Good Thursday, Widdershins. Things are happening in the Ukraine at a rapid pace. I freely confess that, despite being a child of the Cold War, I do not have enough regional knowledge or savvy to walk us through any discussion. Therefore, we have asked our DYB to update us on this geopolitical nightmare, and he has graciously agreed to do so. Chatblu
It has now been one month since Crimea declared its independence from Ukraine and ran into Russia’s welcoming arms. After a hastily arranged vote, overseen by armed men without any country’s insignia (at the time Putin declared the armed men were not Russian. After all, he smirked, you can buy a soldier’s uniform in any costume shop), the public voted overwhelmingly to secede. The Crimean government claimed that turnout was over 95% and that of those 83% voted to join Russia. This is a little odd considering Ukrainians make up about 25% of the Crimean population and Tatars – very much not friends of the Russians – 12%. I always thought Russians had superior math skills and perhaps this proves everyone else has been doing it wrong this whole time. Still, Putin eagerly declared the election legitimate and quickly accepted Crimea back into the Russian fold. The UN decried the vote as a sham. And new report by the UN found “killings, torture and arbitrary arrests in the buildup to the March referendum that led to its annexation by Russia.”
They said they heard numerous reports of vote rigging in the March 16 referendum, when residents of Crimea voted overwhelmingly to unite with Russia, and expressed concerns about the conditions under which the vote took place, citing harassment and abductions of journalists and activists who were opposed to it, as well as the presence of armed militias.
Some of the journalists and activists who disappeared have since been released, but had been tortured, the report said.”
And Putin also finally admitted in his annual marathon Q&A on Russian television that the uniformed soldiers were Russian after all. So what? You want to make a federal case out of that? How else can you ensure a fair and balanced vote if not by presence of your own armed militia?
With Crimea essentially gone the situation in the Ukraine is not improving. Putin is a master destabilizer. His forces (he says they’re not his, but see what he said about the soldiers in Crimea wearing costumes, not Russian uniforms) have declared their independence from Ukraine in at least 10 towns in Eastern Ukraine. Putin expressed his shock at the whole thing, claiming Ukraine is on the brink of a civil war. One can only recall the immortal moment in “Casablanca” when Claude Rains can’t believe there is gambling going on in Rick’s back room.
“Ukraine is on the brink of civil war. It is scary. And I hope that everyone who is responsible for making decisions at the moment — I mean both, the current Ukrainian authorities, who we can’t consider legitimate, but these are the authorities who came to power as result of a coup — has brains to avoid driving the country to such shocks,” he said at a news conference Tuesday in Moscow.
It is really astonishing to hear Putin talk about it as if he has played no role in the fiasco. He is pretending to remain outside of it all. Who? Me? What did I do? He is not delusional. He’s simply playing his part in destabilizing Ukraine, so he can then walk in and say his presence is essential to keep the country from tearing itself apart. And, naturally, to protect the ethnic Russians. The same ethnic Russians who handed out flyers to people leaving a synagogue in Donetsk – one of the towns that has declared its independence from Ukraine – ordering all Jews older than 16 years of age to register with the authorities or have their possessions confiscated. (And for all this trouble they must pay a fee of 50 US dollars.)
