March 1, 2014

David Brooks defends Victoria Nuland's previous misadventure

From the NYT last year:
The Next Scapegoat 
Published: May 13, 2013     424 Comments

Twenty years ago, when she was a young Foreign Service officer in Moscow, Victoria Nuland gave me a dazzling briefing on the diverse factions inside the Russian parliament.

So, that's why David Brooks' opinions on who were the good guys and who were the bad guys in Russia in 1993 turned out to be so on the money.
Now she is a friend I typically see a couple times a year, at various functions, and I have watched her rise, working with everybody from Dick Cheney to Hillary Clinton, serving as ambassador to NATO, and now as a spokeswoman at the State Department. 
Over the past few weeks, the spotlight has turned on Nuland. The charge is that intelligence officers prepared accurate talking points after the attack in Benghazi, Libya, and that Nuland, serving her political masters, watered them down. 
The charges come from two quarters, from Republicans critical of the Obama administration’s handling of Benghazi and intelligence officials shifting blame for Benghazi onto the State Department. 
It’s always odd watching someone you know get turned into a political cartoon on the cable talk shows. But this case is particularly disturbing because Nuland did nothing wrong.

Perhaps, but has Nuland ever done anything right? She seems to skate from one misadventure to another without ever becoming a scapegoat, rising up the hierarchy of power all the time.

For instance, does anybody expect her career to take a hit because her policy of Bear-baiting in the Ukraine contributed to a violent putsch that set off a large and predictable but basically pointless international crisis?

The war over the War of 2008

The Georgian invasion of Russian-supported South Ossetia on August 8, 2008 remains a touchstone. My recommendation is to never trust anybody who can't bring themselves to admit that, in the most meaningful sense, Georgia started it.

From the New York Times:
James F. Jeffrey was Mr. Bush’s deputy national security adviser in August 2008 and the first to inform him that Russian troops were moving into Georgia in response to what the Kremlin called Georgian aggression against South Ossetia. As it happened, the clash also took place at Olympic time; Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin were both in Beijing for the Summer Games. 
Mr. Bush confronted Mr. Putin to no avail and then ordered American ships to the region and provided a military transport to return home Georgian troops on duty in Iraq. He sent humanitarian aid on a military aircraft, assuming that Russia would be loath to attack the capital of Tbilisi with American military personnel present. Mr. Bush also suspended a pending civilian nuclear agreement, and NATO suspended military contacts. 
“We did a lot but in the end there was not that much that you could do,” Mr. Jeffrey recalled. 
Inside the Bush administration, there was discussion of more robust action, like bombing the Roki Tunnel to block Russian troops or providing Georgia with Stinger antiaircraft missiles. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice bristled at what she called the “chest beating,” and the national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, urged the president to poll his team to see if anyone recommended sending American troops. 
None did, and Mr. Bush was not willing to risk escalation. While Russia stopped short of moving into Tbilisi, it secured the effective independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, while leaving troops in areas it was supposed to evacuate under a cease-fire. Within a year or so, Russia’s isolation was over. Mr. Obama took office and tried to improve relations. NATO resumed military contacts in 2009 and the United States revived the civilian nuclear agreement in 2010. 
Mr. Jeffrey, now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Mr. Obama should now respond assertively by suggesting that NATO deploy forces to the Polish-Ukrainian border to draw a line. “There’s nothing we can do to save Ukraine at this point,” he said. “All we can do is save the alliance.”
My impression of the 2008 war is that George president Mikhail Saakashvili, who came to power in the Soros-backed Rose Revolution of 2003, bumptiously overestimated the power of his neocon and neolib friends in America and Israel, and the appetite of the truly powerful in those two countries for a shooting war with Russia. 

Nonetheless, Saakashvili was responding, in his cartoonish fashion, to a genuine reality: that America projects power all around the world, while Russia is much weaker and is largely limited to projecting power to ethnically friendly enclaves within the old Soviet Union.

McCain: "We are all Ukrainians"

From Time Magazine:
Senator John McCain: “We Are All Ukrainians”

Rod Dreher responds:
No, Sen. McCain, We Are Americans 

I'd add that a lot of Ukrainians might not agree that "We are all Ukrainians," or would have very different opinions about what Ukrainians are. Unlike Senator McCain, I feel very little urge to arbitrate these confusing disputes that I barely knew anything about until a month ago.

Time continues:
McCain made his declaration in response to a question from TIME about his famous 2008 statement, “We are all Georgians,” issued when he was a Republican presidential candidate after Russia invaded Georgia.

Okay, "Russia invaded Georgia" in 2008 in the sense that the Soviet Union invaded Germany in 1945. The war started on August 8, 2008, when George sent over 10,000 troops across the de facto border into South Ossetia, which had been de facto not ruled by Georgia for a decade and a half. Now, there are many arguments you can make on Georgia's behalf, such as its legal right to rule the South Ossetians based on old Soviet borderlines, or various provocations across the de facto border.

But, there was no war until Georgia, using over 10,000 men and 80 T-72 tanks, invaded South Ossetia. 

I remember it clearly. The news came as a big surprise to everybody except the Georgian government. The lowly wire service stringers immediately reported that Georgia was invading South Ossetia.

After about a day, the bigfoot American pundits were saying that Russia must have invaded Georgia, and that was the dominant Narrative for awhile.

But in the wake of the war, various journalistic organizations did investigations and concluded that the stringers on the spot got the story right originally, and the Bigfoots were wrong. That's how Wikipedia tells it today.

But who care about what really happened in 2008 when you can just keep misleading Americans over and over so that they remember the past wrongly?

Crimean problem practically solved

From the Kyiv Post:
Kadyrov: Chechens ready to keep peace in Crimea

Neo-Trotskyism: Globalism in All Countries

My theory of what I don't like about Russia has always focused upon the observation that, lacking natural military defenses such as the English Channel or the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the Muscovites have always sought security in gigantism, with the bad consequences that so often go along with imperialism.

But, it's worth pointing out, the neoconservative movement that has had so much influence over post-Cold War American foreign policy, with its own gigantist-imperialist tendencies, traces its origins back to a 1920s debate in Moscow over whether or not the Soviet Union was big enough for the survival of the reigning ideology. Stalin cautiously argued that the Soviet Union was adequate in size for "socialism in one country" to work for now. But the original neoconservatives' first icon, Trotsky, argued that only permanent global ideological revolution was adequate.

In The Revolution Betrayed (1936), Trotsky added an appendix denouncing Stalin's policy of "Socialism in One Country:"
The reactionary tendencies of autarchy are a defense reflex of senile capitalism to the task with which history confronts it, that of freeing its economy from the fetters of private property and the national state, and organizing it in a planned manner throughout the Earth. 
In Lenin’s Declaration of the Rights of the Toiling and Exploited People – presented by the Soviet of People’s Commissars for the approval of the Constituent Assembly during its brief hours of life – the “fundamental task” of the new regime was thus defined: “The establishment of a socialist organization of society and the victory of socialism in all countries.” The international character of the revolution was thus written into the basic document of the new regime. No one at that time would have dared present the problem otherwise! 

Which Sergei Aksenov is which in Crimea?

Trying to keep track of what's going on in Eastern Europe is difficult because there are two sets of spellings. For example, the capital of Ukraine is Kiev in the familiar transliteration of Russian, but Kyiv in Ukrainian. 

This can be particularly confusing when there are individuals with similar names. The NYT reports:
The newly installed, pro-Russia prime minister of Crimea declared on Saturday that he had sole control over the military and the police in the disputed peninsula and he appealed to President Vladimir Putin of Russia for help in safeguarding the region. 
Ukraine’s government accused Russian armed forces on Friday of taking up positions in Crimea, an autonomous republic on the Black Sea, in what Ukrainian officials said was an invasion and a violation of Ukraine’s sovereign territory. President Obama on Friday warned Russia against military intervention.
In his statement, the Crimean prime minister, Sergei Aksenov, said: 
“Understanding my responsibility for the life and safety of citizens, I appeal to the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, for assistance in providing peace and tranquillity on the territory of the autonomous Republic of Crimea.”

