Oh Lord, Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood

Uncle Volodya says, "The liar was the hottest to defend his veracity, the coward his courage, the ill-bred his gentlemanliness, and the cad his honor."

Uncle Volodya says, “The liar was the hottest to defend his veracity, the coward his courage, the ill-bred his gentlemanliness, and the cad his honor.”

Baby, do you understand me now?
Sometimes I feel a little mad
But don’t you know that no one alive can always be an angel
When things go wrong I feel so bad.

I’m just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood

Nina Simone

Michael McFaul wants you to know that he is hurt. The Russian outlook has not been so anti-American (and anti-EU) since before 1990 – perhaps since never (thanks for the graphic, Kirill). The United States of America is hated – hated – in Russia in a way it probably was not even during the cold war. And why? Well, because of Putin, of course. Putin the paranoid nutjob, who believes the United States government is trying to overthrow his government and replace it with some supplicant liberal who will allow America a free hand to dabble and meddle to its heart’s content. Which America could not be less interested in doing – that’s all in Putin’s head. Quoth McFaul; “But the more I listen to him directly and the more I saw the activities of his government – they have a paranoid view about American intentions. They believe that President Obama and the CIA want to overthrow Putin’s regime and want to weaken Russia and some would even say, dismember Russia. It’s totally crazy. I want to emphasize that. There is no policy of regime change in Russia. Unfortunately, however, I think that is Putin’s view.” (Thanks for the link, Peter)

A paranoid view about American intentions. There is no policy of regime change in Russia. Hmmm. Forgive me if I find that a little hard to believe.

Probably because it’s…what’s the word I’m looking for? Oh, yeah – horseshit.

Michael McFaul is an educated man, and the educated man has a weakness – he can seldom resist being seduced into showing off his worldly education, the payback for those year with his nose in the books instead of going fishing, chasing skirt or hanging out down at the pool hall. Michael McFaul is not made of wood, and when he is asked to give the folks back home in Teaneck, New Jersey or Boring, Oregon or Cranky Corner, Louisiana the benefit of his worldly experience and that fine Oxford schoolin’, why, he sings like a canary.

Such as: “And, as before, the current regime must be isolated. The strategy of seeking to change Kremlin behavior through engagement, integration and rhetoric is over for now. No more membership in the Group of 8, accession to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development or missile defense talks. Instead there must be sanctions, including against those people and entities — propagandists, state-owned enterprises, Kremlin-tied bankers — that act as instruments of Mr. Putin’s coercive power. Conversely, individuals and companies not connected to the government must be supported, including those seeking to take assets out of Russia or emigrate…Mr. Putin’s Russia has no real allies. We must keep it that way. Nurturing Chinese distance from a revisionist Russia is especially important, as is fostering the independence of states in Central Asia and the Caucasus.” Continue reading

Posted in Education, Europe, Government, Politics, Russia, Strategy, Trade, Vladimir Putin | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1,751 Comments

Ukraine – Hey, Russia!! What Have You Done for Me Lately?

Uncle Volodya says, "The Edge; there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over."

Uncle Volodya says, “The Edge; there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.”

I never ask for more than I deserve
You know it’s the truth
You seem to think you’re God’s gift to this earth
I’m tellin’ you, no way

You ought to be thankful for the little things,
but little things are all you seem to give
You’re always putting off what we can do today
Soap opera says, you’ve got one life to live
Who’s right, who’s wrong?

Janet Jackson, from “What Have You Done For Me Lately?

Did you happen to catch, “The Wedding Singer” when it was playing, circa 1998? Set in the 80’s, it is the somewhat sappy story of Robbie (played by Adam Sandler) and Julia (Drew Barrymore), two ordinary people who are each engaged to someone who is breaking their heart and is all wrong for them. What they really need, of course, is each other. Predictable, quite a few funny moments, okay light entertainment. Boy meets girl.

But there’s this great scene in it, in which Robbie is playing a song he has been writing for his fiancee Linda, to Julia. Alternating between his wistful love for Linda and his fury at her endless manipulation and shallowness, the lyric swings wildly from

And when we kiss I know that you need me too.
Can’t believe I found a love that’s so pure and true…


But it all was bullshit.
It was a goddam joke.
And when I think of you Linda,
I hope you fucking choke…

As he screams out his pain to the accompaniment of the final discordant chord, we see his musical rival, Jimmie Moore (Jon Lovitz) concealed behind a curtain in the wings, having heard the entire performance. He remarks quietly to himself, “He’s losing his mind…and I’m reaping the benefits!”

