Monday, March 31, 2014

Alan Grayson is wrong this time (on Crimea)

Rep. Alan Grayson is somebody I agree with most of the time and really admire for his guts, but this time he's got it all wrong. I fear he's having an Ameri-centric, knee-jerk left-wing reaction against the right-wing reaction against Putin.

First, "bloodless" cannot be the measure by which we judge the legitimacy of armed incursions by foreign powers. I daresay the U.S. could bloodlessly take over many countries if we came in with enough force quickly enough.  But that wouldn't make it right.

Second, as I've said before, the conditions in which the March 16 Crimean referendum were held, and the ridiculously short time frame, made the referendum illegitimate. Nobody in Europe would hold, much less recognize, a referendum organized under similar conditions on their own territory; so there's no reason for Europe or the West to recognize it in Crimea. To do so is actually a form of Western condescension: "Well, it's good enough for them."

(To illustrate it, I ask you to imagine a referendum for Florida's secession from the USA to join Cuba, since millions of ethnic Cubans live in Florida.  Imagine that this referendum started after Cuban troops invaded the Florida statehouse one night in Tallahassee; days later, those deputies who were allowed in by the Cuban troops, er, "local self-defense forces" voted to join Cuba (although there was no record or witness of the vote); then these deputies announced that this vote would be "confirmed" by a referendum in 2 weeks. This would be contrary to the U.S. Constitution and Florida's Constitution, just as Crimea's secession was contrary to Ukraine's and Crimea's, but that wouldn't matter, I suppose, under the ABSOLUTE right to anybody anywhere in any territorial sub-unit to their own self-determination.  Imagine further Cuba sending in troops to "protect" ethnic Cubans and "protect" their right to hold a referendum, while issuing ultimatums to local and state police, local military units, courts, etc. to pledge their allegiance to Cuba BEFORE the referendum was even held.... Need I go on illustrating how absurd this "legitimate" referendum in Crimea was?)

Third, let's recall that President Yanukovych fled Ukraine without explanation.  He was not "thrown out of power" by anybody; he chose, inexplicably, a day after coming to a compromise agreement with the opposition witnessed by EU ambassadors, (but not agreed to by Russia!), to flee Ukraine. This is not how a legitimate leader behaves.  In a few days it was discovered by the new government that $70 billion were unaccounted for in the state coffers; my guess is that Yanukovych fled preemptive to being arrested.

Finally, just to show that this is not  all about the U.S. and what we  think about a "second Cold War" or similar, just look at the reaction of Ukraine's neighbors in Poland, Moldova, the Baltics: they are not taking this "bloodless" revolution lightly, not to mention Ukrainians staring at 30,000+ Russian troops massing on the other side of the border. They are seriously frightened of Russia and what it might do next; and Grayson's official appeasement does not put their  fears at ease. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Private charity fails to replace social programs

As I've noted before, charitable giving is "pro-cyclical," meaning it decreases during a bad economy when it's needed most.  

Hiltzik also points out that very little of charitable giving is aimed at the needs of the poor; and the rich are more miserly givers than the rest of us:

The smallest allocation of philanthropic giving to basic needs of the poor was made by the wealthiest donors, those with income of $1 million of more, who directed 3.8% of their giving directly to the poor. For the $100,000-$200,000 income group, that allocation was 12.4%.

"The existing evidence doesn't support the idea that wealthy donors will step in" to replace government transfer programs, says Rob Reich, an expert in philanthropy at Stanford. As he wrote last year, "Philanthropy appears to be more about the pursuit of one's own projects, a mechanism for the expression of one's values or preferences rather than a mechanism for redistribution or relief for the poor."

The largest single recipient of philanthropy is religion — 32% of the total, according to Giving USA. But only a small portion of that goes to outreach to the needy; more than three-quarters of donations to religious organizations is spent on "congregational operations," including facilities upkeep.

So here's the upshot:

What all this shows is that there's an unspoken subtext when people like [Representative Paul] Ryan complain, as he did during the 2012 presidential campaign, about "cold social programs from the federal Department of Health and Human Services" built by a government that "took away much of our greatness."

Ryan is evoking a golden-hued fairy tale of a past that never existed. In the real world today, those "cold social programs" from HHS and other federal agencies keep people fed and housed, and alive, and give their children opportunity.

By Michael Hiltzik
March 30, 2014 | Los Angeles Times

Friday, March 28, 2014

Frum: The West CAN do something in Ukraine

Well worth reading!  This was my favorite chunk [emphasis mine]:

Tell me if you’ve recently heard a pundit or strategist say something like the following:

Russia is a great power. It is entitled to a sphere of influence on its borders. NATO and the European Union pushed Russia too hard while Russia was weak. Russia is stronger now, and so naturally it’s pushing back. We have to understand Russia’s need for friendly governments on its border.

Familiar, right? Now let’s consider why it’s an awful thing to say.

