Category Archives: Current Affairs

Gwynne Dyer on Russia’s Reluctant Decolonization

Gorbachev, Putin, and a collapsing empire

Gwynne Dyer — Sept. 7, 2022

This is not another pipe-sucking reassessment of Mikhail Gorbachev’s failed attempt to democratize the Soviet Union 30 years ago.
He wasn’t actually trying to do that anyway; he was attempting to save the Soviet Union and Communism by civilizing and softening the harsh Bolshevik dictatorship that had prevailed since 1917.

Gorbachev was hated by most older Russians because the Soviet Union, the country they were born into, broke apart on his watch. His current successor, Vladimir Putin, is now waging a war to put it back together, but Gorbachev, Putin and most other Russians have all made the same category error. They thought the Soviet Union was a country.

It wasn’t. It was an empire, fundamentally no different from the half-dozen other European empires that carved most of the world up between them in the preceding few centuries — or indeed, from the hundreds of other empires that had preceded them in the 5,000 years of mass civilizations.

Almost all of these empires had a ruling ethnic or linguistic group at the centre, and a variety of subject peoples around the periphery. Their size was historically limited by very slow long-distance communications, but the advent of ocean-going ships allowed them to go global by the 17th century. And they were all ruled, in the final analysis, by force.

The British, the French and Dutch empires never confused their empires with their own countries because their colonies were separated from their homelands by thousands of kilometres of ocean. It was trickier with the Russian, Turkish and Austro-Hungarian empires, where all their possessions were connected by land, but the latter two were gone by 1918.

That left the Russian empire, which fell into the hands of Bolshevik revolutionaries and was renamed the Soviet Union. But its borders didn’t change except in the far west, where Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland gained their independence.

That’s where the popular confusion in Russia comes from. Because the Communists claimed to be anti-imperialist and even abstained from using Russian nationalist tropes until Stalin’s time, it was easy for Russians to think the Soviet Union was all the same homeland.

But the subject peoples noticed. Continue reading Gwynne Dyer on Russia’s Reluctant Decolonization

Tom Ricks thinks we can avoid a civil war. That could be huge.

[NOTE: I respect Tom Ricks. When it comes to war, he knows his stuff. His Wikipedia entry explains that he

is an American journalist and author who specializes in the military and national security issues. He is a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting as part of teams from the Wall Street Journal (2000) and Washington Post (2002). He has reported on military activities in Somalia, Haiti, Korea, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Kuwait, Turkey, Afghanistan, and Iraq. He previously wrote a blog for Foreign Policy[6][7] and is a member of the Center for a New American Security,[8] a defense policy think tank.

He’s retired now, with a big shelf of trophies, beyond the temptations of ambition. Ricks also seems level-headed, and not in anybody’s ideological pocket.

Tom Ricks, with his 2007 book that told it like it was about the U. S. Invasion of Iraq.

Of course, he doesn’t know the future, any more than you, me or the rest of us; and Ricks readily admits that. But if his experience, his studies —and his gut — tell him to be guardedly, not-out-of-the-woods-yet — a-hard-slog-is-still-ahead — hopeful, I’m listening. There’s still plenty of tough work to do. But I’m listening.

Washington Post:  Why I’ve stopped fearing America is headed for civil war




Opinion by Thomas E. Ricks

September 5, 2022

Thomas E. Ricks’s latest book, “Waging a Good War: A Military History of the Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1968,” will be published in October.

Five years ago, I began to worry about a new American civil war breaking out. Despite a recent spate of books and columns that warn such a conflict may be approaching, I am less concerned by that prospect now.

Back then, I wrote in a series of articles and online discussions for Foreign Policy that I expected to see widespread political violence accompanied by efforts in some states to undermine the authority and abilities of the federal government. At an annual lunch of national security experts in Austin, I posed the question of possible civil war and got a consensus of about a one-third chance of such a situation breaking.

Specifically, I worried that there would be a spate of assassination attempts against politicians and judges. I thought we might see courthouses and other federal buildings bombed. I also expected that in some states, right-wing organizations, heavily influenced by white nationalism, would hold conventions to discuss how to defy enforcement of federal laws they disliked, such as those dealing with voting rights.

Some governors might vow to fire any state employee complying with unwanted federal orders. And I thought it likely that “nullification juries” would start cropping up, refusing to convict right-wingers committing mayhem, such as attacking election officials, no matter what evidence there was.
 Continue reading Tom Ricks thinks we can avoid a civil war. That could be huge.

