Seasons Greetings From the Masters of Illusion

Uncle Volodya says, “When people complain of your complexity, they fail to remember that they made fun of your simplicity.”

Nolan Peterson, perennial Ukraine optimist and is-the-glass-half-empty-or-are-you-not-listening-to-me guy, feels like the country has turned a corner. Yes, by God, things are looking up. Ukraine might not be able to look forward to EU membership, but hey! It has visa-free travel, so if you have enough money for a vacation, you can go to the EU and see what it would be like to live there. Ukraine might not be able to look forward to NATO membership, but there are a few NATO troops in Ukraine training the country’s soldiers so that they can get a feel for what it would be like to be a NATO soldier, sort of.  I mean, apart from getting paid, and stuff.

And the country’s GDP growth might be an anemic 0.2%, the Balance of Trade might have been relentlessly negative for more than a year, so that Ukraine is digging itself into a deeper hole every month by buying more than it’s selling – worse yet, nearly all of it with borrowed money – and the Government Debt to GDP ratio might have more than doubled from Yanukovych to Poroshenko. Running the economy is like juggling flaming tar. But never mind that. Sit down for a minute, because Mr. Peterson has big news, the kind of news that is going to make you want to pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile. You’re going to want to jump in the air – proof, incidentally, that you are not a Moskal – and click your heels together.

Ukraine now has Christmas.

Yes, isn’t that great??? Petro Poroshenko the inspirational leader, moved by a compulsion to give his countrymen a gift that all could enjoy, signed it into law – December 25th is now a public holiday, just like it is in the west! Now Ukrainians can experience – vicariously, at least – the joy of sharing a holiday with the west: not like those bearded Orthodox wierdos. In fact, that’s what makes it the best! Russia doesn’t have it!! Continue reading

Posted in Corruption, Economy, Europe, Government, Politics, Religion, Russia, Trade, Ukraine | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1,921 Comments

2017 Fern of England Annual Photo Caption Contest

It’s been awhile since we did one of these; at least a year, obviously.  I’d forgotten how much fun the last one was, and we had lots of great entries.  The photo is courtesy of Yalensis, from the Russian papers, and features President Vladimir Putin and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a man-hug, on the occasion of the latter’s recent visit to Sochi.

Photos typically need a bit of background for context, and this one particularly so given there was a bit of a what-actually-happened media struggle over the sequence of events in Syria. According to the official Washington version, The United States of America noticed that Assad was having a bit of a tough time with this new Islamic fundamentalist group which had basically come straight outta nowhere, and which was variously titled ISIS, ISIL, Islamic State and some other tags which were less popular and which I have forgotten. Anyway, much as the United States disliked Assad and wanted him gone – owing to his practice of strafing crowds of peaceful protesters with heavy machine guns and suchlike, which it claimed he had done according to its network of Syrian opposition activists, but did not ever provide any evidence – it had noticed he was having a problem with his ISIS infestation, and reserved the right to step in wherever the emergence of a threat which might one day impact US national security was observed. Therefore, it would invite itself into Syria to fight ISIS. And since the USA always likes to have friends along to lend an international cachet to its operations, it invited its friends into Syria as well, and appointed itself head of the ‘US-led Coalition’. After nearly two years of this, Syria invited the Russian Federation and Iran’s Hezbollah in to help it defend Damascus; an initiative the United States regarded as counterproductive to say the least.

According to the alternate version – which was occasionally hinted at in the Russian press but which was never the official Kremlin analysis, at least prior to Russia committing a small contingent of forces – was that if this period of 18 months or so constituted a typical example of American suppression of a fundamentalist movement, then they sucked at it like a black hole. American air strikes returned to their bases as much as 70% of the time without having expended any ordnance, and when they did it was hard to avoid the impression that they were simply bombing ahead of ISIS fighters in order to provide a Syrian-Army-free zone for them to advance into. Despite lots of grapevine about ISIS selling oil from captured oilfields through Turkish avenues in order to raise money for its operations, including photography of oil-truck convoys, American leaders declined to bomb them because they said it would risk killing some of the truck drivers, who were helpless civilians – what did people think they were; savages? Continue reading

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The Best Health Care You Can Afford

“The art of medicine consists of amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.”