Every great power, of course, wants friendly neighbors. But the surest way to secure friendly neighbors is to be friendly yourself. It didn’t just happen that Germany is bordered by a friendly France to the west and a friendly Poland to the east. Germany has earned that friendship with its constructive policies in the years since World War II. Germany doesn’t need to subvert French and Polish democracy to ensure French and Polish friendship. Nobody can win an election in France or Poland on a platform of hostility to Germany.

If Russia finds itself in a different situation, it’s because of Russia’s own actions. Russia’s neighbors are frightened of Russia because Russia is frightening. Rather than allay those neighbors’ concerns, Moscow tries to manipulate neighboring political systems and install stooge governments. Neighbors a little further away—Poland, for example, or the Baltic republics—have every reason to worry that Russia would do the same to them, if it could.

But it can’t. And that’s because of the security guarantees enjoyed by NATO members.

That is why, Frum argues, "As a more effective and accountable government takes shape in Ukraine, it will become time to renew its application for NATO membership. This time, the answer should be ‘yes.’"

That's a pretty controversial stand in both the East and West, especially if you agree with many foreign policy "realists" that Ukraine is destined to be an eternal buffer zone between NATO and Russia. But Putin has just proven that a weak Ukraine is no buffer at all for Russia.  Putin could roll right over it to reach Moldova, Poland, and beyond.  Putin "changed the calculus," as Frum wrote, and so NATO expansion to Ukraine should be back on the table.

By David Frum
March 27, 2014 | The Atlantic

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Peninsula of Nazis: Russian Crimeans who served Hitler

This article is important enough to translate to English in order to put Crimea into its proper historical context vis-a-vis Russia's accusations of "nationalism" and "fascism" in certain regions of Ukraine. You are free to read or Google translate it yourself; the original is here. [Emphasis below mine].

March 24, 2014 |

Recently, thanks to the brilliant follower of Adolf Hitler, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian citizens who felt their homeland was Ukraine (not Russia or the Soviet Union) were automatically branded "Banderites" and "neo-Nazis."

For what purpose since the 2000's have our so-called "brothers" stamped all Ukrainian patriots and ordinary Ukrainians to whom is alien the "Russian world" with the stamps "Banderites" (banderovtsy), "Nazi collaborators" and the like?  Why does comrade Putin hate people who fought for the independence of their country against all comers: the Germans, the Red Army and Soviet partisans?  Probably because in the plans of that Nazi there is no place for an independent Ukraine, just as there was not in Hitler's plans.

Today we offer to lift the curtain and shed light on a number of facts that "Putin & Co." does not like to remember, preferring to pretend that it was not in Russia's history of betrayal of millions of Russians during World War II. That it did not exist in the great history of the great Russian millions, as if they just drowned in the endless pages of time.

The Russian media loves to make noise about the "complicity of banderovtsy with fascists," concealing the massive scale of collaboration in Crimea, including Sevastopol, in the period of the German-Romanian occupation. And today, this period of time is still a mystery of mysteries.

But not everything was so simple. If in the western regions of Ukraine, UPA [Ukrainian Resistance Army] protected its people from the Nazi aggressors, in the southeastern regions and in Crimea, it was more difficult -- on the contrary, legions became collaborators to help the invaders oppress native people. Since the middle of the summer of 1942 they went under the same banner under which now walks the Russian community, and wore the same uniform worn by the current Crimean Russian Cossacks.

And, by the way, they all spoke Russian. The absolute majority of Germany's supporters -- Russian Liberation Army (ROA) formations in the territory of Ukraine and Crimea -- were created mostly ​​of Russian-speaking collaborators.

And if Ukrainian battalions "Roland" and "Nachtigall" are a favorite topic of the Russian media, then it is time to tell you about homegrown Crimean Cossacks whose descendants today have lined up in the service of the Moscow as "fighters against fascism," but who in fact are fighting exclusively with the Ukrainian state. Even on the day of celebration of Victory over Nazism on May 9, under the flags of ROA they love to walk the streets of Sevastopol and demonstrate that "in the city of Russian glory" there is no limit to cynicism. The archives and statistics, and documentary research of many Russian writers are packed with dry eloquent facts.

So, Crimea put up "only" 45,000 (!) bayonets in the 11th German Army of Manstein who participated in the storming of Sevastopol.

In the 17th Army of the Wehrmacht were formed nine separate Russian companies.

Crimean "volunteers," unlike the UPA , who defended their land, took part in the siege of Leningrad. Crimean Tatars, by the way, did not take part in the "Wehrmacht," so any theses about "Crimean Tatar traitors" can find no basis in fact here.

Modern Crimean "fighters against fascism" are somehow not in a hurry to to tell Crimeans, how, and with whom, in Simferopol in February 1942 was formed the 5th Simferopol Cossack Squadron, Cossack Cavalry Regiment "Von Yungshultz" and the 1st Andrew Hundred near Simferopol.

In addition, Russian Hitlerites on the peninsula formed four Russian Cossack battalions, which became the basis of the Russian Cossack Security Division "Von Schulenburg." This Division was finally destroyed in battles with UPA in 1944.

