What Does Freedom Mean to You? Putin at Valdai, 2016

Uncle Volodya says, "The right thing to do and the hard thing to do are usually the same.”

Uncle Volodya says, “The right thing to do and the hard thing to do are usually the same.”

American protest songs, lyrically at least, showcase that as an expression of national consciousness, Americans lost their understanding of what freedom means somewhere in the early 1970’s. Sentiment against dictatorships and enslavement of populations gave way to more America-centric problems, dominated by the war in Vietnam and, to a lesser extent, national race relations and the problems associated with getting a job. In latter decades the media honed its skills at what has become known as the politics of division, and became adept at turning whole segments of the population against one another, always dangling the illusory concept of freedom just out of reach.

What is freedom, really? Is it the liberty to make mistakes while pursuing greater goals, knowing that you still must bear responsibility for the consequences – unintentional and potential – of those mistakes? Or is it simply the removal of all restraints on one’s personal behavior, as Jen suggests here?

This and other issues is discussed here in a provocative guest post by the inimitable Aussie contributor, Jenifer Hor, in her analysis of Putin’s speech to the attendants of the final plenary session of the Valdai Discussion Club at Sochi, last month. For me, it reaffirms that Vladimir Putin remains committed to a united global problem-solving approach which emphasizes frank and open discussion of world problems, while the west remains mired in creation of wedge issues for its own benefit and discrediting all sources which do not correspond to its worldview. Permit me to offer my accolades in advance for a solid and perceptive first-line analysis. Take it away, Jen!

Vladimir Putin’s Valdai Speech at the XIII Meeting (Final Plenary Session) of the Valdai International Discussion Club (Sochi, 27 October 2016)

As is his usual custom, Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered a speech at the final session of the annual Valdai International Discussion Club’s 13th meeting, held this year in Sochi, before an audience that included the President of Finland Tarja Halonen and former President of South Africa Thabo Mbeki. The theme for the 2016 meeting and its discussion forums was “The Future in Progress: Shaping the World of Tomorrow” which as Putin noted was very topical and relevant to current developments and trends in global politics, economic and social affairs.

Putin noted that the previous year’s Valdai Club discussions centred on global problems and crises, in particular the ongoing wars in the Middle East; this fact gave him the opportunity to summarise global political developments over the past half-century, beginning with the United States’ presumption of having won the Cold War and subsequently reshaping the international political, economic and social order to conform to its expectations based on neoliberal capitalist assumptions. To that end, the US and its allies across western Europe, North America and the western Pacific have co-operated in pressing economic and political restructuring including regime change in many parts of the world: in eastern Europe and the Balkans, in western Asia (particularly Afghanistan and Iraq) and in northern Africa (Libya). In achieving these goals, the West has either ignored at best or at worst exploited international political, military and economic structures, agencies and alliances to the detriment of these institutions’ reputations and credibility around the world. The West also has not hesitated to dredge and drum up imaginary threats to the security of the world, most notably the threat of Russian aggression and desire to recreate the Soviet Union on former Soviet territories and beyond, the supposed Russian meddling in the US Presidential elections, and apparent Russian hacking and leaking of emails related to failed US Presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton’s conduct as US Secretary of State from 2008 to 2012. Continue reading

Posted in Corruption, Economy, Europe, Government, Law and Order, Politics, Russia, Strategy, Trade, Vladimir Putin | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 352 Comments

What if Trump Were Running Against Putin? The Struggle to Sell Clinton as a Democratic Inevitability.

Uncle Volodya says, "And thus I clothe my naked villainy With odd old ends stol'n out of holy writ; And seem a saint, when most I play the devil.”

Uncle Volodya says, “And thus I clothe my naked villainy, with odd old ends stol’n out of holy writ; and seem a saint, when most I play the devil.”

The fortuitous discovery of perhaps thousands of emails exchanged with Hillary Clinton’s private email server, recovered from the computer belonging to sexual cluster bomb Anthony Weiner and his estranged missus – Clinton Chief of Staff and vice-chair of her election campaign Huma Abedin – has once again interrupted the manufactured momentum of Clinton inevitability. First and foremost, it reemphasizes the transient nature of Clinton’s understanding of ‘truth’; she clearly did not turn over to the FBI all emails on the server which were not of a personal nature. Or perhaps it is the concept of ‘personal’ with which she has an imperfect understanding, so that it includes ‘things which might get me in trouble’.