So far the Ukrainian authorities have not done much to stop the pro-Russian militias from occupying public buildings and declaring their independence. The authorities are asking them nicely and are having exactly the results you’d expect. Of course going after them with force will leave Ukraine with the prospect of having Putin declare that ethnic Russians are being abused and require Russian military to protect them. It’s hard to win here. But it’s also hard to see what Putin thinks he’s going to achieve. Yes, the Soviets have always thought of Ukraine as an extension of Russia itself. (Putin has already started calling the Eastern part of Ukraine “New Russia.”) And he certainly would love nothing more than to have Ukraine in its own sphere, instead of European, which is where much of Ukraine would prefer to be. If nothing else, it would be a nice middle finger to Europe and the US, which have long tried to bring Ukraine into their fold. (But not into NATO; contrary to what Putin keeps saying, there were no plans for Ukraine to join NATO. Not from NATO’s side, not from Ukraine’s.) But occupying Ukraine with Russian military would work out about as well as US’s occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. That would truly unleash chaos. It would cost Russia not just blood, but also a colossal amount of money. It is money it doesn’t actually have. Its economy, which exists only because of its reserve of natural gas, shrank enormously even before the Ukrainian fiasco and the (fairly weak) sanctions Europe and US have imposed. Putin might be the biggest rock star of Russia today. But when the economy shrinks to levels not seen since Yeltsin’s catastrophic rule (which the public probably remembers well), Putin’s popularity will sink along with the mood of his people. And no amount of his media’s anti-Western/anti-gay/anti-Ukrainian propaganda will help with a cold and starving populace. And Putin, if there is an ounce of brain matter left in his head, knows it.
Meanwhile in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, authorities are gearing up for new elections on May 25th. So far the leading candidate for Presidency appears to be the billionaire Petro Poroshenko, the Chocolate King owner of a massively successful confectionary manufacturing group. Poroshenko largely subsidized the Maidan protestors with supplies, which has already led to pro-Russian forces to accuse him of staging the entire coup so he can be President. This is when they are not blaming the US of staging the coup, when they are not blaming Europe of staging the coup, when they are not blaming neo-Nazis of staging the coup. My mother said on Russian television they were speculating that the US intended for the coup to take place in 2015, but somehow the plan got away from them. Don’t ask because I can’t explain what that means either. The boxer Vitali Klitschko, who initially intended to run for office himself, has since declared that he will support Poroshenko instead. Yulia Timoshenko, former darling of the Orange Revolution and President who spent years in prison on legitimate charges but politically motivated prosecution for corruption, is running too. (The man who put her there was Victor Yanukovich – who fled Ukraine but insists from his safe house in Russia that he is still the legitimate leader of Ukraine – was found to have a personal palace with his own private zoo, lake, large collection of expensive cars and a golden toilet. But these are just details.)
And in a meeting in Geneva (in the same hotel where in 2009 then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton once gave her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov the infamous “Reset” button) Ukraine, Russia, Europe and the US came together to try to stabilize the situation and were wildly successful at being laughably pointless. Although I suppose we can at least be grateful that they didn’t throw shoes at one another. After the meeting Russia has continued to provoke, Ukraine continues to be helpless, Europe continues to worry how it all affects their demand for Russian gas, and the US is worried about how best to stay out of the whole thing. One thing we know for sure: Ukraine is mighty sorry they gave up their nuclear weapons in 1994. After the collapse of the USSR, Ukraine ended up with a stockpile of more nukes than the UK, France and China combined. But they agreed to give up the nukes and shipped them back to Russia. Russia, the US and the UK then signed the Budapest Memorandum of Security Assurances promising that all countries would respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity. It would appear that that Memorandum might need a new reset.
This is an open thread.
Fredster did an incredibly stupid thing and now has a bummed up knee
And as a consequence of that, he is now taking some painkillers even though they tend to make him nauseous some times. I was sitting with my feet crossed and when I started to get up, tripped over my own foot and came down on my left knee. (and yes, although I fell, I could get up!) Ouch! I should have known better, not being as svelte as in my younger days. However, I got a friend to drive me to the urgent care place (and they are never urgent are they?). Anyway, they took x-rays, and poked and prodded. Nothing broken or fractured or anything. Just a sore and now swollen knee. Until I got myself up to write this I’ve been propped up in bed with an ice pack on the leg. Note to nurse chat: They gave me instructions and I know: keep the ice pack on there no more than 15-20 minutes and keep it elevated. :-)
And now I realize that it was a good idea that I held on to the momster’s walking stick! LOL!
I was going to do a post on this article about how all the evil things we thought about politicians are true: they don’t really give a damn about the middle or working classes. However, Fred ain’t up to it this evening. I will work on that for my post for next Wednesday.