I was reminded of that scene as I digested Mark Adomanis’s  “While The West Was Debating About ‘Defensive Weapons,’ Ukraine’s Economy Collapsed“, in Forbes (thanks for the link, Moscow Exile). Of course the news that Ukraine’s economy is collapsing like a grand piano that has had its legs kicked out from under it is unremarkable to anyone who has been following the slow-motion nightmare of the Ukraine conflict and civil war. What is remarkable is seeing Mark Adomanis defend the viewpoint that Russia is acting the dog in the manger, denying Ukraine its chance to blossom and become a prosperous western democracy at Russia’s expense, and not doing enough to help poor Ukraine even as it is the target of daily vilification and vituperation from both Ukraine and its western backers. The latter apparently want Russia to open its markets to Ukrainian goods even as Ukraine’s lunatic Ichabod Crane Prime Minister drives on the building of a wall between the two countries. Expect Russia to front Ukraine gas on credit even though Ukraine has a terrible history of refusing to pay for what it has already consumed and – when its friends calm it down from its fist-shaking tantrum – announces it will be mature and reasonable (take the high road, as it were) by naming a much lower figure that it considers fair discharge of all debts. And for Russia to stand aside as Ukraine’s army rolls over its own eastern regions and crushes their rebellion.

That last part is particularly resonant, for me, because it’s not the first time we have seen Mark Adomanis go off the rails as if his breakfast cereal had been liberally dusted with cocaine. For instance, back in 2012 he went all foamy about free speech and Pussy Riot, confiding to his audience, “After all, it’s not hard to imagine why people would support the young, female rock musicians in their struggle against a brutal, corrupt, cynical, and increasing unpopular system.” Take note, folks – that’s one of the fairest and most balanced among the “Russia analyst” community from the United States speaking. The Russian system is brutal, corrupt and increasingly unpopular. Perhaps that’s how it looks from Washington; I shouldn’t be at all surprised. Continue reading

Posted in Economy, Europe, Government, Investment, Military, Politics, Russia, Strategy, Trade, Ukraine, Vladimir Putin | Tagged , , , , , , , | 627 Comments

Excuse Me; Is This the Bus to Wonderland?

Uncle Volodya says, "It is fatal to enter any war without the will to win it.

Uncle Volodya says, “It is fatal to enter any war without the will to win it.

Welcome to Wonderland
My God it’s half past eight
Who cares if you came late
We don’t care where you’ve been
You’re gonna fit right in
A little fun detour
A little crazy, sure
Don’t get all insecure…

It’s afternoon all day
There’s lots of games to play
Flamingo lawn croquet
So please enjoy your stay

Everyday it’s something new
Problems up the old wazoo
Rumors of a palace coup…

From the Musical, “Wonderland

Perhaps I should mention at the outset, for anyone just joining us and for those who rather anticipated an outing, we are not actually going on a trip to Wonderland. Not exactly. What I meant was that we are going to visit the Hall of Amusements where Gideon Rachman – English crazyman and sometime analyst, please don’t get too close to the cage, little girl – goes when he writes. So, no need for sandwiches and lemonade, we’ll do that another time. Nonetheless, prepare to be amazed, and fascinated, in that vertiginous way you are when the car in which you are riding passes a bad car crash, or an arrest in which the subject is drunk and fancies himself a comedian, and the police slam him up against the wall repeatedly for his smart mouth. You’re afraid to look, lest you be drawn in yourself, but you can’t look away because you sense it is an important moment that may shape future beliefs. About something.

It’s tough, every post, to come up with descriptive words for the crazy things people say, because it is essentially the same story every time, just with different players. And Gideon Rachman is very crazy indeed, so much so that he may even believe the things he says are true. But they’re not. They’re a fantasy, playing out in a fantasy world where a space-helmeted Rachman is at the helm of the starship “Sanctions”, and you better believe it is kicking ass and taking names. In the mind of Gideon Rachman, it is only a matter of weeks, perhaps days, before Russia crumbles, unable to take any more because a hundred or so of its people are no longer allowed to travel to western countries, assets they had which are long since withdrawn are subject to freezing (a nice word for “stealing”) and so are any they might be so foolish as to place in future in banks of countries where they can’t travel, and because its banks have lost access to western capital lending markets.