Several sites have attempted to make sense of this election campaign, which is noteworthy as it pits perhaps the two most despised people in America against one another for the increasingly tawdry prize of President of the United States. Let me say that again – the only thing unusual in these times of negative campaigning and character assassination is that a popular candidate has not emerged – it remains to be determined only who is less hated. Anyway, of those sites, the best I have seen can be found at the Archdruid Report (thanks, Cortes); poignantly entitled, “The Last Gasp of the American Dream”, it is at pains to explain – among other things – that the claim this is the most important election in American history is simply a flailing attempt to lend some dignity and appearance of deliberation to a process that has become nine parts entertainment mixed with one part immature graduation kegger. There’s an old military parable which is a cruder analogy of “You can’t put lipstick on a pig”, and it’s, “You can’t buff a turd”.  It is, frankly, impossible to invest the ongoing election process in America with anything like dignity, and it is instead increasingly apparent to uncomfortable Americans and gobsmacked internationals that it is a desperate contest by a serial liar to prevent an interloper from outside the insular American political class from occupying the highest office. The Clinton campaign’s subtext that repudiating Clinton is spitting in the face of women everywhere is a cheap trick – no further demonstrations are necessary to prove women can do anything men can do which does not require superior upper-body strength, and there are a few women who can do even that. Speaking in the broadest and most general terms, there are some fields in which women are a little better than men, and some in which they generally do not perform as well. But there are virtually none women just can’t do, and it should be clear that gender has nothing to do with a natural ability to assume the office of president. Continue reading

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The Quality of Mercy

Uncle Volodya says, "The darkest secret of this country, I am afraid, is that too many of its citizens imagine that they belong to a much higher civilization somewhere else.”

Uncle Volodya says, “The darkest secret of this country, I am afraid, is that too many of its citizens imagine that they belong to a much higher civilization somewhere else.”

“Murdering the innocent to advance an ideology is wrong every time everywhere”

-George W. Bush

The western press, and the political systems it serves, are rousing themselves to a frenzy of effort to stop the Syrian government forces from re-taking the Syrian city of Aleppo, which the west would very much like to see the ‘rebels’ retain as the capital of a federalized opposition state within Syria.

The Washington Post is a good example of the outage flooding the net, chucking out articles like it was a snowball fight, each vying with the last to explore new heights of this-must-not-stand noble fury at the Russian/Syrian military operation to drive Islamic State from  the last major city in Syria in which it has a significant presence. If Assad’s forces are successful, as they will be without a direct western military intervention on behalf of the al Qaeda affiliates, the IS insurgency will be reduced to terrorizing small villages and spray-painting its tags on mailboxes.

Consider Richard Cohen, figuratively dancing with rage, beside himself with fury at the Russians’ temerity in supporting Assad – who is the democratically-elected leader of Syria, who retains the loyalty of a convincing majority and who would win easily in free elections.

According to Cohen, what is going on now in Aleppo is murder, plain and simple, and that it is being allowed to continue is a symbol of American weakness. Cohen implores the United States to gird itself for battle, and issue forth and save the al-Nusra Front, Islamic State and whatever other al-Qaeda splinter groups might be in Aleppo, from defeat. Well, them, too – but he’s mostly concerned about the civilians, especially the children. Because, in the end, it’s for the kids, right?

This is not Kerry’s failure. It is Obama’s. He takes overweening pride in being the anti-George W. Bush. Obama is the president who did not get us into any nonessential wars of the Iraq variety. The consequences for Syria have been dire — perhaps 500,000 dead, 7 million internal refugees, with millions more surging toward Europe like a tsunami of the desperate.

