Posts Tagged ‘Russia’

Fog of war

Some days ago, we reported a widespread conspiracy theory (not of our making) that the shooting down of Malaysian Flight 17 was a “false flag” attack conducted by the Ukrainian government to put pressure on Russia’s leadership.

We came in for a lot of flak from a variety of people for giving oxygen to the theory, despite saying that our best guess was, in fact, that pro-Russian Ukrainian rebels shot the plane down, either as the result of a ghastly error or an act of unbelievable bastardy.

Why conspiracy theories need answering

On this blog and elsewhere we pointed out that any criticism of Russia needed to be watertight, and thus the conspiracy theories needed to be answered – debunked – to prevent Putin and his cronies being able to slough off responsibility.

Well, now, the Russians – entirely predictably – are making much of the alleged presence of a Ukrainian jet fighter near the ill-fated civilian aircraft.

The Russian claims

They have responded to the widespread opinion that Russia is responsible for the downing of MH17 by reportedly claiming that it has flight records showing a Ukranian fighter jet was close to the passenger jet before it crashed.

At a specially called briefing, Russian Lieutenant-General Andrey Kartopolov said MH17 had strayed from its regular route (why?) and had been recorded in the proximity of a Ukranian SU-25 fighter jet, which is equipped with air-to-air missiles.

“An altitude gain was recorded for a Ukrainian armed forces plane,” he said, adding that the fighter jet is capable of reaching a height of 10,000 metres. “Its distance from the Malaysian Boeing was three to five kilometres.”

“With what aim was a military plane flying along a civilian aviation route practically at the same time and at the same flight level as a passenger liner? We would like to receive an answer to this question.”

 

The Russian briefing earlier.

 

The Lieutenant-General, head of main operational department of Russian military’s General Staff, left, can be seen above speaking  to the media during a news conference in Moscow. (Photo: AP.) General Kartopolov further claimed that the Russian Defence Ministry had detected a significant reduction in Ukranian radar stations after the accident.

Citing data displayed on slides and charts, General Kartopolov claimed that nine radar stations, which are used to operate missile systems, were operating close to the site of the MH17 crash on the day of the tragedy. Within 48 hours, only two remained.

He also strongly denied Russia supplying Buk missile systems to Ukranian separatists, which has been widely speculated across the world.

“I want to stress that Russia did not give the rebels Buk missile systems or any other kinds of weapons or military hardware.” Well, whilst the first part of that sentence could be true, the last half is very obviously not. (Rebels are using Russian-supplied tanks in Donetsk as we speak.) So does that mean the whole sentence is rubbish? You be the judge.

Elsewhere, US network NBC reported that a report on Russia’s Channel One claimed the CIA was to blame for the shooting down of MH17.

LATER UPDATE

In the interests of integrity, we also point out this story, which has Western defence experts arguing that what damage pattern can be seen on the plane would seem to indicate a ground launched Buk-type missile rather than an air-to-air missile. If that is the case it would seem to be a crucial piece of information to be verified as quickly as possible. US intelligence officials think that the most “plausible” case scenario (and we agree) is that these separatists were not aware that MH17 was a passenger flight when they fired what the United States believes was a Russian-made SA-11 surface-to-air missile.

Seeing through the fog

So what’s going on here? Bluster? Fact? Mis-information? Genuine disagreement? Are these the bleatings of a regime (and an unpleasant one, at that) who which to avoid responsibility being sheeted home to them, or the legitimate complaints of a Government that does not wish to be unfairly blamed for a murderous tragedy?

We do not purport to know. We really do not, and we do not make a judgement. It is virtually impossible to parse what is going on without access to all the technical information and analysis of a dozen intelligence agencies, and certainly not by wandering the internet and watching media.

We do say, however, which has been our point all along, that the world deserves to know the answer, if only to lay the blame where it accurately lies.

In the meantime, therefore, we urge caution.

Cui Bono

In particular, we would also urge consideration of the Latin phrase Cui bono /kwˈbn/ “to whose benefit?”, literally “with benefit to whom?”. It is also rendered as cui prodest.

This Latin adage is used either to suggest a hidden motive or to indicate that the party responsible for something may not be who it appears at first to be, or to argue that the way to find out who perpetrated a crime can be determined by asking ourselves “Who benefits?” Or equally, “Who is harmed?”

