See Russia Starting Any New Wars? Thanks, Washington.

Wink
Uncle Volodya says, “This is my doctrine: Give every other human being every right you claim for yourself.”

…hitched a ride on a monkey’s back;
headed west into the black,
I’m goin’ to dizz knee land

DaDa, from “Dizz Knee Land”

There’s a certain temptation, for me at least, to view an entire people as stupid and self-centered just because their leaders so uniformly are, and I confess I struggle with it. I know Ukrainians are not stupid, know it to be a fact, as I know several personally who are well-informed, sophisticated, pragmatic and bright people; given the size of my sample pool – which I will call Ukrainians I Personally Know – they are as intelligent and perceptive as any other group. My data pool is not large, admittedly, but it’s hard to believe the smart ones I know are all that exist.

However, what are we to make of the alleged contention of Yehor Bozhok (the contortions Ukrainians go through to make sure their names do not sound Russian always crack me up, in this instance resulting in one that sounds quite a bit like the pessimistic donkey from “Winnie the Pooh”) that the world has the sanctions imposed against Russia by Washington and Brussels to thank for peace? For the reality that forces of the Russian Federation are not currently rampaging through the seas, fields and cities of the Free World?

The gospel according to Yehor (Head of Ukraine’s Foreign Intelligence Service, the SZRU) is that the west’s economic sanctions – leaning heavy on the word ‘economic’, because that is what they are – are negatively impacting President Vladimir Putin’s ability to wage war around the world, including in Ukraine. It is assumed that’s what he wants to do, more than anything, and that only the sanctions (and the might of the Ukrainian Army, of course, Geroyim Slava) hold him back. Continue reading “See Russia Starting Any New Wars? Thanks, Washington.”

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The Candy Clouds of the Dreamweaver do Battle with the Battering Ram of Reality

Wink
Uncle Volodya says, “The real world is where the monsters are.”

Dreamer, you’re nothing but a dreamer
Well, can you put your hands in your head? Oh no
I said, “Far out, what a day, a year, a life it is”
You know, well you know you had it comin’ to you
Now there’s not a lot I can do…

From “Dreamer”, by Supertramp

As this tumultuous year grinds to a close, I wonder what future historians will say of it? Surely it will never be seen as a year of advancement for mankind; a year of stability, an affirmation of the bonds of brotherhood which draw us closer together. Instead, it must be viewed by the dispassionate eye of objectivity as a year of upheaval, of reversals and setbacks and chaos. A year of celebration of mean-spirited goading and provocation, a year of the drawing-together of jealous alliances seeking to preserve a world order which always worked out very well for those so allied, thank you very much. A year of cynical lip service paid to the cause of peace and understanding, trumped by disinformation, propaganda and reality-shaping. If you can’t have world peace, pray enjoy yourself with the vinyl inflatable substitute, anatomically correct for your pleasure.

I’m afraid I haven’t the patience or the resources to cover the whole world for the year. But I was struck by two very disparate recent articles on the same part of the world; Ukraine. Two very different images of what is apparently the same place, depending on whether you are viewing it through rose-coloured glasses, or framed by a toilet seat.

The first, by Andrew Wrobel at Emerging Europe (where he is a founding partner), postulates that 2019 will be a critical year for Ukraine – as, no doubt, it will; I am surprised it has staggered all the way to this point. But much of the article is spent in talking of events of the past year. Let’s take a look.

According to Wrobel, the current government of Ukraine is making serious headway upon a progressive agenda. The economy is stabilizing, President Poroshenko has pushed through a series of reforms to tackle corruption, and the resumption of international ‘lending’ to Ukraine signifies international approval of its progress. Continue reading “The Candy Clouds of the Dreamweaver do Battle with the Battering Ram of Reality”

The Piker at the Gates of Dawn; Yearning to be in the Big Leagues, the Beaver is Crushed Between the Eagle and the Dragon.

Wink
Uncle Volodya says, “Be with a leader when he is right, stay with him when he is still right, but leave him when he is wrong.”

Hey, you; out there in the cold
getting lonely, getting old – can you feel me?
Hey, you; standing in the aisles
with itchy feet and fading smiles – can you feel me?
Hey, you, don’t help them to bury the light…
Don’t give in without a fight.