Syria had a pre-crisis population of just over 21 million, so according to Cohen, a third of the Syrian population has either been killed or internally displaced. But the west is just now getting extra-concerned. Cohen’s anguish certainly speaks well of him; I will do what I can to put him in touch with an agency that will send a Syrian refugee family to share his accommodations. I sure hope he doesn’t live in one of the states that has refused to take Syrian refugees, especially considering the death toll appears to have doubled in less than a year; in November 2015 it was guessed to be around 250,000. But Richard has shown us how to arrive at a more sensational number – you just put ‘perhaps’ in front of it. In reality nobody has much of a clue, since the UN takes its numbers directly from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. As I have pointed out many times before, this is one guy working out of his living room in England, funneling figures from his network of activists in Syria. Nobody checks anything, and the one time the UN tried to verify the numbers it was successful in doing so for less than a dozen casualties. Continue reading

Posted in Economy, Europe, Government, Law and Order, Middle East, Military, Politics, Russia, Strategy, Terrorism | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2,542 Comments

Seeing More of the Big Picture in Ukraine

Uncle Volodya says, "Disaster is not necessary; the better world could be achieved through reason and common sense and a sense of fellowship -- but most of the present human world is dead set against us.”

Uncle Volodya says, “Disaster is not necessary; the better world could be achieved through reason and common sense and a sense of fellowship — but most of the present human world is dead set against us.”

They whisper still, the injured stones, the blunted mountains weep
As he died to make men holy, let us die to make things cheap
And say the Mea Culpa, which you’ve gradually forgot
Year by year
Month by month
Day by day
Thought by thought

-Leonard Cohen, from “Steer Your Way”

A comment on the previous post reminded me of how informative it can be, particularly in the (mine)field of geopolitical analysis, to go back a year or two from the present, following a significant event, and enjoy the confident predictions of kingmakers and hacks – which could now not be much further from the situation which actually prevails.

In that spirit, let’s roll the counters back to September 18, 2013 – almost exactly three years ago.  Just before, of course, the glorious Maidan which freed Ukrainians from the oppressive yoke of Russia. At that moment in history, western analysts were trembling with eagerness to vilify Yanukovych, but were still hopeful that he would stick his head out of his shell long enough to sign the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with the European Union. Washington maintains a kind of ongoing paternal affection for revolution – which is always less painful and noisy when it’s a continent or two away – but is practical enough to accept an easy victory if that’s the way it plays out.

It didn’t play out like that, of course, and an American-backed coup ensued in which Yanukovych offered to give the revolutionary political figures everything they had asked for – early elections, a provisional coalition government with the egghead among the revolutionaries as Prime Minister, the works. They were a little taken aback at how easy it was, and then decided it wasn’t enough – Yanukovych must  be holding back something if he gave in that easily, and therefore he must be tricking them, since the script called for the dictator-president to cower in fear and to be flung into the street in disgrace. So they went ahead with the traditional revolution, gaining nothing at all thereby except the ushering-in of a self-appointed revolutionary junta, and the empowerment of fervent fascist nationalists who had previously had to keep their admiration for the Nazis on the down-low.

It is worth mentioning here – because whenever it is brought up, the response ranges from amnesia to outright denial it ever happened – that the pre-revolutionary government went into it with its eyes wide open and a good working awareness of the probable consequences. Yanukovych and Azarov, at least, were briefed that cutting off trade with Russia, which Brussels and Washington insisted upon, would likely be disastrous for the Ukrainian economy. Deputy Prime Minister Yuriy Boiko announced that Ukraine was not blowing off the deal entirely; it was just suspending it until the state could be sure that increased trade with Europe would compensate for the loss of the Russian market. Before that, Yanukovych and Azarov tried energetically to broker a triumvirate coalition of Ukraine, Russia and the EU, to sort out the trade issues that Brussels insisted made such an arrangement impossible. Not to put too fine a point on it, Russia and Ukraine proposed a tripartite forum which would see Ukraine as a bridge between the Eurasian Economic Union and the European Union. Brussels emphatically rejected it, confident that it could pry Ukraine away from Russia, because the initiative was always strategic rather than economic. Continue reading

Posted in Corruption, Economy, Europe, Government, Investment, Law and Order, Politics, Russia, Trade, Ukraine, Vladimir Putin, Yulia Tymoshenko | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1,212 Comments

Olympian or Politician? Make Up Your Mind.

Uncle Volodya says, "If you have the power to change the world for the better, you should do it. That's why people who do nothing are idiots, but idiots who do nothing are life-savers.”

Uncle Volodya says, “If you have the power to change the world for the better, you should do it. That’s why people who do nothing are idiots, but idiots who do nothing are life-savers.”