I went to look up who this new ruler of the Crimean peninsula Sergei Aksenov is on Wikipedia. It said:
Sergei Aksenov (Russian: Серге́й Аксенов, born April 3, 1971, Vladimir) is
Russian political dissident, publicist, former prisoner, member of National Bolshevik Party since 1997, cofounder of coalition The Other Russia[1] ...

National Bolshevik babe
So, this guy is sort of associated with Aleksandr Dugin, who was in the National Bolsheviks a long time ago. Above is the flag of this Aksenov's new party The Other Russia (at least according to Wikipedia).


But I think the NYT is confused or their transliteration policy is confusing, because Wikipedia says the two-day-old ruler of Crimea is Sergey Aksyonov:
Sergey Valeryevich Aksyonov (Russian: Сергей Валерьевич Аксёнов; born November 26, 1972 in Bălți, in the Moldavian SSR of the Soviet Union) is a Ukrainian politician and the current Prime Minister of Crimea.[1] Aksyonov was elected into office during an armed occupation of the Crimean parliament by pro-Russian militia. The position of Prime Minister is normally appointed by the President of Ukraine.[2]; and in Aksyonov case this consultation never took place.[original research?]  
In 1993 he graduated from the Higher Military-Political Construction College in Simferopol.

The Higher Military-Political Construction College sounds like a real hippie-dippie place, doesn't it? Kind of the Bennington or UC Santa Cruz of the Crimea ...

Here's his "Russian Unity" party of Ukraine logo. Just screaming eagles, so that's a lot more reassuring than the other guy's logo.

Shootout in Crimea

From Reuters:
Russia said unidentified gunmen sent by Kiev had attempted overnight to seize the Crimea region's Interior Ministry offices and that people had been wounded in the attack. It accused Kiev of a "treacherous provocation."

This probably won't amount to much (I hope), but Russia v. Ukraine warfare is not a good thing.  

February 28, 2014

U.S. needs a better foreign policy team

From the WSJ:
"We are now deeply concerned about reports of military movements taken by the Russian federation inside of Ukraine," Mr. Obama said from the White House. 
"The U.S. will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine," he added, without detailing what actions the U.S. and international community would take. 
The president's statement came amid a day of heightened tension in Ukraine, after heavily armed gunmen surrounded two airports in the restive pro-Russian region of Crimea, which prompted outcries from authorities in the region that Russia was behind the invasion.

Meanwhile, as the Russkies fly troops into Crimea, the Russian diplomats continue to point out that the president of the Ukraine was overthrown in a violent coup by street fighters and demand that the peaceful deal worked out with the opposition and with American proxies like Slate columnist Anne Applebaum's husband Radoslaw Sikorski, the Polish foreign minister, be reinstated. The Guardian quotes Russian UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin:
Ukraine had a democratically elected president with a democratically elected majority in parliament. Yatsenyuk could’ve taken the post [of prime minister, offered during negotiations], and could’ve signed the agreement with the European Union if he wanted, but then they went for toppling the president and a regime-change operation. 
Interference from our western colleagues has not been helpful, and they have certain responsibilities to those dramatic consequences and also responsibilities for not following through on those agreements they affixed their signatures on February 21. 
The best way to resolve the crisis is to look hard at the February 21 agreement. They need to [reform] a constitution. they need to refrain from a hasty presidential election which is likely to cause more friction. They need to show that this is about national unity.

The Guardian adds: "Churkin did not acknowledge that protesters in Kiev never accepted the agreement and that Yanukovych had fled the capital by last Friday night."

If that's not Democracy! I don't know what is.

I presume that Obama and Kerry would have been very happy with Sikorski's deal, but the street bravos weren't. Yet, the Obama Administration and its allies like George Soros (but which is the tail and which is the dog?) have some degree of responsibility for setting in motion the putsch.

Did Obama and Kerry realize they were playing with fire?

Personally, I didn't see myself as suffering all that much from the fact that until a week ago Ukraine had an elected president whose policy was to try to play off Russia and the West in economic negotiations to try to get the best deals for his government (not necessarily for his citizens, of course -- but I'm struck by how much of the anger in the American press at the former Ukrainian president is over his impudence at trying to extract more money from Putin than whatever the West was willing to offer).

But now we've got a new Cold War, and I suspect I'll be paying for it for a long, long time.

Do you get the impression that 70-year-old John Kerry is in over his head as Secretary of State? I don't particularly dislike Kerry, but he's not exactly Henry Kissinger as an intellect, and he's not getting any younger. He looked like a fool in the Syrian crisis, fortunately blundering into a peaceful resolution.

The other big issue that is hard to explore is how much control do Obama and Kerry really have over the more aggressive elements of the Deep State, such as the Nuland-Kagans and Soros. Does anybody know? How would you find out?

For example, I've seen only the most coded interest in the mainstream press in investigating the question: Did we go too far in the Ukraine? By unleashing -- whether unintentionally or intentionally -- a bunch of Banderaite hard men to overthrow the elected president, that's naturally upsetting to Russians (and to Poles, too). But, will there be any accountability within the U.S. for overplaying a strong hand?

Commodification of labor: movie star division

Since movie and TV star salaries spiked back in the 1990s, entertainment companies have been working hard to tip the balance of power back toward the owners of intellectual property (themselves) by emphasizing superhero characters rather than star power. A few actors in superhero franchises, most notably Robert Downey Jr., have been able to maintain enough leverage to cash in royally. Yet, Downey's take from playing Iron Man in the vastly successful The Avengers -- supposedly $50 million -- was roughly what Jack Nicholson is said to have earned for playing the Joker in Batman way back in 1989.

Here's an article on all the movie star hopefuls who workout at Gold's Gym at Venice Beach:
Almost any actor, even some of Hollywood’s most scrawny, can be physically transformed for the part if he’s willing to put in the hard work. The studios know this, which is why any inexpensive unknown can be chosen. ...
For last summer’s megahit “Man of Steel,” Snyder sent Cavill to work out with Twight. “I wanted Henry to be the personification of physicality,” Snyder told me. Cavill and Twight worked together for five months before production started and continued training during the six months of filming. Twight packed the pounds onto Cavill’s 6-foot-1 frame by putting him on a 5,000-calorie-a-day diet. Leading up to Cavill’s two shirtless sequences — a few days at the beginning of October 2011 and about six days at the end of that month — Twight scaled Cavill’s caloric intake back to about 2,800 calories. According to Twight, the pressure on Cavill was intense: “Henry was not a well-known guy, and he had chosen to be one of greatest comic-book icons ever. You’re not going to give that guy an inch.”

The whole physical transformation process is also part of the promotional campaign for the movies. That was part of Sylvester Stallone's brilliance in the 1970s-1980s to tap into this previously inchoate longing on the part of the audience that that the early 20th Century German poet Rilke (who has become a posthumous self-help guru) summarized as: "You must change your life."
A number of trainers and actors told me that steroids were out there and that everybody had a good idea of who was on them — though nobody is willing to name names. But as trainers like Twight make obvious, the Hollywood fitness mechanism is brutal and advanced enough to make any performance-enhancing drug seem primitive by comparison. “Post-‘300,’ there is a machine in place — it doesn’t work for everyone, though,” Twight said. “Not everybody can handle the training.”

Uh, that's what the steroids are for -- to speed recovery times to allow more lifting. 

I'm interested in learning more about the opposite process than adding all that muscle: the guys who went back to being normal. For example, in 2009 I ran into Jake Gyllenhaal at the frozen yogurt stand and he looked kind of silly all pumped up for his 2010 Prince of Persia starring role, but wearing normal Dockers-type clothes instead of a loincloth or whatever is more fitting for that level of musculature. But the next movie I saw him in, 2011's sci-fi Source Code, he looked reasonable again.

Presumably, if Prince of Persia hadn't bombed, he'd still be beefcaked up. Now, he's kind of gaunt for his next role.

Here's something that I can't recall male stars talking about: what it's like to be different shapes. How does it affect how you think? How does it affect your moods? By this point, Christian Bale, say, has a lot of data points on what it's like to be muscular, emaciated, pudgy, etcetera. But there isn't much public interest in that, but there is intense interest in the process of changing body shape.