This One Weird Trick Will guarantee to Fully Empty Your Brain Before Labor Day Brunch — Try It NOW!

Labor Day Secrets:

How I Found the Right Job

In honor of Labor Day, here’s a first person report of someone who was not quite as successful as he had hoped to be in the job market:

As a young man

My first job was in an orange juice factory, but I couldn’t
concentrate on the same old boring rind, so I got canned.
Then I worked in the woods as a lumberjack, but I just couldn’t hack
it, so they gave me the axe.

After that, I tried out in a donut shop, but soon got tired of
the hole business, and the boss always had this totally glazed look.

I manufactured calendars, but my days there were numbered.

I tried to be a tailor, but I just wasn’t suited for it. Mainly
because it was a sew-sew job, de-pleating and de-pressing, and the foreman couldn’t stop needling me.

After that I took a job as an upholsterer, but I never recovered.

In my prime

Next I signed on in a car muffler factory, but that was
exhausting.

I wanted to be a barber, but I just couldn’t cut it.

Then I took pilot lessons, but tended to wing it, and didn’t have the
right altitude. Continue reading This One Weird Trick Will guarantee to Fully Empty Your Brain Before Labor Day Brunch — Try It NOW!

Gorbachev: An Elegy in Images

Too busy . . .

Someone here fits that description . . .

Heading for Kyiv . . . then where?

Will all our most extravagant hopes end this way?

Ghosts: Gorby & Reagan . . . What if Mikhail had borrowed Ronnie’s astrologer .. .??

In post-Gorbachev Russia, this now passes for freedom of the press .. .

From the 1997 Pizza Hut commercial. There are worse ways of getting a slice of the pie, after preventing nuclear war (on his watch) . . .

You have a place here too, Vlad . . .

A Network of Good Deeds: Providing Asylum to Threatened Writers

New York Times — September 2, 2022

I Was Onstage With Salman Rushdie That Day, and What I Saw Was Remarkable

Violence against writers was the topic I was about to interview the novelist Salman Rushdie about at the Chautauqua Institution on Aug. 12. We were being introduced onstage when out of nowhere, like a scene from Mr. Rushdie’s novel “Shalimar the Clown,” a knife-wielding man rushed onto the stage and began to stab him.

Immediately audience members ran to the stage to defend him.

It was a remarkable response. That rush of people leaping from their seats was the opposite of the so-called “bystander effect,” when individuals do nothing, relying on others to help. I would call it “the reader effect.” Reading creates empathy, and Chautauqua is an intentional community of readers. The intuitive response of an empathetic community is to help.

The “reader effect” was the reason I was onstage with Mr. Rushdie in the first place. He had given a talk in Pittsburgh in April of 1997, during which he said that the true fight “is not just about my right to write. It is also about your right to read.” My wife, Diane Samuels, and I, both avid readers, were in the audience that day, and his words moved us to action.

We were renting out a house in our neighborhood that we had bought and renovated. Mr. Rushdie’s words suggested a better way to use the house — as a temporary home for an exiled writer. When persecuted writers flee their homes, they often do so in a rush and can bring little with them. They need to start from scratch.

Continue reading A Network of Good Deeds: Providing Asylum to Threatened Writers

More War Statues Coming Down— Different Wars, Different Targets

 

BY VANESSA GERA — August 31, 2022

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — In the Latvian capital of Riga, an obelisk that soared high above a park to commemorate the Soviet Army’s capture of that nation in 1944 was toppled last week. It crashed into a pond to the cheers of those watching.

Days earlier in Estonia, a replica of a Soviet tank with the communist red star was removed by cranes and trucked away to a museum — one of up to 400 destined for removal. And in Poland, Lithuania and Czechia, monuments to the Red Army have been coming down for months, a belated purge of what many see as symbols of past oppression.

Russia’s war on Ukraine has given a renewed push to topple the last remaining Soviet monuments in nations that regained their sovereignty from Moscow more than three decades ago. These countries now belong to NATO and the European Union and are staunch supporters of Ukraine.

At the end of the communist era, when Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia regained their independence from the Soviet Union and Poland and its neighbors rejected Moscowbacked communism, those nations began renaming streets and purging the most hated symbols, including statues of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin and other communist bosses. Many of these relics are now housed in museums.

In Warsaw, authorities in 1989 quickly toppled a monument to Felix Dzerzhinsky, a Polish aristocrat who organized the Soviet secret police after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. Under his rule, the Cheka, the forerunner of the KGB, was responsible for a wave of terror.
A Soviet-oriented war monument in Latvia comes down.