The latest Olympian to shoot off his cakehole to the world and bray his catastrophic ignorance is Canadian swimmer Mark Tewksbury. He tweeted earlier, although he has since taken it down, his extreme disapproval that ‘doper’ Yelana Isinbayeva had been elected to the IOC.

Isinbayeva, a three-time world champion and current world record-holder, double gold medalist for the Russian Federation and widely assessed to be the greatest pole-vaulter of all time, has never failed a drug test. Ever. But you can sort of see where ignorant know-nothings like Mark Tewksbury get the impression that everyone in Russian Track & Field is a zombie dope freak. Because of the just-as-ignorant McLaren Report, in which he and his pals on the ‘Independent Commission’ more or less acted as stenographers for Yulia and Valery Stepanov (who were paid $30,000.00 by WADA as a ‘fleeing fee’) and Grigory Rodchenkov, the central figure in Russian sports doping who is very likely parlaying it into a state-sponsored program to save himself. Grigory Rodchenkov, who previously referred to the members of the ‘Independent Commission’ as “three fools who do not understand how the Moscow lab works”.  But because his testimony was needed for political reasons, which are helping the United States of America humiliate its old and now lifelong enemy, Russia, McLaren deemed him to be credible anyway although his preliminary report assessed the exact opposite. Why? Because up as far as the preliminary report, Rodchenkov was denying everything. By the time the final report was thrown together, at just the right time to slap a national Olympic ban on Russia but leave them not enough time to undo it , Rodchenkov was singing like a canary and confessing to everything.

Confession is apparently not only good for the soul, it is also good for politically-motivated hack jobs which lack the weight of independent verification, setting in motion a rush to judgment that suits the regime-changers of North America and NATO, and feeds the hungry press a sensational story which is immediately assumed to be fact.

WADA and its foot-in-mouth-breathing soldiers would have been wise to sense, in the election of Isinbayeva, an attempt to back away from the precipice McLaren and his buddies are trying to drag us over. WADA no longer enjoys the confidence of the IOC, because it is comprised of partisan zealots who are willingly in the service of a political agenda, at the expense of sport. You can be assured that legal action will follow the Olympics, and if McLaren cannot get his ducks in a row by then, a whole lot of people are going to have egg on their faces.

So let me give you some advice, as a taxpayer who helps fund your spoiled and cosseted pursuit of sport in your discipline. If you’re at the Olympics, bully for you. You have been selected to represent your country. In politics? Check your paperwork; I’m pretty sure nobody ever asked you to perform in such a capacity. Next time you see the Foreign Minister of your country doing wind-sprints, or a tricky dismount from the horizontal beam, you can assume there’s some crossover.  Until then, keep your fucking political opinions to yourself. You’re there to swim, or run or jump or whatever. Let’s get that in perspective, what say? You’re not the discoverer of fire, or the wheel. You’re not the composer of a timeless symphony or the rescuer of a child from a burning schoolhouse. You can swim or run or jump faster or higher or further than anyone else who is involved in this competition. You are living proof that you can be the best at something, and not have a clue about anything else.

Richard McLaren does not have proof of who in the Russian Federation is a doper and who is not. What he has is witness testimony from three people who were themselves earhole-deep in doping,  and have fled their country. The IOC would not consider the election of Isinbayeva to the IOC if they were even optimistic that McLaren’s report rests on solid proof.

Everybody in the world has had it up to here with the behavior of pampered athletes abroad, from finger-wagging to rest-room-door-smashing to making up bullshit stories about robbery to sounding off about events from a dataset of zero. Stick to what you know, and the next time you’re tempted to step out of that circle, think again. Think of everybody in your country with a zipper over their mouths, and follow suit. If somebody asks you a question about your sport and your personal place in it, feel free to enlighten everyone. If you are asked a question or feel moved to publicly comment on something that is not your specialty, remember your mother’s advice; if you can’t say something nice, shut the fuck up. I’m sure she didn’t say it quite that way, but you can extrapolate a little for the times. Use your head for something other than keeping your Nicki Minaj ball cap from shrinking.

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Guilty Until Proven Guilty

Uncle Volodya says, "For the powerful, crimes are those that others commit.”

Uncle Volodya says, “For the powerful, crimes are those that others commit.”

“Right is right, even if everyone is against it, and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it.”

– William Penn

“If you tremble with indignation at every injustice, then you are a comrade of mine.”

