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Ukraine Teeters on the Brink of Civil War and Invasion, or Not

By: Ohio Barbarian Sunday April 13, 2014 7:30 am
Russian anti-nazi propaganda poster from WWII shows nazis fleeing a Russian tank.

“The West keeps underestimating the intelligence, resourcefulness, and courage of the Russian people.”

Ethnic Russians began seizing government buildings and police headquarters in several cities in eastern Ukraine weeks ago.  Just in the last day, shots have been fired and there have been a few deaths reportedBBC speculates on whether Russia is orchestrating the protests, While this morning on ABC’s This Week, Obama’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, came right out and accused Russia of doing exactly that on the grounds that they are just too well-coordinated for the local ethic Russians to have done on their own.

Just like the Obama Administration said about the largely bloodless secession by Crimea a few weeks ago. But really? If the majority ethnic Russians in the Crimea could pull it off, why not their cousins in eastern Ukraine? It seems the West just keeps on underestimating the intelligence, resourcefulness, and yes, courage of the Russian people. Napoleon did it. Czar Nicholas II, who really should have known better, did it. Hitler did it, and now Obama appears to be doing it. Will they never learn?

For its part, the right wing Ukrainian government in Kiev threatened a blood bath, but backed down some over the last day. Meanwhile, the protests continue, the occupations of government buildings continue, and the ethnic Russians show no signs of backing down, as this article about what is going on in Donetsk attests. Why should they?

They don’t want to be ruled by a bunch of hyper-Ukrainian nationalists who want to essentially make them second-class citizens, and are quite understandably leery of a government with openly Fascist and even neo-Nazi elements. Besides, they know full well that if the Kiev government actually does try for a forceful and bloody crackdown, Vladimir Putin won’t hesitate to send the Russian Army to their rescue. Even if military forces loyal to the Kiev regime resisted as best they could, I estimate the Russians could successfully invade and occupy the eastern third of Ukraine in a matter of days.

And there’s not a damned thing Obama or western Europe can do about it. Neither the American nor European militaries are going to allow a direct military confrontation with Russia–Ukraine is just not worth risking a nuclear war over, period. Besides, it lies in what has long been considered Russia’s sphere of influence.

Probably the best thing that could happen for Obama is for eastern Ukraine to go the way of Crimea, with little bloodshed, and for him to just shut up about it. Somehow, I don’t think he’s that smart. Maybe the Kiev government is. Time will soon tell.

Anyway, crisis or no crisis, it’s a beautiful day in northeastern Ohio, and I have errand to run and (gasp!) yardwork to do. I’m off, but I’ll be back. And have a nice day.

 

Thursday: Pope Meets Obama. Friday: Pope Goes to Confession. Coincidence?

By: Ohio Barbarian Friday March 28, 2014 3:55 pm

This past Thursday, Pope Francis I met with President Obama in the Vatican. The very next day, for the first time in history, the Pope went to confession in public.

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Coincidence? Hmmm…

I can’t prove it, but I, who believe firmly that coincidence is more common than dirt, doubt it. So, if I’m right, just what was ol’ Pope Francis confessing so that everyone could see that he was actually confessing?

Did he need to be absolved because he felt like ripping out the hypocritical, warmongering, fascist bastard’s esophagus out and strangling him with it? Because he failed to do so? Because he grudgingly smiled and was polite to the #1 Servant of Mammon, against the judgment of his conscience?  Or maybe the Pope felt so dirtied by shaking the Fascist’s hand and being cordial to him that he just HAD to seek absolution.

Perhaps we will never know.  Somehow, the timing is just too neat. And, if the confessional booth had no electronic listening devices, even the NSA will never know.

That’s OK. I like this Pope. Far better than I like the President of the United States.

As for any gods that I may consider following, I think Thor is having a good laugh.

Women: The Kinder, Gentler Face of Fascism

By: Ohio Barbarian Saturday March 22, 2014 9:12 am

For the last several months, maybe longer, I’ve noticed a trend in corporate advertising and political framing. Women are taking the stage front and center. Here in northeastern Ohio, you can hardly turn on the TV without seeing a Giant Eagle commercial featuring its CEO, Laura Shapira Karet, in the grocery store proclaiming that she would never feed her customers anything her own family wouldn’t eat. Alternatively, there’s another commercial with Karet bragging about how much food Giant Eagle donates to local food banks every year because they care so much.