From, Hey You, by Pink Floyd

The arrest and detention of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou at Vancouver International, as she was changing flights for Mexico, was a deliberate slap in the face to China. The fact that it was executed even as US President Donald Trump – I still can’t say that phrase without a vertiginous feeling of unreality, like “Marriage Counselor Harvey Weinstein”, or “noted philanthropist Imelda Marcos” or “Senator James Inhoffe” – was meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping to get the latter’s agreement to a truce in the trade war between the two countries makes it appear to have been a carefully-coordinated backstab meant to extract the maximum in humiliation. It infuriated China and its people, and the effects are only beginning to make themselves felt. To get a little perspective, imagine the American reaction if China had arranged to have the late Steve Jobs arrested in Singapore for jaywalking, and insisted on its right to extradite and try him.

Before we go any further, let’s put the conclusion before the analysis – this is all about kicking the feet out from underneath Huawei in North America. Huawei was already blowing the doors off of Apple in smartphone sales, and it cannot be allowed to get a 5G network foothold in North America. To quote the voice of America’s wireless community, CTIA President and CEO Meredith Attwell Baker, “The race to lead the world in 5G is on, and the competition is intense. Every country knows wireless leadership creates jobs, investments, and innovation. They’re taking action because they want to win. We do too.” She further forecast that 5G would add three million jobs and $500 Billion to the US economy. The sort of prize Washington would do just about anything to keep for itself. Huawei is a direct threat to Apple, and Apple was the USA’s most profitable company for the third year in a row in 2017. It’s not that America will not tolerate competition in a fair market – it will just not tolerate competition from China, which it considers a heretic enemy. Unfortunately for America, many of its most lucrative expansion opportunities for American companies – like Apple – are in China, so it mostly kept such thoughts to itself. Until recently.

We’ll get back to Apple in a second. But first, I’m not sure how many people realize what a brilliant strategy it was on Washington’s part to have Meng Wanzhou arrested in Canada, by Canadian officials, jailed in Canada and conditionally released on posting a crazy $7.5 million bail by a Canadian court. At a single stroke, it wrecked Canada’s plans for a trade deal with China which was outside American review and manipulation, damaged brand Canada in China for existing trade, and – incredibly – allowed the USA to position itself as Canada’s friend with its vow to intercede on behalf of Canadians detained in China. Quite a coup at a time when Canada’s relationship with its southern neighbour is as uncomfortable as it has been since Canadians burned the White House. Continue reading “The Piker at the Gates of Dawn; Yearning to be in the Big Leagues, the Beaver is Crushed Between the Eagle and the Dragon.”

The Bathtub Navy’s Christmas Vacation

Wink
Uncle Volodya says “Don’t let schooling interfere with your education.”

There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.

Soren Kierkegaard

From the start, I was a little reluctant to get drawn into the Kerch Strait fiasco, because I was convinced from the outset that it would not amount to anything despite the western cries of a major naval battle in the Kerch Strait between Russia and Ukraine. Knowing as we do that any incident in which Russia reacts in any way to Ukraine’s increasingly-ridiculous behaviour is going to get inflated until it looks like Guernica come to life, I was confident it would be the proverbial tempest in a teapot. Ukraine’s biggest surface combatant is the frigate “Hetman Sahaydachniy”, a 3,500-ton patrol ship built in the early 90’s at – ironically – the Kerch shipyard. That’s the flagship, and there’s only one of her type. There is a corvette, which is used as a training vessel, a small missile boat, and 6 Gurza-class gunboats, two of which are now interned in Kerch following the “Battle of Kerch Strait”.

You might snicker at ‘the fleet’, but a moment’s thought will cause you to realize that Ukraine is no longer much of a maritime nation.

https://www.euractiv.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2018/11/Territorial-waters-around-Crimea.jpg

This graphic (from Euractiv) displays the territorial limits within the Black Sea now controlled by Russia and those by Ukraine, since Crimea petitioned the Russian Federation for membership and it was granted. You can squirm around that fact all you like, but it only becomes more apparent that the west is ecstatic about freedom and self-determination just so long as it results in an enemy or a non-aligned country losing territory. The very minute such a rush of independence results in a strategic black eye for the western alliance, that’s the minute that a country’s leader is entitled to use whatever means and force he/she deems necessary to keep recalcitrant provinces under national control. Let anyone who is not on the western list of Approved Despots try anything like that, and an immediate outcry will ensue that he is ‘killing his own people’, and an urgent western intervention is required to ensure the equitable breakup of the country along ethnic lines, consistent with the finest traditions of freedom and democracy. Smaller pieces are often easier to boss around, unless you prefer the term ‘manage’. See how it works?

