Thursday, March 27, 2014

Wrapping up March

It's been a pretty depressing month.  That mudslide out in Oso, Washington, is heartbreaking, and every developer who built a house in that known danger area should be financially wiped out.  It won't happen, of course.

Then, there was the Malaysian Airlines flight.  I can't pretend to have any clue as to what happened, albeit I suspect depressurization had some role — but, then, what do I know?  In both Washington and Peking, there are hundreds of people suffering, wondering what became of their loved ones.

As usual, though, there was more crap.


It's part of Russia again, and won't be undone.  In the meanwhile, Ukraine is a mess, economically, and probably about to get worse, thanks to the IMF.  Look forward to shitloads of austerity, Ukrainians.  It's been six years of hell for Greece, and it will be worse for you.  Maybe you can overcharge the Crimeans for water, and make the Russians absorb some of the pain.

Israel and Palestine

Abbas will not agree that Israel is a "Jewish State," because that will accept the second-class status of Arab-Israeli citizens.  I no longer believe in the "two-state solution," if I ever did.  It's time for Israel, the settlements, and the rest of the West Bank to become a single state, with equal rights for all.  The Hassidim and the Arabs can compete to see who will reproduce more like the proverbial rabbits to see who stays in control.  Too bad for the secularists, but that's how the sperm splatters.

Barack and Francis

Okay, they've met, and sort of seem to agree that some degree of income redistribution is needed.  The big difference (apart from differences regarding abortion and birth control) is that Obama's perspective is political and the pope's interest is moral.  (My interest, by the way, is sociological.)


Supposedly, Greece now has a balanced budget.  Unfortunately, it still has a 25% unemployment rate.  If it experiences any GDP "growth," ordinary Greeks won't see any of it.

More depressing crap.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Senator and the CIA

Dianne Feinstein is profoundly pissed.  As chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, she has loyally defended the interests and reputations of the CIA and NSA for years.  No more.

The Committee's investigation into the abuses of the Bush-Cheney years has produced a report that probably would never have been made public.  On the off chance that it might have been made public, CIA operatives hacked into the computers used by Senate staffers and removed some documents the CIA stupidly provided in the first place — most notably, an in-house report on rendition and torture asserting that nothing useful ever came out of such practices.

Now that Feinstein has gone public, however, there is a slight chance that the Senate report — or at least an executive summary — may be released.  Personally, I'd rather see the CIA's in-house report, but you take what you can get these days.  (Well, maybe somebody will send it to Wikileaks.)

Edward Snowden is a hero.  Chelsea (nee Bradley) Manning is a hero.  Certainly, some CIA staff and Bush-Cheney personnel (including, perhaps, Bush and Cheney) belong in jail.  Just don't expect too much of "Professor of Constitutional Law" Barack Obama.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

More Ukraine (groan!)

Ukraine, with or without Crimea, is screwed.  Its tiny economy is pretty much on a par with that of Greece, and the IMF can't wait to get in there and impose austerity.  Except for the usual plutocrats, Ukrainians are going to suffer.

So, think about it: if you lived in Crimea, would you be more likely to go for a Russian bailout with continued cheap natural gas, or a whole lot of pain?  Personally, I think I might go with the dreadful Mr. Putin over the parsimonious Ms. Merkel.

Do the "nationalists" in Kiev understand how hooking up with the EU will make Ukrainian poverty so much more obvious to the Ukrainian people?  Yes, much of the blame can be cast on Yanukovych, but it's unlikely that replacing one group of corrupt assholes with another will do much good.

In the meanwhile, the media are not paying enough attention to Syria, Turkey, Venezuela, the CAR, or other places where people are in a hell of a lot more trouble than Crimea.  Pretty clearly, the Russians are going to keep Crimea this time around, the (very) Light Brigade of the USofA and Europe notwithstanding.

Friday, March 7, 2014

After the putsch

I wish I could get away from Ukraine, but that seems unlikely at the moment.  Granted, Yanukovych was a moron, a kleptocrat, and an ineptocrat (I just made that up) as well.  Just the same, it seems pretty obvious that the ouster of Yanukovych was not especially constitutional.

