened yet.  Yes, but it only needs to happen once.

Frederick Douglass’s library by Julian Abagond.

When I visit someone for the first time, I always sneak a look at the person’s bookshelf.  It’s one way of getting to know them.

Frederick Douglass, the great African-American freedom fighter, had a library of thousands of books.  A blogger named Julian Abagond listed some of the highlights.  Particular favorites, according to Abagond, included The Colombia Orator, a textbook on public speaking with selections from great speeches, and the Bible, the works of Shakespeare, the poetry of Robert Burns and Charles Dickens’ Bleak House.

Douglass of course owned and read works by and about black people and their history, struggles and achievements, but his interests were wide-ranging and included history, politics, literature and science.  The National Park Service has the complete list.  

He had no formal schooling whatever.  As a slave, he was not supposed to learn to read.  He did it on the sly, by paying a white boy to teach him his ABCs.  He went on from there to educate himself.  He associated on equal terms with some of the leading intellectuals of his time.

Lucille of the Libs by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.

Rod Dreher, a leading conservative Christian writer, wrote a moving article on the sacrifices required to be a good husband or wife, and a good parent.  He drew on the Kenny Rogers country-and-western song, “Lucille”; the movie, “The Secret Life of Dentists”; and an article by Atlantic senior editor Honor Jones about why she divorced her loving husband and father of her children in order to live for herself.

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Upheaval in Kazakhstan: Links 1/6/2022

January 6, 2022

Updated 1/8/2022.

Click to enlarge.  Source: Oriental Review.

People in Kazakhstan are in revolt against their authoritarian government and the rich oligarchy it supports.

The revolt was sparked by an increase in fuel prices—surprising, since Kazakhstan is a major producer of natural gas. The CSTO alliance, the Russian-backed equivalent to NATO, has intervened.

The Russian and Kazakhstan governments claim the revolt was instigated by outsiders, and there are reports by U.S. think tanks advocating just such a strategy to hurt Russia.

Which is it?  A revolt against a tyrant, or an example of U.S. meddling?  Maybe both.  You have to read writers of differing views to get a complete picture, and you may not have it even then.

LINKS

Russian troops arrive in crisis-hit Kazakhstan by David Child, Anealia Safdar and Merisha Gadzo for Al Jazeera.

Kazakhstan: Dozens killed as government unleashes military crackdown by the staff of Eurasianet.

Steppe on fire: Kazakhstan’s color revolution by Pepe Escobar for the Strategic Culture Foundation.

Kazakhstan explainer: Who’s in, who’s out as Tokayev tries to take back control by Joanna Lillis for Eurasianet.

CSTO agrees to intervene in Kazakhstan unrest by Joshua Kucera for Eurasianet

The U.S.-Directed Rebellion in Kazakhstan May Strengthen Russia by Bernhard for Moon of Alabama.

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How to avoid war with Russia and China

January 5, 2022

Click to enlarge. Source: The Sun.

The way for the United States to avoid a shooting war with China and Russia is to unilaterally stop waging economic, diplomatic and covert war against those two countries, and to stop positioning offensive military forces near their borders.

I use the word “unilaterally” for two reasons. One is that we the American people get no benefit from our government’s Cold War against these two countries. Therefore it costs us nothing to give it up.

The other is that the leaders of these two countries are not going to negotiate with us because the U.S. government has proved itself, in a Russian phrase, “not agreement capable.”

The U.S. government has broken agreements under both Democratic and Republican admininstrations.  President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker promised President Mikhail Gorbachev that, if he agreed to the reunification of Germany, the NATO alliance would not expand one inch eastward.  This agreement was broken by Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump.  

President Obama signed a formal agreement, along with five other countries, to lift economic sanctions against Iran, in return for Iran’s accepting restrictions on their nuclear development program.  This was a sacrifice on the part of Iran, which looks to nuclear energy as a source of power when the oil runs dry.  It cost the USA nothing.

Even so, President Trump canceled the agreement, and President Joe Biden says he will not reinstate it unless Iran accepts additional restrictions.  But why would the government of Iran trust the USA?  Why would China or Russia?

War hawks argue that President Vladimir Putin is a new Adolf Hitler, who intends to conquer the former Soviet republics first, the former Soviet satellite states next, and, after that, who knows?  I don’t see any evidence of this.  I don’t see any evidence of Russian troops having a permanent presence in any country where they’re not wanted.

Russian “volunteers” helped the Russian-speaking secessionists in Donetz and Lugansk in eastern Ukraine.  But President Putin has ruled out annexing these regions to Russia.  He wants them to remain as part of Ukraine, but with autonomy to shield their people from extreme Ukrainian nationalists and neo-Nazis.