Be that as it may, you can see that while Ukraine still has access to the Sea of Azov, since it still has coastline which fronts upon it, it cannot get out of it without passing through the Russian-controlled Kerch Strait. That’s most inconvenient for it, since its other bit of seacoast, at Odessa, lies on the other side of the Kerch Strait. Similarly, the port of Mariupol, which is fairly busy commercially – there is an American-flagged merchant vessel there now at time of writing, and nearly half the ships in port are foreign-flagged – cannot be reached by sea without passing through the Kerch Strait. To be frank, Ukraine’s claim to decision-making on the Kerch Strait was always shaky; the Crimean Peninsula was gifted to Ukraine in 1954 by Nikita Khrushchev, in a move that was probably not even legal – considering it was a resolution adopted by the Presidium and was not considered or approved by the Politburo – and the demographics of Crimea at the time were overwhelmingly Russian-dominated, about 75%. Analysts suggest Khrushchev’s motive for his gift was to codify Soviet control over Ukraine, to fortify and perpetuate a subordinate relationship…and to add some 860,000 Russians to the already-large Russian minority in Ukraine. Seen in that light, it makes you wonder why Ukraine is making such a fuss over losing Crimea; it simply went back to its historic roots, and it removes a bunch of ethnic Russians – whom the Ukrainian nationalists hate with a passion – from Ukrainian territory. What’s not to like? Continue reading “The Bathtub Navy’s Christmas Vacation”

Sanctimoneyous: Post-Brexit Britain Will Test-Drive a Conscience.

Wink
Uncle Volodya says, “When mores are sufficient, laws are unnecessary; when mores are insufficient, laws are unenforceable.”

“Morality is simply the attitude we adopt toward people we personally dislike.”

Oscar Wilde, from “An Ideal Husband”

“I won’t insult your intelligence by suggesting that you really believe what you just said.”

William F. Buckley Jr.

“Everybody knows that the dice are loaded,
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed;
Everybody knows that the war is over,
Everybody knows the good guys lost:
Everybody knows the fight was fixed,
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows…”

Leonard Cohen, from “Everybody Knows”

I wonder if you were as flabbergasted as I was to discover the sole reason Britain has not cracked down before now on the flood of dirty money lapping its shores is because…are you ready? Because the rest of Europe is so corrupt, Britain had to pretend to be corrupt, too, or else it might not fit in!! I’m not even kidding; read it for yourself.

“Brexit will free the UK to intensify its crackdown on dirty money sloshing through the City of London because the authorities will no longer have to win the approval of the rest of the EU.”

The article is The Telegraph’s ‘Premium content’, and so you can’t see the rest of it without being a subscriber – but for my part, I’ve seen enough. If that isn’t the most goodie-goodie, self-serving teacher’s-pet bullshit I’ve ever heard, it would certainly be in the top five.

As I’ve queried elsewhere, if the rest of Europe is perfectly happy rooting in its corrupt sty, while Britain holds its nose and plays at being the bad-ass so that the European hoodlums will accept it, what draws foreign robber-barons to London with cash that they need laundered? Why don’t they just go to Paris or Berlin? Can they not sense how uncomfortable Britain is with money that was not honestly earned by the sweat of one’s brow? Dear God, it makes me want to scream.

Let’s just dispense with the notion that Honest-John Bull yearns to boot out the rotten Russian oligarchs because of a deep-seated aversion to dirty money, right now. In fact, Uncle Sam told Britain back in the spring that it was going to have to cut the Russian oligarchs loose if it wants to have continued access to the US market. And considering the arsehole Britain is making of itself in Europe, it doesn’t actually have a lot of other friends. What would happen to Britain without the coziness of the Special Friendship? Like The Eagles sang in “Already Gone”, it would have to eat its lunch all by itself.

“Sigal P. Mandelker, a top American Treasury official in London to meet with her counterparts, said British banks could face “consequences” if they continued to carry out significant transactions on behalf of the 24 influential Russians sanctioned by Washington on Friday. The list includes the industrialists Oleg Deripaska and Viktor Vekselberg, along with Kirill Shamalov, who American officials have identified as President Vladimir V. Putin’s son-in-law.”