Such changes followed the reforms of Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, who died in a Moscow hospital on Tuesday at the age of 91.

But memorials to Soviet soldiers or their role in defeating Nazi Germany remained in many places, met with indifference or respect for the ordinary soldiers who died fighting Adolf Hitlers brutal regime.

The war in Ukraine, however, has triggered memories of how some of those soldiers also raped local women and carried out other war crimes.

Krista Sarv, the research director for the Estonian History Museum, said after statues of Lenin and other leading communists were toppled in the 1990s, people could largely ignore the other memorials. But views changed suddenly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, and now the memorials “scream loudly about occupation and annexation.”

Karol Nawrocki, the head of Polands Institute of National Remembrance which is overseeing the removal of the monuments, says “before our eyes, history has become a living experience.

“Dressed in the uniforms of the Russian Federation, with Lenin and Stalin in their heads and hearts, Russian soldiers ‘liberate’ Ukraine by murdering women, children and killing soldiers,” Nawrocki said.

“Let it be clear: There is no place in the Polish public space for any commemoration of the totalitarian communist regime and its people,” he added.

A 2016 decommunization law had already called for a purge of communist symbols and names, but some municipalities did not have the money for that, so the institute has stepped in to help. Since February, the Polish institute has identified 60 monuments for removal — and has toppled more than 20.

In Lithuania, a number of remaining Soviet memorials have been removed since the spring to little protest. But in Latvia and Estonia, which have sizeable Russian minorities, the removals have stirred greater emotions, with local Russians — and the Russian government — seeing it as an offense against their war heroes.

Dmitry Prokopenko, a Russianspeaking Latvian who opposed removing the Riga obelisk, said his grandparents fought and a greatgrandfather died in the fight “for freedom against the Nazis. To him, the memorial honored their sacrifice.

“Latvia is a land where Latvians and Russians live together,” he said. “I think that one part of the state, one part of the country, should respect also the rights of the other part.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday released a lengthy statement denouncing the demolition of Soviet monuments in the Baltic countries as “barbaric” and threatening Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia with retaliatory measures.

In an apparent slap against Poland, Belarus last week reportedly leveled a memorialcontaining the graves of Polish wartime soldiers.

Polish officials declared that action barbaric, given that Poland has a policy of not disturbing the graves of Soviet soldiers. Rafal Leskiewicz, a historian with the Polish remembrance institute, explained “as Christians, we treat graves as holy ground. It doesnt matter who is in the graves.”

In some cases locals support keeping Red Army memorials because of its role in defeating Nazi Germany. Some fear the erasure of historical memory, or see an affront to their own ancestors who fought alongside the Soviets.

In Polands northern city of Gdansk, theres been a heated debate about a Soviet T34 tank on Victory Avenue, and the city has decided not to remove it. The tank commander was a Polish lieutenant, and Polish soldiers played a key role in freeing the former German city of Danzig from the Nazis.

In an open letter, two descendants of wartime Polish soldiers expressed their indignation at the removal of monuments.

They recalled that Polish soldiers died fighting with the Soviets to free Poland from the Nazis and that the Soviet victory resulted in Poland receiving a swath of defeated Germanys territory and cities including Gdansk and Wroclaw. They also noted it was the Red Army that liberated Auschwitz, Majdanek and many other Nazi death camps.

“Had it not been for the victory of Polish and Soviet soldiers in May 1945, Poland might not have existed at all,” said the letter by magazine editor Pawel Dybicz and historian August Grabski.

But many other Poles note that World War II broke out after Soviet Union and Nazi Germany agreed secretly in 1939 to carve up Poland and the Baltic states. Only after Germany betrayed and invaded the Soviet Union did the Red Army begin to fight the Germans.

Even before Russias war in Ukraine, the monuments have been a source of tensions.

In 2007, the relocation of a World War II monument of a Red Army soldier in Tallinn, Estonia, sparked days of rioting.

In 2013, an artist put up a statue depicting a Soviet soldier raping a pregnant womannext to the Gdansk tank. The unauthorized sculpture was quickly removed. After Russia invaded Ukraine, a different artist covered the tank with a large handsewn Ukrainian flag to protest what he called the “tyranny” of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In March, as Poland was figuring out a timetable for taking down Soviet monuments, a resident of the northern city of Koszalin took matters into his own hands. He drove an excavator onto a cemetery and toppled the statue of a Soviet soldier being hugged by a girl.

