A Tale of Two Tyrants: They’re Using Our Own Laws Against Us!!

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Uncle Volodya says, Humor is essential to a successful tactician, for the most potent weapons known to mankind are satire and ridicule”.”

Down in the shadow of the penitentiary,
Out by the gas fires of the refinery;
I’m ten years burning down the road
Nowhere to run ain’t got nowhere to go…

Bruce Springsteen, from, Born in the USA

Leafing through Forbes or Fortune Magazine is like reading the operating manual of some strangely sanctimonious pirate ship.

Adam Gopnik

I have reached the conclusion – late, but better late than never, they say – that there is no pleasing the west where its ideological foes are concerned. If they do bad things, they are evil. If they do halfway-decent things, they are only pretending to be good so they can get close enough to whip out the evil. If their economy is tanking, they are incompetent. If their economy is doing well despite efforts to ruin it, they are manipulative and deceitful, and not ever to be trusted. If they break the law, they are reckless criminals – if they hew to the law and nevertheless achieve their objective, they are exploiting loopholes to bring about the downfall of all that’s good. It was kind of the latter I wanted to talk about today. Because if there’s anything that makes the west hot under the collar, it is being put in a position where it looks hypocritical and childish, and cannot avail itself of its customary lofty sanctimony. The moral high ground is sometimes hard to hold, but it’s harder if you are full of shit.

First on deck is the Hungarian Vampire suckling at the Helpless White Throat of Democracy, Victor Orban. Mr. Orban long since turned into a bad smell on the wind for western leaders, owing to some pro-Russian positions and his resistance to western portrayals of Ukraine as The Crucible Of Good Decisions – he is invariably portrayed in western accounts as a ‘strongman’ who just makes up new laws as soon as he comes up against one which inconveniences his ruthless plundering of the state. Keep that ‘strongman’ cliche in mind for a moment, because we’re going to come back to it fairly soon.

Readers will have to be satisfied with a stub as a reference, because it’s from The Economist, which wants you to subscribe – yes, I know, and for money! – to read the whole thing. I would be as likely to do that as I would be to punch the next person who asks me what time it is in the face, because its analysis is typically little better than what you might find in the National Enquirer, and accurately foretells world developments about as often as chicken soup gives you an upset stomach.

“Take Hungary, where Fidesz, the ruling party, has used its parliamentary majority to capture regulators, dominate business, control the courts, buy the media and manipulate the rules for elections. As our briefing explains, the prime minister, Viktor Orban, does not have to break the law, because he can get parliament to change it instead. He does not need secret police to take his enemies away in the night. They can be cut down to size without violence, by the tame press or the taxman. In form, Hungary is a thriving democracy; in spirit, it is a one-party state.”

The thrust of the article is that populism is strangling democracy. Let’s take a quick look at a definition of ‘populism’ – perhaps it really is bad.  Hmmmm…. according to the dictionary, it’s ” A political philosophy supporting the rights and power of the people in their struggle against the privileged elite.” Continue reading “A Tale of Two Tyrants: They’re Using Our Own Laws Against Us!!”

If Wishes Were Horses: Nina Khrushcheva’s Regime-Change Dream.

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Uncle Volodya says, “The greater the gap between self perception and reality, the more aggression is unleashed on those who point out the discrepancy.”

is a kreakl. We use that word here a lot, and perhaps not all the readers know what it means. It is a portmanteau of “Creative Class”, but makes use of the letter ‘k’, because the letter ‘c’ in Russian has a soft ‘s’ sound, so we use the hard ‘k’. The Creative Class, or so they styled themselves, were the intelligentsia of Soviet times; the free-thinking liberals who were convinced Russia’s best course lay in accommodating the west no matter its demands, in hope that it would then bless Russia with its secrets for prosperity and all the fruits of the American Dream.

A kreakl is a Russian liberal, often the child or grandchild of Soviet-era intellectuals who believed they knew better than anyone else how the country should be run. They express their disapproval of the current government in the most contemptuous way, interpret its defense of family values as homophobia, and consider its leadership – uniformly described by the west as ‘authoritarian’ – to be stifling their freedom. My position is that their often privileged upbringing insulates them from appreciating the value of hard work, and lets them sneer at patriotism, as they often consider themselves global citizens with a worldly grasp of foreign affairs far greater that of their groveling, sweaty countrymen. Their university educations allow them to rub shoulders with other pampered scions of post-Soviet affluence, and even worse are those who are sent abroad to attend western universities, where they internalize the notion that everyone in America and the UK lives like Skip and Buffy and their other college friends.