On the female side, there is a slight bit more freedom for actresses to complain about the ferocious diets they have to maintain (but not to go off them). I can recall about a decade ago that Sandra Bullock's management issued a press release saying that she had decided to not starve herself anymore just to get roles. But, judging by her late-in-career Oscar success in Gravity and The Blind Side, she changed her mind.

Another colossal Slavic politician: Alexander "The Experiment" Karelin

Commenter John Craig points out that Just Not Said was all over this question of immense tough guy Slavic politicians like boxers Wladimir Klitschko and Nikolai Valuev back in 2013. 

Another member of the Duma in Russia is Alexander Karelin, the greatest Greco-Roman wrestler of all time (lifetime record: 887-2). The Siberian heavyweight's loss to American Rulon Gardner at the 2000 Olympics is the only thing Americans like me have ever heard about Greco-Roman wrestling. Karelin's nicknames include the "Russian Bear," "Alexander the Great," and, my favorite, "The Experiment." He is 6'3.25" and wrestled at 286 pounds.
Karelin is now on the International Relations committee of the legislature.

(Thanks to commenter roundeye, too.)

By the way, Secretary of State John Kerry's recent attempt to improve Russian-American relations by exclaiming "This is not Rocky IV," when, yeah, now that you mention it, it kind of is Rocky IV, reminds me of the underrated intelligence of Sylvester Stallone at sensing where guys' heads were heading. As an analyst of where modern culture was going, was anybody else as perceptive as Stallone was in 1976 to 1985?

The usual assumption today is that, well, sure, Arnold Schwarzenegger was obviously always a shrewd guy, but Stallone was kind of a meathead. Yet Stallone wrote one of the ten most influential screenplays in movie history in Rocky. I'm sure somebody before Stallone made a movie about working out and getting into shape, but Rocky's montage scene was a bolt from the blue in skinny 1976. Hollywood immediately knew it was an all-time great script, so Stallone was able to leverage the demand for his screenwriting talent to insist upon the right to play Rocky himself.

And Rocky IV is a bizarrely different from Rocky: while Rocky has all the great lines Stallone saved up from his first 30 years of life, Rocky IV has almost no dialog, just insane images. (And that's not to mention Stallone's Rambo movies.) So, while I'd much rather invest my money in a real estate development put together by Schwarzenegger, Stallone had more moments of genius in his decade.

The Rape of Russia explained by Anne Williamson

When the Soviet Union cracked up, American journalist Anne Williamson was a popular freelancer on all things Russian for the Wall Street Journal and other prestigious outlets. A major New York publisher signed her to a contract for a book on Russia in 1993. But when she finally delivered a manuscript in 1997 predicting that the Russian bond market would crash in 1998 (which it did), nobody in the publishing world would touch it. Williamson believes that her criticism of the Clinton Administration and, especially, of George Soros made it radioactive. According to a 2001 essay in the New York Review of Books, Williamson's unpublished book was "widely read in manuscript."

By the way, all this interest in Russia recently reminds me of an old mystery from before the recent economic unpleasantness: the Harvard endowment grew in the 1990s at a rate that would seem to call into question the hallowed Efficient Markets Theorem. When asked to share tips for how you too could achieve such a high ROI, Harvard's gnomes usually made vague noises about investing in timber.

It finally occurred to me that during this period, Harvard was, coincidentally enough, being paid by American taxpayers to advise the government of Russia how to privatize its vast holdings. Indeed, this process went so swimmingly for Harvard that in 2001 Harvard made the Clinton Administration's central manager of Russian policy, Larry Summers, its president. 

Here's Williamson's 1999 testimony to Congress. I won't vouch for all her Austrian economics, but it's pretty interesting. 
Testimony of Anne Williamson

Before the Committee on Banking and Financial Services of the United States House of Representatives

September 21, 1999 
... In the matter before us – the question of the many billions in capital that fled Russia to Western shores via the Bank of New York and other Western banks – we have had a window thrown open on what the financial affairs of a country without property rights, without banks, without the certainty of contract, without an accountable government or a leadership decent enough to be concerned with the national interest or its own citizens’ well-being looks like. It’s not a pretty picture, is it? But let there be no mistake, in Russia the West has truly been the author of its own misery. And there is no mistake as to who the victims are, i.e. Western, principally U.S., taxpayers and Russian citizens’ whose national legacy was stolen only to be squandered and/or invested in Western real estate and equities markets.
The failure to understand where Communism ended and Russia began insured that the Clinton Administration’s policy towards Russia would be riddled with error and ultimately ineffective. Two mistakes are key to understanding what went wrong and why. 
The first mistake was the West’s perception of the elected Russian president, Boris Yeltsin; where American triumphalists saw a great democrat determined to destroy the Communist system for freedom’s sake, Soviet history will record a usurper. A usurper’s first task is to transform a thin layer of the self-interested rabble into a constituency. Western assistance, IMF lending and the targeted division of national assets are what provided Boris Yeltsin the initial wherewithal to purchase his constituency of ex-Komsomol [Communist Youth League] bank chiefs, who were given the freedom and the mechanisms to plunder their own country in tandem with a resurgent and more economically competent criminal class. The new elite learned everything about the confiscation of wealth, but nothing about its creation. Worse yet, this new elite thrives in the conditions of chaos and eschews the very stability for which the United States so fervently hopes knowing full well, as they do, that stability will severely hamper their ability to obtain outrageous profits. Consequently, Yeltsin’s "reform" government was and is doomed to sustain this parasitic political base composed of the banking oligarchy. 
The second mistake lay in a profound misunderstanding of Russian culture and in the Harvard Institute of International Development advisers’ disregard for the very basis for their own country’s success; property rights. It was a very grave error. Private property is not only the most effective instrument of economic organization, it is also the organizational mechanism of an independent civil society. The protection of property, both of individuals’ and that of a nation, has justified the existence of and a population’s acceptance of the modern state and its public levies. 
Russian property rights are tricky; property has never been distributed, but only confiscated and awarded on a cyclical basis. For the big players property exists, as it always has, only where there is power. For the common man, the property right hasn’t advanced much beyond custom which prevents the taking of any man’s shelter, clothes or tools so long as continuous usage is demonstrable. An additional, purely Slavic feature of the Russians’ concept of property is the shared belief that each has a claim upon some part of the whole. 
In ancient ‘Rus, property existed for the individual as a claim - or an entitlement if you will - to a shared asset, a votchina or "estate", held by all the members of a particular clan. This understanding of property still informs the culture; though Westerners bemoan Moscow mayor Yury Lyuzhkov’s retention of the system of the residential permit ("propiska") as an impediment to a flexible labor force, the policy is one of Lyuzhkov’s most popular. Muscovites are well-satisfied with a mayor who polices outsiders as they believe any proprietor of such a great estate as Moscow should. 
The Russians’ failure to accept the Roman concept of private property has compelled them to suffer the coercive powers of the state so that at the very least a civil order, if not a civil society, might be established and sustained. The hackneyed idea that Russians have some special longing for tyranny is a pernicious myth. Rather, they share the common human need for predictable event undergirded by civil and state institutions and their difficult history is the result of their struggle to achieve both in the absence of private property. 
Since only the Tsar or the Party had property, no individual Russian could be sure of long-term usage of anything upon which to create wealth. And it is the poor to whom the property right matters most of all because property is the poor man’s ticket into the game of wealth creation. The rich, after all, have their money and their friends to protect their holdings, while the poor must rely upon the law alone. 
In the absence of property, it was access - the opportunity to seek opportunity - and favor in which the Russians began to traffic. The connections one achieved, in turn, became the most essential tools a human being could grasp, employ and, over time, in which he might trade. Where relationships, not laws, are used to define society’s boundaries, tribute must be paid. Bribery, extortion and subterfuge have been the inevitable result. What marks the Russian condition in particular is the scale of these activities, which is colossal. Russia, then, is a negotiated culture, the opposite of the openly competitive culture productive markets require. 

Here's a more detailed discussion of the various problems with property rights in Czarist Russia, which contributed to the general air of fecklessness that ensnared the Russian economy up through the end of the 19th Century, and which remains familiar to us from Chekhov plays.

