Streetwise Professor

February 8, 2014

Because, Of Course, Only Putin is Allowed to be Photographed Half-Naked

Filed under: Politics,Russia,Sports — The Professor @ 12:50 pm

A Canadian Olympic bobsledder’s website was shut down because he posted a picture of himself, and several teammates, posing shirtless.

But I forgot.  Putin never poses shirtless.  He just happens to be shirtless when his personal photographer is around.

No further comment necessary.

February 7, 2014

What Matters More? Shoving Leaflets Under Doors, or Shoving Cash Into IOC Member’s Grasping Hands?

Filed under: Politics,Russia,Sports — The Professor @ 10:01 pm

The Winter Olympics have begun.  The Olympic flame was lit by a contingent including a tennis player (and full-time Florida resident), an anti-American racist (who at least won a gold medal in a winter sport), and Putin’s alleged girlfriend (who won a gold medal in a faux sport at a summer Olympics).  It would have been so fitting had they played Light My Fire when Alina Kabaeva was doing her thing-with the torch, I mean-but alas, that will have to be left to some wit on YouTube.

But to hear Putin tell it, this glorious moment for Mother Russia almost never came to pass due to the nefarious plotting of evil foreigners who tried to play “dirty tricks” in Guatemala City where the IOC was meeting in 2007 to award the games:

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a documentary aired late Friday that a rival nation vying to host the 2014 Winter Olympics ran a dirty tricks campaign in an atttempt to derail the eventual winning Sochi bid.

In the documentary, which was shown on state television channel Rossiya 1, Putin said Sochi 2014 promotion leaflets were shoved under doors of hotel rooms occupied by members of the International Olympic Committee on the night before the final vote in 2007.

Under IOC rules, campaigning is strictly prohibited during the run-up to the vote.

“Do you know what saved us? CCTV cameras in hallways recorded that it was done by our rivals posing as us. It didn’t help them,” Putin said.

I find this hilarious.  What, exactly, would the CCTV reveal?  How would it demonstrate that those shoving the promotional leaflets were not in Russian employ, but were dirty tricksters?  Did those caught on tape wear signs saying “We are not Russians but evil foreigners playing dirty tricks on sainted Russia”?  And if they did, how would you know it wasn’t  Russians doing this to try to show how they were being victimized by evil foreign plots? And if they did, how would you know . . . well, just think of the whole Moriarity on the train thing.

But what is even more hilarious is the idea that IOC officials that would have been so horrified by someone shoving illicit leaflets under their doors that it would have caused them to resist the large sums of cash Russia shoved into their grasping mitts and Swiss accounts.

But the most hilarious thing at all is that Putin tells this ludicrous story on national television with a straight face, knowing that he will get away with it–and being right about that.

February 6, 2014

Look Beyond the F-Bomb: An Ominous Harbinger of Things to Come in Ukraine.

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 9:08 pm

For weeks the Russian and Ukrainian governments have been pushing the narrative that the opposition movement in Ukraine is nothing but a creature of the United States.  That the movement is nothing more than a US backed coup.

Today that narrative took a far more sinister turn. Kremlin advisor Sergei Glazyev announced that the US involvement justified a direct Russian intervention in Ukraine:

Protesters expressed their fears as a senior U.S. diplomat arrived in Kiev to try to help find a resolution to the country’s political crisis, and an adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened Ukraine with attack.

Sergei Glazyev accused the United States on Thursday of funding the Ukrainian “rebels” by as much as $20 million a day for weapons and other supplies. He urged the Ukrainian government to put down the “attempted coup,” or Russia may have to intervene under the terms of a 1994 agreement between the United States and Russia, according to the Ukraine edition of the Russian daily Kommersant.

Glazyev was alluding to the Budapest Memorandum, a treaty in which Ukraine agreed to turn over a nuclear arsenal on its soil left over after the fall of the Soviet Union, of which Ukraine was a part until it dissolved in 1991.