Of course, not a word is said about the wages and salaries of Giant Eagle employees, which are working poor at best these days, and Giant Eagle employees even have a weak union. But with a face like Laura’s, surely she cannot be a vicious, sociopathic capitalist, can she? Of course she can, and is. Come on, those wages still qualify most employees for food stamps and Medicaid. How generous and motherly of her!

During Obama’s last State of the Union address, he proudly pointed out Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors, as a wonderful leader of our times.  Some nonsense about turning GM around and creating good middle class(it’s always middle class with him, isn’t it?) jobs. Not a peep about how new GM workers make only half of what their parents did without being adjusted for inflation, and have far fewer benefits. But look at her! She’s a woman! She simply must have a good heart, yes? Ha!

Then there’s the wonder woman of the IT industry, Meg Whitman, who makes a mere $1.5 million a year salary as CEO of Hewlett-Packard after spending $180 million of her $2 billion or so fortune trying  to buy the Governor’s office in California, and is all the rage on the Sunday morning political talking head shows. Never mind what she actually did to Hewlett-Packard or its employees, or what she actually says she believes in.

Of course, all this glass ceiling-breaking can’t help but paint the election of Hillary Clinton as President in 2016 as somehow just part of an inevitable trend of female empowerment. And, assuming she does get the Democratic nomination, be sure that the future H-bots will be out there accusing anyone attacking Hillary as being somehow a bigoted misogynist, just like anyone who attacked Obama just had to be racist.

I must admit it’s a pretty slick psychological and electoral strategy to defend the financial aristocracy of which all of the women I mentioned above are a part, just like the race thing was used to help Obama. The fact is that subconsciously and culturally women are simply perceived as being more nurturing and caring than men, which they frequently really ARE.

It’s just that when it comes to advancing corporate interests and the interests of the wealthiest and most powerful among us, which I equate with fascism,  a gender difference does not a genuine difference make when it comes to which gender is trotted out as the ruling class’ leaders. They’re all the same. They all think the rest of us are just human resources to be exploited and discarded.

Beware the kinder and gentler smiling face.

The Tragedy of Ukraine, Stuck in the Middle Again

By: Ohio Barbarian Thursday March 6, 2014 4:37 pm

Ukraine. A country most Americans probably couldn’t even find on a globe a few weeks ago, and probably still can’t, has taken center-stage in the corporate media lately. I’m presuming FDL readers are at least somewhat familiar with the current situation, so I’m not going to go into too many details on that subject. What I hope to offer is a basic understanding of the region’s long and often tragic history, and why I think the independent nation of Ukraine, based on the borders of the old Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, simply cannot survive for long.

Downtown Kiev, with historic buildings and modern shops

On the history & culture of Ukraine

Ukraine is, basically, the steppe, a vast natural grassland with huge rivers flowing through it, ideal for both grazing and farming for thousands of years, bounded by and sometimes incorporating everything from the Carpathian Mountains in the west, vast forests to the north, rougher steppe(with lots of coal) to the east, and the Black Sea to the south. This Wikipedia piece has a decent map of the same.

It’s long been a highway for migrating groups of humans. Horse cultures predominated for thousands of years–Scythians, Sarmatians, Huns, Tartars. It also boasts some of the greatest farmland in the world. The Ostrogoths, migrants from Scandinavia, settled there during Roman times, only to be driven into the Roman Empire by the Huns and greatly contributing to the collapse of said Empire. Slavic peoples settled and farmed. Vikings, largely from Sweden and called the Rus, sailed down the great rivers from the north and founded some of the first cities, including Kiev, playing a huge role in both Ukrainian and Russian history.

The Khazars, a Slavic tribe, established a nation. They found themselves sandwiched between the Christian Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, Empire and the Muslim Arab Caliphate at one time. Not wanting to fight either great power on their borders, the Khazars legendarily converted to Judaism in the hopes of being left alone by both. It even worked for awhile. There’s a good argument that most Jews in the world today are ultimately descended from this Slavic people, not the Semitic Hebrews of Israel. Then the Mongols came. Then the Ottoman Turks. Then the Russians.

The modern Ukrainian language is essentially a dialect of Russian, or maybe the reverse, depending on your point of view. Both Ukrainians and Russians have been largely Orthodox Christian for centuries now. The Russian Empire gradually conquered the whole area, including the definitely non-Ukrainian Crimea(it was, and still is, one of the last Tartar strongholds) in the 1700′s. First the Russian Czars, and later the Communist Russians, did their best to settle large numbers of Russians in what is now Ukraine, especially in the east and south. They were quite successful, as these CNN maps of the current linguistic and political divisions of Ukraine illustrate quite vividly.