The rest of Williamson's testimony is below the fold:

February 27, 2014

Why are Americans so deferential?

The Tory Telegraph's U.S. editor asks:
Why are Americans so darned deferential?
By Peter Foster       World Last updated: February 26th, 2014

It is an orthodoxy of American politics – and indeed America more generally – that the "land of the free" doesn't do dynasties and class-based deference, when everyone knows perfectly well that they do. 
I've been pondering this piece of cognitive dissonance this week after Jeb Bush – the former Florida governor and younger brother of Dubya – hinted that he's seriously considering a tilt at the White House in 2016. 
Of course that immediately sparked the old debate over the "dynasty" question, since if Jeb won the nomination and faced off against Hillary Clinton, the list of White House occupants since 1988 would read Bush-Clinton-Bush-Obama and then … Bush or Clinton. 
As a Brit living in America, I often hear American friends making assumptions about how deferential and class-bound Britain is, particularly in comparison with America with its eponymous dream and meritocratic ideals. 
Perhaps this anachronistic view of Britain is down to watching too much Downton Abbey – Hillary Clinton, rather disturbingly, is a big fan – but it never ceases to surprise me how accepting of authority Americans are, and how lacking in self-awareness they are about the culture of deference in their own country. 
This is not just exhibited in the obvious power of American political families to captivate the voting public in a way that is unthinkable in Britain – people are already speculating, only half-jokingly, about Chelsea Clinton's 2032 bid for the White House – but extends to almost all office and holders of official rank. 
It starts at the top with the President of the United States who attracts a level of bowing and scraping that a British Prime Minister could only dream of, and continues right on down to the lowliest beat-cop or tinpot airport security or immigration official who bullies and berates the citizenry in a way that would cause a riot in Britain. 
Perhaps the people are cowed by the knowledge that any insolence is liable to be met with a drawn firearm or Taser-zap from which there will almost certainly be no legal recourse, but the sheer compliableness of the US public surprises many of us foreigners. 
The US media is also reflects that culture of deference. American pundits shudder at the mention of the British "tabloid press" – an appellation it extends to pretty much all forms of British journalism – but that is partly because the US media seems to have become institutionally incapable of appreciating the value of judicious disrespect. 
The British media is indeed often thuggish and cruel, but it does have an anti-establishment, insurgent quality that seems largely to have gone missing in America. 
Anybody have any suggestions for how to investigate quantitatively how these perhaps disparate phenomenon vary over time or from one country to another?

I have a vague sense that JFK's presidency had something to do with a lot of this: his James Bond looks, his brothers, his glamorous consort, his nearly blowing up the world in 1962, and his martyrdom, they all combined together to make his uncool successors, such as Johnson and Nixon, unsatisfactory. From this point of view, what happened in The Sixties after 11/22/63 was less a revolt against authority than a demand for more awesome authorities.

Then again, Secretary Kerry, maybe this is "Rocky IV"

From The Independent:
Ukraine crisis: Kerry warns Putin 'This is not Rocky IV'
This picture of Secretary of State John F. Kerry, who towered over George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential debates, meeting a month ago with three leaders of the former Ukrainian opposition (From left: heavyweight champ Vitali Klitschko, Petro Poroshenko, John Kerry, and Victoria Nuland's favorite Arseniy Yatsenyuk), reminds me of just how many Eastern European politicians are Ivan Drago-sized.
For example, here's a picture of Russian oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov, who came in third in the 2012 Russian presidential election with 8% of the vote. He's now owner of the Brooklyn Nets of the NBA. The only one of his three players in this picture who is taller than the boss is Kevin Garnett, who is a seven-footer.

The Russians don't lack enormous boxer-politicians either. From today's NYT:
Three high-profile members of Russia’s lower house of Parliament arrived in Crimea on Thursday, visiting the city that is home to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. “I arrived in Sevastopol to support residents of Crimea,” Nikolai Valuev, a former boxing champion who was elected to the Parliament in 2011, wrote on Twitter. “Friends, Russia is with you.”... 
Mr. Valuev, an unmistakable presence at 7 feet 1 inch tall, described the visit as a fact-finding mission “to personally interact with the residents to know the situation from the inside.” 
Like many officials in Russia, he said the crisis in Ukraine, or at least the foreign news media reporting on it, was clouded by Western propaganda. “There is an information war,” he wrote on Twitter.

Valuev is quite the debonair-looking fellow. Polish sculptor Stanislaw Szukalski (1893-1987) would have felt vindicated.

I was hoping to find a picture of Parliamentarian Valuev with President Putin. But, perhaps not surprisingly, Putin doesn't seem to have been enthusiastic about arranging that photo-op.

Here's a photo of Putin with Leonardo DiCaprio (5'11.5"). (And here's a link to a photo of DiCaprio sitting on Szukalski's lap, but that's getting completely offtrack.)

The Klitschko-Valuev dispute isn't just geopolitical, it's personal. From Bleacher Report in 2010:
Vitali Klitschko Calls Russian Giant Nikolai Valuev a "Chicken" 
By Colin Linneweber , Senior Writer Mar 11, 2010

WBC world heavyweight champion Vitali “Dr. Iron Fist” Klitschko called former two-time WBA heavyweight titlist Nikolai Valuev a “chicken” this week for rejecting a $2.5 million contract offer to fight this spring.

Instead of scrapping the enormous Russian Valuev (50-2-0-1, 34 KOs), Klitschko (39-2, 37 KOs) will defend his crown versus Polish pugilist Albert Sosnowski (45-2-1, 27 KOs) on May 29 in Germany.

“I don’t want to speak bad about him, but I gave Valuev the biggest financial proposal of his career,” said Klitschko, 38, a Ukrainian who has the highest knockout percentage (94.9 percent) of any heavyweight champion ever. 
“He [Valuev] told me ‘No, four.’ There are two reasons why he’s done this. Firstly, he wanted to say no anyway. Four million is unrealistic for someone who has just lost their title. The second point is that he understands if the loses to me straight after losing his title, that’s it for him. Valuev is a chicken.”

Russian immigrant Alex Yuzhakov stated that he agrees with Klitschko that Valuev is indeed a coward.

“Klitschko is right, Valuev is a chicken,” said Yuzhakov, 28, who was born in Moscow and currently resides in Somerville. “For a Russian man to turn down $2.5 million a lot of fear must have been involved. Maybe he’s waiting for a more opportune time to fight Klitschko. No matter, he will never beat the true ex-Soviet beast.”

P.S., a commenter has found a photo with Putin and Valuev in the same frame:

Moneyballing movies: "The Gender Gap in Screen Time"

From the NYT:
The Gender Gap in Screen Time 
Cinemetrics Extracts Statistical Data From Movies 
By KEVIN B. LEE      FEB. 27, 2014 
... Today the Cinemetrics website, run by Yuri Tsivian, a scholar at the University of Chicago, Daria Khitrova and Gunars Civjans, holds statistics on more than 14,000 films. 
... One disquieting finding from my research is that this year’s lead actors average 85 minutes on screen, but lead actresses average only 57 minutes. (When you add in supporting categories, all competing actors averaged 59 minutes, while all competing actresses averaged 42 minutes.) Last year’s results were even more imbalanced: nominated male stars averaged 100 minutes on screen to the lead actresses’ 49 minutes.

I've always said that Best Actor is a much bigger award than Best Actress.

Actors have longer to perfect their crafts as leads in big pictures than do actresses (e.g., Best Actor last year was 55-year-old Daniel Day-Lewis in Spielberg's Lincoln versus 22-year-old Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook.) While Judy Dench and Meryl Streep continue to get Best Actress nominations, the size of their movies drops as they age.

Most screenwriters and almost all top directors are male (e.g., Silver Linings Playbook was David O. Russell's quasi-autobiographical tale about his mental problems, so Bradley Cooper is the main character while Lawrence is cast as The Girl).
Mr. Bordwell said genre might help explain the gender gap. Male stars are typically the protagonists in action or goal-oriented narratives that require the viewer to follow the story through the lead’s experiences. Female stars are more typically cast in melodramas that require the lead to serve as a hub connecting different characters and subplots. ...
Mr. Cassidy [editor of American Hustle] wagered that there wasn’t much of a gap in the screen time between the two nominated leads of his film. But Christian Bale actually has 60 minutes of screen to Amy Adams’s 46 minutes, a significant difference even in an ensemble movie.