Not everyone who attends university or college turns out a snobbish brat, of course, and in Russia, at least, not everyone who gets the benefit of a superior education comes from wealth. A significant number are on scholarships, as both my nieces were. Some western students are in university or college on scholarships as well, and there are a good many in both places who are higher-education students because it was their parents dream that they would be, and they saved all their lives to make it happen.

But many of the Russian loudmouths are those who learned at their daddy’s knee that he coulda been a contendah, if only the money-grubbing, soulless monsters in the government hadn’t kept him down – could have been wealthy if it were not for the money pit of communism, could have taken a leadership role which would have moved the country forward had the leader who usurped power not filled all the seats with his cronies and sycophants.

Now, she’s Professor of International Affairs at The New School, New York, USA, and a Senior Fellow of the World Policy Institute, New York. As you might imagine, The New School is a hotbed of liberal intellectualism; as its Wiki entry announces, “…dedicated to academic freedom and intellectual inquiry and a home for progressive thinkers”. So let’s see what a liberal and progressive thinker thinks about the current state of affairs vis-a-vis Russia and China, and their western opponents. Continue reading “If Wishes Were Horses: Nina Khrushcheva’s Regime-Change Dream.”

Book Review; Robert Kagan’s “The Jungle Grows Back”

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Uncle Volodya says, “The means of defence against foreign danger have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people.”

For the longest time, I was reluctant to get into book reviews. I mean, who cares what I think? Others do them from time to time; Paul Robinson, for one. But he’s an academic. JT does them regularly, specializes in reviewing Russia-related literature, both fiction and non-fiction, and her reviews are very enjoyable. But I know nothing of her background; perhaps she’s an academic, too. I am not. I didn’t finish high school, have no college or university education at all, and spent the best part of my adult life in the military.

But then, when you think about it, a book is really nothing more than a big, long article. When it’s meant to push your opinion in a certain direction – rather than simply entertain you, like in a novel – it is usually a pretty good barometer of the author’s personal opinion and way of thinking. I was looking for something to write about, I love deconstructing bullshit, and I just finished the book. So everything kind of came together at the right moment, and I decided to give it a try.

Usually when people say an author or celebrity needs no introduction, they just mean he or she is well-known in the field they chose, and intend to give them an introduction anyway. This will be no exception to that rule. Everybody who is even peripherally acquainted with American politics and foreign policy knows who Robert Kagan is. His advocacy for military intervention to imprint American-style freedom and democracy upon foreign populations, whether they want them or not, dovetails perfectly with the neoconservative agenda. But he considers himself a liberal interventionist, and the policies he advocates to constitute the ‘liberal world order’. If you read any of his books, you’re likely to see that phrase repeated many, many times. He is the husband of Victoria Nuland, currently the CEO of the Center for a New American Security, and former Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs at the United States Department of State. She held the rank of Career Ambassador, the highest diplomatic rank in the United States Foreign Service. The Nuland/Kagans have moved for most of their adult lives in the corridors of political power, and a power couple more committed to American global dominance would be hard to imagine.

And now, except for cursory mention, we will part from Ms. Nuland; while I daresay she reads drafts of her husband’s books and may suggest the odd correction or improvement based on her personal opinion or knowledge, she did not write this book. So, first, the book. Its full title is “The Jungle Grows Back: America and our Imperiled World”. It was published in 2018 by Alfred A. Knopf of New York, and is dedicated to Kagan’s father, Donald Kagan, Sterling Professor of Classics and History at Yale University. The version I read costs $29.95 in Canada, $22.95 in the USA, and is 163 pages, not including footnotes. If you’re not busy, you could easily read it in a day. I have to confess I did not buy it; it was an impulse grab from a library cart of books waiting to be reshelved. Continue reading “Book Review; Robert Kagan’s “The Jungle Grows Back””

Gaslighting the World; America in the Hurricane’s Eye.

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Uncle Volodya says, “I have three precious things which I hold fast and prize. The first is gentleness; the second is frugality; the third is humility, which keeps me from putting myself before others. Be gentle and you can be bold; be frugal and you can be liberal; avoid putting yourself before others and you can become a leader among men.”