In February 1942, in Simferopol, by the headquarters of the 11th Army of the Wehrmacht was formed the 5th Simferopol Rejtarskiy Cossack squadron, on the basis of which was established Cossack Rejtarskiy regiment under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel von Schulze's 1st Panzer Army.  In 1943 the regiment, as one of the best in the fight against the Red Army and the guerrillas, was included in the 1st Cossack Cavalry Division of the Waffen SS, and later expanded and was reorganized into the 15th Waffen SS Cossack Corps.

It should be noted that Hitler included Crimea in the Reikskomisariat "Ukraine". Therefore, it was the 15th SS Cossack Corps, formed in Crimea, not the SS Division "Galicia," that became the first collaborationist unit in Ukraine that was fully included in the Waffen-SS.

Corps-- not division, and still much more. Therefore, Lviv with its Division "Galicia" and two battalions that had not sworn allegiance to the Fuehrer and the Reich mostly went over to UPA, in great contrast to Crimean Cossacks.

In addition to the above facts, inhabitants of Crimea formed three Russian battalions marching in the Wehrmacht, 560th and 994th field battalions of the ROA. Besides the Cossack Corps, first in Sevastopol, and then in Simferopol were well-outfitted headquarters, command and two battalions of the 1st Grenadier Division of the SS "Russia" and initiated the formation of the 2nd Division.

Residents and prisoners of war in Sevastopol formed the 381st Sevastopol Educational Field Division of the Wehrmacht .

Coastal defenses from Sevastopol to Feodosiya in 1942-1944 were provided the team "Kringsmarine Black Sea," in which officers were Germans, and soldiers were Russian, exclusively recruited from the local population and prisoners of war. Although these "kringsmarintsy" at the approach of the Red Army shot their officers and went over to the partisans -- nevertheless, for two years they loyally served the invaders.

Separately, we should mention the Crimean police battalions -- the so-called "Hіwі" ("Volunteer helpers " -- helpers of the Nazis, of course).  In Sevastopol, a battalion was formed of 450 locals that guarded the seaport, and likewise in Crimea "helpers" blockaded Soviet partisans in the mountain forests.

If we compare the number of collaborators pf Crimea and Western Ukraine in their relation to the number of the local population in 1941, we obtain interesting results. In the western regions of Ukraine the number of collaborators that fell in the service of the occupiers (even including the general list of Ukrainian Division "Galicia" and battalions "Roland " and "Nachtigall") was about 2.5% of the total population of the region.  In Crimea -- it was almost 12%.

Today in the Crimea again operate the henchmen of a new Hitler -- from Moscow. Only now they are not fighting against the Soviet power, but against the Ukrainian government. And at the same time against Ukrainian citizens, who do not even really know how to speak Ukrainian .

And so that such "national traitors" would not stay on "native Russian land," Cossacks and FSB agents advise them "delicately" in Russian to leave their home and their Motherland. Because in Russia there is no place for Ukraine. In the twisted imagination of the Moscow Fuhrer there exists only "Little Russia" -- "a petty historical misunderstanding."

Section "Delta" group "IS ." Based primarily on research by Miroslav Mamchak.

Source: Flot2017.

Charity never did, never can, replace safety net

I've argued most of this before, (you can read some here, here and here), but Mr. Konczal lays out the exhaustive historical case that the U.S. never did manage to take care of its poor through private charity.

Contrary to what Paul Ryan, Newt Gingrich, Rand Paul, et al tell us, there never was a golden era in American history when private people and charities provided a safety net, or even anything close to one.

So the burden really is on far-right conservatives who want to tear down the safety net that was built to fix all these historical problems, to explain how they are going to invent something totally novel to American history, and guarantee that it will work when such patchworks or networks of charity have always failed in the past.

There's just no valid study, history or facts to back up their false claim.

By Mike Konczlar
March 24, 2014 | The Atlantic

West's sanctions against Russia so far, and why more will be hard to achieve

This is a two-fer from NPR and Reuters, respectively, that provides very good summary info about Western sanctions so far, and context about individual EU countries, with which many of us are not so familiar.

By Krishnadev Calamur
March 24, 2014 | NPR

President Obama announced new punitive measures last week to expand the initial sanctions on Russia for its moves in Crimea. The measures, along with steps outlined by the European Union, impose asset freezes and travel bans on some Russian officials and target a Russian bank.

Here is what the sanctions do and their possible impact:

What Steps Were Taken?

President Obama signed an executive order on March 17 targeting 11 people, mostly Russian. Then on March 20, he announced that 20 other people and Bank Rossiya were being added to the list.

The action was coordinated with the EU, which initially targeted 21 people and then added 12 to the list.

What Effect Have They Had?

The March 17 announcement imposed travel bans and asset freezes on some Russian officials. Reaction in Moscow wasdismissive. But the measures announced on March 20 appear to have had a greater impact.

Visa and MasterCard briefly stopped processing payments to SMP bank, whose co-owners Boris and Arkady Rotenberg were sanctioned. Bank Rossiya, the country's 19th largest and believed to be close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, was also hit by the credit card companies. In effect, Bank Rossiya can't engage in dollar-based transactions.