Russia did annex Crimea, but most Crimean residents are Russians and Crimea is the long-time location of a vital Russian naval and military base.  

If Russia was interested in reconquering former Soviet republics, it would have had a perfect excuse to do so in 1991.  Georgia attacked Russian troops in a neighboring territory, and Russians responded by occupying all of Georgia in a swift five-day war.  But then the Russians withdrew.  

If Russian troops had remained in Georgia, or if Russia invaded Ukraine proper, the result would be a quagmire war, similar to Russia’s war in Afghanistan.  I think Russian leaders have learned from experience, even if U.S. leaders have not.

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Howard Thurman on the work of Christmas

December 31, 2021

Hat tip to Beth Ares.

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Business monopolies push prices upward

December 30, 2021

Matt Stoller reports that 60 percent of recent U.S. price increases are caused by businesses exercising monopoly power.  He says the recent surge in inflation cost $2,126 per American.

What can be done about it?  Stoller says:

  1. Strengthen laws against price-fixing.
  2. Impose an excess profits tax.
  3. Strengthen anti-trust laws against business concentration in general.
  4. Revive laws against price discrimination against small businesses.

LINK

Corporate Profits Drive 60% of Inflation Increases by Matt Stoller for BIG.

Covid coming back

December 30, 2021

Daily U.S. Covid cases set new record as of Dec. 30, 2021.

One of the reasons Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in the 2020 elections was because of Trump’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump downplayed the seriousness of the pandemic and made it into a political issue.  He discouraged testing and gathering of data because it made him look bad.  

On the other hand, his administration deserves credit for Operation Warp Speed and the rapid development of effective vaccines.

Biden’s rhetoric is better, but his administration’s actions fall short of what is needed.  His administration’s leaders talk as if vaccination is a way to prevent the spread of the virus.  The vaccines now in use are not sterilizing.  You can catch the virus from a vaccinated person.

He talks as if vaccines are the answer to everything.  Being vaccinated will cut your risk of death or being hospitalized, but catching the virus can still do long-term damage to you.  The way to protect from infection is to make cheap Covid tests available to everyone.

His administration ignores the fact that we now know that Covid-19 is spread as an aerosol, like fog or cigarette smoke, and not in droplets.  So we should pay less attention to cleaning surfaces and more to proper ventilation.

Some of these failures are a result of the long-term hollowing out of public health and medical capacity.  Some originated with Anthony Fauci and the Centers for Disease Control rather than Trump or Biden personally.  

But they are the ones with the ultimate responsibility and power.  When the ship goes aground, the captain is responsible.  He can’t fix everything overnight, but he can begin.

Like Trump, Biden prioritizes getting back to normal.  Like him, he pushes responsibility onto state governments.  We the people need something better than leaders who take the path of political least resistance.

 LINKS

Don’t Be Too Cavalier About Omicron – Long Covid Is Still a Real Risk by Elizabeth Yuko for Rolling Stone.

Administration’s Obvious Covid Fail: Officially Abdicates as Case Count Hits Record; Scientists and Press Misrepresent Data to Put a Happy Face on Omicron by Yves Smith for Naked Capitalism.

The very bad day at the CDC by Eric Topol for Ground Truths.

Covid Cases Fill More New York City Hospital Beds, Threatening Halt on Elective Surgeries by Greg B. Smith for The City.

A Myth Is Born: How CDC, FDA and Media Wove a Web of Ivermectin Lies That Outlive the Truth by Linda Bonvie and Mary Beth Pfeiffer for Michael Capuzzo’s Rescue substack.

Should CRT be taught in public schools?

December 29, 2021

 

Instruction about race and racism should be like all other instruction.

It should be accurate. It should be balanced. And it should be age-appropriate.

Education should give the students the skills they need to function as adults (reading and numeracy at a minimum) and the knowledge they need to understand the world they live in.

What they learn in the classroom should not contradict what they see and experience in the world outside.

Teachers should determine the curriculum with the advice, consent and, ideally, support of parents. They should never shut out parents or go behind the backs of parents.

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The problem with talking about critical race theory is that there is no clear definition of what critical race theory is.  Very few people with opinions about CRT have read books or articles by academic critical race theorists.

One of my friends says that critical race theory is simply facing up to the reality of the history of race and racism in the United States.  Very good!  Nobody could object to that.  But what exactly is that reality?

The version I was taught in high school in the 1940s and college in the 1950s fell short of that reality.  When I. studied the Civil War, I was taught about Abraham Lincoln and U.S. Grant, I was taught about Jefferson David and Robert E. Lee, but I was not taught much of anything about Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman.  It’s good that a more complete version is being taught today.