Young traveler
The path you seek is in the heart you deny;
Go look there
You might be surprised at the treasure you find.
I remember being your age and completely blind;
Your compass is broken and it points to the sky
You’re always gonna wake in the hurricane’s eye

Jesse Roper, from “The Hurricane’s Eye”

Before we get started, a shout-out to local boy Jesse Roper for kicking things off; although he’s from just down the road, not 20 minutes drive from here, I have never seen him perform live. But that’s a deficit I plan to rectify.

I figured that since ‘gaslighting’ is a relatively new term, and although I already had a general idea what it meant from context,  it would be best to look it up. I was surprised to learn the concept of ‘gaslighting‘ has been around since 1938.

“a form of psychological manipulation in which a person seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, making them question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, gaslighting involves attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim’s belief.”

In America’s case, gaslighting – like charity – begins at home, and the full force of US government efforts to convince the skeptical that America is more powerful and influential than ever, is still kicking ass and taking names, is felt by Americans.

Don’t be deceived by the headline in the referenced piece; “Adapting to American Decline”.  You might get the impression that it is written from the standpoint of humility; that the author, recognizing America’s deteriorating standing in the world, seeks accommodation with it and is ready to listen to the advice of nations that were relatively far down the road of civilization when there was nothing much in America but beavers, trees and Indians. Not a bit of it.

Instead, the author refers to America’s allies as ‘adolescents’ only a couple of paragraphs after offering – reasonably – that treating allies like reckless teenagers is not the way to hold on to global leadership. Here’s the latter;

“Rather than treating allies like reckless teenagers who can’t be trusted without Uncle Sam’s constant supervision, or feckless weaklings that will jump at the chance to capitulate to rapacious neighbors, Washington should empower mature, like-minded states to deal with local challenges before they become regional or global crises.”

Washington should empower them, please note; there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell they could do it without assistance, of course. Nobody in the world could get off their dead ass without American show-how.

Here’s the former;

“Given their own domestic spending priorities and continued uncertainty about whether the United States will recommit to the old model, most American allies are likely to take a wait-and-see attitude. A gentle nudge might be needed to move them from comfortable adolescence to empowered adulthood.”

There’s that I’m-the-grownup-here tone again – America should provide the ‘gentle nudge’ required to turn global adolescents into functioning adults, although naturally they can never hope to have Washington’s maturity and good judgment. Tell me; what’s the difference between teenagers and adolescents? Well, apparently one label is insulting and patronizing and unlikely to win you much cooperation if used, while the other is just a reality that everyone should accept – the United States is an adult, and its allies lack its depth of experience and wisdom.

If you are not an American, that sort of talk might make you want to say something very rude. It certainly did me. In fact, people passing in the street inquired who was screaming, “Go fuck yourself!!” out the window, accompanied by the sounds of tearing clothing and smashing crockery. But let’s take a deep breath, and take a look at it.  Donald Trump, variously referred to as “That #@&%ing Trump”, “Tangerine Jesus”, and “The Talking Yam”, was elected to his country’s highest office on a promise to Make America Great Again, a slogan now so recognizable it is employed using only its initials, MAGA. His contract is coming up for renewal – how has he done so far?

The author – Christopher Preble of the Cato Institute, one of the many think tanks sprinkled about America mostly to give bitter conservative introvert bigheads a job (the baby always needs new shoes) and to imbue Americans with an abiding sense of their own humble greatness – is quite candid that the USA’s share of global output was around 50% at the end of World War II. It had shrunk to less than half that by 1985, is about 15% today and is projected to be around 13% by 2023. At the same time, the USA’s defense budget has averaged $561 Billion annually since 2001, and the Trump administration intends to increase that to $757 Billion a year by 2023. So by that magic year, the USA’s share of global output will be a third what it was at the end of the Second World War, while its defense spending will rise from around 5% of GDP at that time to more than twice that at around 14%. The US national debt has ballooned to $22 Trillion and climbing, and the largely-meaningless ‘debt ceiling’ has just been raised again. As the author of that piece points out, if spending cannot be controlled, no amount of economic growth can reduce the debt. Continue reading “Gaslighting the World; America in the Hurricane’s Eye.”

It’s Time for a Serious Conversation About Socialism.

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Uncle Volodya says,”If we can find the money to kill people, we can find the money to help people.”