This has implications far beyond the U.S. As The Economist notes:

"Western banks, mindful of recent government probes of HSBC and Standard Chartered for breaking similar embargoes, will not want to go near them. For many of the Russians and Ukrainians named this will matter little. For others, such as Gennady Timchenko, the boss of an oil-trading firm called Gunvor that, according to the Treasury department, has links to the Kremlin, the sanctions are likely to hurt."

They have already had an impact. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that "Russian stocks were hit, electronic payments inside the country snarled and energy traders scrambled to assess whether they could still deal with a big Geneva-based trading firm."

The country's finance minister, Anton Siluanov, said the sanctions were "definitely a negative for the general perception of our country's economy."

He added: "Some people say these sanctions won't affect Russia's financial system, but they already are."

Russia is already among the world's worst-performing stock markets this year, its cost of borrowing has increased, and its economic growth is at the lowest since a recession in 2009. Bloomberg reported Monday that the sanctions could push Russia toward a recession. Standard & Poor's and Fitch Ratings both downgraded Russia's credit from stable to negative. They said Western banks are becoming increasingly reluctant to lend to Russia.

As The New York Times reported: "Whatever the political consequences, economists say the uncertainty that now hangs over nearly every profitable enterprise in Russia is what poses the gravest threat to the country's long-term prosperity, rather than any immediate consequence of the specific sanctions."

Why Are They Limited In Scope?

President Obama, who is in Europe this week, was meeting with European allies about the situation in Ukraine.

"We're united in imposing a cost on Russia for its actions so far," he said, shortly after arriving in the Netherlands on Monday. "The growing sanctions would bring significant consequences to the Russian economy."

As Mark reports over at our Two-Way blog, Obama and his counterparts from six other major nations announced that they will suspend their participation in the G-8, and meet instead in Brussels.

But one reason sanctions haven't been stronger is Europe's dependence on energy from Russia, one of the world's largest energy exporters.

As James M. Lindsay of the Council on Foreign Relations wrote:

"Sanctions have the biggest bite when other major economies sign on. Without followers, the target country simply looks elsewhere for goods and investments. Whether Europe will sign up to tough sanctions, though, remains to be seen. While the region is unified in denouncing Crimea's annexation, nations are split over who should bear the costs of punishing Moscow. France and Great Britain, for instance, are bickering over whether Paris should give up its arms sales to Moscow and whether London should sacrifice profits from servicing Russian oligarchs."

The West has been more effective when it coordinates action. For instance, in 2011, in response to Iran's nuclear program, the U.S.announced it was targeting the Islamic republic's oil revenue and its central bank. The EU followed suit. Iran's economy suffered, and it eventually agreed to multilateral talks over its nuclear program.

Similar actions could stop Russia from making similar moves in other parts of its neighborhood — but they may also have another consequence: As the Council on Foreign Relations' Lindsay notes, if "Moscow is forced to pay the maximum price for its transgressions, it might decide to seek the maximum gain."


By Christian Lowe and Robert Muller
March 24, 2014 | Reuters

The European Union states that used to be behind the Iron Curtain have most to fear from Russian aggression, yet also most to lose from imposing sanctions, and for now the fear of losing money is winning out.

Messages over the past week from officials in the EU's 11 ex-Communist member countries indicate that most of them are going to be very resistant to any attempt by the bloc to impose the next stage of sanctions, on trade and economic ties.

The EU's ex-Communist camp, on the face of it, should be a natural backer of tough action: they have been occupied by Russia in the past and, after Moscow's annexation of Crimea, many of them have reason to fear they could be next in line.

If even this group is shying away from tougher sanctions on Russia - with the exception of Poland and a couple of others - it shows how hard it will be for the EU's sanctions hawks to win a consensus from all 28 member states.

Officials in most ex-Communist states said their main preoccupation was not any security threat but keeping their fragile economic recoveries on track, something that would be jeopardized if they had to forfeit trade with Russia, visits from Russian tourists, and shipments of Russian gas.

"When one quarter of (our) cars, about 250,000, go the Russian Federation, what would be the impact (of sanctions) on the car industry? Catastrophic," Prime Minister Robert Fico of Slovakia, a big automaker, told reporters last week.

"Why should we make decisions now which would endanger our economy and our people?"


Poland, the region's biggest economy, advocates a tougher stance, pushing hard at meetings in Brussels for a third stage of sanctions, beyond the assets freezes, visa bans, and suspension of cooperation talks that the EU has already adopted.

Polish officials say Russian President Vladimir Putin's ambition is to establish control over other parts of Ukraine beyond Crimea, and economic sanctions are a vital deterrent.

Reuters this week was shown a copy of what appeared to be a ballot paper asking people in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region if they wanted it to be incorporated into Russia - the same scenario that was played out in Crimea.

Among Poland's eastern European peers, Romania shares its view on sanctions, as does the Baltic state of Estonia.

"We are prepared to support the strongest possible measures," Estonian defense minister Urmas Reinsalu told journalists on Friday. "The Putin narrative poses a threat to the security of all Europe, including Estonia."