The New York Times has published a new interpretation of American history, The 1619 Project, which says that slavery and white supremacy, and not ideals of freedom and democracy, are the foundations of American history.  

The Times is promoting its 1619 Project articles as the basis of a high school curriculum.  But many respected historians question various aspects of the Times interpretation.

When respected authorities on a topic disagree,  students should learn both sides of the argument.  I think the 1619 Project belongs in high school libraries, along with alternative interpretations.  

No student who’s curious about it should be discouraged from learning about it.  But it should not be used as a textbook.  If it is, it shouldn’t be the only textbook. 

Another of my friends says that critical race theory is looking at the world through the lens of race.  That is, you should look at everything in terms of how it affects people of different races, both directly and indirectly, and how the way things work in American society is a result of racism, past and present.

I agree that if you look at things that way, you may see things you would otherwise overlook.  But why look at things through only one lens.  It is like looking at things through a microscope with only one setting of magnification.

You can understand a lot of things in society if you look at them through the lens of money.  There is a racial angle on many things, but there is a money angle on almost everything.  Or look at things through the lens of historic American ideals of freedom and democracy.

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The passing scene: Links 12/27/2021

December 27, 2021

The Claims of Memory by Wilfred M. McCloy for First Things.  Conservatism is necessary for progress.  If you can’t preserve existing good things, it is futile to try to create new good things.  Burning everything down and starting over is one of the worst ideas in history.

Everything Going Great: Bad Faith, Worse News and Julian Assange by Edward Snowden for Continuing Ed.

2021 Year in Review: The Only Way Out Is Through by Alexandra Bradbury for Labor Notes.  The labor movement is reviving, but has a long way to go.  [Hat tip to Bill Harvey]

Smartphones Are a New Tax on the Poor by Julia Ticona for Wired.  Low-wage workers are expected to be connected to the Internet, even though many can’t afford it.  As someone said, it’s expensive to be poor.

Hillary 2024? Given the competition, she may be the Dems’ best hope by Joe Concha for The Hill.

Friendly foul-mouthed crow befriends entire elementary school before state police are called in by Lizzy Acker for The Oregonian.  Something cheerful to end with.

Merry Christmas 2021

December 25, 2021

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The Christmas truce of World War One

December 24, 2021

The Story of the WWI Christmas Truce by Mike Dash for Smithsonian magazine.

Matt Taibbi on the Loudoun County culture war

December 23, 2021

AThe school board in Loudon County, Va., which is on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., has been in the headlines over its handling of race and gender issues.

Matt Taibbi has written an excellent series of articles about what’s really going on there, and how it has been misreported. I didn’t know the half of it until I read his pieces.

A proposal to end selective examinations to enter “gifted” programs was called an anti-racism program. But the group that the proposal hurts the most consists of dark-skinned immigrants from south India.

A role-playing exercise that well-meaning people put on to teach students about the Underground Railroad and the evils of slavery was attacked as an exercise in racism.

Self-described advocates of critical race theory went to absurd lengths to silence and marginalize their opponents.  Respectable citizens with legitimate concerns were treated as if they were potentially violent white nationalist zealots.

A highly-publicized incident, in which a 14-year-old girl was forcibly sodomized in a girl’s restroom by a boy wearing a dress, was reported as a transgender rights issue.

All this affected the 2021 elections in Virginia and is likely to have a big impact on the 2022 mid-term elections and beyond.

Most of my liberal friends and acquaintances think that the new “woke-ness” or critical race theory or whatever you want to call it is an extension of the civil rights movement they’ve advocated for all their lives. It is actually—at least in this case—a rejection of the old-time liberal ideal of equal rights and equal treatment for all.

If you care at all about this stuff, I recommend you bookmark this page and read Taibbi’s articles at your leisure.

LINKS

Loudon County, Virginia: A Culture War in Four Acts by Matt Taibbi for TK News.

A furious controversy in the richest county in America was about race, all right, but not in the way national media presented it.

A Culture War in Four Acts.  Loudoun County, Virginia.  Part Two.  “The Incident” by Matt Taibbi for TK News.

An Underground Railroad simulation at an elementary school brings a long-simmering dispute out into the open, triggering a bizarre series of unfortunate events.

The Holy War of Loudoun County, Virginia by Matt Taibbi for TK News.

An opposition galvanized by revelations of bizarre school policies finds itself on an enemies list.

Loudoun County Epilogue: A Worsening Culture War and the False Hope of ‘Decorum’. by Matt Taibbi for TK News.

As the wealthiest county in America found out, difficult political problems can’t just be swept under the rug, or into a parking lot.

Easy listening music of the season by Mozart

December 22, 2021

Source: Collins Classics.