“No, I mean I’m sorry that you’ve inherited such a miserable, collapsing Old Country. A place where rich Bankers own everything, where you’ve got to be grateful for a part-time job with no benefits and no retirement plan, where the most health insurance you can afford is being careful and hoping you don’t get sick…

Cory Doctorow; Homeland

“Until fairly recently, every family had a cornucopia of favorite home remedies–plants and household items that could be prepared to treat minor medical emergencies, or to prevent a common ailment becoming something much more serious. Most households had someone with a little understanding of home cures, and when knowledge fell short, or more serious illness took hold, the family physician or village healer would be called in for a consultation, and a treatment would be agreed upon. In those days we took personal responsibility for our health–we took steps to prevent illness and were more aware of our bodies and of changes in them. And when illness struck, we frequently had the personal means to remedy it. More often than not, the treatment could be found in the garden or the larder. In the middle of the twentieth century we began to change our outlook. The advent of modern medicine, together with its many miracles, also led to a much greater dependency on our physicians and to an increasingly stretched healthcare system. The growth of the pharmaceutical industry has meant that there are indeed “cures” for most symptoms, and we have become accustomed to putting our health in the hands of someone else, and to purchasing products that make us feel good. Somewhere along the line we began to believe that technology was in some way superior to what was natural, and so we willingly gave up control of even minor health problems.”

Karen Sullivan;  The Complete Family Guide to Natural Home Remedies: Safe and Effective Treatments for Common Ailments  

No, I haven’t abandoned Uncle Volodya, or shifted my focus to American administration; what follows is a guest post on the American healthcare system, by our friend UCG. As I’ve mentioned before – on the occasion of his previous guest post, in fact – he is an ethnic Russian living in the Golden State.

As an American in America, naturally his immediate concern is going to be healthcare in America; but there are lessons within for everyone. Don’t get me wrong – doctors have done a tremendous amount of good, and medical researchers and many others from the world of medicine have made tremendous advances to which many of us owe their lives. Sadly, though, once a field goes commercial, the main focus of attention eventually becomes profit, and there are few endeavors in which the customer base will be so desperate. While there are obvious benefits to ‘socialized medicine’ such as Canada enjoys and American politicians scorn as ‘Commie’ – enough to earn the admiration of many – it results in such a backlog for major operations that those who don’t like their chances of dying first, and have the money or can somehow get it, often flee to America, where you can get a good standard of medical care without running out of time waiting for it.

Without further ado, take it away, UCG!!

Healthcare in America

This article is my opinion. My hope is that others will do their own research on America’s Healthcare Industry, because this is an issue that needs to be addressed, and for this article to be a mere starting point in this research. The reason for my citations is so that you, the reader, can verify them. Once again, this is my opinion. I write this in the first paragraph, so that I can avoid stating “in my opinion” before every sentence.

Let’s start with Owen Davis who was charged $14,018 for going to a hospital because he sliced his hand, and they fixed it.  A study published by Johns Hopkins showed that for $100 of ER treatment, some hospitals were charging patients up to $1,260.  A redditor claimed that:

I tore my ab wall a month ago and didn’t think much of it until my pain kept worsening. I went to an immediate care facility to rule out a hernia (I had all the symptoms) and they told me to get to ER ASAP. I go to the ER and they give me a CT scan and one x-ray and say it’s not a hernia and let me go. Fast forward to today and I got a bill for $9,200 and $3,900 of it is out of pocket. $9,200 for two tests???? No pain meds were administered; it was literally those two tests. What should I do to contest it? I will be calling tomorrow to demand an itemized bill, but is there anything else I should do in the meantime?

All of these took me a few minutes on Google to find, and another few minutes to post. The reason I chose that reddit, is because one of the readers offered an ingenious solution: Next time you hurt yourself – book a return ticket to NZ – go to accident and emergency, say you’re a tourist and you hurt yourself surfing, pay nothing – fly home and pocket $8,000 in spare change.  If that was me, I’d spend at least $2,000 on tourism in New Zealand. You guys have that system, so you clearly deserve the money! Anyone interested in a startup? Continue reading

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The Stooge Report: As Ukraine Goes Under, Guess Whose Fault It Is?

Uncle Volodya says, “It is a disaster that wisdom forbids you to be satisfied with yourself and always sends you away dissatisfied and fearful, whereas stubbornness and foolhardiness fill their hosts with joy and assurance.”

Say; did you ever notice that when the west overturns a government, re-orders the political stage to its liking, pumps in a bit of money to get things perking, and it’s a complete success….the western leadership is content just to let the beaming press tell its story of how the miracle came about? Before the regime-change effort gets rolling, there is – naturally – a campaign of demonizing the leader the west wants gone, setting him or her up as The Appalling Destroyer of Democracy and Trampler of Freedom. But that’s for the mouth-breathing masses, the clodlike peasantry out in Tee-Vee Land., who will sooner or later be asked to throw their weight behind regime change and ardently support it. For the government, who will execute this deft (which is only one letter away from ‘daft’) sleight-of-hand which hopefully results in the target country becoming a loyal ally of the regime-changers, there are reports. Lots of them. These reports are written by – allegedly – experts in their various fields, and offer their government commissioners what is presumably an accurate picture of various elements of the target country: how capable is its military? Are they likely to back the existing government, or betray it and get on the bandwagon? What kind of shape is the economy in? National health? Agriculture? Manufacturing and industry? You get the picture.

So if the effort is successful, the press picks up the narrative, and beams lots of good-news stories about the happy thriving people of Newcountry and how their success is all owed to the defenders of democracy and the forces of good. And that’s actually happened a few times; I wouldn’t want to create the impression it’s never successful, although the western regime-change success rate has been pretty much 0 for however-many over the last few decades.

But if it turns out to be a shit-show and a complete sweaty, floundering embarrassment – and especially if there was a well-established camp which warned that it would – what you get are more reports. Lots of them. These reports analyze what went wrong or is still in the process of going wrong, and look about for somebody to blame. So that, you know, nobody will actually put the blame where it belongs. All of them are saying, essentially, “Wahhhh!!! We stepped on our dick!!! But the plan was perfect! We’re victims!!! Someone shall pay for this.” Continue reading

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Ukraine on the Proud Highway: Skidding in Broadside.

Uncle Volodya says, “Don’t waste time beating on a wall, hoping it will turn into a door.”

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”
– Hunter S. Thompson, “The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967”

Whew! It’s been a hell of a ride, hasn’t it, Ukraine? But all roads end somewhere, just as this one must. Despite having the IMF and a host of other western institutions as your pit crew, spraying Febreze into the air to cover the smell of sweat, burning rubber and decomposition, the long, long road (from which there is no return) is drawing to its end. He ain’t heavy, he’s my client state.

Let’s have a look at the current freeze-frame from Trading Economics. Sourced from the World Bank and other global financial and analytic institutions, Trading Economics provides solid benchmark statistical data. In the case of Ukraine, nearly all the data comes from the state statistical service – so this is data Ukraine will admit to.

GDP growth rate – somewhat of a misnomer, it currently sits at 0.6%, a leap upward from the previous quarter’s dismal  -.03. That’s good news, surely? Not necessarily: more about that in a bit. Unemployment rate; 9.1%, down slightly from the previous 10.1%. To put that in perspective, it’s nearly double that of Russia, which is the target of international sanctions that restrict its ability to borrow, rather than the west’s pillow-boy, being coddled with low-interest loans and outright financial gifts. Inflation rate, 16.2%, up a bit from the previous 15.9%. Interest rate, unchanged at 12.5%. Balance of trade, a gulp-inducing -$827 million, another couple of hundred million further from break-even than last quarter’s -$552 million USD. And government debt to GDP ratio, 79%; a full 9% worse than last quarter’s 70%.

This is a snapshot of a country in serious trouble. But how can that be, you say, or you should. Ukraine’s western backers are doing everything they can short of just flying in planeloads of money and throwing it out the windows.

The short answer is that the west has failed in its project to turn Ukraine into the ever-popular imaginary icon of a prosperous western-oriented market democracy. But the magnitude and depth of that failure have yet to be plumbed. And let’s understand each other here: I’d love to cheer for the west, I really would. I live here, I like it here, and generally I am fond of its people, its culture and its values. I have a real problem with some of its governments, but that’s my privilege as a resident of a free society.

But imagine for a second that the west is a child, and you are its parent. When it does something bad, do you reward it? Hell, no. When it does something bad which hurts other people, should the punishment be lighter, tougher, or should there be none? Setting social and even international boundaries for your policies is broadly little different from parenting. If you reward bad behavior, it is the same as encouraging it. Continue reading

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Europe is Fundamentally Unserious About Mending Fences with Russia.

Uncle Volodya says, “Occasionally he stumbled over the truth, but hastily picked himself up and hurried on as if nothing had happened.”

Certain European communities – usually from the business sector, but occasionally high-ranking politicians like Sigmar Gabriel – have publicly expressed resolve to make things up with Russia, and at least arrive at some sort of truce which will allow Europe to ease sanctions and hopefully re-enter the busy Russian market. And they probably mean it. But they are sardines swimming against the tide of ignorant European ideologues. Just as an aside, NATO may well come to rue the day it went on its expansionist bender and incorporated much of post-Soviet eastern Europe. It’s kind of like being in a bar known for spontaneous brawls, with a tiny but loudmouthed acquaintance who won’t shut up. And no region so perfectly exemplifies that all-hat-no-cattle mouthiness like the Baltics, with their permanent maidenly apprehensions that Russia wants to bend them over a chair and roger them to bleeding, weeping unconsciousness.