Yet even the firmest supporters of a third phase of sanctions concede that it will be tough to win a consensus. "We'll have to see what happens," said one European official, from a country that wants economic sanctions.


The anxiety in eastern Europe about sanctions is a measure of how intertwined its economies still are with Russia, more than 20 years after the Warsaw Pact ceased to exist. The dependence goes beyond the need for Russian fuel.

In the Czech capital, Prague, Russian-speaking tourists weighed down with shopping bags promenade around Wenceslas Square, and cluster around kiosks that offer bus excursions with commentary in Russian. The Czech Chamber of Commerce estimates that strict economic sanctions would cost up to 50,000 jobs.

The Czech government does not want to anger big European powers like Germany by blocking economic sanctions. But equally, this "is not anything we want to push for," said a Czech official with knowledge of discussions within the EU. "It will have a negative impact on our economy."

For many in the region, the past two decades have been about setting aside traumatic memories of Soviet occupation, and focusing instead on making a good living - an attitude that helps explain the approach to Russia now.

Bulgaria, the economy most dependent on Russia, has said it is opposed to tougher sanctions. In Slovenia, officials say they too are not keen.

In Hungary, the government has just signed a deal with Russia to expand its Paks nuclear power plant. Russia is its biggest non-EU trade partner.

At a news conference in Budapest last week, visiting German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a backer of tough sanctions, winced as his Hungarian counterpart Janos Martonyi, sitting next to him, outlined how vulnerable his country was to the impact of sanctions.

A Hungarian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a third stage of sanctions would "entail very painful and consequential decisions for both sides." That did not mean they would not happen, said the official, but "at this stage several EU member states would be interested in avoiding stage three."

Though Baltic state Lithuania is traditionally hawkish on Russia, President Dalia Grybauskaite said this week it was not yet time to adopt wide-ranging sanctions.

Nerijus Maciulis, chief economist at Swedbank Lithuania, said gross domestic product could shrink 10-15 percent if the strictest sanctions are imposed, tipping the country into renewed recession.

Maps about Ukraine, ethnic Russians

I want to show you two maps.  This first one from 1918 gives the lie to the historical myth that Nikita Khruschev's return of Crimea to Ukraine was some kind of historical anomaly. It clearly shows that Crimea and parts of Belarus and Russia were all part of the free Ukrainian People's Republic before the Bolsheviks conquered it:

Inline image 1

The second map is an infographic from NPR.  It shows you why other Russian satellite states are nervous about Russia's annexation of Crimea on the basis of ethnic kinship:

Inline image 2

The greener the country, the more ethnic Russians live there. As the favored ethnicity in the Soviet Union, Russians were workers, soldiers, managers and party bosses all throughout the Soviet Union.  After the fall of the USSR, many of them or their descendants stayed put.

So the pretext that Putin gave in Crimea could be repeated in, say, NATO member Latvia, to "protect" about half a million ethnic Russians there.  Already, as NPR points out, "since the Crimean crisis broke out, Transnistria's local Parliament has asked Moscow to grant the breakaway region [of Moldova] Russian citizenship and admission to the Russian Federation." And parts of Kazakhstan are more Russian than Kazakh.  

So what is to stop Putin continuing in this way?  So far, only Putin himself.  That is precisely what worries the West and Putin's neighbors alike.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Crimeans who want Crimea to be Ukrainian could get 5 years in jail

This is exactly what I said earlier: the door of Crimea's "self-determination" only swings one way, toward Russia.  

Here's my translation:

From May 9, calls to action for the return of the Crimea to Ukraine will be punished by a heavy fine or up to five years, which follows from the act signed at the end of 2013 by Vladimir Putin, Law on Amendments to Article 280 of the Criminal Code.

Newly introduced Article 280.1 "public calls for action to violate the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation" complements article on punishment for calls for extremism and states that such appeals shall be punished by a fine or up to 300 thousand rubles, or two years of income, or by compulsory works for a term of up to 300 hours, or imprisonment for up to three years.

If those appeals will be in the media or on the Internet - by compulsory works for a term of up to 480 hours or by imprisonment for up to five years.

Funny, but I don't remember that little detail being discussed by Aksyonov, Putin, et al in the run-up to the March 16 referendum!....

By Liliya Chalbash
March 24, 2014 | 15Minut

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Russians rush to buy prime coastal real estate in Crimea

And so it begins: the buy-out and asset-stripping of Crimea by rich Russians. They'll buy the best land and build apartments and dachas that will sit vacant 10 months of the year and block the beaches and views for residents and tourists. They won't pay taxes or care about local roads or schools because they will be there so seldom.  It will be the same problem Crimea already has with absentee owners from Russia, only much worse.

Next comes the big prize: state-owned resorts and sanatoriums.  How long will it take them to be nationalized, then privatized, then razed and empty apartment towers built in their places for summer vacationers from Moscow, St. Petersburg and Volgograd?  