Let’s put that last bit in perspective, before we go any further; Russia has reserves which will enable it to last for two years, without having to endure starvation and suffering or any old babushki losing their pensions, and without having to start appropriating private wealth. Life as normal, more or less. And that’s without doing anything – just sitting tight and waiting for the west to get over its pique. Does anyone think Russia is likely to do that? No, indeed; it is paying down its debt to the west rather than default, and taking steps to extricate itself – to the extent it is possible – from western financing links. Should Russia’s measured, deliberate and cautious decoupling from the west for some reason fall apart or prove impossible to maintain, behind Russia lies the massive wealth of its neighbour and growing ally – China. China has already taken a stand against the western sanctions, and warned that if Russia gets into financial trouble it can’t handle, China will step in. Yes, that was a warning, and the west would have been wise to heed it. But it had the bit of stupidity and self-love firmly in its teeth, and it only galloped on toward ruin. Continue reading

Posted in Corruption, Economy, Europe, Government, Investment, Politics, Russia, Strategy, Trade, Ukraine, Vladimir Putin | Tagged , , , , , , | 2,537 Comments

The Bout Opening – Stick to Checkers, America. Not Up In Here.

Uncle Volodya says, "I'd be glad of a retaliation that wouldn't recoil on myself; but treachery and violence are spears pointed at both ends: they wound those who resort to them, worse than their enemies.

Uncle Volodya says, “I’d be glad of a retaliation that wouldn’t recoil on myself; but treachery and violence are spears pointed at both ends: they wound those who resort to them, worse than their enemies.

The intertubes are all a-twitter (see what I did there?) with speculation that the United States is about to send lethal aid (AKA weapons) to Ukraine to help Kiev bring its recalcitrant rebels to heel. Kiev is excited, because it plainly does not have enough hair on its biscuit to do it by itself, and hopes this will be the thin edge of the wedge which will see American GI’s do its fighting for it. John McCain, interrupted in the middle of telling Congress about the day when the first car came to town (seen here in the very moment of realization that he has no pants on) yodeled that if Obama would not get on with the business of arming Ukraine – absolutely imperative to prevent Vladimir Putin from invading Europe, which lies somewhere to the west of Vietnam where he was once a prisoner of war – then he, John McCain, would come to the aid of his Ukrainian brothers. American lawmakers, whom he remembers fondly from watching “The Lone Ranger”, will ram through a bill insisting that Ukraine receive generous supplies of American weapons, which Obama will promptly veto, which is the whole aim of the exercise. Because McCain does not care so much about what happens to Ukraine – which is just a pawn anyway – as he does about trapping Obama in a position where he has to say “No”.

Vladimir Putin’s response, if he were asked, would likely be a more polite and less colloquial variation on “Not up in here“, although he was not asked and will not be, since of course Russia is the target in this exercise. Europe is getting distinctly nervous about the whole Ukraine situation, and while faithful Bullenbeisser Frau Merkel is still haranguing Putin at every opportunity, other EuroSkippers are beginning to mutter and kick peevishly at the sod. Very likely a vision of being responsible fiscally, morally and contractually for the smoldering, silent, ideological Schlachtfeld that Ukraine has become – and only the non-viable rump part of it at that – is dancing through their heads like the polar opposite of sugarplums. Continue reading

Posted in Europe, Government, Military, Politics, Russia, Strategy, Terrorism, Ukraine, Vladimir Putin, Western Europe | Tagged , , , , , , | 1,633 Comments

Godfather Putin Among the Grapes of Wrath

Uncle Volodya says, "The reasoning man who scorns the prejudices of simpletons necessarily becomes the enemy of simpletons; he must expect as much, and laugh at the inevitable.

Uncle Volodya says, “The reasoning man who scorns the prejudices of simpletons necessarily becomes the enemy of simpletons; he must expect as much, and laugh at the inevitable.

There’s something awkwardly touching about Robert Coalson’s enduring faith. Like a child closing her eyes and reciting “I do believe in fairies” three times, he is imbued with the certainty that Russia’s collapse is just around the next corner. And he yearns for it: hard to say why, he must have his reasons, but he doggedly picks through the gimcrackery on show each month and weeds out the gems he believes showcase Russia’s savagery, authoritarian despotism and unfitness to be part of the civilized world. Although it is clearly a labor of love, it must be a hard row to hoe these days, as the country folk say. Russia’s stubborn refusal to collapse on schedule must be disappointing. But like a good zealot, he simply sighs and moves on to the next article of faith.