I'm calling the uprising a putsch because "coup d'etat" seems a little too Latinized to me.  I do not think all the "nationalists" are, as Putin would have it, fascists, but I can't be sure of the actual proportion.  Europe is full of fascists these days, so who knows?

The West supports the new government in Ukraine because the friend of my (kind of) friend is (kind of) my friend — and the alternative is (Cold Warriors may gasp now) Russia.  Whatever.  If the Crimeans are dumb enough to want to return to Russian control, I'm inclined to let them have self-determination.  Would they do better as a somewhat more autonomous region of Ukraine?  Given the crappy economic situation Ukraine is in these days, Russia might be the better choice.  Ukraine's current "leaders" already are discussing the kinds of austerity measures they'll be taking to satisfy the IMF.  (Think Greece.)

Clearly, Obama doesn't want to look any more like a wimp than he already does, and the more traditional Republicans want to cast him in that light and find ways to puff out their chests like robins in the springtime — but for all concerned, the best bet is just to let Russia re-absorb Crimea.  Russia already controls Crimea with their military/naval bases, so what's the big difference?

There is no way to know if a new Ukrainian government will be any less inept nor any less corrupt than the Yanukovych regime — nor any less inept nor any less corrupt than the Putin regime — but I think it's for Crimeans to decide which is the lesser of two evils.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Options for Crimea?

The Crimean Parliament has moved up its plebiscite to about ten days from now, presumably so that nobody gets a lot of time to think about it.  The boys (and maybe a girl or two) are hoping the Russian speakers will just go for rejoining Russia, and Russia can maintain that "the will of the people" justifies re-annexation.

The other choice, aside from rejoining Russia, will be remaining in Ukraine with more autonomy than Crimea already enjoys — and that autonomy is not insignificant.  Crimeans who don't want to put up with Putin, even among the majority Russian speakers, just might vote that way (but who will be monitoring the vote?)  Funny, though, there's no way to choose independence.  (Think Kosovo.)

Okay, there won't be a hell of a lot of independence in Crimea no matter how the vote goes — not with those Russian military bases there.  So why in hell is Putin making such a big deal out of what is, for Russia, essentially nothing.  The bases will stay, whatever transpires.  The fleet will stay, if only because it pumps a few extra rubles into Sevastopol.

I read the Times this morning (as always), and I think it may have been devoting a few too many column inches to Ukraine.  Granted, not much else was going on.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Crimean Crisis

I cannot pretend to have any idea of what has been passing through the head of Vladimir Putin lately, but if he took off his shirt and rode into eastern Ukraine on a horse, I would not be especially surprised.  In the meanwhile, though, I figured I could point out a few things that are getting scant notice in the media.

It was during the Crimean War that the 600 rode into the "valley of death," because "someone had blundered."  So much for early history: fast forward to 1954.  That was the year that Nikita Krushchev gave the Ukrainian SSR "power" over the peninsula, not that it much mattered, because they all were SSRs anyway.  When the Soviet Union decomposed, there were some problems working out the differences between the majority Russian Crimea and the rest of Ukraine.

Hence, Crimea is a "semi-autonomous" region, hosting Russian naval bases and, so it seems, some ground forces flown in for the occasion.  If it became entirely autonomous (that is, independent), Ukraine would lose most of its major ports — not that it's exporting much, except to Russia.

Ukraine's most significant geopolitical importance is as a place where Russian petrochemical pipelines cross over to the rest of Europe.  Since a Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine would inevitably shut down those pipelines, it would create problems for everybody outside the Persian Gulf.  Russia's economy, already in bad shape, depends on commodity exports.  Without oil and gas exports, it would collapse.  Western Europe (including Germany) would slide back into recession.

It would not be such a bad thing if the new (and mostly illegitimate) government of Ukraine let Crimea have its independence following the plebiscite the Crimean leadership is sponsoring.  If they wanted "pan-European" trade, it could be done by rail.

Well, at least the Ukrainians are not killing each other — okay, not much — as compared to ethnic/language/racial groups in other parts of the world.  Yes, Obama will take shit for "doing nothing," but nothing seems like the best alternative right now.