By Liliya Chalbash
March 21, 2014 | 15Minut

Comparison of Putin's 2014 speech with Hitler's in 1939

My Russian-speaking friends must watch this! Savik Shuster deserves big kudos for making the obvious, well... obvious. If anybody is a fascist aggressor in the Ukraine-Russia conflict, it's Russia's President Vladimir Putin.

We can compare Putin's words yesterday with Hitler's words in 1939, and the histrionics and trumped up pretexts correspond 1:1.

By Xottabi4009
March 21, 2014 | YouTube

Friday, March 21, 2014

Guerilla class warfare: IRS audits fewer rich, more poor people

Channeling the spirit of my man David Cay Johnston, I'm gonna tell you why this mundane story matters.

See, Republicans in Congress cynically under-fund the IRS year in, year out. So an undermanned, undertrained IRS makes do and does what comes easier, relatively -- auditing people with lower incomes. Because higher-income filers have lawyers and complicated returns and it requires more manpower to check them.  

What this works out to, in reality, is a calculated game of probability by rich filers: if you're wealthy, and you're lawyered up, chances are you'll come away unaudited; and even if you are audited, you'll come away unscathed.  

And so wealth inequality is a double-whammy for the poor and working class: earning so much less, they are still more likely to be audited. 

BECAUSE THAT'S THE WAY THE GOP WANTS IT.  Don't be naive and believe otherwise.

Finally, do I really have to explain how this makes no business sense?  As every auditor knows, you focus your attention on the weakest control points with the highest potential for losses. The potential for losses among poor filers is minimal, almost nil.  

All the Tea Partyers who are serious about fiscal health should cheer on  the IRS, because every dollar spent on the IRS  brings in $255 to the U.S. Treasury. Just by enforcing existing tax laws passed by Congress, nothing more. No other government agency can boast of such efficiency!  And so it's time for the TPs to put up or shut up about the IRS, the only government agency that reduces the federal deficit.

By  Patrick Temple-West
March 21, 2014 | Reuters

The U.S. Internal Revenue Service said on Friday that it audited fewer high-income Americans in 2013 than it did in 2012 or 2011, while it conducted more audits of people with no income.

Total audits fell by 5 percent from 2012 to reach the lowest level since 2008 as the IRS said it coped with budget cuts.

For the fiscal year that ended September 30, 2013, the IRS said it audited 24.2 percent of individual tax returns with adjusted gross income of $10 million or more. That was down from 27 percent in 2012 and 30 percent in 2011.

There were also fewer individual tax returns audited in the $5 million to $10 million gross income band, the IRS said.

In total, the IRS audited about 1.4 million individual returns. IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said in a statement that budget cuts at the agency have "presented challenges."

Wealthy Americans historically are the likeliest to be audited. The IRS a few years ago started a "Global High Wealth Industry Group" to audit high-wealth individuals more efficiently.

But Congress in January cut the IRS's fiscal 2014 budget by about 4 percent to $11.3 billion.

The funding cuts have forced the IRS to cut the number of customer service representatives it employs during tax season, Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union said in a statement. "Both taxpayers and employees are frustrated."

Last year, audits were done on 6 percent of individual tax returns reporting no gross income, up from 2.7 percent in 2012 and 3.4 percent in 2011.

Who are these neo-Nazi bogeymen in Ukraine?

I'm pasting the most relevant graphs here, since most frequently I hear that Pravy Sector and Svoboda are powerful neo-Nazi bogeyman who will... do what, I'm not sure, but they're definitely the worst guys since Hitler, all pro-Russians assure us [emphasis mine]:

The leader of the Right Sector is Dmytro Yarosh, born and raised in the predominantly Russian speaking south-eastern city of Dniprodzerzhinsk. Yarosh was a member of the Young Pioneers and the Countrywide Leninist Communist Youth League  and served two years in the Soviet Army. One of the key forces during the Kyiv Revolution, the Right Sector has many Russian speaking members and has not been associated with any ‘fascist’ or anti-Jewish statements. In his first foreign interview, Yarosh told TIME that while the revolution needs to steer the country into a new direction, not dependent on either the West or East, he understands that any new opposition government is not likely to carve out a place for him and his men.

The Svoboda party was established in 1991 but only within the last four years attained a noticeable profile. Both Svoboda and Right Sector are very minor players on the current political landscape and have no realistic hope of a major role in the coming government. Svoboda members have recently bullied a TV journalist. Svoboda formally says it is not anti-European, nor anti-Russian, nor anti- Jewish but pro-Ukrainian.

Actually, the ‘anti-Semitic’ theme is now being played by Moscow at low volume ever since the chief Rabbi of Ukraine, seconded by every major Ukrainian Jewish organization, issued statements categorically affirming the freedoms Jews have in Ukraine and supporting the new Kyiv government. There are no instances of any Human Rights Watch organization reporting either Jewish or Russian “persecution” in Ukraine.

What the West does not understand about the “right”-ist groups in Ukraine is that they are here because the anti-Imperialist battle is not over, and they are not that frightening. They are certainly not saying “ban all foreigners…or Russians… or Jews” like Right groups in other European countries. What they are saying is it is time to save their culture and society which the Russians destroyed.

