Monday, April 21, 2014

Terrence O. Moore: Indiana's Schlocky Common Core Standards

http://www.libertylawsite.org/2014/04/21/losing-our-stories-losing-the-regime/
The loss of great literature in the schools and its replacement with something that is manifestly not great—and is meant in fact to put an end to the very idea of greatness—is no academic matter. As Plato taught us long ago, whoever controls the stories, what today we call “the narrative,” of any society, will inevitably control the society. If we give up our stories, we lose our surest means of teaching young people what is truly good and true and beautiful; we lose the best way of teaching them how to be human. Should we give that up because self-appointed educational experts apparently don’t know how to talk about a great book when it is put in front of them?
Call me old-fashioned, but it seems to me that if you were having a statewide discussion about education you would have to talk about books. Moreover, if the subject you were discussing was what used to be called English (now known by the horrendous acronym ELA), the debate would be over Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Edgar Allan Poe and other worthy storytellers and poets whose stories should fill our imaginations and whose words should be etched in our hearts. You would have to offer some indication, some hint, as to what great books are about: love, hope, despair, heroism, victory, in short, human life.
Such a conversation has certainly not taken place over the last few weeks in Indiana, as “Technical Teams” and “Evaluation Teams” have rushed to copy and paste and slightly re-word the Common Core in order to produce the Hoosier state’s “new” college- and career-ready standards. Far from having a conversation about real learning, the only thing the educational establishment in charge of this charade has talked about is “the process” of coming up with new standards.
It has produced a document that would guide schools in the teaching of English yet omits the likes of Shakespeare or Austen or Poe. The reason is that those responsible for re-crafting English standards in Indiana do not really care about great literature; nor do they show much concern for the English language. They certainly have not recognized that the primary innovation of the Common Core English Standards has been to take great literature out of English classes and to replace it with a combination of largely forgettable and often biased “informational texts” and depressing post-modern schlock that no child should ever read.
So they haven’t fixed anything. The school children of Indiana remain vulnerable to the mind-numbing, soul-shrinking, imagination-stifling, story-killing mandates of the Common Core.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

April Fool's! (not)

http://wemeantwell.com/blog/2014/03/31/state-department-spends-400000-of-your-money-on-sculpture/

 Peter Van Buren reports on WeMeantWell.com:

 Your Department of State spent $400,000 of taxpayer money on a piece of sculpture called “Camel Contemplating Needle” for the U.S. embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan. The sculpture weighs 500 pounds. The written justification for not putting the project out for competitive bidding includes a cut ‘n paste from Wikipedia about the artist. The State Department says that the sculpture meets the “values of a predominantly Muslim country.” The price paid, $400,000 of your money, included crating of the sculpture. The photo above is the actual $400,000 sculpture. These are the people in charge. That is all.

- See more at: http://wemeantwell.com/blog/2014/03/31/state-department-spends-400000-of-your-money-on-sculpture/#sthash.PRsRf24J.dpuf

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Frank Furedi on Ukraine

http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/the-infantile-diplomacy-behind-demonising-russia/14824
Anyone who follows the Western media could be excused for thinking Russia is a rampant, aggressive and expansionist power just waiting for a chance to reconquer its neighbouring state of Ukraine. The reality is that despite the occasional nationalistic posturing of President Putin, Russia has turned into a classical defensive status-quo power. Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, Russia has experienced a diminishing of its power and influence. It has struggled to keep a grip in the Caucasus and faces a radicalised Islamic movement that is far more formidable than any of the forces that directly challenge Western societies. And on its Western front, Russia feels threatened by political and cultural pressure from Europe. In such circumstances, it is understandable that many in the Russian elite feel as though the very fabric of their nation is fraying.
The main accomplishment of Western, specifically EU diplomacy in Ukraine, has been to force Russia further on the defensive. Russia’s intervention in Crimea is at least in part a reaction to what it perceives as systematic foreign interference in Ukraine. What did the EU expect would happen when it invited Ukraine to join its sphere of influence? As Professor Stephen Cohen noted, this dangerous conflict was ignited ‘by the EU’s reckless ultimatum in November that the democratically elected president of a profoundly divided country choose between Europe and Russia’. The West claims that we have moved beyond the bad old days of the twentieth century, when global powers sought to consolidate and dominate spheres of influence. And yet, since the collapse of the Soviet Union there has been a systematic attempt to move the Western sphere of influence closer and closer to the borders of Russia. The line that divided East and West has shifted from the middle of Berlin towards the Russian border. Putin may sometimes come across as insecure to the point of paranoia. But a Russian today would not have to be paranoid to think his nation is being encircled and slowly undermined by forces hostile to its existence. Western diplomats who fail to grasp Russia’s concerns are actually the ones who have lost touch with geopolitical reality.
The EU and the US act as if they bear no responsibility for the crisis in Ukraine and in Western-Russian relations. Possibly the West has deluded itself about global affairs to such an extent that it is oblivious to its own complicity in the current crisis. Such delusions mean that the normal rules that inform international relations have given way to shallow posturing and empty moralising, always with an eye to making an impact with the media. This corrosion of Western diplomacy represents a real danger to global stability. It also undermines the moral authority of democracy. At a certain point, the politics of double standards in foreign affairs will demean democratic ideals so much that even the integrity of democratic institutions at home will come to be undermined