I guess I can feel grateful that I didn’t do anything silly to cause my injury like these folks . I feel a little better about it now.
Chat: I’ll give you a call later.
Obviously this is a big time open thread.
Good afternoon Widdershin friends. I had prepared another post for today, but some “real life” stuff got in the way of completing it so I’m punting. The following was a post I originally put up way back in November 2013. You will be hearing about it again with the upcoming Asia foreign policy trip. The ongoing feud between Japan and China over the Spratly Islands is showing no signs of “letting bygones be bygones.”
So here is the replay:
The tragedy facing the Philippines reminded me of an excellent piece of old-school long journalism I recently read in The New York Times Magazine. While an investment of time, it is the best thing I’ve read about the challenges facing us in the coming decades as we pivot from a foreign policy captivated by the Middle East to an Asian-centric foreign policy.
I highly recommend this article and slide show. With beautiful photography, it details the ongoing struggle in the South China Sea over approximately 160,000 square miles centering around the Spratly Islands. Western maps of the 18th Century detail the expanse as “Dangerous Ground,” a term that has stuck to the present day. The U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency still concludes, “Avoidance of Dangerous Ground is the mariner’s only guarantee of safety.” In the coming decades, it appears we will be unable to obey our own advice.
With abundant fishing and possibly 5.4 billion barrels of oil and 55.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, this area could very well be the new flash point in international diplomacy. Here is the opening paragraph:
In a remote corner of the South China Sea, 105 nautical miles from the Philippines, lies a submerged reef that the Filipinos call Ayungin. There’s little to commend the spot, apart from its plentiful fish and safe harbor. In most ways it resembles the hundreds of other desolate reefs, islands, rock clusters and cays that collectively are called the Spratly Islands. But Ayungin is different. It sits on the southwestern edge of Reed Bank, an area rumored to contain vast reserves of oil and natural gas. And it shallows are home to a World War II-era ship called the Sierra Madre, which the Philippine government ran aground on the reef in 1999 and has since maintained as a kind of post-apocalyptic military garrison, manned by eight Filipino troops struggling to survive extreme mental and physical desolation. Of all places, the scorched shell of the Sierra Madre has become an unlikely battleground in a geopolitical struggle that will shape the future of the South China Sea and, to some extent, the rest of the world.
This is the most open of open threads.
Good morning all. The bronchitis that felled me last Monday has subsided into an occasional snurfle, and I feel ready to tackle the complexities of the Russian/Ukraine situation. (Well, I’ll do my best anyway….no pics or videos today, I’m posting from the plane!)
So as you’re all most likely aware, the scope of the sanctions against Russia is still being decided. As expected, these economic efforts have not been effective so far, but should the banking and/or petrochemical industries be included, they may grow some teeth. While the spinal infusion of Western nations remains in doubt, however, Pooty-Poot has been conducting a not-so-secret takeover of Eastern Ukraine by Russian military forces for the past two weeks. Despite the inevitable and somewhat contradictory denials of the Kremlin, it seems clear that Russia is behind the wave of well-coordinated, highly-skilled attacks.
“It’s hard to fathom that groups of armed men in masks suddenly sprang forward from the population in eastern Ukraine and systematically began to occupy government facilities,” Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, NATO’s top military commander, wrote in a blog post on the alliance’s website.“It’s hard to fathom because it’s simply not true. What is happening in eastern Ukraine is a military operation that is well planned and organized, and we assess that it is being carried out at the direction of Russia.”
More direct evidence of a Russian hand in eastern Ukraine is contained in a dossier of photographs provided by Ukraine to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a Vienna-based organization now monitoring the situation in Donetsk and other parts of the country. It features pictures taken in eastern Ukraine of unidentified gunmen and an earlier photograph of what looks like the same men appearing in a group shot of a Russian military unit in Russia.
Lest any of us remain skeptical about Putin’s eventual goals in the region, the Russian leader has been throwing around an old, new term lately: “New Russia.”