Europe and the EU have many more militant, far-right parties than Ukraine does, and yet these countries are not under existential threat as Ukraine is from Russia. Their language and culture are not under systematic assault as Ukrainian is by Russia. Extreme nationalism is a reaction, not a cause.  If it was OK to be pro-Ukrainian without being accused of fascism, if it was considered normal to defend the Ukrainian language the same way France's gov't. defends French, or Estonia's gov't. defends Estonian, then there would be little cause for nationalist fervor in Ukraine.  

And again, I repeat that there are way more neo-Nazis in Russia than Ukraine. Go to YouTube and search "skinheads russia" or "neo-nazis Russia" and see what horrible videos pop up!

By Adrian Bryttan
March 21, 2014 | Euromaidan PR

Hostages beaten and tortured in Crimea

If you're inclined to ignore or disregard this report because of the source, then follow the hyperlinks provided therein.  They are all quite legitimate.

How anybody could say that the Crimean referendum was "free and fair" when journalists and anti-referendum activists in Crimea were being harassed, threatened, kidnapped, tortured, and in at least one case in Belohirsk, murdered, meanwhile Russian troops had shut down Ukrainian TV channels and laid siege to Ukrainian military bases ... well... then such people are determined to believe what they want to believe.

By Mat Babiak
March 21, 2014 | Euromaidan PR

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Military reaction of U.S., NATO and Ukraine to Russia's annexation of Crimea (Reuters)

Here's a three-fer from Reuters on the developing military response of the U.S.NATO and Ukraine to Russia's forced annexation of Crimea.

The upshot:
  • NATO will increase its military aid to Ukraine. Meanwhile, Germany might put off defense cuts. And the U.S. will push for military spending in Europe to be more efficient and coordinated.
  • The U.S. will put off a "pivot" to China and keep more troops and equipment in Europe, and establish new bases in Eastern Europe, contrary to prior agreements with Russia. U.S. nuclear weapons in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Turkey will now stay put. And U.S. military strategy will shift its focus to Eastern Europe and Russian containment.  
  • U.S. weapons to Ukraine are still a remote possibility but this initiative has some bipartisan support in the Senate.
  • Ukraine believes the EU is finally ready to take Ukraine seriously, moving beyond "deep, deeper, deeper concerns" to real action. Ukraine will insist on international monitors in Crimea. And the political part of the Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine will be signed soon.
One final remark: all Americans should be glad that President Obama has pulled most U.S. forces out of Iraq and Afghanistan. The military crisis in Ukraine is exactly the kind of thing that U.S. would not be able to react to with all its forces tied up in two costly military occupations!

By Peter Apps and Adrian Croft
March 19, 2014 | Reuters

By Phil Stewart
March 19, 2014 | Reuters

By Ronald Popeski
March 19, 2014 | Reuters

Statement of Head of EU Delegation on human rights in Crimea (19/03/2014)

Since a group of armed persons seized the Verkhovna Rada and Government of Autonomous Republic of Crimea buildings in Simferopol on 27 February, a growing number of Ukrainian citizens have fallen victim to serious Human Rights abuses. Reported violations include enforced disappearances, ill-treatment and torture, violent attacks against journalists, restrictions to freedom of the media, freedom of movement and freedom of peaceful assembly.

Our thoughts and prayers are now with the families and relatives of those who were killed in past days. Today Ukraine mourns the loss of a Ukrainian army serviceman, S. Kakurin, who was killed yesterday during an attack on a Ukrainian military facility in Simferopol. Several others were gravely wounded. I firmly condemn this and other acts of violence. On Monday we learned that the body of R. Ametov, a member of the Crimean Tatar community, was found dead with signs of torture. An effective and impartial police investigation must start immediately and those responsible for this shameful crime must be brought to justice.

Persons who have been kidnapped must be immediately and unconditionally released. These include Andriy Shchekun and Anatoliy Koval'skiy, his son Sergiy Koval'skiy, Mikhail Vdovchenko, Stanislav Polishchuk, Oleksiy Grytsenko, Natalya Lukyanchenko and Sergiy Suprun, Yaroslav Pilunski, Sergei Hruzinov, as well as several servicemen from the Ukrainian military who, according to reports, were abducted in the last few hours. I firmly condemn these cases of enforced disappearances, which put Crimea under self-proclaimed authorities at the level of some of the world's most dangerous regions.

The situation of freedom of expression and freedom of the media in Crimea is deeply worrisome. A number of Ukrainian national TV channels have been cut off the air, and journalists have been subject to a systematic campaign of violent attacks. Over 75 violations of freedom of the media have been reported by independent watchdogs.

Freedom of peaceful assembly has dramatically deteriorated. In past days persons, who peacefully demonstrated for the unity of Ukraine, were forcefully dispersed by violent groups.

Full respect of the rights of ethnic groups in Crimea, including the Crimean Tatar community, for whom Crimea is homeland for centuries, is of outmost importance.