Western Ukraine, closer to the rest of Europe, was often not part of the old Russian Empire at all. Lwiw(Ukrainian), or Lvov(Russian), or Lemburg as the Austrians called it, was successively part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Poland, the Russian-dominated Soviet Union, and now independent Ukraine in the last century alone. Poland, BTW, would love to get its old Ukrainian possessions back. Central Ukraine has been everything from an imperial Russian province to German-occupied territory(twice) to White Russian to Soviet to independent Ukrainian. Crimea and the eastern third of the country have been predominantly Russian for a long time now. It is to Moscow that they look for leadership and protection, not Kiev.

This is illustrated by the Crimean Parliament voting today to secede from Ukraine and join Mother Russia, and the takeover of government buildings in the eastern city of Donetsk by ethnic Russian demonstrators demanding the same. These incidents are NOT something that just HAD to be engineered by Vladimir Putin, those people really feel that way no matter what Fox News or John Kerry or Barack Obama might say.

Libya, a Tale of Two Cultures, Maybe Three

By: Ohio Barbarian Wednesday February 19, 2014 5:35 pm

Libya has been much in the news lately, though the corporate media doesn’t know, or doesn’t care, or probably both, about its history. Without some basic understanding about its history, one really can’t understand what’s going on now.

A narrow street in Tripoli's historic Old Town

American foreign policy in Libya represents a serious misunderstanding of its culture & history.

The country now known as Libya was once divided into three distinct regions, populated by very different peoples, with at least three very different cultures. Most of Libya’s recorded history since the end of the last Ice Age happened within a hundred miles or so of the Mediterranean coast, in two very distinct regions, west and east, Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, now dominated by the cities of Tripoli and Benghazi.  And then, there’s the desert interior, which is something else entirely.

The Phoenicians, a Semitic language-speaking people from what is now mostly Lebanon and northern Israel, settled the western part of modern Libya and most of modern Tunisia back in, oh, the 600′s BCE, with their greatest city, Carthage, in what is now Tunisia. The Greeks settled in Cyrenaica, the eastern “hump” of modern Libya, near what is now Benghazi, around the same time.  Two very different civilizations, with two very different languages and cultures.  They both got there in galleys, which were big rowboats with sails.

They sort of co-existed for awhile, and then the Semitic-speaking Carthaginians kinda sorta dominated the whole coast. Then came what we know as the Punic Wars, which resulted in a new imperial power from the north, Rome, dominating everything. The Romans, whatever their faults, were good administrators. They governed both new provinces of first the Roman Republic, and then the Roman Empire, separately. They never even tried to conquer the desert interior. Who wants to own the desert, anyway? The various tribes of the desert are recorded in raids and reprisals, but not much else. Anyway, they weren’t that numerous. How many people can subsist in a desert?

The Romans lost what is now the coast of Libya to a Germanic tribe called the Vandals, from which we get a common word, vandalism. I could expound some on the Arian Vandals, but I won’t. They didn’t last long. They were crushed by the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian’s legions and largely disappeared.  Then the Arabs came with the explosion of Islam out of the Arabian Peninsula in the 600′s CE.

The Arab Caliphate recognized the two distinct coastal regions and governed them separately, while sending missionaries, and horse and camel soldiers, into the interior to successfully convert the indigenous peoples there to Islam. After the Caliphate fell apart, the Ottoman Turks came along and controlled the coastal area in two distinct provinces, west and east.

The Americans appear during the era of Ottoman decline, during conflicts with the so-called Barbary Pirates in the very late 1700′s and early 1800′s. Remember “From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli?” As the Ottoman Empire declined, semi-independent states only nominally loyal to the sultan in Constantinople engaged in widespread piracy in the Mediterranean, which really pissed off the new American republic, which responded by sending very well-designed sailing ships and Marines at the time to persuade them to back the F off of preying on American merchant shipping. The British and French, who were suffering from the same depredations, cheered them on.

Why Atheism is Just Another Religion that Our Rulers Can Exploit

By: Ohio Barbarian Tuesday February 18, 2014 3:38 pm

First, before some of you atheists out there damage yourselves by overextending a knee, let me define a term. For the purposes of this diary entry, I define “religion” as follows:

religion(noun): a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith. (Source: Merriam-Webster, definition #4, emphasis added).

I suppose I’d better define faith as well. From the same source:

faith(noun): a strong belief or trust in something or someone.