Is there really any doubt that Christian Bale's conman is the main character? American Hustle opens and closes with him. He's the character David O. Russell most identifies with. It's not exactly a secret that successful directors like Russell or Scorsese often see a lot of themselves in the flim-flam man main characters that attract them to projects like American Hustle or Wolf of Wall Street.

In general, as you go up the quality scale, the gender gap gets bigger. There are plenty of run-of-the-mill TV shows where actresses of a certain age solve crimes. There are huge audiences who buy a lot of heavily advertised products for those shows.

But when you get to major film auteurs, you get their obsessions. Martin Scorsese, for instance, thinks about guys, all the time. I doubt if he's thought about any of his five wives as much as he's thought about Robert De Niro or Leonardo DiCaprio. (Maybe one of those ex-wives, however, is slightly ahead of Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel for third place in the Scorsese Attention Sweepstakes.)

The CIA and "Eight Is Enough"

I was reading up on postwar CIA efforts toward manipulating opinions (e.g., Operation Mockingbird) via friendly liberal and leftist journalists and intellectuals, and a name that kept coming up was Tom Braden. In the early 1950s, Braden had recruited many leftwing anti-Soviet intellectuals to participate in fronts for the CIA. A popular columnist and pal of the Kennedys (Mrs. Braden ghosted Jackie's newspaper column), Braden went on to be Pat Buchanan's liberal frenemy on Crossfire in the 1980s. But he's best remembered today via Dick van Patten's character "Tom Bradford" on the popular 1970s dramedy "Eight Is Enough," which was based on Braden's memoir.

February 26, 2014

Bacevich on World War G

From Bill Moyers' website:
Andrew Bacevich on Washington’s Tacit Consensus
February 21, 2014

What words best describe present-day Washington politics? The commonplace answer, endlessly repeated by politicians themselves and media observers alike, is this: dysfunction, gridlock, partisanship and incivility. Yet here’s a far more accurate term: tacit consensus. Where Republicans and Democrats disagree, however loudly, matters less than where their views align. Differences entertain. Yet like-mindedness, even if unacknowledged, determines both action and inaction. 
In the ‘Bill-W.-Obama’ era, a neoliberal consensus defines American politics. ...
Although the Cold War has long since ended, this emphasis on an expansive, militarized foreign policy persists. If there’s a fresh element in today’s neoliberal consensus, it’s found in the realm of culture. As neoliberals see it, received norms related to family, gender and sexuality ought to be optional. What Hofstadter in his time described as a “democracy in cupidity rather than a democracy of fraternity” has become in our day a democracy combining cupidity with individual autonomy at the expense of fraternity and self-restraint, all backed by the world’s most powerful, widely deployed and busily employed military establishment. 
... Are the troops in Afghanistan fighting for our freedom? If so, the package of things they fight for includes the prerogative of dispatching US forces to wherever it pleases Washington to send them, along with no-fault divorce, abortion on demand, gay marriage, and an economic system that manifestly privileges the interests of the affluent at the expense of those hard-pressed to make ends meet.  
Andrew Bacevich is a professor of history and international relations at Boston University. A graduate of the US Military Academy, he received his PhD in American diplomatic history from Princeton University. Before joining the faculty of Boston University, he taught at West Point and Johns Hopkins University.

Deep State, Shallow State, Peak State

Bill Moyer's website has a long essay by former Republican Congressional staffer Mike Lofgren:
Essay: Anatomy of the Deep State 
February 21, 2014 
by Mike Lofgren

Rome lived upon its principal till ruin stared it in the face. Industry is the only true source of wealth, and there was no industry in Rome. By day the Ostia road was crowded with carts and muleteers, carrying to the great city the silks and spices of the East, the marble of Asia Minor, the timber of the Atlas, the grain of Africa and Egypt; and the carts brought out nothing but loads of dung. That was their return cargo. 
– The Martyrdom of Man by Winwood Reade (1871) 
There is the visible government situated around the Mall in Washington, and then there is another, more shadowy, more indefinable government that is not explained in Civics 101 or observable to tourists at the White House or the Capitol. The former is traditional Washington partisan politics: the tip of the iceberg that a public watching C-SPAN sees daily and which is theoretically controllable via elections. The subsurface part of the iceberg I shall call the Deep State, which operates according to its own compass heading regardless of who is formally in power.  
... Despite this apparent impotence, President Obama can liquidate American citizens without due processes, detain prisoners indefinitely without charge, conduct dragnet surveillance on the American people without judicial warrant and engage in unprecedented — at least since the McCarthy era — witch hunts against federal employees (the so-called “Insider Threat Program”). Within the United States, this power is characterized by massive displays of intimidating force by militarized federal, state and local law enforcement. Abroad, President Obama can start wars at will and engage in virtually any other activity whatsoever without so much as a by-your-leave from Congress, such as arranging the forced landing of a plane carrying a sovereign head of state over foreign territory. Despite the habitual cant of congressional Republicans about executive overreach by Obama, the would-be dictator, we have until recently heard very little from them about these actions — with the minor exception of comments from gadfly Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. Democrats, save a few mavericks such as Ron Wyden of Oregon, are not unduly troubled, either — even to the extent of permitting seemingly perjured congressional testimony under oath by executive branch officials on the subject of illegal surveillance. 
These are not isolated instances of a contradiction; they have been so pervasive that they tend to be disregarded as background noise. During the time in 2011 when political warfare over the debt ceiling was beginning to paralyze the business of governance in Washington, the United States government somehow summoned the resources to overthrow Muammar Ghaddafi’s regime in Libya, and, when the instability created by that coup spilled over into Mali, provide overt and covert assistance to French intervention there.
... Yes, there is another government concealed behind the one that is visible at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue, a hybrid entity of public and private institutions ruling the country according to consistent patterns in season and out, connected to, but only intermittently controlled by, the visible state whose leaders we choose. My analysis of this phenomenon is not an exposé of a secret, conspiratorial cabal; the state within a state is hiding mostly in plain sight, and its operators mainly act in the light of day. Nor can this other government be accurately termed an “establishment.” All complex societies have an establishment, a social network committed to its own enrichment and perpetuation. In terms of its scope, financial resources and sheer global reach, the American hybrid state, the Deep State, is in a class by itself. That said, it is neither omniscient nor invincible. The institution is not so much sinister (although it has highly sinister aspects) as it is relentlessly well entrenched. Far from being invincible, its failures, such as those in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, are routine enough that it is only the Deep State’s protectiveness towards its higher-ranking personnel that allows them to escape the consequences of their frequent ineptitude.  
How did I come to write an analysis of the Deep State, and why am I equipped to write it? As a congressional staff member for 28 years specializing in national security and possessing a top secret security clearance, I was at least on the fringes of the world I am describing, if neither totally in it by virtue of full membership nor of it by psychological disposition. But, like virtually every employed person, I became, to some extent, assimilated into the culture of the institution I worked for, and only by slow degrees, starting before the invasion of Iraq, did I begin fundamentally to question the reasons of state that motivate the people who are, to quote George W. Bush, “the deciders.”