Putin’s ultimatum and the threat of war

December 21, 2021

Destruction Is Still Mutually Assured by Freddie deBoer.

Russia Details Security Demands to U.S. and NATO by Bernhard for Moon of Alabama.

Only the Powerful Issue Ultimatums by Andrei Martyanov (a Russian view).

Russia’s Ultimatum to the West by the Saker (another Russian view)

A surprise Russian ultimatum: new draft treaties to roll back NATO by Gilbert Doctorow.  [Added 12/23/2021]

We’ve Seen the Ultimatum: What Is the ‘Or Else’? by Patrick Armstrong for Russia Observer.  [Added 12/23/2021]  A long list of things Russia could do short of nuclear escalation.

The humiliation of Joe Biden

December 21, 2021

The Build Back Better bill was a list of Joe Biden’s campaign promises in legislative form. For months, President Biden and the Democratic leadership in Congress have been weakening the bill in hope of appeasing Senators Joe Manchin and Kirsten Sinema.

Now, after all these months and waste of work by administration and congressional staff, Senator Manchin has announced he won’t support the bill even in its gutted form.

Manchin, Biden early 2021

There will be no political retaliation as a result of this, either from the Biden Administration or the Senate Democratic leadership. I can imagine Senator Mitch McConnell would do to any Republican who stymied the Republican legislative program.

This is not only a defeat for Joe Biden. It is a public humiliation.

A year or so into President Barack Obama’s first term, I wondered whether he was a progressive who was very weak and naive, or a conservative who was very cunning. I decided the latter was true.

I don’t have the same question with Biden. Defeat of his program may have been unavoidable, but he didn’t have to set himself up to be made to look like a fool.

Obama failed to deliver on his campaign promises, and the opposition party swept with mid-term congressional elections. Most political observers expect the same thing to happen again.

LINKS

The Democrats Go Full Gotterdammerung as Manchin Makes DOA of BBB Official by Yves Smith for Naked Capitalism.

Build Back Better Now DOA: Next Phase of US Economic & Political Crisis Begins by Jack Rasmus.

Globalist Germany and nationalist France?

December 20, 2021

German Chancellor Olaf Scoltz and French President Emmanuel Macron

Diana Johnstone, a long-time independent reporter of European politics, wrote an interesting article about the differences between Germany and France in economic, environmental and military police.

Germany is confident and expansive.  France is defensive and fearful of national decline.  Or so she says.

Germany is committed to green energy, feminism, globalization and an anti-Russian “rules-based international order.”  France is committed to nuclear energy and a nationalistic industrial policy, and is reluctant to join in a new Cold War against Russia.

Franco-German unity has been the key to European unity since the founding of the European Coal and Steel Community, the forerunner of the European Union, in 1952.   If they can’t stay unified, the EU may not have much of a future.

Germany’s new government is, as she puts it, a “traffic light” coalition.  Red represents the Social Democrats, yellow (or gold) represents the pro-business Free Democrats and green represents the Green Party.

A new Ministry of Economic and Climate will be in charge of reducing CO2 emissions.  Every governmental measure will have to pass a climate check.  

Germany today is heavily dependent on coal as a result of phasing out nuclear energy, and it has delayed certification of the new gas pipeline from Russia.  Itt has a goal of generating 80 percent of Germany’s electricity from renewable energy, mainly wind farms, by 2030, sooner than before.

One of the new government’s priorities is to develop an electric car industry for the export market, both inside and outside the EU.  Germany’s expectation is that all EU countries will be open to importing the new electric cars without favoring their own industry.   The European Commission is considering rules that would require all cars sold in Europe after 2035 to be carbon neutral.

France’s Emmanuel Macron, meanwhile, is being pulled to the right, Johnstone wrote.  There is a fear that France is losing its national character and also its position in the world.  France is not going to shut down its network of nuclear-powered electric power plants any time soon.

The French government wants to build up French manufacturing industry.  This might bring it into conflict with EU rules and regulations, which bans government policies to favor domestic industry, except in the military sphere.

There has a strong right-wing, anti-immigrant movement in France, led by Marine Le Pen.  But now there’s an even more extreme movement, led by a journalist named Eric Zemmour.  His party is called the Reconquest Party; the idea is to reconquer France for the French.

The new German government wants strong ties with the United States, which, according to Johnstone, means dropping objections to storing nuclear weapons on German soil.  France hasn’t openly opposed NATO, but is less enthusiastic about the alliance than Germany is.

Macron has floated the idea of an independent European military force, independent of the United States, but hasn’t gotten anywhere with the Germans and other NATO allies.  Johnstone said he wouldn’t like Ukraine in NATO, because it would expand German influence and its farm exports would compete with French farmers.

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