Atheism is, quite simply, an act of faith, or a belief if you will, that God, gods, or anything supernatural or spiritual does not exist; never has, never will. When defined that way, it becomes another religion, subject to the same virtues and vices of other religions that do believe in a God or gods or something spiritual, even if the latter is deliberately left undefined, as Buddhism does.

It certainly has its virtues, one of which is the logical corollary of the act of faith described above, which is that people should damned well get educated and learn to think for themselves. It also is a strong inoculation against con artists who twist other religions in order to obtain wealth and power for themselves.  A bible-thumping preacher wouldn’t get much profit from passing a collection plate to an audience of atheists.

Unfortunately, it also has its vices, one of the most glaring of which is the vicious ardor by which it has been promoted by some of its adherents. The worst examples are Stalin and Mao, who went to genocidal extremes to eliminate all religious competitors. They’re long dead now, but there are still ardent adherents who attack anyone who professes another religious belief. Usually, the latter are considered intellectually inferior dupes who allow themselves to be manipulated by the leaders or proselytizers of other religions, while the leaders are considered hypocritical, or at least cynical, con artists who use religion to advance their own interests.

I see this sort of behavior often on the Internet, especially on “progressive” sites. Somebody even mentions another religious belief as being consistent with progressive or leftist goals, and self-proclaimed atheists bash them for being “religious,” and frequently go on rants about all the damage that organized religion has done in the past, or sometimes still does in the present. This is often done in a manner that many people, including myself, find arrogant and condescending.

Agnostics, OTOH, seldom do so, because they really don’t know whether or not any higher powers exist, and say so. As Robert A. Heinlein once said:

There is no conclusive evidence that there is life after death. On the other hand, there’s no conclusive evidence that there isn’t. You’re going to know soon enough, so why worry about it?

But I digress. I find attacks by progressive or leftist atheists on progressive or leftist people of other faiths(and yes, atheism IS a faith by definition) because of their faiths, most unfortunate. This is because such attacks do nothing but divide people who have common interests of vital importance, such as social and economic justice, against each other. It hinders them coming together to work for a common goal of, if not destroying capitalism(that’s me), at least severely restricting it so the 1% can’t continue to screw the rest of us.

I suppose I’m preaching some tolerance here. Atheists have every right to believe in what they believe, or don’t believe. They have every right to express themselves. I myself cause discord in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in a group because I refuse to say, “under God.” That phrase wasn’t in the original version, and I think it promotes a few other religions, and is therefore not truly representative of what I think America should stand for. I don’t stand up for “God Bless America” as sporting events, either. But I don’t feel like I’m attacking anyone by doing those things.

It works both ways. Because I sometimes go to the Buddhist temple or the Unitarian church down the street, does that make me an ignorant dupe? If you tell me it does, I’ll most likely feel like telling you to piss off. Catholics and the many varieties of Protestants and Muslims and Jews and Wiccans and others most likely feel the same way. Many also don’t believe in any religion being taught in public schools just as much as atheists do. Many want social and economic justice just as much as many atheists do.

So let’s please make an effort not to let our differing faiths and beliefs or non-beliefs in the possibility of higher spiritual powers divide us from what we have in common with each other. If we don’t, we just give our ruling classes another tool with which to divide us, for that serves no useful purpose.

And have a nice night.

Obamacare Continues to Unravel as Obama Kicks the Can for Capital–Again

By: Ohio Barbarian Tuesday February 11, 2014 4:40 pm

In his last grotesquely pandering speech, otherwise known as the State of the Union, President Obama took a few seconds to urge employers to sign up for Obamacare and not reduce their employees’ hours to the point where they are not required to enroll them in mandatory health insurance. He looked all serious and everything.

A piggybank, with a stethoscope and a bundle of US money

Another kickback for corporations as Americans struggle for healthcare access.

Well,  that faux determination has already evaporated. Just this week, the Obama Administration announced that employers with 55-99 full-time employees would not be required to enroll their workers until 2016, and larger companies only have to offer coverage to 70% of their employees in 2015, down from 95%. I cannot help but wonder when the next rollback to placate the capitalists will come. Anyone who has been following this knows that this is not the first time Obama has yielded to businesses.

Of course, he has not done the same for individual American citizens. We are required to sign up this year, or else face penalties such as the interception of our tax refunds early next year. If Obama sticks to these guns as much as he has to targeted assassinations of American citizens without even an indictment, or his continued damnation of Edward Snowden, there’s going to be a LOT of really pissed off voters in February and March of 2015 when they lose their tax refunds because they couldn’t afford to sign up for “low cost” health insurance plans that cost more than most car payments.