In return, the United States, United Kingdom and Russia, nuclear powers all, guaranteed to respect the independence and the borders of Ukraine and reaffirmed their commitment to seek immediate United Nations Security Council action should Ukraine become a victim of an act of aggression.

The memorandum, which is not binding, refers only to “nuclear aggression” and it requires the signatories to consult each other if other unspecified aggression arises.

Glazyev said the agreement binds Russia and the United States “to intervene when conflicts of this kind arise. And what the Americans are doing now, unilaterally and crudely interfering in the internal affairs of Ukraine, is a clear breach of that treaty.”

Many in the west hastened to say that Glazyev does not speak for Putin.  That sounds like whistling past the graveyard to me.

It is especially dangerous to discount his statement given that it occurred almost simultaneously with the release of a recording of a conversation between Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and US Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt.  Nuland and Pyatt discussed US conversations with opposition figures, strategies regarding the opposition, and frank assessments of the opposition and its leadership.  More than enough to be twisted to fit the Kremlin narrative, and to provide a justification for direct Russian intervention along the lines of what Glazyev advocated.

There are no coincidences, comrades.  The Glazyev message and the leak of the Nuland tape complement each other perfectly.

Notably, the Russians were not shy about making plain that they were the ones that recorded the conversation.  The first news about the tape was tweeted by the Russian government: it’s as if they were saying, “yeah, we taped you and we’re releasing the tape.  Whatcha gonna do about it?”

Astoundingly, the State Department-and eventually the White House-laid blame for the recording on the Russians.  Will miracles never cease?  Yes, it’s more than I would have expected, but more is needed.  (And I have to say.  What the hell were Nuland and Pyatt doing communicating in this fashion on an insecure line that they had to have known the Russians were monitoring?  Sometimes our stupidity-or is it naïveté?-drive me around the bend.)

Maddeningly, virtually all the headlines and story ledes about the Nuland tape focused on her frustration at the EUnuchs’ fecklessness in Ukraine: “Fuck the EU,” she said.  Unfortunately, she apologized later.  Unfortunately, because the EU deserves to be heaped with scorn.  Maidan-which consciously refers to itself as EuroMaidan-is looking to the EU for help. In return, they get tepid rhetoric.  EC Council President de Rompuy said that “time is on our side” with respect to Ukraine.  Herman: The opposition does not have the luxury of time.  They are being brutalized by nightriders and daily face the prospect of a crackdown.

But by focusing on the “Fuck the EU” quote, and overlooking the symbiosis between the Glazyev broadside and the leak of the tape, too many journalists and editors are playing right into Putin’s hands.  They are sowing further dissension between the US and its allies.  Relations are already frayed due to Snowden, and this just exacerbates that.

I don’t believe that the primary reason for the Russians to release the tape was to drive deeper the wedge between Europe and the US.  That’s a bonus.  They could no doubt release a tape a day that would have some American official venting at the EUnuchs.  Surely, the Russians are hardly upset that the “Fuck the EU” quote is dominating coverage, but that wasn’t the main reason they released the recording, IMO.

Instead, Russia is laying the predicate for direct intervention in Ukraine.  That is the main reason to release this tape, with little effort to conceal the source.  The “Fuck the EU” fallout is just gravy to the Kremlin.  And journalists clueless about Russian active measures-including now the use of social media-are playing right into that.  Journalists who focus on this aspect of the story are like the carriers of a contagious disease. Unwitting vectors of harm.  Obscuring the true message of the leak, and advancing Russian agitprop that sows dissension among the US and its allies.

A little historical perspective is in order.

If you recall the lead-up to the Russian invasion of South Ossetia and Abkhazia on the day that the 2008 Olympics began on 8/8/8, you will remember a crescendo of propaganda, including repeated accusations that Saakashvili was an American puppet.  In the lead up to war, the Russians assiduously constructed a narrative about Georgian misdeeds in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.  They raised the rhetorical and physical pressure, and when Saakashvili buckled in response they leapt in with both feet.  Indeed, as I wrote at the time, I am still convinced that the Russians were on the move before the Georgians fired a single artillery piece at the Russian “peacekeepers.”  Once the invasion occurred, the Russians used the narrative that they had constructed so carefully in the weeks and months before to justify their actions.