Cultural assimilation is partly a matter of what psychologist Irving L. Janis called “groupthink,” the chameleon-like ability of people to adopt the views of their superiors and peers. This syndrome is endemic to Washington: The town is characterized by sudden fads, be it negotiating biennial budgeting, making grand bargains or invading countries. Then, after a while, all the town’s cool kids drop those ideas as if they were radioactive. As in the military, everybody has to get on board with the mission, and questioning it is not a career-enhancing move. 
The universe of people who will critically examine the goings-on at the institutions they work for is always going to be a small one. As Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” 
A more elusive aspect of cultural assimilation is the sheer dead weight of the ordinariness of it all once you have planted yourself in your office chair for the 10,000th time. ... After a while, a functionary of the state begins to hear things that, in another context, would be quite remarkable, or at least noteworthy, and yet that simply bounce off one’s consciousness like pebbles off steel plate: “You mean the number of terrorist groups we are fighting is classified?”...
The Deep State does not consist of the entire government. It is a hybrid of national security and law enforcement agencies: the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the Department of Homeland Security, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Justice Department. I also include the Department of the Treasury because of its jurisdiction over financial flows, its enforcement of international sanctions and its organic symbiosis with Wall Street. All these agencies are coordinated by the Executive Office of the President via the National Security Council. Certain key areas of the judiciary belong to the Deep State, such as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, whose actions are mysterious even to most members of Congress. Also included are a handful of vital federal trial courts, such as the Eastern District of Virginia and the Southern District of Manhattan, where sensitive proceedings in national security cases are conducted. The final government component (and possibly last in precedence among the formal branches of government established by the Constitution) is a kind of rump Congress consisting of the congressional leadership and some (but not all) of the members of the defense and intelligence committees. The rest of Congress, normally so fractious and partisan, is mostly only intermittently aware of the Deep State and when required usually submits to a few well-chosen words from the State’s emissaries.

I think the concept of the Shallow State (campaign consultants, media, think tanks, etc.) as complement to the Deep State is pretty useful.

And then there's the Peak State (i.e., the nominal national leader) who often controls the Deep State, but who occasionally gets taken down by it, the way Nixon got taken down by a teaming up of the Deep State (J. Edgar Hoover's pal Deep Throat) and the Shallow State (Woodward and Bernstein).

Erdogan in Turkey was probably surprised to discover that to take down one hostile Deep State (the generals) he wound up empowering a new one (the Gulenists).
I saw this submissiveness on many occasions. One memorable incident was passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act of 2008. This legislation retroactively legalized the Bush administration’s illegal and unconstitutional surveillance first revealed by The New York Times in 2005 and indemnified the telecommunications companies for their cooperation in these acts. The bill passed easily: All that was required was the invocation of the word “terrorism” and most members of Congress responded like iron filings obeying a magnet. One who responded in that fashion was Senator Barack Obama, soon to be coronated as the presidential nominee at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. He had already won the most delegates by campaigning to the left of his main opponent, Hillary Clinton, on the excesses of the global war on terror and the erosion of constitutional liberties. 
As the indemnification vote showed, the Deep State does not consist only of government agencies. What is euphemistically called “private enterprise” is an integral part of its operations.

Victoria Nuland gets her man

We haven't heard much from Our Woman in Kiev, Victoria Nuland (wife and in-law of the numerous Kagans), since her tapped phone call regarding her opinion of the EU's tepid enthusiasm for regime change in Ukraine was leaked in early February. But, her pick for new boss of Ukraine, Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk rather than right nationalist Oleg Tyagnybok or heavyweight champ Vitali Klitschko, appears to have won out. From the NYT:
KIEV, Ukraine — Standing before a crowd of tens of thousands in Independence Square, the epicenter of the three-month civic uprising that ousted President Viktor F. Yanukovych, the lawmakers temporarily controlling Ukraine announced an interim government on Wednesday night to be led by Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, a veteran public official who has served as speaker of Parliament, foreign minister, economics minister and acting head of the central bank. 
The public presentation of Mr. Yatsenyuk, who will serve as acting prime minister, and more than 20 other proposed cabinet members, was a frenetic effort by establishment politicians to win the backing of the street protesters, whose persistence in the face of the deaths of more than 80 people last week in clashes with the police, ultimately dislodged Mr. Yanukovych from power. 
As the names of the proposed ministers were read from the stage — with flowers and candles blanketing the square in memory of the dead — it became clear just how completely the ordinary people on the street had seized control of the direction of Ukraine. Desperate for the crowd’s legitimacy, officials felt compelled to present the slate on stage in the square before putting it up for a vote by Parliament. 

I know this sounds crazy, but I'm reminded of how in 532 AD the Emperor Justinian got into a long argument with the crowd at the chariot races in Constantinople. That was the main way public opinion was factored into Roman and Byzantine politics: by custom, the emperor had to appear at the games, where he was presented with petitions and the crowd's reactions to his responses were used as proto-opinion polls. In this case, Justinian was less than politically deft, and his arrogance led to the hooligan fans of the Blue chariot racing team and the Green chariot racing team uniting in a massive riot against him.

But perhaps there are elements of cultural continuity in Orthodox civilization?
The reaction from the crowd was decidedly mixed. 
Jeers and whistles greeted some established politicians, and cheers for some figures with no government experience chosen because of their role in the uprising. But with Ukraine hurtling toward an economic catastrophe, and no time for protracted negotiations, the gesture of deference to the crowd seemed sufficient to move the process forward. 
“We need to change these faces,” said Alyona Murashko, a 28-year-old marketing specialist who stopped in the square to watch the announcement, carrying groceries on her way home from work. Ms. Murashko said that she approved of the choice of Olga Bogomolets, a physician, singer and activist as deputy prime minister for humanitarian affairs, and of Tatyana Chornovil, a crusading activist and journalist to lead Ukraine’s anti-corruption bureau. 
Ms. Murashko, however, said she opposed Mr. Yatsenyuk and many of the other choices. “I wouldn’t like to see him even temporarily,” she said. “No one from current political parties.” Ms. Murashko said that she was glad that presidential elections would be held in May, but wanted parliamentary elections “as soon as possible.” 
Among those eliciting loud boos was Oleksandr V. Turchynov, who was elected by colleagues on Saturday as the new speaker of Parliament, and who has been authorized to carry out the duties of president, effectively putting him in charge of the country. Mr. Turchynov was not part of the slate announced on Wednesday night and will continue in his position even after the interim government is approved. 
On the whole, the makeup of the interim government suggested that Ukraine would now move more swiftly to improve ties with the West, potentially reviving the sweeping political and trade agreements with the European Union that Mr. Yanukovych scuttled in November, setting off protests in Kiev and other cities. 
Mr. Yatsenyuk is an ally of Mr. Yanukovych’s archrival, the former prime minister, Yulia V. Tymoshenko. ... 
Mr. Yatsenyuk, by contrast, is largely viewed as an able technician with a firm grasp of economic policy and foreign affairs. Ukraine’s economy is in tatters and it is in desperate need of a rescue package from the International Monetary Fund, which has said it will demand painful austerity measures and long-delayed economic changes in return for any assistance. ...

Mr. Yatsenyuk was one of three opposition leaders in Parliament who were among the chief organizers of the street demonstrations. Another, the ex-champion boxer Vitali Klitschko, who heads a party called the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform, has already announced his candidacy for president. The third, Oleg Tyagnybok, is the leader of the nationalist Svoboda party, which is popular in Western Ukraine but has limited support elsewhere. 
Among the crowd-pleasing choices in this regard were Dmitry Bulatov, the leader of a group called AutoMaidan, who was designated as minister of youth and sport, and Eugene Nyschuk, an actor who has served as M.C. from the stage in Independence Square throughout the protests and who was selected as culture minister.

Background primers on World War G

From the NYT today:
Putin Orders a Surprise Army Exercise Near a Fragile Ukraine 
President Vladimir V. Putin’s move appeared to be a show of strength amid the unrest gripping Ukraine, and in response the Obama administration said any Russian military intervention in the country would be a “grave mistake.”

War game exercises are a way to semi-mobilize without announcing a mobilization. Back in July 1914, Russia's announcement of mobilization set off chain reactions that proved unstoppable. So announcing "army exercises" are a way to get your men in their tanks without announcing you are going to war. The good news is that war games can be called off. The bad news is that war games can turn into war.

I want to toot my own horn here by pointing out that my last four columns in Taki's Magazine serve as background behind today's worrisome news. I've had a bad feeling for some time about the hyping up of World War G that accelerated back in 2013. Back in December I wrote a blog post:
World War G and the Military-Industrial Complex 
America's Global War of Terror has been a huge moneymaker for Washington's Beltway, but it's starting to get a little old. Looking to the future, why not a replay of a tried and true honeypot: an arms race with Russia? ... 
But to justify lots more spending we need some reason to be angry at the Russians. They don't have 53,000 tanks pointed in the general direction of the Fulda Gap anymore, so the pretext isn't immediately obvious. 
Good question ... 
I know, gays!  
And Ukrainians, although they're kind of boring ... Hey, there must be some Ukrainian gays! Somebody get to work on this pronto.