We confess that one nagging thought eats away at us. If you wanted to gain traction for a push back against the pro-Russian rebels, and in general terms to stymie the expansionist tone of Russian rhetoric and behaviour after their successful annexation of Crimea, (and noting the lascivious glances they are casting towards the now-independent Baltic states, for example), then what better means than to create an incident of such transcendent horror as to shoot down a civilian plane and blame the rebels directly and Russia by association?

We note, also, that while the world is focused on the crash site and the event itself, the Ukrainian government forces have seized the opportunity to mount a full-blown assault on Donetsk, moving from their foothold at the airport to assault the railway station and surrounding areas, as the first step in what may be a bloody battle to recover the whole city, which is the “second city” of Ukraine and a key target for the Government.

Too bizarre? Maybe. At the Wellthisiswhatithink desk we are not, by nature, enthusiastic supporters of conspiracy theories. We have even seen it suggested – follow this if you can – that the extremist lunatics of ISIS murdered the three Jewish teenagers to provoke Israel into attacking Hamas in Gaza (and effectively destroying Hamas) while simultaneously causing huge outrage both locally and worldwide at the civilian casualties, so that ISIS (or their fellow travellers) can take over in Gaza when Hamas is basically marginalised.

The Israelis know the invasion of Gaza is wildly popular inside their own country, and the Americans, playing a long game, believe that the Israelis can effectively defeat Hamas and then resist ISIS incursion (probably by effectively re-occupying Gaza, which we must remember they left voluntarily, using the region’s strongest army and navy, unlike the weak resistance to ISIS put up by the Iraqi central authorities) so they arrange, via the Ukrainians, to shoot down Malaysian 17 because it takes the world’s attention off Israeli aggression in the key early days of the ground invasion of Gaza, and gives Russia a bloody nose at the same time. Winner winner chicken dinner thinks the CIA and the shadowy forces in the military-industrial regime.

Could such a hideously realpolitik and convoluted scenario ever possibly be true? The answer is, it could. Anything could be true. False flag attacks are common throughout recent history. (Just Google them.) We pray it is not, because what it says about the nature of governance in the world (and especially our bit of the world) is chilling indeed.

The cock-up theory of events

But in the final wash up, we are more pragmatic. Our instinct is always to accept the cock-up theory of international relations – essentially, anything that can go wrong will go wrong –  and we still hold to that view in this case, which is why we tend towards the “idiot Ukrainian rebel makes mistake on the readout on the Buk system and fires missile at Malaysian airliner”. Especially as we know the system had been used to attack military aircraft within the last two weeks. The Buk system “reads” the transponders of the aircraft it is tracking and theoretically identifies that aircraft to the man with his finger on the button. But we know to our cost that transponders on aircraft can give false readings.

Cock up. Bang. Right there. Three hundred bodies fall from the sky.

The absolute need for clarity

However, although that’s our best guess, we nevertheless urge all the authorities concerned to tackle the mysteries involved in this case as speedily as possible. As the Independent (amongst other people) pointed out yesterday, the really bizarre thing about conspiracy theories is that just occasionally, very occasionally, they are actually true. And if this was a false flag attack, then the world assuredly needs to know. Can you just imagine the Governments that would tumble? That’s why, above all, the truth would probably never come out even if it was, improbably, the case. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try and find out.

But if it wasn’t, as we suspect, then we need to know who was responsible for this act: fast, and with certain proof. The level of international tension currently exhibited on all sides demands it. In California, Diane Feinstein opined that the level of tension between the West and Russia is now as high as at the height of the Cold War. That’s an exaggeration, to be sure, but it’s not a happy thought even if it’s only half true.

And for that reason alone, before the world stumbles ever closer to the precipice of conflict between its major powers, even the craziest of conspiracy theories need putting to bed, and right now.

Ukrainian crash site

The truth. We need the truth.

 

They talk about the “fog of war”. Well, what is going on in Eastern Ukraine at the moment is a full-blown war, and the truth about it is certainly foggy.

Infowars.com is well-known for peddling conspiracy theories, many of which are very obviously ludicrous and fanciful. But their post on the possibility that the shooting down of the Malaysian jetliner was a “false flag” attack by the Ukrainian authorities to cast a pall over Russia bears scrutiny, if only to dismiss it, and because an event of such global significance deserves to be drenched in buckets of clear light.

Western leaders, including, in the most trenchant terms, the Australian Prime Minister, have condemned Russia for at the very least equipping and training Ukrainian rebels with advanced surface to air missiles, a charge Russia denies.

But the Infowars story raises serious questions that need to be answered.

The story they propound is so improbable, in fact – and potentially so shocking in its implications – that it absolutely requires answering, and fast.