And sadly, it worked.

The same thing is happening now in Ukraine.  A hypothesis: Glazyev mentions the US spending $20 million per week in Ukraine, including money spent on arms.  What are the odds that if the protests persist, a cache or caches of American weapons is “found” in Ukraine, and Yanukovych appeals to the Russians for “brotherly assistance” to resist an impending US-backed coup?

The only question is: during Sochi, or after?  But I would lay pretty high odds that this will eventually come to pass.  And looking back, the events of February 6 will be viewed as the ominous harbinger.

And the basis for that was laid today, and the Russians will continue to weave that narrative tomorrow and the day after tomorrow and the day after that.

Would that western journalists look beyond the f-bomb dropped by Victoria Nuland, and see what is really happening here.

February 5, 2014

Would Be Puppeteers Rejoice! Obamacare Will Make Your Dreams Come True!

Filed under: Economics,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 9:56 pm

Catching up on Obamacare news.  The absurdity and flackery are coming fast and furious.  Indeed, the flackery is intensifying because the absurdities of ACA are becoming more evident by the day, so more obfuscation is needed.

The most notable instance relates to the CBO’s report that Obamacare will cause employment to fall by over 2 million.  My first reaction was: NOW they tell us.  Because it’s not like the incentive effect that the CBO bases its analysis wasn’t known or understood at the time Obamacare was debated and passed.  The phasing out of subsidies as income rises is effectively a large increase in the marginal tax rate on earned income.  Combined with the related effects in other forms of government assistance, the marginal tax rate on work becomes very high, and many individuals will rationally respond to this by reducing labor supply, either by cutting hours (working part time) or withdrawing from the labor force altogether.  Again, it’s not like this is some novel concept: why the hell didn’t CBO take this into account when evaluating ACA in 2010? (Aside: since when are liberals so enamored with regressive tax systems?)

But the administration says: “Employment falls?  No big deal.  This is a supply side effect, not a demand side effect.  So no problem!“:

That, proponents say, is a good thing. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney pushed back on the “job-killing” claim, saying that “CBO’s findings are not driven by an assumption that [the Affordable Care Act] will lead employers to eliminate jobs or reduce hours.”

“Americans would no longer be trapped in a job just to provide coverage for their families,” he added.

Various liberal publications and administration acolytes are saying this is a wonderful thing.  No more job lock!  Um, “job lock” was defined as people not moving to another job because of a fear of losing coverage from their current one: it was never-never-defined as people being locked into working instead of pursuing their dreams to become puppeteers.   (Well, maybe it was, but not by serious people.)

Indeed, to read some of the commentary, it seems that this is just great news.  Indeed, to hear them tell it, Obamacare is making it possible to realize Marx’s dream:

He is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic. This fixation of social activity, this consolidation of what we ourselves produce into an objective power above us, growing out of our control, thwarting our expectations, bringing to naught our calculations, is one of the chief factors in historical development up till now.

Come to think of it, Nancy Pelosi said something similar when Obamacare was being debated.  But again, I specifically said I was referring to serious people:

Think of an economy where people could be an artist or a photographer or a writer without worrying about keeping their day job in order to have health insurance.

One of the biggest flacks for Obamacare, Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Hiltzik of the LA Times, went into overdrive saying how the job loss is actually great news.  But that’s not the most annoying of Hiltzik’s columns.  This one from the weekend really got me:

Insurance companies, bless their hearts, seem determined to remind us why we need the Affordable Care Act. The latest example comes from Anthem Blue Cross, which has just hit 306,000 customers in California with premium increases of up to 25%.

As reported by my colleague Chad Terhune, the increases average 16% and are scheduled to kick in April 1, unless the state Department of Insurance jawbones Anthem into backing down.

Here’s the kicker: No one can blame these increases on the mandates of the Affordable Care Act, a popular argument among critics of the act. That’s because the increases are for grandfathered policies exempt from the act.