International human rights observers, including from the Council of Europe, the OSCE and the UN, should immediately be allowed unrestricted access to Crimea.

Crimea turns into peninsula of violence and fear (Kyiv Post)

Some worry about the potential actions of pro-Ukraine "fascists" (nationalists) who are now (partially) in power in Kyiv. Meanwhile, real kidnappings, beatings, murders and disappearances of Ukrainian nationalists and journalists are taking place in "pro-Russian" Crimea.  

Putin has not brought law, order and peace to Crimea, not yet. So far he has brought lawlessness, and carte blanche to commit crimes for anybody calling himself "pro-Russian."  

Here are more examples of what Yanukovych's government, "titushki" (hired street thugs) in Ukraine and "local self-defense forces" in Crimea have done:

By Oksana Grytsenko
March 19, 2014 | Kyiv Post

Kidnappings, threats and assaults of Ukrainian activists and journalists have become the norm in Crimea since the Russian military invasion of the Black Sea peninsula on Feb. 27.

On March 9, while Ukraine was celebrating the 200th anniversary of poet Taras Shevchenko’s birth, two activists from the EuroMaidan Revolution -- Anatoliy Kovalsky and Andriy Shchekun -- arrived at the Simferopol train station to pick up a parcel decorated in Ukrainian blue-and-yellow.

Local pro-Kremlin militia promptly beat the two men and took them to a police station. Now they are believed to be members of the Russian Unity party, but have not been seen since.

Sevastopol activist Igor Kiriushchenko, who is helping Ukrainian soldiers at military bases, had to urgently leave Crimea on March 10 when dozens of men with white armbands from the Russian Bloc militia broke into his apartment and threatened the lives of him and his wife. “Get out of Crimea, otherwise we will kill you,” they said, Kiriushchenko reported.

On March 18, Ibraim Umerov, a journalist at ATR, a Crimean Tatar channel, was brought to a hospital with a broken knee after he and a cameraman tried to film the seizure of an auto repair shop in Simferopol by a group of masked men. The men severely beat him on the spot.

This is the everyday terror that Crimeans are facing under Russia’s control, an invasion condemned as illegal by most of the world.

“This is real terror, when people are getting abducted, when armed men are walking the streets, when journalists are getting beaten,” said Sergiy Mokrushin, a Simferopol investigative journalist, adding there are as many as 10 activists missing in Crimea right now.

These cases of kidnappings and abuse are disturbingly reminiscent to those in Kyiv during the EuroMaidan Revolution that toppled Viktor Yanukovych as president on Feb. 22. Dozens of anti-government activists were reportedly taken and tortured in the three months before victory, and at least one was killed, aside from the 100 protesters and police officers shot and killed.

After the new government took power, Berkut riot police officers sought shelter in Crimea and got welcomed as local heroes and victims of what many of the peninsula’s two million residents believe was a violent, fascist takeover by nationalists in Kyiv. Many of the riot police officers can now be spotted alongside police officers on the streets and checkpoints of the peninsula.

Near the front gate of the Berkut base in Simferopol is a small tent camp adorned with the words “Crimean Front” that was set up in late February. Some 50 men who call themselves Crimean Self-Defense, a Russian-backed outfit, spend their nights guarding the barracks of the Berkut riot police officers.

Almost all of the former Berkut police officers are now here,” Mokrushin said. “Moreover, very many “titushkas” (thugs hired by the ousted Yanukovych regime) were also brought to Kyiv from Crimea.”

These people have become the backbone of pro-Kremlin Crimean self-defense groups and often apply the brutal methods they were using towards activists in Kyiv to those here. “They like to be scot-free here, to feel their strength, when they may check people’s documents and bags wherever they want,” Mokrushin added.

The Russian military takeover has already prompted more than 500 people, including Ukrainian activists and Crimean Tatars, to seek shelter outside the peninsula in recent weeks, according to Ukrainian Border Guard Service statistics. Ukrainian border guards and their families are also being harassed by the pro-Kremlin Crimean self-defense groups, they say.  

Iryna Brunova-Kalisetska, a Simferopol psychologist, said that despite the fact that pro-Russian activists in Crimea openly hate EuroMaidan in Kyiv, they have adopted some attributes of the revolution. Apart from self-defense groups that are reminiscent to those representing EuroMaidan, there are also some local tent camps, widespread wearing of black-and-yellow St. George ribbons on the streets of Crimean cities. “This is a mirror effect of EuroMaidan,” Brunova-Kalisetska said.

The pro-Russian camp is also experiencing euphoria, which could be witnessed in Crimea in recent days with numerous street celebrations attended by thousands of people showing off Russian and Soviet symbols, after the March 16 referendum which led to Putin to order the transfer of Ukraine’s Crimea to Russia. “But this euphoria obviously will not last for long,” the psychologist added.

Given the danger to people’s lives and their personal safety if they oppose the Russian takeover, Brunova-Kalisetska said that many residents are simply too frightened to protest.

 “They don’t care about violence until it touches their relatives or friends,” she said.