The first crucial question is why the log of a YouTube posting that seems to ensure the rebels and their Russian allies are implicated seems to be before the actual event. This may of course simply be a mix up on a computer setting or to do with world time zones. Nevertheless, a prompt and straightforward explanation is required.

But the far more sinister query is the Twitter log of a Spanish air traffic controller working in Ukraine who frantically tweets that the Kiev authorities are responsible for downing the jet, and fears for his life as Ukrainian authorities invade the control room he is working in. The relevant portion of the video starts at just after 5 minutes.

http://www.infowars.com/video-did-ukraine-fabricate-evidence-to-frame-russia-for-mh17-shoot-down/

We stress that we make no judgement. How could we possibly? We merely say that these questions raised by Infowars and others must be answered.

If we had to guess – and who could do more than that at the moment? – we suspect an idiot with an itchy trigger finger loosed the missile imagining that any aircraft in the sky must be a belligerent, because he has been told no commercial traffic was using the skies above his head. There’s that fog of war thing, again. In which case, then Russia would stand rightly condemned for allowing the rebels access to such equipment. Then again, there’s all sorts of high-value high-tech weaponry in all sorts of places it shouldn’t be nowadays, so, again, before we rush to condemn we need to be sure the system that was fired came from Russia.

Meanwhile, our heart goes out to all the victims, and especially to their families and colleagues. We ache at the loss of many medical experts working in the crucial field of HIV containment and research, heading to our home town for an international conference. We are appalled at the loss of a fine man who worked on behalf of aborigines in Western Australia, and highly respected medical professionals from Queensland. We weep at the children and young lovers killed. As for the family who incredibly lost people in BOTH Malaysian airlines disasters, words simply fail us.

All these people – and us – deserve that the truth comes out. The whole truth, and nothing but the truth, whoever was responsible for this vicious, stupid and pointless crime.

For our discussion of the other missing Malaysian airliner and the history of civilian aircraft shot down by military forces, click this link.

 

 

As the Ukrainian Government retakes two strategically insignificant but symbolically important cities in Eastern Ukraine, this very interesting BBC article (originally posted on June 25th) perhaps explains why Valdimir Putin seems to have gone cold on further confrontation with the West.

We always said that Putin’s intentions were limited to securing the ice-free port of Sevastopol and the surrounding area in the Crimea that he will see as strategically vital to Russia’s future interests, and not to be allowed to fall into Nato’s grasp with the increasingly West-leaning Ukraine.

 

Sevastopol - it was always about the port, never about geo-politics.

Sevastopol – it was always about the port, never about geo-politics.

 

Western anxiety about the Russian moves essentially misunderstood (or were ignorant of) Russia’s historic relationship with the area.

Sevastopol was founded in June 1783 as a base for a naval squadron under the name Akhtiar (White Cliff), by Rear Admiral Thomas Mackenzie (Foma Fomich Makenzi), a native Scot in Russian service, soon after Russia annexed the Crimean Khanate.

Five years earlier, Alexander Suvorov ordered that earthworks be erected along the harbour and Russian troops be placed there. In February 1784, Catherine the Great ordered Grigory Potemkin to build a fortress there and call it Sevastopol. It became an important naval base and later a commercial seaport.

One of the most notable events involving the city is the Siege of Sevastopol (1854–55) carried out by the British, French, Sardinian, and Turkish troops during the Crimean War, which lasted for 11 months. Despite its efforts, the Russian army had to leave its stronghold and evacuate over a pontoon bridge to the north shore of the inlet. The Russians had to sink their entire fleet to prevent it from falling into the hands of the enemy and at the same time to block the entrance of the Western ships into the inlet. When the enemy troops entered Sevastopol, they were faced with the ruins of a formerly glorious city.

 

2248px-Panorama1854-1855

 

A very striking panorama of the siege originally was created by Franz Roubaud. After its destruction by the Nazis in 1942 during WWII, it was restored and is currently housed in a specially constructed circular building in the city. It portrays the situation at the height of the siege, on 18 June 1855, a story that still lives in the consciousness of many patriotic Russians..

Sevastopol under the Soviet Union

During World War II, Sevastopol again withstood intensive bombardment by the Germans in 1941–42, supported by their Italian and Romanian allies during the Battle of Sevastopol. German forces were forced to use railway artillery and specialised heavy mortars to destroy Sebastopol’s extremely heavy fortifications, such as the Maxim Gorky naval battery.