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, appearing cool and confident on national television during a four-hour question-and-answer show on Thursday, referred repeatedly to southeastern Ukraine as “New Russia,” a historical term for the area north of the Black Sea that the Russian empire conquered in the 1700s. “God knows” why the region became part of Ukraine in the 1920s, he said in response to a questioner, a strong signal that he would gladly correct that error.
Mr. Putin’s use of the term “Novorossiya,” which he had not emphasized previously, suggested that he was replicating, with regard to eastern Ukraine, Russia’s assertions of historical ties to Crimea before it occupied and annexed the peninsula.
There are echo’s of Orwell’s 1984 in the way Putin is trying to claim “we have always been in control of West Asia.” And just as in 1984, whether anyone buys the propaganda he is catapulting, is not really the point. The point is, he is signaling his plan to take over Ukraine. (Not just Eastern Ukraine – that is only the first step. Western Ukraine will not be able to stand up to Russia once the East is subsumed.) And after Ukraine, what next? More of what was happening in the 1700s? Let’s see: tsars becoming emperors, continual wars to conquer more and more territory, the supremacy of the Russian Orthodox Church…doesn’t sound so hot to me.
I have to say that once again, I feel that President Treebeard is too slow and too indecisive to make the hard decisions that would have to be made to take Putin out of the picture, and that red phone has been ringing unanswered for far too long. Put some bite into those sanctions, d*mmit - I know Europe will suffer, but won’t they suffer more if Putin becomes the next Emperor?
Sadly, what is Obama doing right now? He’s running away to Asia, where China may be considering an aggressive land grab as well. I’m sure the citizens of Japan and South Korea are very comforted by his declaration of “increased focus” in the region.
Widdershins, we live in interesting times. Let’s hope the leaders of the free world can stop Putin before his greed and ambition force us into World War III.
This is an open thread.
Good Sunday, Widdershins. This week has brought us both the beauty of the Passover and Easter holidays, as well as the not so lovely Tax Day and some disconcerting international news. All in all, it’s a time for new beginning, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s a celebration in and of itself – usually.
So, as is our Sunday custom, please feel to post any music that you see fit, or any thoughts that you have on your mind. It’s our day off, and we should enjoy, Paschal greetings to all who celebrate, love and light to those of us who do not.
This is an open thread.
(1) New Morning – Bob Dylan
(2) Morning Has Broken - Cat Srevens
(3) Turn, Turn, Turn – The Byrds
(4) Brand New Day – Sting
(5) I Can See Clearly Now – Johnny Nash
The credit of the photo actually reads:
As the holy cross is shrouded in incense smoke, worshipers pray during the celebration of the Lord’s Passion at St. Joseph Abbey near Covington Good Friday, April 18, 2014. (Photo by David Grunfeld, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)
With its large Catholic population, there were many observances made on Good Friday in New Orleans. There were obviously many church services like the one above and also there were several groups who did Stations of the Cross Processions. I just thought the picture was pretty so I decided to use it.
Holy Saturday it may be, but let’s take a look at some of the oddball things I’ve come across and as usual, some youtube videos that I thought were cute or amusing.
I, Hobby Lobby, have strong religious beliefs
but don’t let them get in the way of my retirement plans
Yes, we all know that the Green family which owns Hobby Lobby feels that having to provide some types of contraception coverage in their health plans is against their religious beliefs. They said that having to provide coverage for “emergency contraception” was a violation of said beliefs. That being said though, it sure didn’t stop them from spending lots of money on retirement funds that included investing in companies that manufacture those very same products. Hypocrites much?
Several of the mutual funds in Hobby Lobby’s retirement plan have stock holdings in companies that manufacture the specific drugs and devices that the Green family, which owns Hobby Lobby, is fighting to keep out of Hobby Lobby’s health care policies: the emergency contraceptive pills Plan B and Ella, and copper and hormonal intrauterine devices.