“The few own the many because they possess the means of livelihood of all … The country is governed for the richest, for the corporations, the bankers, the land speculators, and for the exploiters of labor. The majority of mankind are working people. So long as their fair demands – the ownership and control of their livelihoods – are set at naught, we can have neither men’s rights nor women’s rights. The majority of mankind is ground down by industrial oppression in order that the small remnant may live in ease.”

Helen Keller, from “Rebel Lives”

“Socialism” is no more an evil word than “Christianity.” Socialism no more prescribed Joseph Stalin and his secret police and shuttered churches than Christianity prescribed the Spanish Inquisition. Christianity and socialism alike, in fact, prescribe a society dedicated to the proposition that all men, women, and children are created equal and shall not starve.”

Kurt Vonnegut, from “A Man Without a Country”

“The bandits of the old days would hide their heads in shame,
Their old-time buccaneering was hardly worth the name.
They used to end on gibbets and dance against the skies,
And now they live on top the town and sport their minks and cars around
And buy up Congress by the pound, free enterprise.”

Malvina Reynolds, from “Free Enterprise”

Show of hands, please – how many of you really knew already that Helen Keller was a radical socialist? I surely didn’t. In fact, I would not have pegged Kurt Vonnegut for a socialist, either, and perhaps he isn’t – but it still sent a little chill through me to read the words, “…all men, women and children are created equal”, and to recall where else I saw it – the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America, Mr. Thomas Jefferson. Oh, he just said that all men were created equal; not much of a guy for women’s rights, I guess you could say. But the premise is precisely the same, or should be.

Which, in its turn, invoked in me a longing for the days of free thought and philosophy, when a ferment of ideas brewed around the betterment of the common man’s station in life, even as the notion of nobility by birthright rather than merit came crashing down. Nothing like that any more, of course – because modern democracy revolves around indoctrinating you, John or Jane Q. Public, that you are there. Mankind has never been so free, so unconstrained, so sticky with the sweetness of liberty that we are tacky to the touch. Hypocrisy and oppression are looking longingly through the chicken-wire, but they’re not allowed in here…in Freeworld.

Before we get into what nonsense that is, maybe it would be best if I showed you what motivated this…whatever it turns out to be. Because I would not consider myself a socialist, either. Perhaps – as someone suggested to me earlier – that’s because I don’t really understand socialism myself.

Anyway, I’ve grown tired over the years of the braying of corporate enablers, “Socialism always fails”. It seems to come from the smug and the simple-minded more and more frequently, the cheerleaders for might-makes-right and the pom-pom girls for American leadership, and it should be clear to even those who have only the fuzziest notion what socialism is that the reason socialism fails is because it is the sworn enemy of capitalism and corporatism, and the latter will not suffer it to live. Continue reading “It’s Time for a Serious Conversation About Socialism.”

Loose-Screw McKew, and America’s Learning Disability.

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Uncle Volodya says, “Spoon-feeding, in the long run, teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon.”

Well, then can I walk beside you? I have come to lose the smog;
And I feel myself a cog in something turning:
And maybe it’s the time of year; yes, and maybe it’s the time of man
And I don’t know who I am, but life is for learning.

We are stardust, we are golden; we are billion-year-old carbon
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden…

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, from “Woodstock

Life is for learning. Occasionally, as events of great moment pass us by without destroying the world, as they may have had the potential to do, we sigh with relief, and say, “There was a lesson that came at tremendous cost – I just hope the right people learned something from it”. And if the disaster was one which resulted from an unsafe situation such as a badly-planned intersection or a highway with inherent dangers, there’s every chance the right people will have learned something, and that the situation will be quickly addressed; municipal or federal governments frequently get sued for safety situations, often successfully.

Not in politics, though. Oh, people get sued in politics, too, from time to time. But politics is not what you would call a rich learning environment. People get used to doing things a certain way, and they keep on doing things that way. Party loyalty often inspires bizarre behavior and indefensible statements long after it is obvious they are indefensible. Fortunately – for politicians – it is the one forum in which people are seldom punished for being wrong, or for continuing to maintain they were right long after it is evident they were wrong. And no forum is more illustrative of this than American politics. Few examples are more illustrative than the ridiculous position – seized upon and promoted by the Democratic party – that Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election because the Russians rigged the election for Donald Trump.