There’s stupid, and there’s Pulitzer Prize winning stupid.  (And yeah, I’m looking at you, David Kocieniewski.)

Let’s walk through this, shall we, and use some actual economics.  Yes, ACA grandfathered policies.  But in so doing it effectively crushed competition in the market for individual policies.  Pre-ACA, there was competition in the market for individual policies.  Not perfect competition, but someone buying on the individual market could go to another provider if his/her current provider jacked up premiums too much.  This ability to switch provided an element of competition on prices and terms (e.g., deductible, coverage) that limited the ability of any individual insurer to charge supercompetitive premiums.

Post-ACA, everything changed.  If you have a grandfathered policy, you now have two choices: the grandfathered policy or Obamacare.  Due to the coverage mandates, community rating, cross-subsidies and other factors, for many of those currently purchasing on the individual care market find the Obamacare policies to be very expensive on a quality-adjusted basis (e.g., taking into account deductibles and other policy terms).  So consider the seller of a grandfathered policy.  The insurer knows that your only choices are (a) buy an outrageously expensive Obamacare policy, or (b) do without insurance altogether.  The insurer knows that you cannot get a policy equivalent to your current policy from another insurer.  So there is no competition to speak of.  The expensive Obamacare package provides a very high price ceiling.  As long as the insurer charges a premium that is not so high as to get you to go without insurance, it can get away with it with no fear of losing you as a customer.

That is to say, the rise in premiums on grandfathered policies is clearly the result of the ACA.  In particular, it is the result of the pricing structure of Obamacare and its effect on competition in the market for individual policies.  The pricing structure means that the only competition for a grandfathered policy is a very expensive ACA policy.

And we’re supposed to be shocked that insurers take advantage of the gift of reduced competition?

It is beyond bizarre to see those on the left who rail against the rapacity of insurance companies-people like Hiltzik-defend Obamacare even though it puts people at the complete mercy of said rapacious insurers.

There is so much else to choose from, but it’s late and I’m tired after teaching, so I’ll just mention one more absurdity.  No deep economics here.  (As if the effects of Obamacare on competition and the incentive to work are all that deep: Econ 101 really.)

No, just add this to the Sovok Hacker category:

U.S. intelligence agencies last week urged the Obama administration to check its new healthcare network for malicious software after learning that developers linked to the Belarus government helped produce the website, raising fresh concerns that private data posted by millions of Americans will be compromised.

The intelligence agencies notified the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency in charge of the network, about their concerns last week. Specifically, officials warned that programmers in Belarus, a former Soviet republic closely allied with Russia, were suspected of inserting malicious code that could be used for cyber attacks, according to U.S. officials familiar with the concerns.

The software links the millions of Americans who signed up for Obamacare to the federal government and more than 300 medical institutions and healthcare providers.

“The U.S. Affordable Care Act software was written in part in Belarus by software developers under state control, and that makes the software a potential target for cyber attacks,” one official said.

But yeah, I’d feel totally comfortable in giving all my most sensitive private information to a website that includes software written by Belarussian programmers linked to the Lukashenko government.  What could possibly go wrong?

But hey, if being hacked by Sovoks is not a problem for you, once you’ve signed up for Obamacare, get thyself to Sochi.  And make sure to bring your smartphone, laptop, iPad. Fire them all up at once:

“The State Department warned that travelers should have no expectation of privacy, even in their hotel rooms,” NBC’s Richard Engel said in a report on Brian Williams’s show last night. “And as we found out, you are especially exposed as soon as you try to communicate with anything.”

According to Mr. Engel, hackers are waiting stealthily on the sidelines to break into your devices as soon as you log on to the Internet (and let’s face it—what the hell else are you going to do after a 75-hour-long flight to southern Russia?)

To illustrate his point, Mr. Engel brought two new laptops to Sochi. With the help of an American security expert, he uploaded a fake identity and fake contact list onto the computers—both were hacked within the day. “It had taken hackers less than one minute to pounce,” he said, “Within 24 hours, they’d broken into both computers and started helping themselves to my data.”