These companies include Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, which makes Plan B and ParaGard, a copper IUD, and Actavis, which makes a generic version of Plan B and distributes Ella. Other stock holdings in the mutual funds selected by Hobby Lobby include Pfizer, the maker of Cytotec and Prostin E2, which are used to induce abortions; Bayer, which manufactures the hormonal IUDs Skyla and Mirena; AstraZeneca, which has an Indian subsidiary that manufactures Prostodin, Cerviprime, and Partocin, three drugs commonly used in abortions; and Forest Laboratories, which makes Cervidil, a drug used to induce abortions. Several funds in the Hobby Lobby retirement plan also invested in Aetna and Humana, two health insurance companies that cover surgical abortions, abortion drugs, and emergency contraception in many of the health care policies they sell.
And some more of the hypocrisy here:
The Green’s contention that the pills cause abortions is a central pillar of their argument for gutting the contraception mandate. Yet, for years, Hobby Lobby’s health insurance plans did cover Plan B and Ella. It was only in 2012, when the Greens considered filing a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act, that they dropped these drugs from the plan.
Okay, this ain’t light fare but when I read this I couldn’t help but LMAO, so yes I’ll put it in my light fare post. You know how it goes: My post – my rules. ;-)
Like Horton Hears a Who
Ted Cruz is going to write a book
Please note that the link is coming from the Washington Examiner, which comes from the same folks who give us The Weekly Standard. Just giving fair warning here.
Apparently there was a bidding war for the good Senator’s
tripe, uh “memoirs”. Seems that HarperCollins was the winner (?) of the war, offering $1.5 million for the thoughts of the 43 year old Junior Senator from Texas.
The book, still untitled and unwritten, will be part memoir and part Cruz’s view of how to get Washington to work again as well as his vision of the future for the country. The 43-year-old has quite a story to tell, being the first Hispanic to serve as Texas solicitor general and as Texas’ senator. Elected in 2012, he has also been in the middle of several major fights in Washington, including last year’s government shutdown and the continued efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare.
Far be it from me to tell anyone what to read but is there really that much interest or a market in the “continued efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare”? What are we talking about here? A couple of hundred deluded Representatives in the House pass a bill that says “Obamacare: Be gone!”. They keep doing this over and over. The bill will never even be heard in the Senate and the President would veto said bill anyway even if it did pass the Senate. But, I guess it will sell in certain markets. Oy!
The itsy-bitsy spider
Likes to crawl into the gas tank. At least into certain models of Mazda automobiles. It seems the yellow sac spider just has a thing for the smell of gasoline and can easily get into certain parts of the engine in the Mazda6 model. Once it’s in there it weaves a web that blocks a certain vent. Mazda advised regulators that it is recalling 42,000 sedans with 2.5-liter engines from model years 2010 to 2012 in the United States and here’s what they say it does:
The web weaved by a spider can lead to a restriction of fuel flow, which in turn can reduce fuel tank pressure when the emission control system purges vapors from the evaporative canister. This can put stress on the fuel tank, which may crack and leak fuel, increasing the risk of a fire, a report filed with NHTSA says.
Mazda said it is not aware of any fires because of this risk.
My general rule of thumb with spiders is that if I see one I smush it or spray it.
Some assorted youtubes
A good example of inertia. Inertia = the resistance of any physical object to any change in its state of motion. In other words, it is the tendency of objects to keep moving in a straight line at constant linear velocity. In this case a ship lost power in Hong Kong and a sea wall at a sports complex was the only thing that stopped it.
Tomorrow is Easter Sunday and I don’t know about these days, but previously, parents just loved to give their kids baby chicks at Easter. This is probably not the way to take care of the chicks although this pupper seems to be handling it well.
Okay, this one is just sooo cute. Emma and Cinnamon, or as Emma says “cimin” or something like that.
Lastly, no more selfies if you are as clueless as this guy and I’m sure y’all have seen this one. If you haven’t seen it, consider this a P.S.A.
Okay Widdershins, this is an open thread. Tell me below what’s going on in your world today, that is if anyone stops by today!
Good Good Friday Widdershins. I hope all your egg laying bunnies are particularly productive this weekend.