Thus, my February Taki's columns have been obsessed with exploring perspectives on European geopolitics:
World War III
February 05, 2014 
With the 100th anniversary of World War I upcoming and old enmities between America and Russia resurging in contemporary form—for example, Glenn Beck recently said, “I will stand with GLAAD against…hetero-fascism” in Russia—due to the approach of that gayest of sporting events, the Winter Olympics, I thought it worth taking a look back at the war that didn’t happen: the one between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. 
So I dug out my battered copy of Sir John Hackett’s 1978 sci-fi novel, The Third World War: August 1985, which scared the hell out of me when I received it as a Christmas present on December 25, 1979, the day the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. ... 
The Kremlin then dusts off its contingency plan to convert summer war games in East Germany into a full-scale invasion of West Germany.

The Borders of Empire
February 12, 2014 
... And that short tour of Winter Olympics sites raises the seemingly abstract but politically fraught question: Where’s a good place to draw national borders?
One tempting answer is along major rivers. After all, if you glance at a map, you’ll notice that big rivers tend to be long and fairly linear, just like you hope your ideal border would be. 
Moreover, wide rivers are more militarily defensible than flat land. That’s why Warsaw Pact contingency plans for invading Western Europe assumed that the Rhine had to be reached to forestall a NATO counteroffensive. 
The peacetime political problem with using navigable rivers as borders, however, is that they frequently separate people who don’t want to be separated.

Nationalism Is a Blast
February 19, 2014 
The Russians, lacking all natural defenses to the West, are sensitive to the proximity of hostile alliances. They believe, with much historical justification, that in February 1990 Secretary of State James Baker and West German leader Helmut Kohl promised Mikhail Gorbachev no Eastern expansion of the NATO military bloc in return for allowing the reunification of Germany by withdrawing the 380,000 Soviet troops from East Germany. 
The West has repeatedly violated that gentleman’s agreement, in 2008 even putting Ukraine and Georgia on track for NATO membership. (Georgia’s subsequent invasion of Russian-held South Ossetia proved a major embarrassment, however.) 
The US media’s ideological justifications for its anti-Russianism involve gay rights (”World War G”) and democracy (“World War D”). But those concepts don’t appear much in evidence in scenes from central Kiev, where the City Hall of the embattled pro-Russian government had been occupied since December by masked men swinging iron bars. ... 
For example, when was the last tank-v.-tank battle?  ... 
The two countries that have the tanks, terrain, and mutual border to conceivably replay the Battle of Kursk are Russia (2,562 tanks in service and plenty more in reserve) and Ukraine (725 tanks running).

Conservatism in Russia and America
February 26, 2014 
Similarities and differences between Russian and American conservatism—especially in regard to the topic of the moment, Ukraine—can be observed in the thought of Russian geopolitical theorist Aleksandr Dugin, director of the Center for Conservative Studies at Moscow State University. ... 
After last week’s coup in Kiev, Dugin said in an interview on Russian state television: 
I suggest that it is necessary that Russia, in an organized way, help Eastern Ukraine and Crimea.

When asked by the interviewer what he meant by “an organized way,” Dugin replied, “with tanks.”

February 25, 2014

Spike Lee: There goes the neighborhood

At an interview, movie director Spike Lee offered up a fun (but quite serious) denunciation of how white people are ruining the neighborhood where he grew up in Brooklyn. That reminds me that Spike is slightly to the right of Shaka Zulu.

What the Surveillance State can do

In Turkey, as I reported back on New Year's Day, the followers of Imam Gulen of the Poconos have used their control of test prep centers to go on a long march through the institutions, infiltrating Turkish security forces with interesting results for their former ally, the prime minister, who presumably has been skimming extravagantly from all his construction projects.

Now that wiretapping has gone from analog to digital, lots of information is readily available to those seeded in the right spots to blackmail or destroy their rivals. From the NYT:
Currently, though, the show to watch is Turkey’s own political crisis, set off by a corruption scandal that has played out like a serial drama through the steady flow of leaked telephone conversations. The most sensational one was released Monday night, an apparently wiretapped conversation in which Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, worried about an investigation closing in, is heard telling his son to get tens of millions of dollars out of the house. ...

Mr. Erdogan did not stay silent, though. His office quickly released a statement saying, “Phone recordings published on the Internet that are alleged to be between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his son are a product of an immoral montage that is completely false.”... 
The corruption inquest represents the greatest challenge to Mr. Erdogan’s power in more than a decade. While it has been cast by the government as a conspiracy mounted by followers of the Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, who lives in exile in Pennsylvania, Mr. Gulen himself has strongly denied any involvement. 
However, most analysts say his adherents are entrenched within the Turkish state, where they are in a position to do a great deal of damage if they so choose. The crisis actually stems, many say, from a fallout between Mr. Gulen and Mr. Erdogan, who were once allies in the current Islamist governing coalition.

Yet, it remains hard to know much about the Gulenists themselves.. In 1999, just after he defected to the U.S., the Imam's enemies released a video of him telling his followers to move quietly in the arteries of the system until the time was ripe. Since then, he apparently learned his lesson to avoid electronic communications: little has surfaced documenting what exactly Gulen's intentions are. He seems mostly to communicate only orally with his followers visiting his fortified compound in Pennsylvania.

I often wonder what effects advances in technology will have on where important people work and live. Gulen seems to have gone to one extreme: take refuge in a country with a friendly, stable government and set up shop in the countryside 110 miles from JFK and only deal with trusted contacts face to face.

Of course, at high levels, big shots have been dealing with the implications of bugging technology for a long time. Here's a story from a 1982 Jack Anderson column:
There was a historical showdown, for example, between President Lyndon Johnson and Sen. Robert Kennedy in early 1968. It was before the New Hampshire primary; Johnson was still planning to run for re-election and Kennedy was thinking of challenging him. He asked for a private meeting with the president. 
LBJ gave a terse order to Jack A. Albright, head of the White House Communications Agency: "Let's record the meeting." 
"We put in one microphone," recalls Albright, now retired. "It was hidden in the table. It should have worked beautifully. Except it didn't." 
Albright later figured out why. 
Kennedy had brought a briefcase into the Oval Office, and kept it in his lap throughout the 30- to 40-minute meeting. "We weren't listening, of course," Albright explained. "All we could do was record. When we tried to play it back, all we got was a 'bzzzzeettt.'" 
Kennedy, no stranger to White House bugging, had carried a jamming device in his briefcase. When LBJ heard the bad news, Albright recalls, he drawled: "That son-of-a-b----."
And of course there's the often-told (but perhaps apocryphal) story about the Canadian hockey team in Russia to play the Soviets in 1972 who were worried about bugs in their hotel room:
Phil Esposito, centre: The chandelier story goes that me and [Wayne] Cashman were looking for bugs [that KGB planted in players rooms]. We find a little lump under the rug. It was a box with a series of screws and we start unscrewing it until we hear a big crash below. We peep through the screw-hole downstairs and see that a chandelier in the hotel ballroom had crashed to the floor.

Aleksandr Dugin and the Great Game

My new column in Taki's magazine considers the rightwing Russian geopolitical theorist Aleksandr Dugin:
Because Ukraine (a word that may mean “borderlands,” although like everything else about the place, the etymology remains in dispute) lacks both natural defenses and an agreed-upon national identity, this wide expanse of Slavic-language-speaking territory has long attracted the attention of the most audacious geopolitical philosophers. They have seen it as the crucial blank slate upon which to inscribe their designs for world domination. In turn, Ukraine’s fundamental vulnerability motivates locals toward extremes of nationalism (although not always in agreement with their neighbors' conceptions of nationalism). 
Ukraine’s perennially precarious geopolitical situation was memorably parodied in a 1995 Seinfeld episode in which Kramer and Newman are playing the board game Risk on the subway. Kramer taunts Newman, “I’ve driven you out of Western Europe, and I’ve left you teetering on the brink of complete annihilation.” 
Newman desperately bluffs, “I’m not beaten yet! I still have armies in the Ukraine.” 
“The Ukraine? You know what the Ukraine is, it’s a sitting duck,” scoffs Kramer. “A road apple, Newman. The Ukraine is weak. It’s feeble. I think it’s time to put the hurt on the Ukraine….” 
A fellow passenger, a deep-voiced Ukrainian in a fur hat, is naturally outraged. He asks, “Ukraine is game to you?” before smashing the board. 
To the misfortune of the people who live there, Ukraine is a game to the idea men (and women, such as neoconservative insider Victoria Nuland) of numerous surrounding deep states.