So I’m totally cool with Belarussian programmers writing Obamacare website code.  You aren’t?  What is your problem, anyways?  You have to believe!

So sign up, get your identity stolen, and then fulfill your dream of being a puppeteer!

February 3, 2014

Kerry: We Totally Screwed Up on Syria, But Plan B Will So Work

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 8:24 pm

Apropos last night’s post on how American fecklessness in Syria should lead the Ukrainian opposition to be very skeptical about any promises of American support, according to several reports out today Kerry delivered a damning assessment of the state of administration policy-his policy, Obama’s policy-in the tormented Arab country:

Two prominent Republican senators say that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told them — along with 13 other members of a bipartisan congressional delegation — that President Barack Obama’s administration is in need of a new, more assertive, Syria policy; that al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in Syria pose a direct terrorist threat to the U.S. homeland; that Russia is arming the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and is generally subverting chances for a peaceful settlement; that Assad is violating his promise to expeditiously part with his massive stores of chemical weapons; and that, in Kerry’s view, it may be time to consider more dramatic arming of moderate Syrian rebel factions.

Maybe Kerry has gone to a 12 Step Program, Foreign Policy Incompetents Anonymous, and has moved beyond the denial stage.  For this assessment is all true.  And it is all the predictable result of Obama’s-and Kerry’s-fecklessness.  So of course we should have every confidence in the administration’s ability to formulate and implement a non-feckless policy based on reality, rather than on fantasy and an extreme reluctance to get involved any more deeply in Syria.

Kerry supposedly asked the senators whether there would be support in Congress for a more robust policy.

There’s an easy answer to that: NO!  Even those senators and representatives who in principle would support such a policy will never do so given Obama’s behavior in August and September.  Remember how Kerry built the case for US intervention, going so far as to compare Assad to the Nazis,  but then Obama seized at the first opportunity to bug out.  After that performance, no member of Congress is going to put his or her neck on the line for Obama, especially given that (a) they have to know Obama is not committed to robust action, and will be looking for a way out, and (b) the Gates memoir makes it plain how Obama will engage in half-hearted military efforts for cynical political reasons.  Oh, and (c): the administration has acted so incompetently (and not just in Syria) that any sentient being would conclude that it cannot be relied on to do any better in the future.  Once burned, twice shy.

No.  No sane member of Congress will take risks for a feckless, cynical, and incompetent administration.  Ukrainian patriots shouldn’t do so either.

Whoops, They Did It Again: Russian Hackers Targeting Western Energy Companies

Filed under: Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 7:54 pm

A few weeks ago I wrote about the Russian connections (plural) to the hacks of US retailers, notably Target.  There’s more where that came from.  There is strong circumstantial evidence that Russian hackers are targeting US and European energy companies (long considered to be important and vulnerable targets).  You’re shocked, no doubt:

Russian hackers appear to be targeting Western energy interests for cyber espionage, according to a report to be issued Wednesday by a security research firm.

Though researchers at CrowdStrike say they do not have definitive proof, they say they found links between command and control servers to Russian-language hosting services.

If true, it would be one of the first reports alleging Russian cyber efforts aimed at U.S. and European energy companies. Up to now, most reports have focused on the Chinese.

“They’re taking the Chinese playbook,” said Dmitri Alperovitch, CrowdStrike cofounder and chief technology officer.

. . . .

The researchers said they saw indicators in malware they analyzed that “tie back to possible Russian” hackers, and some of the command and control servers used were linked to Russia-based hosts. Also, the hackers were active during business hours in Moscow, the report said.

The hacking group, which CrowdStrike dubbed Energetic Bear, has been active since at least August 2012, said Adam Meyers, CrowdStrike’s vice president of intelligence. Energetic Bear is also targeting Japan, China and Turkey, Meyers said. He said the data harvested from the companies could be useful “in support of political or diplomatic operations involving the use of energy resources.”