Club Orlov on Ukraine

In this intercepted phone call (http://youtu.be/6RxSzSWbcxo) Yulia Tymoshenko, a likely Ukrainian presidential candidate (but there will be no elections*) talks about using nuclear weapons on the eight million Russian citizens who live in Ukraine. Good thing these "Ukrainians" don't have any nuclear weapons, but they do have plentiful baseball bats and AK47s looted from armories in the west of the country. Listening to the tone of her voice (these Ukrainian nationalists are speaking together in pretty good Russian, by the way; they are both urbane and Ukrainian is a village dialect) I almost feel sorry for her. Except that she is talking about murdering people like me (my father was born in Kiev, so I have the right to a Ukrainian citizenship). Ahem, President Putin, do you have a moment? [* And the reason there will be no election is that if the election were held today, the people in power would get maybe 5% of the popular vote.] In his novel The White Guard, Mikhail Bulgakov, writing of the events of 1918 in Ukraine, characterized Ukrainian politics as a “pathetic operetta.” We appear to be at just that point yet again.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

JIM HENSON: THE BIOGRAPHY, by Brian Jay Jones

JIM HENSON: THE BIOGRAPHY by Brian Jay Jones (NY: Ballantine, 2013).
Reviewed by Laurence Jarvik

There's a new Kermit movie at theaters nationwide these days--MUPPETS MOST WANTED.

What better time could there be to read JIM HENSON: THE BIOGRAPHY, by Brian Jay Jones (http://brianjayjones.com/book)?

After all, during his lifetime, Kermit was performed by Jim Henson,himself. And the author knows more about Jim Henson and the Muppets than anyone outside the Henson family.  This volume represents years of research and interviews. It is extremely valuable as cultural history and American history--but what's more, as television history...and because of the importance of Sesame Street to the development of PBS, Washington history as well.

In this work, Jones demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt, that without Jim Henson, there would not have been a Sesame Street phenomenon. Henson not only did the Muppets, he also made the short educational films like "1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10..." and "3". Everything exciting, innovative and memorable about that program can be credited to Henson. The live-action was just a bunch of Captain Kangaroo producers and directors doing their live kid-show stuff, which CBS did better with Bob Keeshan and Mr. Green Jeans.

And Jones reveals that Henson was a genius businessman as well as a genius muppet performer...he was a hit here in DC on WTOP and WRC as a teenager, and made money all his life from TV commercials--Kermit and Cookie Monster and others came from commercial TV...Jimmy Dean and Wilkins Coffee and Big Bird has his origins in the La Choy Dragon.

In other words so-called non-commercial PBS was airing a Jim Henson commercial aimed at kids all along. Not surprisingly, Jim Henson retained his rights to merchandise based on Muppet characters sold by non-commercial PBS. And in the end, Henson sold his empire to Disney (CTW bought back their muppets from a German company in a complicated post-mortem deal Jones explains pretty well). Everybody was making money all along...

It is all documented in the book which has scoop after scoop after scoop.He literally knows where the bodies are buried--and the Muppets had a body count with a number of sudden deaths, including an unsolved murder mystery...not to mention Henson's premature demise at age 53.

All of which is to say, Jones' story is a pleasure to read. He is a gifted writer, and the fast-paced biography reads like a novel. I could not put it down. The author has written a book that I would have liked to write..

Because Jim Henson is also Washington story. His father worked for the Department of Agriculturel. He began the Muppets on Washington television with Sam & Friends and Wilkins Coffee. He went to the University of Maryland. He lived in Hyattsville. And the Muppets made Sesame Street, which made PBS...

One of the insights in this book is that the success of Henson's Fraggle Rock helped launch HBO. It was the first original series made for Cable. And of course The Muppet Show was a hit in syndication, thanks to Britain's Lord Grade and President Nixon's syndication rules.

In any case, I can't recommend Brian Jay Jones' book highly enough. You can buy the book right now from Amazon, here:

Putin's Crimea Speech

PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA VLADIMIR PUTIN: Federation Council members, State Duma deputies, good afternoon.  Representatives of the Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol are here among us, citizens of Russia, residents of Crimea...

Dear friends, we have gathered here today in connection with an issue that is of vital, historic significance to all of us. A referendum was held in Crimea on March 16 in full compliance with democratic procedures and international norms.
More than 82 percent of the electorate took part in the vote. Over 96 percent of them spoke out in favour of reuniting with Russia. These numbers speak for themselves.
To understand the reason behind such a choice it is enough to know the history of Crimea and what Russia and Crimea have always meant for each other.
Everything in Crimea speaks of our shared history and pride. This is the location of ancient Khersones, where Prince Vladimir was baptised. His spiritual feat of adopting Orthodoxy predetermined the overall basis of the culture, civilisation and human values that unite the peoples of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. The graves of Russian soldiers whose bravery brought Crimea into the Russian empire are also in Crimea. This is also Sevastopol – a legendary city with an outstanding history, a fortress that serves as the birthplace of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. Crimea is Balaklava and Kerch, Malakhov Kurgan and Sapun Ridge. Each one of these places is dear to our hearts, symbolising Russian military glory and outstanding valour.
Crimea is a unique blend of different peoples’ cultures and traditions. This makes it similar to Russia as a whole, where not a single ethnic group has been lost over the centuries. Russians and Ukrainians, Crimean Tatars and people of other ethnic groups have lived side by side in Crimea, retaining their own identity, traditions, languages and faith.
Incidentally, the total population of the Crimean Peninsula today is 2.2 million people, of whom almost 1.5 million are Russians, 350,000 are Ukrainians who predominantly consider Russian their native language, and about 290,000-300,000 are Crimean Tatars, who, as the referendum has shown, also lean towards Russia.
True, there was a time when Crimean Tatars were treated unfairly, just as a number of other peoples in the USSR. There is only one thing I can say here: millions of people of various ethnicities suffered during those repressions, and primarily Russians.
Crimean Tatars returned to their homeland. I believe we should make all the necessary political and legislative decisions to finalise the rehabilitation of Crimean Tatars, restore them in their rights and clear their good name.
We have great respect for people of all the ethnic groups living in Crimea. This is their common home, their motherland, and it would be right – I know the local population supports this – for Crimea to have three equal national languages: Russian, Ukrainian and Tatar.
Colleagues,
In people’s hearts and minds, Crimea has always been an inseparable part of Russia. This firm conviction is based on truth and justice and was passed from generation to generation, over time, under any circumstances, despite all the dramatic changes our country went through during the entire 20th century.
After the revolution, the Bolsheviks, for a number of reasons – may God judge them – added large sections of the historical South of Russia to the Republic of Ukraine. This was done with no consideration for the ethnic make-up of the population, and today these areas form the southeast of Ukraine. Then, in 1954, a decision was made to transfer Crimean Region to Ukraine, along with Sevastopol, despite the fact that it was a federal city. This was the personal initiative of the Communist Party head Nikita Khrushchev. What stood behind this decision of his – a desire to win the support of the Ukrainian political establishment or to atone for the mass repressions of the 1930’s in Ukraine – is for historians to figure out.
What matters now is that this decision was made in clear violation of the constitutional norms that were in place even then. The decision was made behind the scenes. Naturally, in a totalitarian state nobody bothered to ask the citizens of Crimea and Sevastopol. They were faced with the fact. People, of course, wondered why all of a sudden Crimea became part of Ukraine. But on the whole – and we must state this clearly, we all know it – this decision was treated as a formality of sorts because the territory was transferred within the boundaries of a single state. Back then, it was impossible to imagine that Ukraine and Russia may split up and become two separate states. However, this has happened.
Unfortunately, what seemed impossible became a reality. The USSR fell apart. Things developed so swiftly that few people realised how truly dramatic those events and their consequences would be. Many people both in Russia and in Ukraine, as well as in other republics hoped that the Commonwealth of Independent States that was created at the time would become the new common form of statehood. They were told that there would be a single currency, a single economic space, joint armed forces; however, all this remained empty promises, while the big country was gone. It was only when Crimea ended up as part of a different country that Russia realised that it was not simply robbed, it was plundered.
At the same time, we have to admit that by launching the sovereignty parade Russia itself aided in the collapse of the Soviet Union. And as this collapse was legalised, everyone forgot about Crimea and Sevastopol ­– the main base of the Black Sea Fleet. Millions of people went to bed in one country and awoke in different ones, overnight becoming ethnic minorities in former Union republics, while the Russian nation became one of the biggest, if not the biggest ethnic group in the world to be divided by borders.
Now, many years later, I heard residents of Crimea say that back in 1991 they were handed over like a sack of potatoes. This is hard to disagree with. And what about the Russian state? What about Russia? It humbly accepted the situation. This country was going through such hard times then that realistically it was incapable of protecting its interests. However, the people could not reconcile themselves to this outrageous historical injustice. All these years, citizens and many public figures came back to this issue, saying that Crimea is historically Russian land and Sevastopol is a Russian city. Yes, we all knew this in our hearts and minds, but we had to proceed from the existing reality and build our good-neighbourly relations with independent Ukraine on a new basis. Meanwhile, our relations with Ukraine, with the fraternal Ukrainian people have always been and will remain of foremost importance for us.
Today we can speak about it openly, and I would like to share with you some details of the negotiations that took place in the early 2000s. The then President of Ukraine Mr Kuchma asked me to expedite the process of delimiting the Russian-Ukrainian border. At that time, the process was practically at a standstill.  Russia seemed to have recognised Crimea as part of Ukraine, but there were no negotiations on delimiting the borders. Despite the complexity of the situation, I immediately issued instructions to Russian government agencies to speed up their work to document the borders, so that everyone had a clear understanding that by agreeing to delimit the border we admitted de facto and de jure that Crimea was Ukrainian territory, thereby closing the issue.
We accommodated Ukraine not only regarding Crimea, but also on such a complicated matter as the maritime boundary in the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait. What we proceeded from back then was that good relations with Ukraine matter most for us and they should not fall hostage to deadlock territorial disputes. However, we expected Ukraine to remain our good neighbour, we hoped that Russian citizens and Russian speakers in Ukraine, especially its southeast and Crimea, would live in a friendly, democratic and civilised state that would protect their rights in line with the norms of international law.
However, this is not how the situation developed. Time and time again attempts were made to deprive Russians of their historical memory, even of their language and to subject them to forced assimilation. Moreover, Russians, just as other citizens of Ukraine are suffering from the constant political and state crisis that has been rocking the country for over 20 years.
I understand why Ukrainian people wanted change. They have had enough of the authorities in power during the years of Ukraine’s independence. Presidents, prime ministers and parliamentarians changed, but their attitude to the country and its people remained the same. They milked the country, fought among themselves for power, assets and cash flows and did not care much about the ordinary people. They did not wonder why it was that millions of Ukrainian citizens saw no prospects at home and went to other countries to work as day labourers. I would like to stress this: it was not some Silicon Valley they fled to, but to become day labourers. Last year alone almost 3 million people found such jobs in Russia. According to some sources, in 2013 their earnings in Russia totalled over $20 billion, which is about 12% of Ukraine’s GDP.
I would like to reiterate that I understand those who came out on Maidan with peaceful slogans against corruption, inefficient state management and poverty. The right to peaceful protest, democratic procedures and elections exist for the sole purpose of replacing the authorities that do not satisfy the people. However, those who stood behind the latest events in Ukraine had a different agenda: they were preparing yet another government takeover; they wanted to seize power and would stop short of nothing. They resorted to terror, murder and riots. Nationalists, neo-Nazis, Russophobes and anti-Semites executed this coup. They continue to set the tone in Ukraine to this day.
The new so-called authorities began by introducing a draft law to revise the language policy, which was a direct infringement on the rights of ethnic minorities. However, they were immediately ‘disciplined’ by the foreign sponsors of these so-called politicians. One has to admit that the mentors of these current authorities are smart and know well what such attempts to build a purely Ukrainian state may lead to. The draft law was set aside, but clearly reserved for the future. Hardly any mention is made of this attempt now, probably on the presumption that people have a short memory. Nevertheless, we can all clearly see the intentions of these ideological heirs of Bandera, Hitler’s accomplice during World War II.
It is also obvious that there is no legitimate executive authority in Ukraine now, nobody to talk to. Many government agencies have been taken over by the impostors, but they do not have any control in the country, while they themselves – and I would like to stress this – are often controlled by radicals. In some cases, you need a special permit from the militants on Maidan to meet with certain ministers of the current government. This is not a joke – this is reality.
Those who opposed the coup were immediately threatened with repression. Naturally, the first in line here was Crimea, the Russian-speaking Crimea. In view of this, the residents of Crimea and Sevastopol turned to Russia for help in defending their rights and lives, in preventing the events that were unfolding and are still underway in Kiev, Donetsk, Kharkov and other Ukrainian cities.
Naturally, we could not leave this plea unheeded; we could not abandon Crimea and its residents in distress. This would have been betrayal on our part.
First, we had to help create conditions so that the residents of Crimea for the first time in history were able to peacefully express their free will regarding their own future. However, what do we hear from our colleagues in Western Europe and North America? They say we are violating norms of international law.  Firstly, it’s a good thing that they at least remember that there exists such a thing as international law – better late than never.
Secondly, and most importantly – what exactly are we violating? True, the President of the Russian Federation received permission from the Upper House of Parliament to use the Armed Forces in Ukraine.  However, strictly speaking, nobody has acted on this permission yet.  Russia’s Armed Forces never entered Crimea; they were there already in line with an international agreement.  True, we did enhance our forces there; however – this is something I would like everyone to hear and know – we did not exceed the personnel limit of our Armed Forces in Crimea, which is set at 25,000, because there was no need to do so.
Next. As it declared independence and decided to hold a referendum, the Supreme Council of Crimea referred to the United Nations Charter, which speaks of the right of nations to self-determination. Incidentally, I would like to remind you that when Ukraine seceded from the USSR it did exactly the same thing, almost word for word. Ukraine used this right, yet the residents of Crimea are denied it.  Why is that?
Moreover, the Crimean authorities referred to the well-known Kosovo precedent – a precedent our western colleagues created with their own hands in a very similar situation, when they agreed that the unilateral separation of Kosovo from Serbia, exactly what Crimea is doing now, was legitimate and did not require any permission from the country’s central authorities. Pursuant to Article 2, Chapter 1 of the United Nations Charter, the UN International Court agreed with this approach and made the following comment in its ruling of July 22, 2010, and I quote: “No general prohibition may be inferred from the practice of the Security Council with regard to declarations of independence,” and “General international law contains no prohibition on declarations of independence.” Crystal clear, as they say.
I do not like to resort to quotes, but in this case, I cannot help it. Here is a quote from another official document: the Written Statement of the United States America of April 17, 2009, submitted to the same UN International Court in connection with the hearings on Kosovo. Again, I quote: “Declarations of independence may, and often do, violate domestic legislation. However, this does not make them violations of international law.” End of quote.  They wrote this, disseminated it all over the world, had everyone agree and now they are outraged. Over what? The actions of Crimean people completely fit in with these instructions, as it were. For some reason, things that Kosovo Albanians (and we have full respect for them) were permitted to do, Russians, Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars in Crimea are not allowed. Again, one wonders why.
We keep hearing from the United States and Western Europe that Kosovo is some special case. What makes it so special in the eyes of our colleagues? It turns out that it is the fact that the conflict in Kosovo resulted in so many human casualties.  Is this a legal argument? The ruling of the International Court says nothing about this. This is not even double standards; this is amazing, primitive, blunt cynicism. One should not try so crudely to make everything suit their interests, calling the same thing white today and black tomorrow. According to this logic, we have to make sure every conflict leads to human losses.
I will state clearly - if the Crimean local self-defence units had not taken the situation under control, there could have been casualties as well. Fortunately this did not happen. There was not a single armed confrontation in Crimea and no casualties. Why do you think this was so? The answer is simple: because it is very difficult, practically impossible to fight against the will of the people. Here I would like to thank the Ukrainian military – and this is 22,000 fully armed servicemen. I would like to thank those Ukrainian service members who refrained from bloodshed and did not smear their uniforms in blood.
Other thoughts come to mind in this connection. They keep talking of some Russian intervention in Crimea, some sort of aggression. This is strange to hear. I cannot recall a single case in history of an intervention without a single shot being fired and with no human casualties.
Colleagues,
Like a mirror, the situation in Ukraine reflects what is going on and what has been happening in the world over the past several decades. After the dissolution of bipolarity on the planet, we no longer have stability. Key international institutions are not getting any stronger; on the contrary, in many cases, they are sadly degrading. Our western partners, led by the United States of America, prefer not to be guided by international law in their practical policies, but by the rule of the gun. They have come to believe in their exclusivity and exceptionalism, that they can decide the destinies of the world, that only they can ever be right. They act as they please: here and there, they use force against sovereign states, building coalitions based on the principle “If you are not with us, you are against us.” To make this aggression look legitimate, they force the necessary resolutions from international organisations, and if for some reason this does not work, they simply ignore the UN Security Council and the UN overall.
This happened in Yugoslavia; we remember 1999 very well. It was hard to believe, even seeing it with my own eyes, that at the end of the 20th century, one of Europe’s capitals, Belgrade, was under missile attack for several weeks, and then came the real intervention. Was there a UN Security Council resolution on this matter, allowing for these actions? Nothing of the sort. And then, they hit Afghanistan, Iraq, and frankly violated the UN Security Council resolution on Libya, when instead of imposing the so-called no-fly zone over it they started bombing it too.
There was a whole series of controlled “colour” revolutions. Clearly, the people in those nations, where these events took place, were sick of tyranny and poverty, of their lack of prospects; but these feelings were taken advantage of cynically. Standards were imposed on these nations that did not in any way correspond to their way of life, traditions, or these peoples’ cultures. As a result, instead of democracy and freedom, there was chaos, outbreaks in violence and a series of upheavals. The Arab Spring turned into the Arab Winter.
A similar situation unfolded in Ukraine. In 2004, to push the necessary candidate through at the presidential elections, they thought up some sort of third round that was not stipulated by the law. It was absurd and a mockery of the constitution. And now, they have thrown in an organised and well-equipped army of militants.
We understand what is happening; we understand that these actions were aimed against Ukraine and Russia and against Eurasian integration. And all this while Russia strived to engage in dialogue with our colleagues in the West. We are constantly proposing cooperation on all key issues; we want to strengthen our level of trust and for our relations to be equal, open and fair. But we saw no reciprocal steps.
On the contrary, they have lied to us many times, made decisions behind our backs, placed us before an accomplished fact. This happened with NATO’s expansion to the East, as well as the deployment of military infrastructure at our borders. They kept telling us the same thing: “Well, this does not concern you.” That’s easy to say.
It happened with the deployment of a missile defence system. In spite of all our apprehensions, the project is working and moving forward. It happened with the endless foot-dragging in the talks on visa issues, promises of fair competition and free access to global markets.
Today, we are being threatened with sanctions, but we already experience many limitations, ones that are quite significant for us, our economy and our nation. For example, still during the times of the Cold War, the US and subsequently other nations restricted a large list of technologies and equipment from being sold to the USSR, creating the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls list. Today, they have formally been eliminated, but only formally; and in reality, many limitations are still in effect.
In short, we have every reason to assume that the infamous policy of containment, led in the 18th, 19thand 20th centuries, continues today. They are constantly trying to sweep us into a corner because we have an independent position, because we maintain it and because we call things like they are and do not engage in hypocrisy. But there is a limit to everything. And with Ukraine, our western partners have crossed the line, playing the bear and acting irresponsibly and unprofessionally.
After all, they were fully aware that there are millions of Russians living in Ukraine and in Crimea. They must have really lacked political instinct and common sense not to foresee all the consequences of their actions. Russia found itself in a position it could not retreat from. If you compress the spring all the way to its limit, it will snap back hard. You must always remember this.
Today, it is imperative to end this hysteria, to refute the rhetoric of the cold war and to accept the obvious fact: Russia is an independent, active participant in international affairs; like other countries, it has its own national interests that need to be taken into account and respected.
At the same time, we are grateful to all those who understood our actions in Crimea; we are grateful to the people of China, whose leaders have always considered the situation in Ukraine and Crimea taking into account the full historical and political context, and greatly appreciate India’s reserve and objectivity.
Today, I would like to address the people of the United States of America, the people who, since the foundation of their nation and adoption of the Declaration of Independence, have been proud to hold freedom above all else. Isn’t the desire of Crimea’s residents to freely choose their fate such a value? Please understand us.
I believe that the Europeans, first and foremost, the Germans, will also understand me. Let me remind you that in the course of political consultations on the unification of East and West Germany, at the expert, though very high level, some nations that were then and are now Germany’s allies did not support the idea of unification. Our nation, however, unequivocally supported the sincere, unstoppable desire of the Germans for national unity. I am confident that you have not forgotten this, and I expect that the citizens of Germany will also support the aspiration of the Russians, of historical Russia, to restore unity.
I also want to address the people of Ukraine. I sincerely want you to understand us: we do not want to harm you in any way, or to hurt your national feelings. We have always respected the territorial integrity of the Ukrainian state, incidentally, unlike those who sacrificed Ukraine’s unity for their political ambitions. They flaunt slogans about Ukraine’s greatness, but they are the ones who did everything to divide the nation. Today’s civil standoff is entirely on their conscience. I want you to hear me, my dear friends. Do not believe those who want you to fear Russia, shouting that other regions will follow Crimea. We do not want to divide Ukraine; we do not need that. As for Crimea, it was and remains a Russian, Ukrainian, and Crimean-Tatar land.
I repeat, just as it has been for centuries, it will be a home to all the peoples living there. What it will never be and do is follow in Bandera’s footsteps!
Crimea is our common historical legacy and a very important factor in regional stability. And this strategic territory should be part of a strong and stable sovereignty, which today can only be Russian. Otherwise, dear friends (I am addressing both Ukraine and Russia), you and we – the Russians and the Ukrainians – could lose Crimea completely, and that could happen in the near historical perspective. Please think about it.
Let me note too that we have already heard declarations from Kiev about Ukraine soon joining NATO. What would this have meant for Crimea and Sevastopol in the future? It would have meant that NATO’s navy would be right there in this city of Russia’s military glory, and this would create not an illusory but a perfectly real threat to the whole of southern Russia. These are things that could have become reality were it not for the choice the Crimean people made, and I want to say thank you to them for this.
But let me say too that we are not opposed to cooperation with NATO, for this is certainly not the case. For all the internal processes within the organisation, NATO remains a military alliance, and we are against having a military alliance making itself at home right in our backyard or in our historic territory. I simply cannot imagine that we would travel to Sevastopol to visit NATO sailors. Of course, most of them are wonderful guys, but it would be better to have them come and visit us, be our guests, rather than the other way round.
Let me say quite frankly that it pains our hearts to see what is happening in Ukraine at the moment, see the people’s suffering and their uncertainty about how to get through today and what awaits them tomorrow. Our concerns are understandable because we are not simply close neighbours but, as I have said many times already, we are one people. Kiev is the mother of Russian cities. Ancient Rus is our common source and we cannot live without each other.  
Let me say one other thing too. Millions of Russians and Russian-speaking people live in Ukraine and will continue to do so. Russia will always defend their interests using political, diplomatic and legal means. But it should be above all in Ukraine’s own interest to ensure that these people’s rights and interests are fully protected. This is the guarantee of Ukraine’s state stability and territorial integrity.
We want to be friends with Ukraine and we want Ukraine to be a strong, sovereign and self-sufficient country. Ukraine is one of our biggest partners after all. We have many joint projects and I believe in their success no matter what the current difficulties. Most importantly, we want peace and harmony to reign in Ukraine, and we are ready to work together with other countries to do everything possible to facilitate and support this. But as I said, only Ukraine’s own people can put their own house in order.
Residents of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, the whole of Russia admired your courage, dignity and bravery. It was you who decided Crimea’s future. We were closer than ever over these days, supporting each other. These were sincere feelings of solidarity. It is at historic turning points such as these that a nation demonstrates its maturity and strength of spirit. The Russian people showed this maturity and strength through their united support for their compatriots.
Russia’s foreign policy position on this matter drew its firmness from the will of millions of our people, our national unity and the support of our country’s main political and public forces. I want to thank everyone for this patriotic spirit, everyone without exception. Now, we need to continue and maintain this kind of consolidation so as to resolve the tasks our country faces on its road ahead.   
Obviously, we will encounter external opposition, but this is a decision that we need to make for ourselves. Are we ready to consistently defend our national interests, or will we forever give in, retreat to who knows where? Some Western politicians are already threatening us with not just sanctions but also the prospect of increasingly serious problems on the domestic front. I would like to know what it is they have in mind exactly: action by a fifth column, this disparate bunch of ‘national traitors’, or are they hoping to put us in a worsening social and economic situation so as to provoke public discontent? We consider such statements irresponsible and clearly aggressive in tone, and we will respond to them accordingly. At the same time, we will never seek confrontation with our partners, whether in the East or the West, but on the contrary, will do everything we can to build civilised and good-neighbourly relations as one is supposed to in the modern world. 
Colleagues,
I understand the people of Crimea, who put the question in the clearest possible terms in the referendum: should Crimea be with Ukraine or with Russia? We can be sure in saying that the authorities in Crimea and Sevastopol, the legislative authorities, when they formulated the question, set aside group and political interests and made the people’s fundamental interests alone the cornerstone of their work. The particular historic, population, political and economic circumstances of Crimea would have made any other proposed option - however tempting it could be at the first glance - only temporary and fragile and would have inevitably led to further worsening of the situation there, which would have had disastrous effects on people’s lives. The people of Crimea thus decided to put the question in firm and uncompromising form, with no grey areas. The referendum was fair and transparent, and the people of Crimea clearly and convincingly expressed their will and stated that they want to be with Russia.
Russia will also have to make a difficult decision now, taking into account the various domestic and external considerations. What do people here in Russia think? Here, like in any democratic country, people have different points of view, but I want to make the point that the absolute majority of our people clearly do support what is happening.
The most recent public opinion surveys conducted here in Russia show that 95 percent of people think that Russia should protect the interests of Russians and members of other ethnic groups living in Crimea – 95 percent of our citizens. More than 83 percent think that Russia should do this even if it will complicate our relations with some other countries. A total of 86 percent of our people see Crimea as still being Russian territory and part of our country’s lands. And one particularly important figure, which corresponds exactly with the result in Crimea’s referendum: almost 92 percent of our people support Crimea’s reunification with Russia. 
Thus we see that the overwhelming majority of people in Crimea and the absolute majority of the Russian Federation’s people support the reunification of the Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol with Russia.
Now this is a matter for Russia’s own political decision, and any decision here can be based only on the people’s will, because the people is the ultimate source of all authority.
Members of the Federation Council, deputies of the State Duma, citizens of Russia, residents of Crimea and Sevastopol, today, in accordance with the people’s will, I submit to the Federal Assembly a request to consider a Constitutional Law on the creation of two new constituent entities within the Russian Federation: the Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, and to ratify the treaty on admitting to the Russian Federation Crimea and Sevastopol, which is already ready for signing. I stand assured of your support.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

ClubOrlov: The Madness of President Putin

ClubOrlov: The Madness of President Putin: Juliette Bates [Many thanks to Max who helped put this together.]

Of all the various interpretations Western leaders and commentators have offered for why the president of the Russian Federation has responded the way he has to the events in Ukraine over the course of February and March of 2014—in refusing to acquiesce to the installation of a neo-fascist regime in Kiev, and in upholding the right of Crimea to self-determination—the most striking and illuminating interpretation is that he has gone mad. Striking and illuminating, that is, something in the West itself...

...Some sympathy for the wardens of this insane asylum is also due. The developments in Ukraine and Crimea are especially troubling for the West because they violate the West's linear conception of history. On this account, the advanced first world Western nations are ahead of the pack, and trying, simply out of their great compassion, to encourage stragglers like Ukraine along the path toward EU and NATO membership, monetary union and a slow-moving, controlled national bankruptcy in the hands of the IMF. The fall of the Soviet Union was a key psychological breakthrough in this story they tell themselves. They thrive on this story, for it defines them and gives them their sense of meaning and purpose. Anything that undermines its basic premises and foundations is deeply disturbing. However, many examples of unmitigated failure in the 21st century have been hard to ignore and have made this narrative sound increasingly shaky. With highlights like 9/11, the fiasco in Afghanistan, the ongoing Iraqi civil war, the global financial meltdown of 2008, intractable unemployment and economic stagnation plaguing the West in these first 15 years of the 21st century, and then the serial fiascos in Libya, Syria, Egypt and now Ukraine, and it becomes easy to see the special significance that this particular confrontation with Vladimir Putin has for the fragile Western psyche.

The West's ascendant trip through linear history appears to be over. The paradox underneath this confrontation is that a situation with such low stakes—Crimea and the political leanings of a minor failed state—has taken on such vast proportions, and this suggests a deeper significance. The political turmoil that has taken root in the fertile soil dividing West and East, in Ukraine, which literally translates as the “borderland,” functions as a powerful symbol of the declining hegemony of the West. This confrontation continues to cast shadows of historical proportions because the authority of the world psychiatrist and world policeman is being openly challenged. The brief illusion of the triumph of the West is cracking. We have not entered into some post-historic phase, some fundamentally new future. The inmates are breaking free, and it looks as if the psychiatrist was the crazy one all along.

Consider the asymmetry. What is Ukraine to the West but an impoverished Eastern European political pawn on the geopolitical chessboard, one that has to be prevented from joining up with Russia in line with the overall trend? But to Russia Ukraine is a historic part of itself, the place of the earliest Russian capital of Kievan Rus (from whence it was moved, eventually, to Moscow, then to St. Petersburg, then to Moscow again). It is a region with which Russia has eleven centuries of joint linguistic, cultural and political history. Half of Ukraine consists of Russian lands capriciously adjoined to it by Lenin and Khrushchev. I grew up thinking Kharkov was Russian (because it is) and was at one point amazed to discover that I would now need a visa to go there—because it got stuck on the wrong side of the border and renamed Kharkiv. (In case you are wondering, to convert to Ukrainian, you take Russian and replace ‘y’, ‘o’ and ‘e’ with ‘i’, ‘i’ with ‘y’, and ‘g’ with ‘h’. To convert back—you ask a Russian.) As of last December, the Russians in Kharkov and other Russian regions of Ukraine have been stuck on the wrong side of the border, as subjects of an unstable, dysfunctional and remarkably corrupt governent, for 22 years. It is little wonder that they are now waving Russian flags with wild abandon.

Even the muddle-headed John Kerry was recently heard to concede that Russia has “legitimate interests” in Ukraine. In challenging Russia over Ukraine the West isn't just crossing some imaginary “red line” that Obama is so fond of proclaiming again and again. In installing a neo-fascist, rabidly anti-Russian regime in Kiev, it has crossed the double-yellow, guaranteeing a head-on collision. Question is, which side will survive that collision: the Russian tank column, or John Kerry's limo? The West's opening gambit is to deny visas and freeze accounts of certain Russian officials and businessmen, who either don't have bank accounts in the West or have already pulled the money out last Friday (to the tune of a couple hundred billion dollars) and aren't planning to travel to the US.

Russia promised to respond “symmetrically.” In its arsenal is: popping the huge financial bubble and causing a resumption of the financial collapse of 2008 by any number of means, from requiring gold instead of fiat currency as payment for oil and gas, to dumping US dollar reserves (in concert with China), to putting the EU on a fast track to economic collapse by giving the natural gas valve a slight clockwise twist, to leaving US and NATO troops in Afghanistan (who are about to start evacuating) stranded and without resupply by declaring force majeure on the cooperative arrangement currently in effect, where much of their resupply route is allowed to pass through Russian territory. That's if Russia chose to act decisively. But Russia could also choose to do little or nothing, and then just the financial contagion from Ukraine's forthcoming bond default and financial jitters over Ukrainian chaos disrupting natural gas deliveries to Europe could be enough to topple the West's teetering financial house of cards.

So what remains of Western global hegemony and of the West's right to play the world's psychiatrist? Make of it what you will, but some lessons seem quite clear. First, it now appears that, from Russia's point of view, having good relations with Washington is quite optional, but that Ukraine is quite a bit more important. America is dispensable. Second, the EU isn't being asked to choose a new master, but slavish obedience to Washington's dictates has led to mischief and may leave it shivering in the dark come next winter through no fault of Moscow's, so the EU should start acting in accordance with its obvious self-interest rather than against it.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Did Russians Shoot Down an American Drone in Crimea?

If so, this is looking a bit like the U2 crisis, without Francis Gary Powers…

http://news.yahoo.com/russia-says-intercepted-us-drone-over-crimea-arms-180430584.html

"Judging by its identification number, UAV MQ-5B belonged to the 66th American Reconnaissance Brigade, based in Bavaria," Rostec said on its website, which also carried a picture of what it said was the captured drone.

Diana West on Ukraine Mess

http://www.wnd.com/2014/03/buzzwords-hide-truth-of-ukraine-coup/ 
Reading as widely on Ukraine as possible, I kept wondering why the story wasn’t making sense. Then I realized the buzzwords used to tell the story weren’t adding up.
Here’s what we hear: Democracy in action drove a corrupt leader, whose snipers had fired on protesters in Kiev, to flee Ukraine. Enter Russian forces into Crimea, Ukraine. The “Free World” must now take its stand against the “Russian Bear” for freedom, sovereignty and rule of law, and reject the outcome of an “unconstitutional” referendum in which Russian-majority-Crimea is expected to vote to join Russia. Meanwhile, please inject billions of Western taxpayer dollars and euros into Ukraine. 
Mute the rhetoric, though, and it’s hard not to notice that last month, a violent mob and rump parliament ousted the elected Ukrainian president in another “unconstitutional” process better known as a coup. 
It’s a coup even if Vladimir Putin calls it one, and even if Barack Obama calls it “standing up on behalf of democracy.”
In this way, “democracy,” too, becomes another buzzword. “Democracy,” good; “Putin,” maybe worse than Soviet-era dictators who came before him. (Romanian Communist defector Lt. Gen. Ion Pacepa went so far as to write online at The Blaze: “Russia’s gradual conquest of Ukraine has become the most dangerous challenge to peace and stability in the world since the end of World War II.”)
If “democracy” vs. “Putin” is a struggle of the buzzwords, what is it that Washington and Brussels, capital of the European Union, are really supporting in Ukraine? To understand this – and I feel I’m still at the beginning – it’s important to see the players for who they are, not for who they are reputed to be. 
The buzzworded story sticks only if we respond to injections of Cold War rhetoric by seeing Barack Obama as “Leader of the Free World” – not as a president who has brought U.S. foreign policy into closer alignment with jihadist movements worldwide, while further socializing the U.S. at home and seizing non-constitutional powers for the executive branch.
We also have to regard the countries of Europe and NATO as “free” – that is, not “integrated,” and often not freely so (meaning not by national referendum), into the European Union’s one-world-fits-all, socialistic superstate, which is run by unelected, unaccountable ministers, many of whom actually cut their political teeth in Communist parties.
We also have to believe that “freedom,” “sovereignty” and “rule of law” – what Washington and Brussels say are at stake in Ukraine – are not just bursts of propaganda shot off to inspire good people to hand over those billions of taxpayer dollars and euros for Ukraine through the International Monetary Fund.
Read more at http://www.wnd.com/2014/03/buzzwords-hide-truth-of-ukraine-coup/#AFv4crD6YVlVWrwZ.99

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

French Protest Gender Theory

http://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2014/03/02/how-you-upset-french-gender-theory/1DzXUKcQxB01Hv6pN96gvJ/story.htmlB01Hv6pN96gvJ/story.html

HISTORICALLY, the great boulevards of Paris have channeled not just pedestrians and cars, but also political passions and causes—especially when the Republic seems endangered. On Feb. 2, Paris once again became a vast political stage. One hundred thousand demonstrators had gathered, galvanized by a danger looming over the Republic. The threat was not, as in times past, fascism or Nazism, communism or totalitarianism. It was, instead, an ideology far more insidious and imported from, of all places, the United States.
A new specter was haunting France—the specter of gender theory.
In the United States, gender theory—embodied most notably, perhaps, by the work of Judith Butler at UC Berkeley—argues that gender is less a biological fact than a social fiction. Since the 1980s, gender studies has become a familiar part of the curriculum at liberal arts colleges. For the most part, though, the academy is where these theories have stayed, so much so that it’s impossible to imagine Americans protesting them. The current French scandal over this obscure branch of critical theory is a particularly bemusing example of the way in which certain kinds of intellectual goods get lost in translation: Not since their embrace of Jerry Lewis have the French responded so passionately to an American export we ourselves have never fully appreciated.
Behind the February protest were several political groups, uniting both traditionalist voters and conservative religious ones, that had organized massive demonstrations last summer during a vitriolic debate in France over the legalization of gay marriage. In May 2013, the Socialist government passed the law nevertheless. The battleground then shifted to a new proposed measure: an update to France’s “family law” that, among other things, stood to offer protections for reproductive assistance for gay couples. This year, many of the same protesters turned out again, their brightly colored pink and blue banners emblazoned with a battle cry: “Un papa, une maman: there’s nothing more natural.”
It wasn’t just the bill, however, that got the protesters out in force. The spark that rekindled the movement was, of all things, a grade school program called the “ABC of equality.” This experimental project, launched by the government in late 2013 in a handful of grade schools, encouraged children to consider that though some biological differences between the sexes exist, other differences are “constructed” by society, a product as much of stereotypes as of physical differences. According to its critics, the lesson plan was inspired in part by the work of American gender theorists like Butler.
As word got out about the program, rumors began to fly among conservative activists. One extreme right-wing website, Equality and Reconciliation, claimed that teachers were encouraging boys to be girls and girls to be boys, as well as inviting them to masturbate in class,none of which was actually part of the curriculum. Parents were urged to keep their children at home for a day in protest. As schools began to report significant levels of absenteeism, government officials scattered across the media to denounce the “folles rumeurs.”
It was to little avail: Enough people had become horrified by the new impact of “gender studies” that, in February, they turned out in droves. Nearly overnight, “la théorie du genre” was on everyone’s lips. Gender theory was the “obsession” of the Socialist government, one conservative news magazine declared. Activists contacted public libraries to demand that they pull texts tainted by American gender theory from the shelves.