This past week there were a couple of events that unequivocally demonstrate the primary economic theory of the One Percenters and those “Trickling from on High”. It is cost-shifting.
There’s no one who illustrates the concept better than a one Mr. Cliven Bundy. Mr. Bundy is a successful Nevada rancher (I guess Cliven is plural for Cloven). Old Cliven hasn’t paid public land grazing fees for his cattle since 1993. He owes the Bureau of Land Management (that’s us) about a million dollars. Cliven disputes this and in some convoluted logic proclaims he’s never going to pay the $300,000.00 he owes. Go figure.
The stories about Cliven and his extended family are annotated here and you can read about the twenty years of legal travails trying to get him to pay up. There is a slight hiccup — Cliven doesn’t believe in the federal government although he does believe the recent “blood moon” was an Obama conspiracy.
This Sagebrush Rebellion redux is playing out in and around places called Bunkerville and Battle Mountain. Fitting since Bundy’s primary supporters are armed out-of-state militiamen who are yearning for the good old days of Ruby Ridge and Waco. Of course, the right-wing echo chamber, much to the chagrin of his law-abiding neighbors, portrays him as some sort patriotic hero. This is an actual, aired quote on Faux News from a Bundy supporter:
We are actually strategizing to put all the women up front. If they are going to start shooting, it is going to be women getting shot and televised around the world.
All those who have been covering Cliven, his armed thugs, his trespassing cattle, and the Bureau of Land Management have centered their stories on an angry old white guy who thinks freedom means not having to follow the law. That’s one angle, but I think there’s a better learning.
What Cliven is doing puts him squarely in the saddle of Mitt Romney’s 47% of takers. Of course, Cliven would consider those “fightin’ words”. Never mind that the successful Bundy ranch ships their livestock to market over the interstates someone else pays for. Not for a second does the Bundy family consider there is a market for their beef courtesy of consumer confidence in the food supply because of USDA inspectors. What really tans the hide of Cliven is his fanatical belief he can use public resources to make a personal profit — sounds downright Putinesque to me.
Mr. Bundy is employing cost-shifting — shifting the cost of grazing to the taxpayers to give Cliven an advantage over other ranchers who are law-abiding enough to follow the law and pay their grazing fees.
This week we also saw the annual high church sermons about new methods of cost-shifting since it was the 15th of April. Every year around tax day the hue and cry for a simpler tax code makes the rounds. Here’s a news bulletin, taxes are pretty simple for the vast majority of Americans who take a standard deduction. Taxes only get more difficult when the One Percenters, who bought and paid for exemptions, deductions, and special treatments, actually employ them.
We hear cries for a flat tax, a value added tax, or a consumption tax. Each of these are merely “cost-shifting” the tax burden away from the wealthy to the poor and middle class. Someone like Malcolm Forbes trumpeting a flat tax is as outrageous as fitting an elephant with Spanx — the whole elephant is still there just crammed in differently. These regressive tax plans are nothing more than eradicating progressive tax rates and increasing the burden on those less financially endowed.
The same cost-shifting concept is true for the constant cries for deregulation or tort reform. You won’t see many One Percenters driving accelerating Toyotas or catastrophically decelerating Chevy Cobalts. You won’t see many one-footed lawn care professionals or man-boobed twenty-somethings touting the merits of consumer deregulation. Neither will you see the families of victims of the latest pharmaceutically induced schizophrenia calling for tort reform. All forms of cost-shifting.
The saying goes, “There is no such thing as a free lunch,” that is unless you are enjoying the view from the top of Defecation Mountain where, with the help of gravity, the effluent is rolling downhill upon the unwashed masses. Defecation Mountain is where the concept of cost-shifting is gospel and those enjoying its rewards are kings.
So if Cliven and his cattle taught us anything this week, it’s that shifty scofflaws of whatever ilk, be they shiftless Wall Streeters or ranchers, should be fenced in so that societal costs are shifted less.
This is an open thread.