Nawrocki says the official removal of Soviet monuments in Poland is progressing at a very fast pace, but it is a matter that should have been settled long ago.”

 

Cancel [At Least Some] Student Loan Debt: YES!

[NOTE: In a better USA (a prospect rapidly receding on many fronts), canceling student loan debt would be part of a much larger, far-reaching higher ed reform program: tackling rampant tuition (& grade) inflation, restoring decent job security to the huddled masses of adjunct faculty yearning to breathe free, and make the rent (preferably led by tough-minded UNIONS), pushback on neo-fascist intellectual repression from one side and ultrawoke inquisitional orthodoxy on another; and lots more. (For details, cf., Sanders, Bernie, op. cit,)

But it ain’t happening. U. S. higher ed remains a multi-trillion steaming hot mess, especially for non-wealthy new students and young families.

So in the meantime, the Biden limited loan debt cancellation will be a boon to many. Let’s make it work til the stars align to make something more drastic possible. This piece presents a good case.)

New York Times — August 30, 2022

Why I Changed My Mind on Student Debt Forgiveness

Professor Dynarski is an economist at Harvard University.

Sign Up for the Education Briefing  From preschool to grad school, get the latest U.S. education news. Get it sent to your inbox.

As an economist who studies education, I long thought that forgiving student loans was a crude and inequitable tool for fixing student aid. College graduates, after all, are the winners in our society. College certainly changed my life: My father was a high school dropout, but his daughter is a Harvard professor. My student loans (which I paid off just a few years ago) were absolutely worth it. A bachelor’s degree, on average, puts graduates on a path to economic security.

Continue reading Cancel [At Least Some] Student Loan Debt: YES!

A Salute to New Teachers, and Other Front-Line Troops

Conservatives think education is a threat.
They’re right.

Washington Post — Opinion by Paul Waldman
— August 25, 2022

The conservative campaign against education is many things. As a political matter, it’s about intensifying the culture war so moral panic drives Republican votes. As a policy matter, its long-term goals include dismantling public education. As a personal matter, it’s often motivated by fear that the American system of education is a threat to people’s children — that the wrong ideas, even ideas themselves, are impossibly dangerous.

A free-range bouquet for new teachers

On that last point, conservatives are absolutely right: Education is indeed a threat to many things they believe.
Consider some recent news from the front. In a Texas school district, police officers showed up to a high school library to “investigate” a graphic novel about a bullied gay teen. In Oklahoma, a teacher was investigated for responding to a draconian school censorship law by covering up her classroom library with a sign saying, “Books the state doesn’t want you to read”; she then resigned.

In another Texas district, a middle school deemed portions of a book by the man for whom the school was named — a grandson of former slaves who learned to read at age 98 — to be “inappropriate.” The reasons are unclear; perhaps his tribute to the importance of reading was too inflammatory. Continue reading A Salute to New Teachers, and Other Front-Line Troops

Here’s to new teachers, and other front-line troops

Conservatives think education is a threat.
They’re right.

Washington Post — Opinion by Paul Waldman
— August 25, 2022

The conservative campaign against education is many things. As a political matter, it’s about intensifying the culture war so moral panic drives Republican votes. As a policy matter, its long-term goals include dismantling public education. As a personal matter, it’s often motivated by fear that the American system of education is a threat to people’s children — that the wrong ideas, even ideas themselves, are impossibly dangerous.

On that last point, conservatives are absolutely right: Education is indeed a threat to many things they believe.
Consider some recent news from the front. In a Texas school district, police officers showed up to a high school library to “investigate” a graphic novel about a bullied gay teen. In Oklahoma, a teacher was investigated for responding to a draconian school censorship law by covering up her classroom library with a sign saying, “Books the state doesn’t want you to read”; she then resigned.

In another Texas district, a middle school deemed portions of a book by the man for whom the school was named — a grandson of former slaves who learned to read at age 98 — to be “inappropriate.” The reasons are unclear; perhaps his tribute to the importance of reading was too inflammatory. Continue reading Here’s to new teachers, and other front-line troops

More Cartoons: “Forgive Us Our (School Loan) Debts Edition

Their CVs all list “Trump U Law School” . . . .

But at least the party still has some rock-solid beliefs . . .

But give this guy a break– he’s running for Q-Anon shaman in Arizona, and has a tough race . . .

File this next one under “Circular Firing Squad,” Continued . . .

Gotta repeat this message; like every half hour.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And to bring us back, um, down to earth . . .