Giving a voice to this maudlin it’s-all-about-us conceit is the outgoing EU Ambassador to the Russian Federation,

Let me make a prediction here and now, (I used his full name because I’m not sure which is his first and which the last); you’re going to regret the second one more than the first. Because it’s probably already too late for the west to get back anything like half its previous market share in Russia, and if sanctions do indeed stay in place until Putin is gone, Russians will have forgotten what French cheese tastes like, and that apples ever grew in Poland. The European market in Russia will have been completely replaced. Because barring sudden and unexpected death, Putin is not going anywhere for a long time. Russians know better than to replace the greatest statesman of their time just because Europe is having a bit of a paddy, and continued insistence will only be to Europe’s sorrow. The nation can smarten the hell up, or it can continue to let ignorant, pedantic, tunnel-vision ideologues like speak for it.

But since we’re already here, let’s have a look at what he said.

Well, we don’t have to even get into the first article to get to the first poke in the eye – the caption accompanying the lead photo says, “‘The Russian leadership will continue to reject the outcome of the cold war”.

Is that so? The ‘outcome’ of the cold war was an affirmation of western values, was it? Tell you what – let’s ask the graduate students in military history at the oldest private military college in the USA, birthplace of the ROTC – Norwich University.

Hmmm….In their “Five Reasons for the Collapse of the Soviet Union”, I count (1) Perestroika and Glasnost, (2) Ideological Purity of the Politburo, (3) Western Aggression – Lord, have mercy!!!, (4) Guns and Butter (excessive expense of the defense budget, which you could subliminally tie to (3) since western aggression was manifested in driving the Soviet Union into an arms race), and (5) Nationalist Movements.

Conspicuous by its absence? (6) Pining for Western Values. Continue reading

Posted in Economy, Education, Europe, Government, Politics, Rule of Law, Russia, Strategy, Trade, Ukraine, Vladimir Putin | Tagged , , , , , , , | 671 Comments

We All Live on Savushkina Street Now.

Uncle Volodya says, “It is not a shame to be deceived. But it is to stay in the deception”

“A lie’s true power cannot be accurately measured by the number of people who believe its deception when it is told, it must be measured by the number of people who will go out after hearing it trying to convince others of its truth.”

– Dennis Sharpe


The blog seems to have attracted a troll. I suppose I should be surprised it took so long, but that always seemed to me to be a bit arrogant – we are, after all, quite a small niche blog, just coming up on two million hits.

Oh, we had a fellow some time back who called himself A.J. He liked to start arguments and progressively turn them ruder and ruder. But he had no political grasp at all, and preferred social topics – specifically those which centered on race. His technique was to claim to live in a city where there was a large X demographic (his favourite targets were blacks and Mexicans), so as to give himself irrefutable local knowledge and gravitas. He stepped on his dick, eventually, when I found one of his comments on another blog and in which he claimed to live an hour outside Chicago. But he had just fired off a comment here in which he claimed to live in a majority-Mexican town.

What majority-Mexican town lies within an hour’s drive circle of Chicago? Correct: none.

And we have Karl Haushofer, a contrarian Finn with a deeply-repressed grudge against Russia which compels him to post comments whenever something terrible happens in or to Russia. But Karl’s not really a troll. You can reason with him, and if you rebut his criticism with a solid reference, he will either reconsider or drop the issue; as well, he’s rarely gratuitously rude. And he’s frequently a good source of breaking news.

I’m hesitant to apply the label “troll” at all, frankly, as I detest it when I offer a rebuttal on any other news site – such as The Guardian, for example – complete with current and pertinent references whose substance contradicts a particularly pigheaded falsehood, only to receive, “How are things at Savushkina Street these days, comrade? Go away, Russian troll” by way of a reply. It speaks to intellectual bankruptcy and the utter lack of a convincing argument, yes; but it is frustrating all the same because it refuses to recognize that the opponent has a convincing argument.

Still. Let’s see what the readers think. I already know what the regulars here think, but I’m appealing here to a wider audience. Allow me to introduce ‘Matt’.

That’s not his real name, something he stipulated to up front. On Reddit he goes by the moniker “DownwithAssad”, and some entire blocks of his commentary are copied and pasted from there. There’s certainly no requirement to use your real name here, although some of us do. But a refusal to do so coupled with every sign of immovable ideology and deliberate evasion adds up to a suspicious profile, I’d have to say. Continue reading

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