The Mueller Report, recently released, tried its best to imply that there was collusion even as it stated baldly that the investigation had yielded no evidence of collusion. But what struck me with the most force was the manner in which the Democrats – and the entire crowd which has so much invested in having had an illegitimate president foisted upon them by the Godless Russians – simply shook its head, took a deep breath…and went right on blathering the same lunatic narrative. The Russians interfered with our democracy. Nothing is safe. Russia is the enemy of democracy, and will not suffer a democracy to live. Get the kids and pack up enough food for traveling, Mabel; we’re headed for the mountains – it’s “Red Dawn”, babycakes.

Amazing as it will sound, America has learned nothing. Continue reading “Loose-Screw McKew, and America’s Learning Disability.”

New Management Wanted: Ukraine Cannot Seem to Stop Delighting Putin.

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Uncle Volodya says “As long as the government is perceived as working for the benefit of the children, the people will happily endure almost any curtailment of liberty and almost any deprivation.”

Those who have been following, since its inception, the western attempt to turn Ukraine into a remote-controlled weapon against Russia have probably noticed a curious phenomenon. Whenever Ukraine falls short of western expectations for it, or fails to act as the west directed it to act, it is said to be making Putin happy. Kind of like how your mother used to tell you, when you were a small child, that the bogeyman would get you if you didn’t stop getting out of bed, or asked for just one more drink of water so you could stay up a little longer. Visions of Putin’s smirking face are called up to rebut Ukraine’s consistent failure to let go of an oligarch-dominated political system and magically achieve prosperity, while having nothing to do with its former largest trading partner – Russia – and not bothering Europe by horning in on its subsidies in an attempt to sell more goods to it. For its part, the United States insists on running Ukraine, appointing a special envoy – Kurt Volker – to preserve its feeling of international importance after it was pointedly left out of the Normandy Format; Meddlers R Us; we don’t need no steenking invitations.

A glance over trade statistics suggests this was a wise choice for the Exceptional Nation – the year before the Glorious Maidan, Revolution of Dignity, the USA did around $3 Billion worth of trade with Ukraine, selling it $1.92 Billion worth of goods and services, and buying $1.03 Billion worth of goods and services from it, posting an American trade surplus of $888 Million. Last year the USA did around $4 Billion worth of trade with Ukraine, selling it $2.46 Billion in goods and services, and buying $1.35 Billion worth of goods and services from it, handsomely increasing the American trade surplus to $1.13 Billion. Considering Ukraine is impoverished and living on handouts, while the per-capita GDP has fallen by more than 6% despite the country having lost about 3 million people (Ukraine’s population today is almost exactly what it was in 1960), that’s quite an achievement.

Per-Capita GDP 2009-2018

Ukraine GDP per capita PPP

Population of Ukraine 2009-2018

Ukraine Population

Ukraine, and indeed the world, cannot seem to stop dancing to Putin’s tune – the puppet-master pulls the strings, and we all jerk and stumble as he wills. If nothing else brings home to you how genuinely fucked-up the world is, consider for a moment that the best excuse world leaders have for not being able to direct global affairs to their liking is that Putin – leader of what is supposed to be the most isolated and friendless country in the universe – prevents them from having their way, and laughs at their discomfiture.

In that spirit, we’re going to take a look at Justin Lynch’s “Ukraine’s Election Is a Mess—and That’s Exactly What Putin Wants”, for Foreign Policy magazine.

Before we get started – unusually, I suppose – we’re going to assume it is nonsense based on common sense. As we’ve often mentioned before in various conversations, Ukrainian and Russian are mutually intelligible languages. What leader in his right mind wants an unstable, never-far-from-imploding impoverished state right on his doorstep, considering his own state is a likely destination for fleeing refugees, economic or otherwise? Russia was already home to the world’s biggest Ukrainian diaspora, and the dizzying circles Ukraine has made of the toilet bowl since early 2014 have increased Russia’s population of Ukrainians by more than a million. Russians are not idiots, and they keep electing Putin by a wide majority. He can’t be completely clueless, and even though the west portrays him as sustained only by purest evil, there’s no reason to imagine continued instability in Ukraine pleases him except that it is probably fun to watch the west step on its dick again and again, after all its bragging that it will show everyone how it’s done. Ukraine as a western project is a thundering failure, and the west owns every bit of that failure. But Moscow would much prefer it reach some level of stability, although of course it would not like it a bit if a Ukraine relentlessly hostile to Russia became a NATO member. Continue reading “New Management Wanted: Ukraine Cannot Seem to Stop Delighting Putin.”