So I guess if Britain is going to have to bury its face in the pillow while Uncle Sam rides it from behind like a pile-driver, it might as well amuse itself – and everyone else – with the notion that showing the Russian rich the door to the cold outside was all its own idea. Yes; ‘course it was! Continue reading “Sanctimoneyous: Post-Brexit Britain Will Test-Drive a Conscience.”

Organized Greed vs. Disorganized Democracy

Wink
Uncle Volodya says, ““At the banquet table of nature, there are no reserved seats. You get what you can take, and you keep what you can hold.”

“In a society governed passively by free markets and free elections, organized greed always defeats disorganized democracy.”

Matt Taibbi, from Griftopia

“Well first of all, tell me: Is there some society you know that doesn’t run on greed? You think Russia doesn’t run on greed? You think China doesn’t run on greed? What is greed? Of course, none of us are greedy, it’s only the other fellow who’s greedy. The world runs on individuals pursuing their separate interests. The great achievements of civilization have not come from government bureaus. Einstein didn’t construct his theory under order from a bureaucrat. Henry Ford didn’t revolutionize the automobile industry that way. In the only cases in which the masses have escaped from the kind of grinding poverty you’re talking about, the only cases in recorded history, are where they have had capitalism and largely free trade. If you want to know where the masses are worse off, worst off, it’s exactly in the kinds of societies that depart from that. So that the record of history is absolutely crystal clear, that there is no alternative way so far discovered of improving the lot of the ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activities that are unleashed by the free-enterprise system.”

Milton Friedman

It’s maybe a little unfortunate that cynicism has shoved its way to the fore in social consciousness; if you smell flowers, look around for a funeral. The world wasn’t always that way, and once the American Dream which is really the dream of everyone everywhere – the fond hope that all that will make us happy in life; love, family, the kind of paycheck that will let one enjoy both, will somehow find us if only we are loyal and determined – was relatively humble, and sort of sweet. Enough was just enough, and not just a little bit more, if you feel me.

Somewhere along the storied path, greed became a virtue, as enshrined by Milton Friedman and others like him. Greed is nothing to be ashamed of – it’s nothing less than the pistons in the great engine of human development. Greed is the puppet-master, pulling the strings of democracy.

So when Uncle Sam starts talking up democracy, look around for something you have that he might want.

Enter Daniel Witt, with a sad but hopeful piece on how Ukraine is pooching its big chance to be a real democracy. Because the road to democracy is paved with… privatization. Continue reading “Organized Greed vs. Disorganized Democracy”

The Boy Who Cried “Bear!!”: a Norwegian Folk Tale

Wink
Uncle Volodya says, “The text has disappeared under the interpretation.”

Once upon a time, there was a Norwegian boy named Jens, from the town of Nato. Jens’ work was mostly tedious and boring, and often people did not pay very much attention to what he said or did – so, every once in awhile, he liked to liven things up, see if he could get a reaction, generate a little excitement. He would shout, “Bear!!! I saw a bear, right through those bushes! He is coming to kill us all!!”

At first the townspeople of Nato would rush to collective-defense readiness, shouting, “Get away, bear!! Go back to where you came from!! Leave our lands!!”, pointing their pitchforks and whatever weaponry they could carry in the direction Jens had said the bear was last seen. But after repeated alarms, the townspeople grew apathetic and resentful of Jens’ attempts to scare them, since no bear was ever actually sighted by any of them, and eventually they would not come running any more when he shouted his warnings. Consequently, nobody responded the day the bear really showed up, despite Jens’ frantic screams as the bear grabbed him and prepared to gobble him up. Or down, as the case may be. Fortunately for Jens, he tasted like frozen pizza (Norwegians are Europe’s highest per-capita consumers of this exotic dish), and the bear spat him out after only chewing on him a little, and went away. Jens learned absolutely no lessons from the experience, and went on exactly as before.

I suppose if there is a moral to this story – and all folk tales traditionally have a moral – it is that not everyone in Nato was an idiot, although there was a vigorous and vocal idiot demographic. But even idiots grow weary of constantly being prodded to take time from their busy lives to listen to alarming scary tales, and to contribute some of their salaries or savings toward fighting off imaginary threats. By the time Jens decided to change it up a little (although there is no evidence such a decision was motivated by anything more than wanting to regain lost attention), nobody was listening.

How art imitates life. Continue reading “The Boy Who Cried “Bear!!”: a Norwegian Folk Tale”