This predates Snowden, but hey, it does suggest that he has indeed absconded to the land of opportunity for someone with his skills.  That is, if his delicate conscience isn’t too offended by this.  And if it is offended, how come he says nothing about any report of Russian cybercrime, given that there is a clear nexus between the Russian security forces and various hacking activities in Russia?

Another interesting dog that isn’t barking.  Again.  Kaspersky, of course.  Although he jumps all over hacks that apparently don’t originate in Russia, he is invariably silent on those that do.

Purely a coincidence, I’m sure.

Segueing to the story on the hack of Belgacom and European governments that Kaspersky supposedly discovered.  Appelbaum and others have been screaming on Twitter that there is evidence that NSA was behind the attacks, and what’s more, that a the NSA (or GCHQ) was guilty of an earlier hack, directed against a famous Belgian cryptographer, Jean-Jaques Quisquater.

First, the attacks on Belgacom and Quisquater originated in Asia.  Yes, the NSA is certainly capable of doing that.  But China is also obviously a candidate.

Second, regarding the Quisquater hack.  The linked article, and Appelbaum, et al, make a huge (il)logical leap.  Quisquater was targeted 6 years ago, in a low-tech phishing attack that any Nigerian hacker could have executed.  Moreover, Quisquater himself acknowledges that: (a) there are “12 to 15 different hypotheses” regarding the source of the attack; (b) he has no evidence it was launched by NSA; and (c) he has been told that this was not an NSA MO (although there is some ambiguity here as the researchers who informed Quisquater said it was not a “current” NSA technique).

But that doesn’t stop the hacker set from stating as fact that NSA is guilty.  This fits in very well in the ongoing disinformation operation/active measures being directed at NSA.

February 2, 2014

Pay No Attention to Kerry, Euromaidan: You’re On Your Own

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 11:00 pm

John Kerry has delivered a stirring speech on behalf of those struggling against the corrupt regime in Ukraine:

The United States and the European Union “stand with the people of Ukraine” in their fight for the right to choose alliances with countries other than Russia, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday.

His comments come after a week of political tumult in which Ukraine’s Prime Minister and Cabinet have resigned, a controversial anti-protest law has been repealed and the President has signed off on a contested amnesty bill for anti-government protesters.

“Nowhere is the fight for a democratic, European future more important today than in Ukraine,” said Kerry, speaking at the Munich Security Conference in Germany.

“While there are unsavory elements in any chaotic situation, the vast majority of Ukrainians want to live freely in a safe, prosperous country. They are fighting for the right to associate with partners who will help them realize their aspirations — and they have decided that means their futures do not have to lie with one country alone.

“The United States and EU stand with the people of Ukraine in that fight.”

Can elmer or Gordon please translate this into Ukrainian?: “Be afraid.  Be very afraid.”

For we’ve seen Kerry (and Obama) speak strong words criticizing dictators and pledging to help those struggling for freedom.  Most notably, in Syria. Kerry compared Assad and his clique to the Nazis, and was making the case for military intervention, until the US backtracked completely, conceding to Assad and his Russian supporters the ability to slaughter indiscriminately by conventional means, as long as he gives up his chemical weapons.  He pledged to do so, but predictably, is slow walking his compliance.  Only an estimated 5 percent of his disclosed stocks have been removed, and there is widespread belief that there are substantial stocks that he has not disclosed.   The June deadline for destruction looks impossible.

So now Kerry is reduced to begging the Russians to press the Syrians to pick up the pace:

“Secretary Kerry pressed Foreign Minister Lavrov to push the regime for more progress on moving the remaining chemical weapons within Syria to the port in Latakia,” the US State Department official said.

Yeah.  I’m sure Lavrov is going to get right on that.  Right after he stops laughing uncontrollably.

Moral of the story: Kerry’s talk, and Obama’s talk, is very cheap.  They are not looking for confrontation, and will look for any way out of having to back up their words with deeds.

Ukrainians should take heed of something else.  Because of Syria, and the insane effort to negotiate with Iran, the US is highly dependent on Russia.  The administration has staked a great deal on these efforts, and Russia can make mischief in both.  Meaning that Obama will be loath to get into a confrontation with Putin over Ukraine.