If that happens, the Republicans can run a yellow dog, or Jeb Bush, or even Ted Cruz, and beat Hillary like a drum, not to mention controlling both houses of Congress. I speculate, therefore, that Obama may kick that particular can down the road as well. Or maybe he won’t care. He’ll be set, after all, so it probably depends on whether Jamie Dimon approves. After all, Obama hasn’t actually done or even tried hard to do anything that substantially helps the bottom 90% at the expense of the top 10%.

So why should he change now?

This man disgusts me even more than George W. Bush did, probably because W didn’t really do anything I didn’t expect him to do. I admit I got conned in 2008, but at least I woke up in 2009. I’m not at all surprised by this latest development, and I won’t be surprised if Obama pushes for a health insurance corporation bailout in the next two years because their profits aren’t nearly as high as expected because way too few people enrolled in their outrageously expensive plans, and because Wall Street might lose some bets. We shall see.

And have a nice night.

Obama’s & the Democrats’ Legacy, As Seen From the Red Zone

By: Ohio Barbarian Tuesday January 28, 2014 8:02 am

In American football, the red zone is the area between the goal line and the 20 yard line. Usually, in order to cross the goal line and score touchdowns, which are usually essential to winning the game, a team must get the ball into the opposing team’s red zone first, and then find a way to get the ball across the goal line for a touchdown. In every country in the world except for America, the color red is associated with the radical left and revolution, or at least determined opposition, to the existing order.

Football game in progress

Both parties play political football with human lives.

Today, I was struck by two different perspectives of the legacy of the Obama Administration and the current Democratic Party that come from very different places but reach very similar conclusions, one from a Trotskyite named Joseph Kishore at the World Socialist Web Site, the other from Bruce Dixon at the Black Agenda Report.

First, the World Socialist Web Site. In this perspective piece, Joseph Kishore lays out a damning indictment of the legacy of the Obama Administration. Please read it so you understand what I am talking about. It’s not even that long, but I will list the major points in order of damnation, in my view, though all are REALLY EVIL THINGS. The Obama Administration did the following:

  1. Oversaw the greatest transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich in human history.
  2. Waged war without limit.
  3. Vastly expanded the global police state spying apparatus.
  4. Carried out a social counterrevolution, highlighted by fraudulent decimation of health care for workers under Obamacare.
  5. Gave a free pass to Wall Street criminals.
  6. Criminalized those who reveal government crimes.
  7. Ordered the assassination of an American citizen without judicial review.

All of these are crimes worthy of punishment in a Roman Colosseum. But Kishore’s conclusion offers an element of hope:

Perhaps Obama’s most significant legacy will be that his administration demonstrated to millions that the ruling class has absolutely nothing to offer, and that it presides over an economic system, capitalism, that is historically bankrupt. The conclusion that follows, and is beginning to be drawn by wider sections of the working class, is that it must be overthrown.

Second, in Black Agenda Report, Bruce Dixon uses Obama’s own words in an interview with the Wall Street Journal to describe the strategy of the Democratic Party:

‘People call me a socialist sometimes. But, no, you’ve got to meet real socialists. You’ll have a sense of what a socialist is,’ Mr. Obama said. ‘I’m talking about lowering the corporate tax rate. My health-care reform is based on the private marketplace. The stock market is looking pretty good last time I checked … Here in America, the difference between Democrats and Republicans — we’re fighting inside the 40-yard lines.’

Indeed. As a real socialist, I see your point, Mr. President. And everything you said there is actually true. I suppose even an accomplished liar such as your own self will tell the truth to those whose interests he shares.

Bruce Dixon goes on to describe how Democrats, whether they be white ones in West Virginia or black ones in the big cities, will never, ever, carry on the fight against Republicans into the red zone near the goal line of capitalism, because they have absolutely no wish to score a real touchdown for the people against their capitalist masters in this most excellent editorial at Black Agenda Report. Again, please read it; it’s even shorter than the WSWS piece.

As Dixon describes, all of the corporate media, from MSNBC on the “left” to Fox News on the “right,” never, ever venture beyond the 40 yard line. Hundreds of thousands of West Virginians without drinking water due to corporate malfeasance and deliberate lack of government oversight? How boring. But look at Chris Christie! The Great Fat Republican Hope is in trouble! Yakkity-yak. Let’s speculate on the State of the Union or the Republican response! And, of course, it’s never too early to speculate on the spectacle of the 2016 election! Let’s!

As Dixon concludes: