Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Third/Sister Lovers

I woke up this morning thinking that my state of mind, dumbstruck and forlorn, is matched by "Kangaroo." "Kangaroo" was a very big deal toward the end of my undergraduate years, as was the entire Third/Sister Lovers album on which it appears. Recorded in 1974 but not released until 1978, Third/Sister Lovers is the confused, amorphous, sophisticated final record of Big Star (though it featured only Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens). It is a perfect record for literate youth about to be disgorged into the broader brutal world. Spaced out, sad, adult but childlike, this is the album more than any other that captures the vibe of young people who have no place to go, no terra firma.

I am reliving this state of mind because I recently saw a girlfriend who I haven't seen in 25 years, a time when Third/Sister Lovers was a very big deal for me. Seeing my friend again brought up a lot emotional sediment. The mind is a physical, organic thing. Things get buried. And when they are unearthed, disruption and disorientation result.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Salting the Earth of Lebensraum

Do you ever forget what year it is? For a second there I thought it was 2013. But then, rubbing a sore right calf muscle from a race this past Sunday, I remembered that, yes, it is spring of 2014, and we are at the beginning of a New World Order, which is a U.S.-engineered re-creation of the old Cold War. Communism is no longer a global force, and the useful canard of the West being pitted in an existential struggle against Sunni Islamic fundamentalism has been blown to smithereens by the violent Saudi reaction to the Arab Spring; hence, the much-ballyhooed roll out of the "Asia pivot."

But somewhere on the way to the Diaoyu Islands, the Obama administration got caught up in Kiev, and the pivot to Asia became a pivot to Russia. Now, instead of reordering the globe along the lines of a New Cold War with China, the old Russian bear will have to do.

All this by way of saying that the best stop this spring morning for a news consumer to get a sense of the the shift underway is Rick Gladstone's "Russia and Iran Reported in Talks on Energy Deal Worth Billions":
The Obama administration’s strategy of punishing Russia with economic sanctions over the Ukraine crisis encountered a new complication on Monday with word that the Russians are negotiating an $8 billion to $10 billion energy deal with Iran, another country ostracized by American-led sanctions, which partly depend on Moscow’s cooperation to be effective. 
The Russia-Iran energy deal, reported by the Iranian state news media, is the second significant economic collaboration under negotiation between the two countries that could undercut the efficacy of the sanctions on Iran. Those sanctions are widely credited with successfully pressuring the Iranians in the current talks over their disputed nuclear program.
The Obama administration has expressed anger about a previously reported negotiation between Iran and Russia, worth an estimated $20 billion, under which the Iranians would trade 500,000 barrels of oil a day for Russian goods. Administration officials have said such a barter arrangement would violate sanctions on Iran. There has been no indication that the deal is close to completion.
A critical part of Obama's Asia pivot is to neutralize Iran, get out of the decades-long wars of the Greater Middle East (a preoccupation of Bush II) and refocus U.S. military might on the shipping lanes of the South and East China Seas. All this has been scrambled by the February putsch in Kiev and Russia's quick reaction to it by making sure that Crimea would not fall to the neocons. What is going on in eastern Ukraine, and what explains the intense U.S. wailing that Russia's non-supine response has elicited, is that things have really changed here. This is not cosmetic, though so far U.S./EU sanctions have largely been. The world has changed and a dash is underway to control that change.

The U.S. cannot simply announce "bombs away!" in Ukraine because of Russian conventional force superiority in the region, not to mention that Russia is a great nuclear power. That removes the pro forma U.S. response to every geopolitical issue -- force or the threat of force. Next is war by other means, economic sanctions. Iran serves as a prime example. But the EU cannot do to Russia what it went along with in the case of Iran. Future European growth is predicated on eastward economic integration. Cutting itself off from Russia is not a viable route forward.

The only option for the United States in this situation seems to be to destabilize Ukraine so that Russia and Europe can't couple to create their new Eurasian economy. Call this option, "Salting the earth of Lebensraum." That is why I was worried to read at the end of the C.J. Chivers and Noah Sneider story, "One City Falls to Pro-Russian Militants; in Another, the Mayor Is Shot":
In Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that the West should be more concerned about the buildup of Ukrainian military forces in the east of the country than with the actions of the self-defense units, a reference to the rebels and separatists who now roam freely in several cities and towns. 
Ukraine has deployed 11,000 troops in the area, plus 160 tanks, 230 armored personnel carriers, at least 150 artillery systems and “a large number of planes,” the statement said. 
Military analysts have said that Ukraine has gradually been shifting its armed forces eastward both to try to address the unrest and in response to Russian military maneuvers taking place just over the border. The Ukrainian military has about 70,000 troops total.
The putsch government in Kiev and the EU would be far better off negotiating a generous settlement with Russia, cutting the U.S. out entirely. I know this is asking for too much; there is too much rationality in it. What remains to be seen is if putschists are so devoid of common sense, so in thrall to the neocons running the show in the U.S., that they attack the city centers being occupied by pro-federalization protesters. Then the carnage will truly begin and Great Satan will get what he wants.

Monday, April 28, 2014


Heard "Jenny" on the train into work today. The song is off Sleater-Kinny's Dig Me Out (1997), the first record of the band's that I really listened to back in the day. That day was Clintontime, specifically the second term low-wage full-employment years of Monica Lewinsky.

Dig Me Out is a tremendous album, a real ass-kicker. It proved that the West Coast rock'n'roll underground still had some juevos, still had a little I-5 sunshine.

"Dedicated to Susan Axelrod"

Just before turning in last night I happened to hear Athony Braxton's "Dedicated to Susan Axelrod," which is from his breakthrough solo album, For Alto (1969).

What a treat. I remember several years ago, I think I was unemployed at the time, falling asleep one afternoon while listening to this album. It simulated some sort of bardo.

This is one of those records that is essential to have access to.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Defenders #10

Recently I read all the issues of The Defenders, Vol. 4, which kicked off at the end of 2011 and then was cancelled at the beginning of 2013 with issue #12. Matt Fraction authored the comic book throughout its run, and I'm sorry to say that for the most part -- and by this I mean something like three out of every four issues -- were tired, distracted, emotionless loops around the superhero comic carousel. Don't get me wrong. I'm a fan of Matt Fraction. I loyally read his Hawkeye, Vol. 4, a brilliant, refreshing, cutting-edge book. And I said before on this page that his Invincible Iron Man will go down in the history books as synonymous with the period of hope and change (it turned out to be delusional) that Obama's 2008 campaign and first years in the White House ushered in. But what I have also noticed is that Fraction is willing to pimp himself out to the point of overextension. His work then tends to the overly sarcastic and thin. I'm thinking here of his run on The Mighty Thor.

The Defenders when it first appeared in the early 1970s was unique in spotlighting a team of outcasts. This was Marvel's answer to the recently spawned "One Nation Underground." The social upheaval of the late 1960s might have been checkmated politically by Nixonland, the "Silent Majority," but at the end of the day in the United States you still had an enormous counter culture, a massified bohemia that had its own newspapers, grocery stores, film and music -- and those tastes were coming to dominate the mainstream majority.

Roy Thomas, like so much that he did for Marvel in the early '70s, was just being a shrewd businessman when he stuck a Greenwich Village beatnik (Doctor Strange), with a Gamma-powered Frankstein monster (Hulk), a cosmically-juiced master of the spaceways (Silver Surfer) and last but not least, Marvel's founding anti-hero, the underwater Tecumseh, Namor the Sub-Mariner. This was a group that could speak to the Hippies.

Below you'll find five scans from Fraction's The Defenders #10. The cover, by Joe Quinones, is a wonderful homage to the early Bronze Age. The four stunning interior pages are by Jamie McKelvie with Mike Norton; Jordie Bellaire provides the color. The final page pictures Red She-Hulk wiping out a crow.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Hippies vs. Punks: The Holy Modal Rounders' Indian War Whoop

Bathing in the afterglow of seeing a dear old girlfriend last night, staying out until after midnight and imbibing alcohol for the first time in years, I have been continuing my exploration of the ESP-Disk catalog by listening repeatedly this morning to The Holy Modal Rounders' Indian War Whoop (1967). This is the only recording that the Rounders did for ESP, if one discounts the reissue of Live in 1965 (2003).

Improvisational and pyschedelic -- the year was 1967 after all -- fiddle player and band co-founder Peter Stampfel has been quoted saying that no acid was dropped while recording Indian War Whoop. Marijuana and speed were the substances that fueled the album; that, and playwright Sam Shepard's two-fisted drumming.

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Putschist Ruse in Ukraine is Almost Up

Putschist interior minister Arsen Avakov has distinguished himself among the Kiev gang for a Goebbels-like facility for distortion of the truth. Today he is front and center with the coinage of a cute acronym for the second failed putschist offensive in as many weeks against the uprising in eastern Ukraine. Andrew Higgins, David Herszenhorn and Alan Cowell have the story this morning, "Ukraine Says Its Efforts to Regain Control of East Will Continue":
Sounding increasingly strident alarms, Ukraine’s interim prime minister, Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, accused Moscow on Friday of seeking to create a wider conflict. “Attempts at military conflict in Ukraine will lead to a military conflict in Europe,” Mr. Yatsenyuk told the interim cabinet in remarks broadcast live, according to Reuters. “The world has not yet forgotten World War II, but Russia already wants to start World War III.”
In a posting on Facebook, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov declared that Ukraine’s military operations in the east — known as “ATO,” meaning Anti-Terrorist Operation — had not been suspended.
“There has been no suspension of the ATO in connection to the threat of invasion by Russia’s armed forces,” Mr. Avakov said, apparently responding to local news reports saying the operation had been called off because of the “heightened risk” of a Russian invasion. “The ATO goes on. The terrorists should be on their guard around the clock. Civilians have nothing to fear.” 
Despite the minister’s warning, there have been no reports of renewed conflict since Ukrainian forces moved briefly against pro-Russian positions on Thursday in what Mr. Avakov, apparently playing down the action, described on Friday as an operation by “insignificant” government forces that had deployed “without the use of tanks or other heavy armor.”
So there you have it. The putschists cannot control the east. A military attack on the buildings occupied by pro-Russian protesters is unlikely as long as Russia is conducting large drills on the Ukrainian border. This means that the chances of the putschist May 25 presidential election being deemed free and fair are remote. Gazprom is ratcheting up the pressure for Ukraine to pay its gas bill. Europe is getting queasy about the trade war that is barreling its way. We are getting close to the "put up or shut up" point for the U.S. Cue Secretary of State John Kerry, a noxious manikin and lie machine. Kerry's remarks last night amounted to nothing more than a doubling down on a busted hand.

We're getting close now, very close, to the ruse being up. Sanctions and the threat of creating capital flight out of Russia is the last act in this U.S.-sponsored drama. According to Higgins et al.,
In Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry warned Russia on Thursday night that it would face additional economic sanctions if it failed to carry out that agreement. “The window to change course is closing,” he said. Sanctions could be announced as soon as Friday if the Russians do not respond, said one administration official who asked not to be identified while discussing internal planning.
The threat of intensified sanctions was under underscored on Friday when the rating agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded its assessment of Russia.
“In our view, the tense geopolitical situation between Russia and Ukraine could see additional significant outflows of both foreign and domestic capital from the Russian economy and hence further undermine already weakening growth prospects,” the agency wrote. 
In his most detailed accusation of Russian interference to date, Mr. Kerry said that American intelligence services had concluded that Russia’s “military intelligence services and special operators are playing an active role in destabilizing eastern Ukraine with personnel, weapons, operational planning and coordination.” 
“Some of the individual Special Operations personnel who were active on Russia’s behalf in Chechnya, Georgia and Crimea have been photographed in Slovyansk, Donetsk and Luhansk,” Mr. Kerry said. “Some are even bragging about it by themselves on their Russian social media sites.” 
On Friday, Mr. Kerry’s Russian counterpart, Sergey V. Lavrov, hit back, accusing Washington of seeking only to further its interests in Ukraine. 
“The West wants to take control of Ukraine while exclusively putting its geopolitical interests, not the interests of the Ukrainian people, at the forefront,” Mr. Lavrov told a conference of young diplomats from former Soviet republics. 
“We are talking about the methods that Americans use with states of different regions,” Mr. Lavrov said. “This is not our method. We will not blackmail, we will not threaten, we are all polite people,” he said. 
“Without batting an eye, our Western partners keep demanding day after day that Russia stop interfering in Ukrainian affairs, pull out troops and remove certain agents who have reportedly been caught in the southeast and who are reportedly guiding these processes,” Mr. Lavrov said, adding, “I even find it difficult to respond. I try to make the conversation constructive.”
This is the moment of truth. And since the United States is a power that does not deal in the truth, expect the moment to be avoided. Any sanctions announced in the next few days will remain largely cosmetic, targeting members of the Russian ruling elite and possibly some banks or other institutions. The sanctions cannot be too biting because once they bite London, Berlin and Paris will part company with the Obama administration.

As for Gazprom, the putsch government does not have the ability to pay its bill, and the West will not unless it can secure future pricing and supply guarantees (which will not be forthcoming).

So we are right at the place we have been all along: the putschists and their U.S. backers are cradling a crock of shit, and that crock of shit is a place called "Banderastan."


There is some news this morning that an assault on Slovyansk is in the offing. Ukrainian military are encircling the city, blocking roads and sending snipers into the surrounding woods. It sounds like a siege.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Battle in Eastern Ukraine: Greystone vs.the Green Men

Well, the battle(s) to retake eastern Ukraine appear to be underway this morning. The Gray Lady's C.J. Chivers reporting from Donetsk, along with Andrew Higgins in Kiev and Alan Cowell in London, writes that the putsch interior minister Arsen Avakov is claiming victory in clearing the Mariupol city hall of protesters thanks to the vigilance of "civilian activists" (read: Right Sector goon squad) wearing masks and wielding baseball bats:
In his Facebook posting, Mr. Avakov said there had been “no victims” in the tussle for City Hall in Mariupol, but that bomb disposal experts were checking the building for explosives. 
The A.P. quoted Yulia Lasazan, a spokeswoman for Mariupol’s police department, as saying that roughly 30 masked men had used baseball bats to beat pro-Russia protesters after storming the building in the early hours of Thursday. 
The occupiers did not offer resistance, even though some of them were believed to be armed, The A.P. said, but called the police instead. 
Five people were taken to a hospital, Ms. Lasazan said. 
Ms. Lasazan said the police were controlling the perimeter and were negotiating with the remaining protesters, asking them to leave the building.
So Mariupol city hall has fallen to the putschists. While that is not goods news, Mariupol is not one of the critical protest zones in the east. Slovyansk is. And what is being reported there is that five pro-Russian protesters have been killed manning barricades that block entry into the city. The Wall Street Journal has the story, "Ukraine Says Up to 5 Militants Killed in East":
Ukrainian authorities said Thursday that up to five pro-Russian militants were killed and three roadblocks overrun outside an eastern city at the heart of a local insurgency, as Kiev restarted a military operation to regain control in the region. 
Also on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the use of military force against Ukrainian civilians would have consequences for the leadership in Kiev. He didn't elaborate on what they would be. 
"If the Kiev regime begins to use the army against its own citizens, that is, without a doubt, a very serious crime," he said. "This will certainly have an impact on those who make such decisions and on our bilateral relations." 
Mr. Putin didn't repeat his previous statements that Moscow reserves the right to defend ethnic Russians or Russian-speakers in eastern Ukraine. There was no immediate indication that Moscow was preparing to use military force, though it has built up troops along the border with Ukraine.
There are a couple of questions here. First, if five died defending a few roadblocks at the edge of the city, what is the death toll going to be if an attempt is made to clear Slovyansk city hall? I would imagine it is going to be much higher. Judging from the video of a funeral service for a young man slain on Easter manning one of the barricades, Slovyansk is a city mobilized and solidly anti-putsch. The putschist special forces are going to be confronting enraged old women as well as armed men. This is a combination that routed the first "anti-terrorism" campaign last week. And recall then that Avakov had initially celebrated the success of securing an airfield at Kramatorsk before everything collapsed fantastically.

My assessment at the time was that the debacle the putschists experienced was proof that Russia was not going to allow a single victory for Kiev in the east. So that is the second question this morning: Does this assessment still hold? Will Russia allow the pro-Russian uprising in the Donbass to be rolled up by what is likely a U.S. mercenary-filled military force?

I don't see how Russia can. First, there is public opinion in Russia. For Putin to stand by as pro-Russian protesters are either killed or rounded up would be devastating to his standing domestically. Then there is the fact that if the putschists are successful in pacifying the east and completing their May 25 presidential election, predations against Russians are not going to magically cease. There is a strong chance they will accelerate. If Obama is willing to directly support the canard that the protesters in Donetsk were creating a system of registration for Jews, then there is little doubt that he will provide public relations assistance for the Kiev gang as they mop up the dissidents in the Donbass.

No, Russia has to act. And right now that looks like they are willing to match their "green men," their special forces, against whatever mercenaries the CIA has been able to piece together for the putschists. Call it Greystone vs. the Green Men. At this point I don't see a Russian ground invasion.

Nihilism #2

Listen to this song, "Allison Johnson," one of my favorites from Portland band Richmond Fontaine's Post to Wire (2004) album, and its elegiac, boyish faith in an ultimate feminine companionship. This song, I think, is a perfect succinct statement of the romantic worldview:
Allison Johnson Allison Johnson
I won't let you down 
I'll find us a house on Wilson Street and
Our kids will play in the yard and at
Night the cottonwood trees they will
Sway to the music that we play 
Allison Johnson don't fade on me 
Our clothes lay intertwined
On the floor together and we could sleep all day
Stay in bed all day
This song shuffled on this morning as I sat at my PC preparing a post on Ukraine. And I was struck by the extent to which this romantic worldview governed my actions throughout my adult life -- this fiction of a final resting place of peace and bliss and contentment and repose that was not death but rather bedding down with a beloved female partner.

See, that is not going to happen. Nihilism is the acceptance that you can't sleep in bed all day, stay in bed all day with your lady, with your god, with your mommy, with whomever, with your clothes on the floor intertwined. Allison Johnson is a fiction, a projection of the boy's mind looking for nothingness but not knowing it. Realizing this, this is nihilism.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Putschists Announce Another Military Campaign To Retake Eastern Ukraine

Moon of Alabama has a timely, on-the-mark post this morning, "Ukraine: 'Anti-Terrorism' Campaigns Follow Visits From U.S.," where it is noted that, first, following a weekend visit by CIA Director John Brennan and, then, yesterday's cheerleading bagman appearance in Kiev by vice president Joe Biden, the putsch government has launched military assaults against pro-Russian protesters in eastern Ukraine. The first one fell apart last week spectacularly due to a combination of peaceful protest, lack of motivation among the putschist armed forces and a sprinkling of Russian special forces, a.k.a., "green men." What has a changed in a week to make the putschists think that the outcome will be any different is hard to divine. It could be that as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the USG the gang in Kiev is just robotically following orders heedless of the disaster which awaits their completion.

The danger here is that with each military debacle the coherence of the Ukrainian state and the viability of its putschists erode to the point of no return. Then the May 25 presidential elections -- even with U.S. financing and management -- become pointless. This is an outcome the Obama White House wants to avoid at all costs. So it is likely that there will be a new wrinkle in the current putschist "anti-terrorism" campaign. Could it be that a CIA-managed mercenary army of ex-Navy SEALS and ex-Army Rangers will lead the attack? Who knows. Robert Parry over at Consortium News thinks a massacre of eastern Ukrainians is coming. I don't think Russia allows this to happen. I do think there are Russian special forces on the ground in the ten eastern cities under the control of protesters. The question then becomes, How does conflict between special forces, West vs. East, play out? Does it mushroom into a trade war that engulfs Europe?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Copper Blue + Where You Been

By the time Bob Mould's Sugar debuted with Copper Blue (1992), the grand Grunge barbecue was well underway and the progenitors of the genre were looking to plunge their snouts into the trough.

Hüsker Dü as much as any band can lay claim to having paved the pavement for Grunge when it came along during the Bush I years.

I heard "The Act We Act" this morning and was reminded what a fine song it is.

By 1992 crass commercialism was already suffocating the sound. But Copper Blue along with Dinosaur Jr.'s Where You Been (1993) are two of the finest examples of slickly produced underground rock gone corporate.

U.S. Worried About May 25 Ukrainian Presidential Election

How many times since the February putsch have high-level U.S. officials made the trip to Kiev to fete the putschists? It is hard to count. Senator John McCain alone has made multiple trips, as has Secretary of State John Kerry. Then there was CIA Director John Brennan's visit shortly before the putschists' debacle of a military campaign in the east. Today it is VP Joe Biden's turn to pay tribute. Andrew Higgins and Alan Cowell have the story this morning, "Biden Urges Ukrainian Leaders to Fight ‘Cancer of Corruption’ ":
Mr. Biden’s remarks, during a visit designed to show high-level backing from the United States, came a day after Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, accused the government in Kiev of flagrantly violating the international accord reached last week seeking to defuse the crisis in eastern Ukraine. Mr. Lavrov’s remarks were taken as a sign that Russia may be further preparing the groundwork for a military intervention. 
The Kremlin regards the interim authorities as a product of a Western-backed coup that seized power in late February after months of protests.
Mr. Biden met on Tuesday with the acting president, Oleksandr V. Turchynov, and scheduled meetings with other officials. He will leave late Tuesday for Washington, a day after he arrived.
According to news reports, Mr. Biden told Ukrainian leaders that they had an opportunity to generate a united Ukraine, and that the United States stood ready to help end their dependence on Russian energy supplies, although the process would take time. 
He said that Kiev faced “humiliating threats” and daunting problems and, according to Reuters, described the presidential election scheduled for May 25 as the most important in the country’s history.
At this point there can be no mistake that the current putsch government of Ukraine is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the United States. This should never have been in doubt from the moment Victoria Nuland's "Fuck the E.U." telephone call was publicized. But events have been racing at a fast pace and sometimes it is hard to keep the truth in focus.

And the truth is Ukraine has been a long-sought prize of U.S. geopolitical strategists and power brokers, and they are not going to let it fall from their grasp even if this plumb turns out to be completely rotten and infested with maggots -- as it certainly is.

One of the immediate concerns of the United States is the legitimacy of the putschist May 25 presidential election:
Mr. Biden also warned Russia on Tuesday that “it’s time to stop talking and start acting” to reduce tension in Ukraine, The Associated Press reported. He announced that Washington would provide a further $50 million to promote political and economic change, including $11 million to be spent on voter education, administration and oversight of the May 25 ballot. 
So far the putsch government in Kiev has not been able to convincingly display that it has control over the country, whether east, west or south. Right Sector goon squads are seemingly the only way the putschists can project power outside the capital. This is not the formula for a free and fair national election. Biden's announcement of aid earmarked for the election shows that there is a concern that if the putschists manage to bungle next month's ballot no amount of Western-supplied propaganda will be able to confer the thinnest patina of legitimacy on an illegitimate, anti-democratic junta.

As for Neil MacFarquhar's frontpage "Under Russia, Life in Crimea Grows Chaotic," it is nothing more than a litany of everyday aggravations residents of a jurisdiction that has recently switched nationalities will have to endure for a while: passports are difficult to secure, as apparently are yogurt, Big Macs and methadone; but no one is being gunned down by neo-Nazis or raped in the street.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Obama Legacy: A New Cold War

The Geneva statement issued last Thursday has already unraveled. Early Sunday morning at a checkpoint outside of Slovyansk pro-Russian protesters came under fire. Three people have been reported killed and four wounded. The attackers are likely the neo-fascist group Right Sector. Andrew Kramer reporting from Slovyansk has the story, "Shootout Underscores Fragile Truce in Ukraine":
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Sunday calling groundless the Russian ministry’s assertion that the attackers had been members of Right Sector. Right Sector also denied any involvement. 
“The Russian side must be reminded about their obligations under the Geneva agreement to bring all necessary influence to bear on separatists to clear illegally held buildings, unblock roads, lay down arms and prevent any bloodshed,” the Ukrainian statement said. 
Life News, a Russian tabloid television channel, reported that pro-Russian militants had found a business card of the leader of Right Sector, Dmytro Yarosh, among the belongings said to have been left behind by one of the attackers, along with guns and stacks of American dollars. 
The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that “as a result of an attack by insurgents of the so-called Right Sector, innocent civilians have died.” It added that pro-Russian fighters had found “aerial photographs of that district” and Right Sector emblems in cars seized from the attackers. “The Russian side is indignant at this provocation of the insurgents, which shows the Kiev authorities’ unwillingness to rein and disarm the nationalists and extremists,” it said.
As to be expected, in order to divert attention from this brazen violation of the Geneva statement, the Obama administration peddled putsch government photographs that purportedly prove Russian special forces are directing the pro-Russian uprising in the Donbass. Andrew Higgins, Michael Gordon and Andrew Kramer have the story, "Photos Link Masked Men in East Ukraine to Russia":
“There has been broad unity in the international community about the connection between Russia and some of the armed militants in eastern Ukraine, and the photos presented by the Ukrainians last week only further confirm this, which is why U.S. officials have continued to make that case,” Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said Sunday. 
The question of Russia’s role in eastern Ukraine has a critical bearing on the agreement reached Thursday in Geneva among Russian, Ukrainian, American and European diplomats to ease the crisis. American officials have said that Russia would be held responsible for ensuring that the Ukrainian government buildings were vacated, and that it could face new sanctions if the terms were not met.
This is the U.S. attempt to shift the narrative away from Right Sector violence; it likely also prefigures another round of largely cosmetic sanctions directed at the Russian ruling elite. Also, make note. Whenever you see a story written or co-written by Michael Gordon, what you are getting is the official lie.

Going forward, what we are working our way towards, and the direction events have been moving since Crimea last month, is -- "How serious is the West about initiating a trade war with Russia?" We have heard a lot of talk from Obama and Kerry about costs, but so far those costs have been negligible. The conundrum facing the United States is that as soon as it really starts to walk the talk, that will be the time that prominent EU members -- like Germany and Italy -- begin to make noise about getting off the train. Europe's future growth is in the east not the west.

What seems apparent is that the White House is not going to abandon the putschists in Kiev. We are dealing with a parent's love of his child. This means that we can expect more deadly shenanigans from Right Sector goon squads, which will eventually lead to a thorough counterattack from the "green men."

This is not going to end well for either the putschists nor the Obama administration. What Obama must realize is that there is zero popular support for this New Cold War he is creating. This is not 1948 Berlin. The more he pursues it, the greater the chances of his legacy being one of infamy.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Colt 45 Chronicle #63

We are approaching that time in the Pacific Northwest when one goes to bed with sunlight and wakes up with sunlight. I have windows that face north. Around the time of the NBA playoffs the earth has rotated far enough on its axis that I'm getting a shaft of direct sunlight into my cluttered studio at sunrise and at sunset. It is a strange time of year.

The letter below is another one of those beer-tear retrospectives that I sent off to my beloved friends back in the Bay Area telling them how much I missed them and how I had loved working in the library at U.C. Berkeley. To this day I still consider it the best job of my life. Often we would begin each morning, the students who staffed the special book search and retrieval department within the university's august Doe Library, at an espresso cafe that bordered the northside of campus. There we would drink cappuccino and eat pain au chocolat and decide who would tackle which branch libraries, some of us, usually Paul, reeking of tobacco smoke and alcohol from the previous night; others, of last night's sexual climax.

I could go on for a long time about various stories associated with my tenure at the library -- the people I worked with were family: we partied together, went on outings together; we basically lived together -- but I want to get out on a long run this morning while I still have the mojo to do it. So I am going to cut it short and mention only the time that Paul and I went out together -- we were usually paired up -- on a book retrieval run that hit the branch libraries on the westside of campus and the little golf-cart-sized delivery truck we traveled the campus in tipped over. It tipped over because Paul and I entertained ourselves during the completion of our route by looking for "jumps" we could careen over in the old, "county-orange"-colored golf-cart-sized delivery vehicle. (Imagine an old steel golf cart with a metal canopy soldered on the back.) The best jumps -- high curbs or small embankments or other opportunities offered by paved hilly terrain -- were found on the eastside of campus.

But on this particular day we were on the far west end, near Edwards Track and Field Stadium. Paul, who always drove, took us as fast as the vehicle could motor up the drive that led beneath the stadium seats and then he cranked the wheel sharply and drove us off the edge. The vehicle couldn't taken the sharp turn and tipped over. The cab of the vehicle was open -- no doors. So I slid out immediately as soon as the vehicle tipped, Paul sliding right behind me. But like something out of the Iliad, I landed on my feet and caught hold of a bar on the cab and held up the vehicle and walked it upright again.

Paul slammed back in the driver's seat looking a little shaken. I was sort of surprised. The vehicle was at least 500 lbs. I think we got lucky; I think I caught it right when it was at the zenith of going all the way over, and by propping it up for those several steps I bought us some time for gravity to come to our aid.
Autumn 1988
You got to love them A's. By the the time you guys get this little missile it'll already be game four, and the Dodgers'll be fighting for their stinking Tim Leary lives. Wow! How about that review of the Praise Jockeys in the VILLAGE VOICE? I tacked it up on our wall for good luck and good measure. This week there is an article by Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon; it's kinda nice; it made me feel how much I've been passed by by life. But hope springs with a cup of coffee in the morning, and the daydreams shoot out of my head. Unfortunately they evaporate as soon as I step into the office, refusing to return until the next morning. I think about California, about going back to school, about slaughtering everyone at work with a shotgun, about what I got to read, about Kim Gordon meeting me and falling in love, and on and on.
Ashley is studying hard for midterms, going to the library, staying up late and waking up the same. I watch TV, the Olympics, the news, the Championship Series, football (I've pretty much given up on the 49ers), and I drink beer. I read on the weekends. I do actually have a small but nonetheless wonderful storehouse of stories to relate -- drunkenness, a brawl with a big asshole bouncer, etc. -- but I feel either too self-conscious or overwrought to relate them. Suffice it to say that in all the cryptically mentioned above I upheld East Bay honor and integrity.
In the mind's eye I am always comparing every work scenario with the Baker scene, and, well, you know, beer tears and all, nothing ever stacks up. That long old library table that we all sat up at, jawing away, like a commercial, like accident was a necessity (there's a Derrideanism); the two-hour coffee breaks; the golf carts, running them into the side of a building or a metal pillar; Sue Gallup, who you wanted to pistol whip with a machete; Greg Olin, and his insight into the Transcendentalists; me, leaving freshly-purchased vinyl albums in the sun; Dan Tirtawatanata; Jefferson and the MEMBERS ONLY jacket. it all adds up -- and that was only one generation, one layer. The real big hitters were you guys, and Ben, and Sloper, and Clanon and Pomerantz. But as you can tell, this is jaundiced, beer jaundice, and I hope you guys don't mind it.  We all need a golden age, and we need it over and over again, and this was one of mine, and we shared it. And I never stop telling people that you guys changed my life, and that that time charged my life (Oh, boy, does this sound maudlin, and I hope by calling attention to it, I am not somehow ruining it.) But I'm a firm believer in delivering credit where credit is due. So I sit here, my weenie a sow's tail for the brew's release, puffing on the last bit of a Te Amo cigar before Ashley comes home to reprove me, and all I can think is that I really love you, Oliver and Lyn.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Hippies vs. Punks: Pearls Before Swine's One Nation Underground

This morning will continue a pattern started with the last Hippies vs. Punks post (on Contact High with the Godz) -- a quick hitter on an important Hippie-era recording that I am exploring thanks to having recently read Lester Bangs' essay, "Do the Godz Speak Esperanto?"

I've listened to One Nation Underground (1967), Pearls Before Swine's debut on ESP-Disk, several mornings this week and I've got to say it has been a real treat. I seem to have found myself in almost a constant state of stress for the last month and partly thanks to listening to One Nation Underground I found that the state has almost entirely disappeared.

To me the record evokes an After Bathing at Baxter's (1967) psychedelia coupled with a flower Punk street corner Hippie rendition of Dylan's super-historical "gone electric" offerings: Bringing It All Back Home (1965), Highway 61 Revisited (1965) and Blonde on Blonde (1966).

One Nation Underground was recorded right before the Summer of Love and released three months before the Tet Offensive drove a stake through the heart of LBJ's Great Society. You would be hard pressed to find a better vehicle to transport you back to a time when the masses were cohering into Hippiedom. One Nation Underground is an amazing aural document, necessary listening, I think, for any serious student or dialectician who wants to understand how we ended up in our current predicament.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Geneva Statement on Ukraine Going Nowhere

At first blush the short statement released yesterday in Geneva by the four parties -- Russia, United States, European Union, Ukrainian putschists -- seemed like a Russian capitulation. Emphasis was placed on ending the occupation of public buildings and spaces with only vague language committing the putschists to an open dialogue in any forthcoming constitutional process.

My reaction was that there must be more here than meets the eye. To understand what that it is check out this morning's post "DECONSTRUCTING THE RESULT OF THE FOUR PARTY TALKS" by Da Russophile:
As its text makes clear what this document is in reality is not an an agreement to settle the Ukrainian crisis or even an outline of such an agreement but rather a statement of basic principles around which an agreement should be negotiated. The real agreement (if it comes about) will emerge from negotiations based on the principles set out in this document. 
A number of points: 
1. Kiev’s claims to the contrary notwithstanding, the statement that “all sides must refrain from all violence, intimidation and provocative actions” clearly rules out the “anti terrorist operation” in the eastern Ukraine that Kiev launched on Sunday; 
2. As Lavrov has correctly pointed out the provisions in the third paragraph that require the disarmament and dissolution of armed groups is clearly intended to refer as much to Right Sector and the Maidan Self Defence Force as it does to the protesters in the east. Note specifically that the statement calls for a general amnesty except for those who have committed capital crimes (ie. murder). So far no protesters in the east have murdered anyone. Even Kiev admits that none of its soldiers have so far been killed. The same obviously cannot be said of Right Sector and of the Maidan Self Defence Force even if one disregards their likely responsibility for the sniper killings in Kiev on 20th February 2014; 
3. The document clearly refers to Maidan itself, which it says must be cleared. Specifically alongside illegally occupied buildings the document refers to “all illegally occupied streets, squares and other public places in Ukrainian cities”. The reference to “squares” clearly is intended to refer to Maidan, which the militants in Kiev have said they will continue to occupy at least until the elections on 25th May 2014 and even beyond; 
4. Importantly there is NO time line in the document. There is no demand therefore that buildings be evacuated by any particular date or time. That has to be agreed and coordinated with the OSCE monitors on the ground. The people in the eastern Ukraine are therefore entirely within their rights to stay in the buildings at the moment until a timeline is agreed with the OSCE monitors, one requirement of which will surely be parallel evacuations of occupied squares and buildings in Kiev and the west including Maidan. 
5. The referral to the OSCE as the enforcement and mediation agency between the regime and its opponents gives Russia a formal role in the process since it is a member of the OSCE. By contrast the negotiations which took place before 21st February 2014 were negotiated and mediated by the EU of which Russia is not a member; 
6. The reference to the fact that in the negotiations concerning constitutional changes there should be “outreach to all the Ukraine’s regions and constituencies” (note especially use of the word “constituencies”) gives a role to the protesters in the east in the negotiations and not just to those formal official bodies currently recognised by Kiev. 
This document on its face therefore represents a shift towards the Russian/east Ukrainian side. Indeed it basically sets out principles Russia has been arguing for ever since Yanukovitch was deposed on 22nd February 2014.
The putschists have zero ability to project power by use of force. They will be unable to clear the Maidan; they will be unable to disarm Right Sector. Subsequently, the pro-Russian protesters will refuse to relinquish control of any public buildings in the east. The contours of this impasse are already taking shape. For a helpful roundup this morning consult Niqnaq's "right, let’s start with the post-sellout sitreps." One of the stories Niqnaq refers to appears in The Telegraph, "Russia and West reach surprise deal on Ukraine crisis":
In a demonstration of the difficulties ahead, a separatist leader in eastern Donetsk declared the first concession must come from the revolutionaries that drove out former president Viktor Yanukovych after occupying central Kiev for months. 
Alexander Zakharchenko, a protest leader inside the Donetsk regional government building, said: “If it means all squares and public buildings, then I guess it should start with the Maidan in Kiev. We’ll see what they do there before we make our decision here.”
As Da Russophile predicts,
Unfortunately that does not mean this road map is going to be successfully followed. Already Kiev is trying to argue that the “anti terrorist operation” it has ordered is somehow exempt from it (it isn’t) whilst the US is threatening to impose more sanctions on Russia if following the weekend Russia fails to impose pressure on the eastern Ukrainians to evacuate buildings they occupy without the US undertaking to put any corresponding pressure on its clients in Kiev (shades of Syria here). It is very easy to see how the US and its allies could then blame Russia for the failure of the road map whilst having caused that failure themselves.
The long game belongs to Russia. Recall the Forbes story I linked to the other day, the one about the impending economic collapse of Ukraine:
Ukraine also faces enormous problems re-paying its debts, a substantial portion of which are denominated in dollars and other foreign currencies. Although it attracted little attention at the time, when it bought $3 billion worth of bonds at the end of 2013 Russia inserted a clause that stipulates that the total volume of Ukrainian state-guaranteed debt cannot exceed 60% of its annual GDP. If that threshold is breached, Russia can legally demand repayments on an accelerated schedule. Given the parlous state of the Ukrainian economy and its government’s extremely weak finances, this essentially means that if Ukraine’s debt exceeds 60% of its GDP Russia can legally force it to default. 
Current projections show that Ukraine could stay below the 60% cutoff through 2014. Maybe. The margin of error, however, is relatively small and some combination of weaker growth, a weaker Hryvnia, and a bigger deficit could easily push it past the limit. Given the relentlessly negative trajectory of the entire Ukrainian economy and the fact that virtually every forecast has had to be adjusted downwards, it seems like a safe bet that things will end up worse than the initial projections and that Ukraine’s debts will in fact head perilously close to that 60% limit. Given Russia’s extraordinary aggressiveness on every other front, it’s basically impossible to imagine that the Kremlin won’t use the debt lever to the fullest extent possible.
The same sort of assessment, more from a geopolitical perspective than an economic one, is quoted from a beltway think tank analyst in a story today by David Herszenhorn, "Away From Show of Diplomacy in Geneva, Putin Puts On a Show of His Own":
Mr. Putin’s view that the West has lied to Russia and humiliated him on numerous occasions, including its plans for Libya, explain why he will continue to talk — and act — tough on Ukraine even as he takes diplomatic steps toward resolving the crisis, said Samuel Charap, the senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a research organization in Washington. 
“They are going to keep the boots on Ukraine’s throat until they are 100 percent convinced that they have gotten what they wanted,” Mr. Charap said in an interview. “They believe that if they completely pulled back from the pressure they are applying, tomorrow the West would swoop in and try to steal Ukraine away again.”

Mr. Putin’s willingness to challenge the West aggressively also reflects his relatively strong position — militarily in post-Soviet space, and politically on the domestic front. “He’s at the top of his game,” Mr. Charap said. “In terms of the situation on the ground and Ukraine’s future, they have the upper hand.” He added, “There’s a sense you get watching him of someone who has an 80 percent approval rating and has been supported by the people he cares about most.”
So all in all the talks in Geneva yesterday and the statement that was generated mean very little. Some clock will be burned, some talking points generated, the upcoming debate that will erupt when neither Right Sector nor the People's Republic of Donetsk fade away will have a frame of reference. That is about it.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Get Ready for Banderastan

The Gray Lady presents a horn of plenty in her coverage of the unfolding crisis in Ukraine this morning. But on closer inspection the edibles turn out to be the usual assortment of dried dung we have come to expect from the paper's foreign affairs reporting.

There are two noteworthy pieces. First, Andrew Kramer's tendentious coverage ("Ukrainian Security Forces Kill 3 Pro-Russian Protesters") of the murder of pro-Russian protesters in the port city of Mariupol by members of the newly created neo-Nazi National Guard. Kramer repeats the line being laid down by putschist interim interior minister Arsen Avakov that after repeated attempts to calmly and peacefully disperse an armed mob trying to overrun the Guard's military installation there was an exchange of fire and three pro-Russian protesters were killed:
Ukrainian security forces killed three pro-Russian protesters, wounded 13 and took 63 captive in a firefight overnight in the eastern city of Mariupol, the interim Ukrainian interior minister said on Thursday. The clash was the most lethal so far in the east of the country. 
The minister, Arsen Avakov, said pro-Russian protesters had tried to storm a base used by troops in the newly formed National Guard, which has drawn from volunteers who took part in last winter’s protest movement against the government.
For a different perspective, check out The Guardian's version, "Fatal clashes at Ukrainian military base":
But footage published by 0629 appeared to show a disorganised assault by protesters, who said they had been unarmed and were seeking negotiations. 
In a video posted on the site, a masked man wearing a St George's ribbon and a military helmet said after "the gates came down" soldiers began shooting at protesters and also threw stun grenades, wounding several of them. A man with him said a wounded comrade had been left inside the base, indicating protestors had penetrated the walls. 
"We were yelling, asking for the troops, the commander, to come out for negotiations, because no one here wants blood. They answered with shooting," the first man said. 
A third man said troops had fired at "peaceful residents". In another video, a masked man with a megaphone standing behind some lorries calls on troops inside the base to come out: "We don't want you – our guys, friends, comrades – to suffer."
None of this is even hinted at in Kramer's story, nor is the well-known fact, except for the person who reads the Gray Lady exclusively, that the new Ukrainian National Guard is composed mainly of Right Sector and Svoboda fighters.

But Kramer outdoes himself in providing an apologia for the stunning -- maybe a better word would be "epic" -- rout of the Ukrainian military yesterday in its failed effort to subdue the popular uprising in the Donbass:
Driving off the separatists in such a mixed crowd, or even trying to arrest them, would be a difficult task for a well-disciplined force with high morale. It would risk endangering civilians, potentially leading to bloodshed that might provoke a Russian military reaction. 
But there are few signs that the Ukrainian military or the National Guard is trained or equipped for such crowd-control tactics. Ukraine disbanded the country’s riot police, the Berkut, after the uprising in February. 
The methods appear to put the current government in the position of facing the protest and street fighting tactics that brought it to power just two months ago. The pro-Russians, however, are backing a different cause: Those in the east are not seeking the overthrow of a corrupt government and closer association with the European Union, but an expansion of Russian influence in Ukraine.
No, protesters in eastern Ukraine are seeking to separate themselves from an illegal government brought to power in a putsch by an armed gang of neo-Nazis.

This is why the Western governments and their heralds in the prestige press continue to lose the information war. They have to elide the glaringly obvious: the current national government in Kiev is illegal; it came to power through a violent insurrection against a elected president. Any occlusion of this fact, which is a sin qua non for the Gray Lady's coverage of the crisis in Ukraine, is going to strain the credibility of the reporting.

Kramer does provide some delicious texture to the putschists' epic defeat yesterday:
In Kiev, the Ministry of Defense initially denied that the armored vehicles had been captured. Then Sergei Sobolev, the acting head of the Fatherland party in Parliament, claimed that the armored vehicles had flown Russian flags as part of an ingenious subterfuge to get through pro-Russian crowds. 
Ukrainian news media quoted Mr. Sobolev as saying it was a “guerrilla approach” to infiltrate separatist-controlled areas through pro-Russian civilian mobs. Rather than a disastrous setback for Ukrainians, he said the appearance of Ukrainian military vehicles flying Russian flags was a “breakthrough” for the Ukrainian offensive, though it proved to be nothing of the sort. 
Later, the Ukrainian military conceded that six vehicles had been captured but said nothing of the surrender of rifles from the other column. 
Others struggled to understand why things had gone so badly wrong. “We try not to criticize our authorities, but it is obvious that we have more and more problems,” said Dmytro Tymchuk, a former military officer and director of the Center of Military and Political Research, a Kiev-based research group.
The second noteworthy story is Michael Gordon's "Kerry Joins Geneva Talks on Crisis in Ukraine," an earlier version of which was much more strident in its anti-Russian tone. Gordon is a faithful scribe of the U.S. State Department; really, he is identical to a government employee. In explicating the U.S. negotiating position going into the four-party talks that start today, Gordon quotes a senior State Department official saying, "The idea here is that they [Russia] would stop aiding and abetting and supporting the separatists and that they would pull their troops back from the border." Obviously this is a non-starter.

Nowhere is there any indication that the elites who run the show in Washington D.C. will seek to calm the situation and work with Russia to make sure that Ukraine can remain a viable state. Russia has to be a partner for Ukraine to exist. The White House doesn't care apparently. Its goal appears to be primarily a military one. So expect more mayhem. Get ready for Banderastan.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Russia Will Not Allow Any Putschist Victories in the Donbass

Yesterday ended with a lot of crowing in the Western media about the potent, measured display of force by the Ukrainian military in securing an airfield at Kramatorsk. The good news this morning is that "victory" by the putschists has already been reversed. This from a story this morning from Andrew Kramer reporting from Slovyansk, "Ukraine Is Said to Suffer a Setback in Bid to Confront Pro-Russian Militias":
The opening phase of what the Ukrainian government has called a military operation to confront pro-Russian militants suffered a setback Wednesday morning when six armored personnel carriers flying a Russian flag drove into town here and parked in the central square, Ukrainian news media reported. 
Pro-Russian militias commandeered the vehicles from the Ukrainian Army and went to the central square in Slovyansk, about 120 miles from the Russian border, according to the news reports. A crowd gathered to gape at the squat, tracked vehicles and at a red, white and blue flag flapping in the breeze. 
About 100 soldiers in unmarked green uniforms and bearing the equipment of professional infantry guarded the vehicles, but they showed no signs of allegiance other than the single flag. Some of the soldiers had grenade launchers slung over their shoulders.
If the vehicles were indeed seized from the Ukrainian Army, it was not immediately clear whether they had been taken by force or with the collusion of defecting Ukrainian troops. Either possibility, however, would signal an escalation by Russian-backed militants in eastern Ukraine., a Ukrainian news website, reported that militants seized the vehicles in a neighboring town, Kramatorsk, where the Ukrainians landed paratroopers Tuesday to secure an airfield, in what was intended to be a show of force. 
The Ukrainian general who commanded the military operation, Vasily Krutov, stood near armored personnel carriers outside the town and warned loudly that gunmen who did not surrender their weapons would be “destroyed.”
I must admit I went to bed last night feeling ill at ease, thinking that possibly Russia would stand aside as Ukrainian troops backed by neo-fascist irregulars would roll up the uprising in the Donbass. Sure, it was obvious what was going on -- a small, inconsequential action at a small, inconsequential airfield was being blown up out of all proportion to herald the legitimacy of the illegitimate putsch regime in Kiev. Nonetheless, I felt agitated; that is what information war is designed to do.

The presence of the "100 soldiers in unmarked green uniforms and bearing the equipment of professional infantry" is a clear statement that Russia is not going to allow even the smallest display of potency by the putschists in the east.

So it is to be expected -- though still a little surprising giving its vehemence and lock-step coordination with NATO pronouncements -- that you get a frontpage attack by David Herszenhorn, "Russia Is Quick to Bend Truth About Ukraine." It is not labeled "analysis," as is the protocol for the Gray Lady when she prints opinion pieces outside the editorial page; we are to accept Herszenhorn's attack on the Russian media as straight-up fact. (Elites in the West are obviously upset by Prime Minister Medvedev taking to Facebook to declare, as he did yesterday, that "Blood has been spilled in Ukraine again.")

What is going on here is the West's media monopoly is not what it once was. Daily newspapers, except for a few behemoths like the Gray Lady and Wall Street Journal, are dying if not already dead. Television network news is fading fast. It is a splintered informational world, and in this world Russia has proved an adept player. Hence the attacks on the Russian media by the New York Times. The same thing happened last month during the Crimea vote to join the Russian Federation. These attacks are necessary for the West because it cannot defend a violent, unconstitutional uprising in Kiev at the same time reject the same kind of uprising by pro-Russian Ukrainians in the Donets Basin.

NATO did its part by proclaiming that a military buildup will commence on its eastern boundary. According to Kramer:
In Brussels, the head of NATO said Wednesday that the alliance would strengthen its military presence along its eastern border in response to the developments in Ukraine. Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the alliance’s secretary general, said that NATO would immediately send forces to the region as a deterrent. He did not specify how many troops or aircraft would be involved or what kind of assets would be deployed. 
Earlier this month, the alliance ordered an end to most military cooperation with Russia because of the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea and its threatening military posture near eastern Ukraine.
Add to this a story, "General and Former Defense Official Urge Nonlethal Military Aid for Ukraine," by Michael Gordon published today and the horizon of the New Cold War stands clearly before us:
“Implementation of U.S. nonlethal military aid is seriously flawed and needs immediate correction,” Gen. Wesley K. Clark and Phillip A. Karber wrote in a copy of the report that The New York Times obtained on Tuesday. General Clark, who is retired, is the former NATO commander who led the alliance’s forces during the 1998 Kosovo conflict, and Mr. Karber is a former strategy adviser to Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger.

“The most important assistance currently needed to make the existing Ukrainian force as defensible as possible in the current crisis (between now and the elections of 25 May) is nonlethal equipment from the U.S.,” they wrote after a recent visit to Ukraine. 
The visit of General Clark, who ran for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, and Mr. Karber took place in late March and early April. They traveled at the invitation of Ukrainian officials, and the trip was paid for by the Potomac Foundation, an American nonprofit research center. 
General Clark and Mr. Karber met with Ukrainian generals and defense officials, and Mr. Karber visited Ukrainian armored, mechanized and light infantry brigades on their northern, eastern and southern fronts. 
According to their assessment, which has been provided to Obama administration officials and lawmakers, Ukraine’s forces are facing a formidable military challenge. “The 1,000-mile-long front is three times the frontier that Ukraine’s modest armed forces are designed to handle,” they wrote. “Moreover, decade-long corruption has left their Air Force ill equipped, vulnerable and unready for modern air combat. 
“Russian occupation of Crimea has virtually destroyed Ukraine’s coastal defense from the south,” they wrote, adding that threats from other directions “divert Ukrainian political attention and disperse badly needed forces to the southwest and northwest.” 
Ukraine, they say, needs more aircraft, and more antiaircraft and antitank missiles. But it also has a dire need for nonlethal assistance.
Michael Gordon fails to mention that Wesley Clark, as NATO commander during the the Kosovo war, almost started WWIII when he ordered troops to attack Russia forces occupying Pristina airport. Fortunately for all of us British General Mike Jackson refused to comply with the order, saying, famously, "I'm not going to start the Third World War for you."

Direct military support and consultation will begin with nonlethal assistance and take off from there. The United States and Europe now have another Afghanistan. This one one is being called Banderastan.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Ukraine on the Verge of Civil War and Economic Collapse

The news this morning is that the Kiev putschists have finally begun there ballyhooed crackdown on restive eastern Ukraine. Andrew Kramer, reporting from Slovyansk, has the story, "Ukraine Says It Has Begun Military Operation in East":
After days of failing to enforce its own ultimatums, the Ukrainian government on Tuesday began what the president called a military operation to confront pro-Russian militants in the east of the country. 
The first indication that the operation represented more than just words this time was a modest Ukrainian military checkpoint established on a highway north of the town of Slovyansk, which has been controlled by militants since Saturday. 
Witnesses said a dozen armored personnel carriers parked on the highway flew Ukrainian flags about 40 kilometers, or 25 miles, north of the town. There were no credible reports of confrontations with the well-armed and apparently Russian-backed forces in the town. 
“On Tuesday morning, in the north of Donetsk region, an antiterrorist operation began,” the Ukrainian speaker of Parliament and acting president, Oleksandr V. Turchynov, told Parliament in the capital, Kiev. “It will be carried out in stages, and responsibly and in a balanced manner. The goal is the defense of citizens of Ukraine.”
So far this action by the putschists seems largely cosmetic. Slovyansk is completely under the control of pro-Russian protesters. Staying 25 miles outside the city is wise.
The Ukrainian troops were not moving by early afternoon on Tuesday. Ahead of them in Slovyansk, scores of armed men maintained their hold on the police and domestic security service building and the City Hall. They have barricaded the roads and, locals say, placed snipers on roofs.
And yet the town remained crowded with people milling about the streets and standing at protests in front of barricades, illustrating that an overly assertive Ukrainian military response could quickly lead to heavy civilian casualties and play into Moscow’s narrative that Russian-speakers are in need of protection.
The putschists are likely responding to counsel from the gargoyle-like CIA Director John Brennan who was recently weekending in Kiev. The thinking in the West is probably that the putschists have to demonstrate some sort -- any sort -- of ability to establish facts on the ground (even if these facts are merely cosmetic) prior to the scheduled four-party talks in Geneva this Thursday. The U.S. did its part by whispering about more sanctions, also cosmetic, to be applied against Russia. The main one discussed being a travel ban and/or asset freeze of Rosneft president Igor Sechin. Peter Baker Reports in "With Ukraine Tensions Mounting, U.S. Weighs New Sanctions Against Russia" that 
Targeting Mr. Sechin would aim directly at Mr. Putin’s inner circle. Rosneft, Mr. Sechin’s oil company, is deeply involved with Western firms. BP owns nearly 20 percent of the company, and ExxonMobil has multiple projects with Rosneft in Siberia, the Arctic, the Black Sea, Canada, Alaska and Texas. 
Lawyers at ExxonMobil are researching the impact of sanctions against Mr. Sechin. Given that they would apply to Mr. Sechin personally and not his company, some specialists said it might mean little more than a logistical hassle because he could not travel to the United States to meet with his ExxonMobil partners.
Baker's story also illuminates the confusion inside the beltway over Brennan's house call on the putschists:
Mr. Brennan’s decision to travel to Kiev, however, struck many in Washington as baffling. Russian television first reported over the weekend that the C.I.A. director had arrived in Kiev under an assumed name to direct operations there. The White House and the C.I.A. initially refused to comment but on Monday confirmed his trip. Mr. Carney said it was meant simply to foster “mutually beneficial security cooperation,” and he called Russia’s characterization “absurd.”
Some former intelligence officers privately criticized the visit, saying it only bolstered the conspiracies advanced by Russian officials that the C.I.A. was behind the Ukrainian unrest that toppled a pro-Moscow president in favor of a government oriented toward the West. 
But other C.I.A. veterans said there must have been a good reason for him to go because the White House would have known Mr. Brennan would be spotted. “It’s a well-thought-out decision that had to be weighed against playing right into Putin’s message,” said Milton Bearden, chief of the C.I.A.’s Soviet division during the Soviet Union’s collapse.
Should Ukrainian troops decide to attack Slovyansk I am sure that nestled among the soft civilian targets they would find some very efficient and hardened Russian special forces. Appreciation of this is no doubt the reason that two putschist ultimatums have come and gone without any enforcement activity.

Writing yesterday from Horlivka, Andrew Kramer explores the idea that Russian troops walk among the pro-Russian protesters in the Donbass in his "In Ukraine’s East, Russians Are Blending Right In." Based mostly on an online video and one interview with a pro-putsch Ukrainian in Sloyvansk, Kramer concludes that there is a heavy Russian presence to the protests. I'm sure he is right. Russia would be completely negligent if it did not have special forces on the ground milling around acting as an invisible shield to putschist violence. But Kramer's story is important because it validates the essentially popular nature of the uprising in eastern Ukraine:
All the same, an emphasis on a Russian military role discounts the genuine discontent among a portion of the population in eastern Ukraine. And some of the political and business elites of the Donets Basin, an industrial and coal-producing region in the east that is the base of support of the former president, Viktor F. Yanukovych, felt that they had much to lose after he was deposed in February.
The question at this point -- with a bank run on Monday that prompted the central bank to raise interest rates three percent, the hryvnia has lost 35% against the dollar in 2014 -- is will the putschists instigate an all-out civil war to obscure the inevitability of economic collapse?

One thing is crystal clear. The U.S. has created another mess.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Hippies vs. Punks: Contact High with the Godz

With my current situation -- increased pressures at work, reduced stamina because of ever-eroding physical conditioning -- it is becoming apparent to me that I will never be in a position to post Hippies vs. Punks unless I cut it short.

So here goes. The Godz first album, Contact High with the Godz (1966), is worth checking out. I'm reading Lester Bangs' Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, and he's got an essay in there devoted to the eccentric label, ESP-Disk. One of the bands ESP featured was the Godz.

Yesterday, wiped out and in bed with Scott Jurek's Eat & Run, I listened to Contact High with the Godz repeatedly. It is available on YouTube.

It is a folk music send-up by a bunch of music store clerks who can barely play their instruments; yet it nonetheless taps into a hoodoo vibe that is real and replenishing. Check it out.

What Pearls of Wisdom CIA Chief Brennan Imparted While in Kiev are Hard to Imagine

The pro-Russian uprising in eastern Ukraine appears at this point to be unbowed and gaining traction. This from a solid round-up of the events this past weekend by Andrew Kramer and Andrew Higgins, "No Action Seen From Ukraine as Deadline for Militants Passes":
Through Monday morning, as the sun burned off a dense mist rising from stubbly winter fields in the region, the Ukrainian news media reported no efforts to storm occupied buildings in the eastern part of the country. No police officers or military personnel were gathered outside the regional administration building in Donetsk, which flies a Russian flag as well as the flag of the recently declared but as yet unrecognized People’s Republic of Donetsk. 
In another indication of the scale of the loss of control by the central government, pro-Russian protesters set up a checkpoint on a main highway about 25 miles outside of Donetsk. 
The government’s push on Sunday to reassert its authority in a vital industrial and coal-mining region appeared to have made little headway. Pro-Russian protesters appeared to control not only the police station but also the entire town of Slovyansk, after having set up checkpoints at major streets leading into town.
The protesters blocked a major highway in the east, and Russian and Donetsk flags flew over administrative buildings in several other midsize towns, including Mariupol, where protesters seized a building Sunday.
My sense is that the putschists in Kiev don't have control of the armed forces. Why else throw out ultimatums that can't be met? They might have an "elite" unit or two like Alfa, which may or may not be composed largely of mercenaries, as well as Right Sector hooligans. But apparently these forces are not enough to storm and hold the myriad government buildings under occupation. Also, I would guess that Russia has elite special forces in plainclothes on the ground in these eastern cities. Once the Ukrainian attack begins we can expect that they will play a role.

The fact that CIA chief John Brennan was reported to be in Kiev instructing the putschists over the weekend is proof that things are very shaky for Yats & Co.:
Russian news media reported Sunday that the American C.I.A. director, John O. Brennan, had arrived in Kiev on a secret visit to advise Ukrainian officials in charge of domestic security and defense. The American Embassy in the Ukrainian capital declined to comment on the reports.
The problem for the putschists is while these buildings can be stormed and taken by mercenaries, how can they be held? The military and state security apparatus obviously cannot be relied upon; hence, the appearance of Greystone personnel. What pearls of wisdom Brennan had to impart are hard imagine.