This post is only peripherally about Coalson, though, because it was his cautious excitement expressed in a Tweet – which I still think is about as mildly stupid a means of communication as writing simple messages on your naked buttocks with a Sharpie marker and bending over to display your intellectual bankruptcy to the world – over an article by certified paint-chip-eater Leonid Bershidsky (Thanks, Peter).

I don’t mean to imply – by calling him a paint-chip eater – that Bershidsky is stupid: far from it. In fact, he is a gifted writer with an elegant, readable narrative style and a command of English that is nothing short of remarkable, assuming it is his second language and that Russian is his first. But like so many, perhaps all of the kreakly (for those not familiar with the term, it is a portmanteau of “creative class”, but beginning with “k” to ensure the hard sound prevails), his creativity is hopelessly enslaved to saccharine liberal daydreams in which the prodding and jibing of the west against Russia are simply examples of tough love on the part of an exasperated parent who just wants Russia to get off its tookus and be all it can be. These dreamers often come from well-to-do and highly educated families with foreign connections, partially or wholly educated abroad; young Leonid, for example, was educated in California and received his MBA from Insead in Fontainebleu, France. He was the founding editor of Vedomosti, a joint project of The Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal, neither of them Putin fans by any stretch of the imagination. Young Leonid left his university studies to return to Moscow, driven by a dream that Russia would join the European Union, and seems to blame Putin because it never did; it is clear he has a hate on for Putin. But although Putin strove for closer integration with the European Union, highly-placed analysts were unambiguous that Russia would “never be ready“, a view that is all the more comical now for western scrabbling to try to seize Ukraine for a prize for the EU despite its rampant corruption, ruined economy and recent appetite for Nazi displays of repressive power. Russia is too big, and not submissive enough, refusing to tug its forelock to the west. Continue reading

Posted in Alexei Navalny, Corruption, Economy, Europe, Government, Investment, Politics, Rule of Law, Russia, Vladimir Putin | Tagged , , , , , , | 849 Comments

Once He Was the King of Spain – Now He Vacuums the Turf at Skydome

Uncle Volodya says, "There’s fool’s gold—pyrite—and then there’s fool’s gold—gold owned by idiots willing to trade it for worthless dollars.

Uncle Volodya says, “There’s fool’s gold—pyrite—and then there’s fool’s gold—gold owned by idiots willing to trade it for worthless dollars.

Anders Aslund proves me wrong, over and over again. Every time I think I’ve seen the stupidest, most pedantic, most off-the-wall leap for mediocrity from the atrophied pecan in his head, he surpasses his previous foamy wild-eyed assessment of reality. Rodeo clown dressed as economist. All of it delivered in that whiny Swedish accent that makes him sound like he needs to be changed, and put straight to bed for a nap. I hasten to add that the Swedish accent is not annoying in all its speakers – pretty much only Aslund and the Swedish Chef from “The Muppets”, to whom he bears an astonishing resemblance. And it doesn’t end with physiognomy; they share a similar grasp of economics and government.

I can’t wait, I’m lowering interest rates, my people say:
“King, how are you such a genius?
There’s a roof overhead and food on our plates!”
It’s laissez-faire, I don’t even care
Let’s make Friday part of the weekend.”

Moxy Fruvous, from “King of Spain”

Hey, remember when Aslund was president of that country; Jeez, what was it called? Anyway, he became president way back in the late 90’s, almost further back than pterodactyls can remember, it’s not surprising that the details are a little fuzzy. I do remember that when he became president, the country was on the ropes: the inflation rate was around 27% (now it’s 11.4%), the unemployment rate was 12% (now it’s 5.2%), and per-capita GDP was about $3,500.00 USD (now it’s $7,000.00 USD). Adjusted for PPP, it’s about $25,000.00 per year, the highest it’s ever been. Personal income tax rate was a flat rate of 13%, and it still is. In how many other countries has the electorate seen its tax rates remain the same for 14 years? Not the UK, that’s for sure – they started the same period at 40%, went up to 50% from 2010 to 2012, and after that 45% looked like a tax break – neat, huh? The USA’s tax rate has remained stable, which is a remarkable achievement…but it’s at 35%, more than double what president Aslund was able to offer his electorate. Continue reading

Posted in Corruption, Economy, Europe, Government, Investment, Politics, Russia, Strategy, Trade, Vladimir Putin | Tagged , , , , , | 2,332 Comments

Comment Thread

unclevolodyaNothing else. Just a comment thread, to alleviate the browser issues. Hey, WordPress, what’s happened to my pagination?

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