So about all Ukraine can really expect is some lofty words from Kerry and Obama.

Which calls for some more translation help: “You’re on your own.”

Who Stopped the Rain? A Cynical Exploitation of the Dead of Leningrad, 1941-1944.

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 2:41 pm

The last remaining Russian independent, liberal television station is Dozhd (“Rain”) TV.  The channel has been removed from several major cable distributors, which is likely a death sentence because it is only available on cable and on the Internet.  An investigation for “extremism” that was launched a few days ago has been closed, but the damage has been done.  The station is now a leper.

The ostensible reason for Dozhd’s likely demise is its temerity in running a poll asking whether the Soviets should have surrendered Leningrad, rather than endure a siege that cost a million Russian lives, including 630,000 or so civilians.  The poll ran on the anniversary of the lifting of the siege.

But this was no doubt a pretext.  The Kremlin has waged an unrelenting campaign against all independent media voices.  Moreover, this particular media voice had publicized Navalny investigations about the corruption of Russian officials, notably Putin’s First Deputy Chief of Staff Vyacheslav Volodin.

The question was a legitimate one.  Although the Leningrad front did tie down some German forces, it is doubtful that this gain was worth the horrific cost in Russian lives, or the suffering that the survivors endured for three years.

More secure nations can debate these questions.  Russia, apparently not.  And contrary to the vituperations of those who attacked Dozhd, the question is not a slur on the bravery and sacrifice of the besieged: it is a question about Stalin’s judgment and humanity.  Apparently the greatest mass murder in human history is sacrosanct in Russia, or official Russia anyways.  Duly noted.

But it is more likely that this is a cynical exploitation of the Cult of the Great Patriotic War. The martyred of Leningrad are being used to advance the political interests of the current Kremlin elite, and to stifle voices that call attention its utter venality.  World War II is a near religious subject in Russia, and anyone who questions in any way the accepted dogma is vulnerable to a charge of blasphemy.

But not every questioner is so charged.  Instead, such charges are used opportunistically by the regime to destroy those who it dislikes.  And since the more liberal voices are likely to challenge the faultlessness of the judgment of Stalin and the Stavka, it is a perfect knout to rain blows down upon those who oppose the regime’s metastasizing authoritarianism.

So who stopped the rain?  Putin did, obviously.  If not by direct order, in a “will no one rid me of this meddlesome TV channel” sort of way. Regardless, the Putin python has squeezed the life out of another independent voice.

PS. Not a big CCR fan, and Who Stopped the Rain is probably my least favorite of their major hits.  But the title seemed just to apt not to use.

February 1, 2014

Ukraine: Echoes of the 1991 Putsch Against Gorbachev?

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 5:44 pm

A couple of follow-ups regarding Ukraine.

First, Yanukovych called in sick on Thursday, allegedly suffering from a respiratory ailment.  There were reports that he looked really bad when he came to the Rada to browbeat wavering Party of Regions deputies into voting for his faux amnesty bill.  This was widely considered to be a delaying tactic, although he did eventually sign the legislation repealing the anti-protestor laws.  Now there are rumors that he has been moved to intensive care (h/t @libertylynx).

My initial thought upon hearing news of his illness is that a coup is in process.  Remember that in the 1991 coup against Gorbachev in the USSR, the putsch plotters announced that the USSR’s president and the CPSU Party Secretary had been forced to step down due to serious illness.  The current situation with Yanukovych echoes this.  Have little doubt who is in control of him.  I would actually imagine that it suits Putin’s interest that Yanukovych remain in office and under control: removing him altogether would create complications.  By having him remain president, but effectively quarantined, he can play Charlie McCarthy while Putin plays Edgar Bergen.  If Yanukovych remains out of sight, the logical conclusion is that Putin has taken direct control of what is going on in Ukraine.

Second.  Follow the comments, including comments on older posts on Ukraine.  Commenter elmer is providing valuable information, including first person accounts that he is receiving from people in country.

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