Read the whole thing there.

NYT: Blacks don't get enough Oscars for playing nonblacks

From the NYT:
Racial Barriers Still Hold Back Hollywood's Black Talent
By REUTERS FEB. 25, 2014, 8:15 P.M. E.S.T.

LOS ANGELES — When Halle Berry and Denzel Washington won the best-acting Oscar categories and Sidney Poitier was honored with a lifetime achievement award in 2002, the night was a watershed for black actors in Hollywood. 
Since then the debate about Hollywood diversity among the African American community has continued to ebb and flow, but one fact remains constant: nearly all black actors are still only being recognized by the Academy Awards for playing specifically black characters in film. 
... This year, three black actors will be vying for Oscars at the March 2 ceremony, and if "12 Years a Slave" wins best picture, it will be the first film by a black director to do so. 
But as black films and actors are being celebrated by Hollywood, there is no clear indication that the industry has turned the corner on increasing roles not based on race. 
That could be partly explained by the underrepresentation of black talent in senior positions in film studios and among the 6,000-plus members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who vote for the Oscars. 
"When roles in otherwise mainstream movies go to black actors that aren't necessarily written for (them), I think that's a point when there will have been some profile change," said Todd Boyd, a professor of critical studies at the University of Southern California and an expert on African American cinema and culture. "We are not there yet." 

Roles in mainstream movies do go to black actors that weren't originally written for them -- it's just that those kind of movies don't get Oscar recognition. Thirty years ago, Beverly Hills Cop was planned around Sylvester Stallone, but Eddie Murphy wound up playing the role. Murphy wasn't nominated for an Oscar in it, but then Stallone wouldn't have been either.

Murphy and Stallone have each only been nominated once, both for highly ethnically specific roles: Murphy for Dreamgirls and Stallone for Rocky.
Seven of the nine best-picture nominees in contention for an Oscar this year, including large ensemble casts in "American Hustle" and "The Wolf of Wall Street," do not have any black actors in leading or supporting roles.

American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street are both period pieces inspired by true stories of white collar criminality, so wouldn't it be racist to imply that blacks were involved?

Both are set in East Coast white ethnic milieus by East Coast white ethnic directors (David O. Russell and Martin Scorsese) who specialize in movies about non-Protestant whites.

And both movies are well-cast: would Kerry Washington really have been funnier than Jennifer Lawrence? Would Kevin Hart have been better than Jonah Hill as the drug-addicted cousin-marrying sleaze Donny Azoff?

The one piece of casting in either movies that is a little off is Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort (whom you can see introducing DiCaprio as himself in New Zealand at the end of Wolf). DiCaprio doesn't attempt a Long Island accent and it's not clear how the vaguely Slavic-looking DiCaprio is supposed to be Rob Reiner's son. (I had assumed from the trailer that Reiner would play Jonah Hill's dad.) But, other than the accent, DiCaprio works hilariously hard throughout the movie. If you want to see a famous movie star look like he's about to have an aneurysm, several times, well, The Wolf of Wall Street is just your ticket.
The two films that do, "Captain Phillips" and "12 Years a Slave," have landed acting nods for stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, who is up for best actor, and Lupita Nyong'o and Barkhad Abdi in the supporting categories. 
British actor Ejiofor and Kenyan-Mexican actress Nyong'o both play slaves in McQueen's pre-civil-war drama, while Somali-American newcomer Abdi, in his first acting role, portrays a Somali pirate who seizes command of a cargo ship.

In other words, African-Americans had a poor Oscar year, but non-American blacks had a very good one, but why talk about complications of ethnicity when we can talk about race and keep it simple: black and white?
More than 50 black actors and actresses have been nominated and won Oscars throughout the history of the Academy Awards. Most have done so for playing specifically black characters, either historical or fictional. 
Washington managed to play an alcoholic airplane pilot in "Flight," a role for which he was nominated for best actor in 2013. But that was one of the rare exceptions.

Terrific performance, fine movie. Washington's performance is pretty similar to DiCaprio's in terms of a big star working hard.

In general, though, movies with generic leading roles that could be filled by any ethnicity don't get as much Oscar attention. For example, Mark Wahlberg, a former Boston juvenile delinquent, is mostly a a non-specific leading man who competes for roles in commercial movies with other leading men. Most Mark Wahlberg movies don't get a lot of Oscar respect, but some of the ones where he stays closer to home, such as The Departed (Scorsese) and The Fighter (Russell) do.

Similarly, Will Smith competes with Tom Cruise for a lot of sci-fi roles as the Last Man on Earth and the like, but he's only been nominated twice for an Oscar, both times (Ali, Pursuit of Happyness) for biopics playing real life black characters. (Similarly, Tom Cruise hasn't been nominated since 2000.) Oscar voters are prejudiced in favor of detailed drawn-from-life roles, and are content to let the box office reward roles that either Will Smith or Tom Cruise could have played.
"Why couldn't there be an African American starring in the role that Joaquin Phoenix plays (in 'Her')?" said Boyd. "When you see that, then there's a change."

I'm not sure Professor Boyd understands what the W in SWPL stands for.

By the way, as usual, nobody is interested in Mexican-Americans.

Richest man in Ukraine is a blond Muslim

Ukraine is currently a really, really poor country, with a GDP per capita about a third of Poland's, significantly lower than Belarus, and barely higher than prewar Syria's.

But Ukraine has a lot of billionaires. The most recent Forbes global list of billionaires finds ten billionaires in Ukraine (versus four in Poland). According to race / history / evolution notes, six have Eastern European Slavic names. Apparently, they are fairly recent additions to the list. 

In contrast, five years ago there were only four billionaires. According to a 2009 Jewish Telegraph Agency article:
Three of Ukraine’s four billionaires are Jewish 
By Vladimir Matveyev June 11, 2009 10:37pm 
KIEV, Ukraine (JTA) — Three of Ukraine’s four billionaires are Jewish, according to the Ukrainian Korrespondent magazine’s annual list. 
Igor Kolomoysky, 47, a co-owner of the Privat business group and president of the United Jewish Community of Ukraine, leads the Jewish billionaires on the list with $2.3 billion, down from $6.6 billion in 2008. 
Victor Pinchuk, 48, is next at $2.2 billion, down from $8.8 billion, followed by Gennady Bogolyubov, 47, with $1.7 billion, down from $6.2 billion. 
Rinat Akhmetov
Heading the list is Rinat Akhmetov, who owns FC Shahtar Donetzk, with $9.6 billion — a more than threefold drop from $31.1 billion in 2008. 

Interestingly, Akhmetov is a blond Tatar Muslim. He owns the Donetzk soccer team in the industrial east and has been friendly with the overthrown president.
Eduard Dolinsky, executive director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, said the large number of Jews on the Korrespondent list creates a mixture of pride and anxiety within the country’s Jewish community. He said it could strengthen anti-Semitic stereotypes during financial crises in Ukraine, where Jews comprise approximately one half of 1 percent of the population of 46 million.

Since then the number of billionaires has gone up, whether due to economic recovery, a policy of making the oligarchs look more like Ukraine, or additional looting. Whether the new billionaires with Slavic names are Russians, Russophone Ukrainians, Ukrainophone Ukrainians, or something else is beyond me, but is possibly not irrelevant to recent events.

Most of the oligarchs are nimble political operatives with ties to several political camps, so nobody expects the list to change too much.