Ernesto Che Guevera

I can’t claim the social conscience of a Che Guevera, but it’s absolutely true that I feel more motivated to write when I am furious about something, and few things so infuriate me like smug pig-ignorance. And no smug pig-ignorance is so infuriating as that displayed by one’s own countrymen, as they happily allow themselves to be played like violins by an outside authority and exhibit their naked buttocks before the world. I really thought you were better than that, Canada.

According to the CBC – the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, a Crown corporation and the official voice of the nation – Russian athletes are “emerging as the villains of the Rio Olympics“. And maybe it’s just me, but the tone seems approving, self-righteous…judgy. As if the official mouthpiece of Canada is delighted to sign on to the Get Russia program offered by its southern neighbour and business partner to all its toadies and would-be chambermaids.

In a word, this is disappointing. I used that word because I didn’t want to start swearing so early, although I’m sure we’ll get to it.

Just so we’re clear – whose interests does it serve for Canada to enthusiastically sign on to booing and hooting like howler monkeys whenever Russian athletes step up to compete, like we were English football hooligans? Canada’s? How?

In fact, as everyone who is not thick as a BC pine knows, it serves Washington’s interests, because the USA wants Russia isolated and alone and friendless because it is pissed off at it for other things, and the more disrespect and ignorance and rudeness it gets from the former politeness capital of the world, the better Uncle Sam likes it. WADA is going after every medal Russia ever won, and it is not even looking at anyone else. And that entire effort rests on the credibility of two people; one who was convicted of doping herself and barred from competition for two years for it, and her husband who knew and did nothing about it while he worked for the national anti-doping agency.

We’ll get to that.

“It’s something not usually heard at the Olympic Games. Booing. Loud, sustained booing. The rain of fury is directed at a common enemy: Russian athletes. The contingent, clouded and shrouded by drug scandal, has quickly emerged as the villains of these Rio 2016 Games. Like Cold War days of old, the Russians are once again the global bad guys.

After avoiding a full Olympic ban, some wondered how fans and fellow athletes would treat Russian athletes. That answer came quickly. At the opening ceremony, even athletes from pariah nations were given polite applause. But fans interrupted the global Kumbya moment to let the Russians know their presence wasn’t welcome.” Continue reading

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Who Needs Luck When Your Enemies Are Stupid?

Uncle Volodya says, "I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.”

Uncle Volodya says, “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.”

“People always call it luck when you have acted more sensibly than they have.”

-Anne Tyler

“Luck is a word the bitter teach the ignorant”

-Steve Maraboli; “Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience”

Perhaps this would be a good time to dispel any misconceptions about the quote which is attributed, each post, to Uncle Volodya.  See, how it works is, I make an assessment of what is the overall theme of the post: betrayal, ignorance, overconfidence, whatever. And then I search for “Quotes about…whatever”. Goodreads is a very good source, and probably the bulk of them come from there; it combines pithy aphorisms from history – Franklin, Roosevelt, Bonaparte – with modern authors, so long as they are all talking about the same aspiration, human failure or behavioral habit. Occasionally, I simply make them up myself. The only thing all of them have in common is that Putin did not ever say any of them, unless by some chance he was quoting the same source I am.

Today’s Uncle Volodyaism is actually from Thomas Jefferson, perhaps the greatest of American statesmen, orators and free thinkers. And indeed there is likely a causal link between luck and hard work. And because I am a wiseass who derives a good deal of enjoyment from seeing pompous prognosticators infuriated by the world’s unwillingness to conform to their fortune-telling, it needs some context to showcase the rich irony that is apparent to me. And here it is.

“Putin has the luck of the devil,” said Mark Galeotti, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “He can just sit back and watch this richer, more powerful and legitimate values-based bloc tear itself apart.”

Here’s the thing about being cast as the villain – the more successful you are, the more determined the self-appointed do-gooders of the world harden themselves to have nothing to do with you, the while they happily disport themselves with dictators of the Arab monarchies, hole-and-corner coup winners and fabulously wealthy despotic oligarchs, just as long as all those people avow – publicly, at least – western values. Continue reading

Posted in Corruption, Economy, Europe, Government, Investment, Politics, Russia, Strategy, Trade, Vladimir Putin | Tagged , , , , | 714 Comments