After fierce fighting, which lasted for 250 days, the supposedly un-takable fortress city finally fell to Axis forces in July 1942. It was intended to be renamed to “Theodorichshafen” (in reference to Theodoric the Great and the fact that the Crimea had been home to Germanic Goths until the 18th or 19th century) in the event of a German victory against the Soviet Union, and like the rest of the Crimea was designated for future colonisation by the Third Reich. But it was liberated by the Red Army on May 9, 1944 and was awarded with the title of “Hero City” a year later.

In 1957, the town of Balaklava, site of another major Crimean War battle, was incorporated into Sevastopol. During the Soviet era, Sevastopol became a so-called “closed city“. This meant that any non-residents had to apply to the authorities for a temporary permit to visit the city. It was directly subordinate to the central Russian authorities rather than the local oblast and later (after 1978) to the Ukrainian SSR administration. This reflected the startegic significance the Soviet Government placed on the area.

After the Soviet collapse

Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, Moscow refused to recognise Ukrainian sovereignty over Sevastopol as well as over the surrounding Crimean oblast, using the argument that the city was never practically integrated into the original Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic because of its vital military status.

The dispute has rankled for some time. On December 17, 1992, the office of the Ukrainian presidential representative in Crimea was created, which caused a wave of local protests a month later. Among the protesters who organised an unsanctioned protest rally held in Sevastopol on January 10 at the Nakhimov Square were the Sevastopol branches of the National Salvation Front, the Russian Popular Assembly, and the All-Crimean Movement of the Voters for the Republic of Crimea.

Then on July 10, 1993, the Russian parliament passed a resolution declaring Sevastopol to be “a federal Russian city”. 

On April 14, 1993, the Presidium of the Crimean Parliament called for the creation of the presidential post of the Crimean Republic. A week later, the Russian deputy, Valentin Agafonov, stated that Russia was ready to supervise a referendum on Crimean independence and include the republic as a separate entity in the CIS. On July 28 one of the leaders of the Russian Society of Crimea, Viktor Prusakov, stated that his organisation was ready for an armed mutiny and establishment of the Russian administration in Sevastopol. In September, Eduard Baltin, then Black Sea Fleet Commander, accused Ukraine of converting some of his fleet and conducting an armed assault on his personnel, and threatened to take counter-measures and placing the fleet on alert.

Nevertheless relations apparently improved, and in May 1997 Russia and Ukraine signed the Peace and Friendship Treaty, ruling out Moscow’s territorial claims to Ukraine. A separate agreement established the terms of a long-term lease of land, facilities, and resources in Sevastopol and the Crimea by Russia.

As part of this historic agreement, the ex-Soviet Black Sea Fleet and its facilities were divided between Russia’s Black Sea Fleet and the Ukrainian Naval Forces. The two navies co-used some of the city’s harbours and piers, while others were demilitarised or used by either country. Sevastopol remained the location of the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters with the Ukrainian Naval Forces Headquarters also based in the city. A judicial row periodically continues over the naval hydrographic infrastructure both in Sevastopol and on the Crimean coast (especially lighthouses historically maintained by the Soviet or Russian Navy and also used for civil navigation support).

Like in the rest of the Crimea, Russian remained the predominant language of the city, although following the independence of Ukraine there were some attempts at “Ukrainisation”, with very little success.

Despite the treaty, Russian society in general and even some outspoken government representatives never accepted the loss of Sevastopol and tended to regard it as merely temporarily separated from the homeland.

The WE Youth Political Organisation, which advocated Russian citizenship for Sevastopol residents, published a poll in 2004 claiming that “72% of the Sevastopol citizens supported the idea of the independent status of Crimea.” Crimea was then an autonomous Republic within Ukraine. Besides, they said that 95% of the respondents supported the constant stationing of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol even after 2045, when the time of the corresponding agreement between Russia and Ukraine was suppose to end.

Also, apparently, 100% of those polled favoured the option for citizens of Sevastopol to obtain dual Russian and Ukrainian citizenship. It is notable, however, that of the Sevastopol citizens that expressed a desire to obtain Russian citizenship only 16% wwere ready to give up the Ukrainian one.

In July 2009, the chairman of the Sevastopol city council, Valeriy Saratov (Party of Regions) stated that Ukraine should increase the amount of compensation it paid to the city of Sevastopol for hosting the foreign Russian Black Sea Fleet, instead of requesting such obligations from the Russian government and the Russian Ministry of Defense in particular.

On April 27, 2010, Russia and Ukraine ratified the Russian Ukrainian Naval Base for Gas treaty, extending the Russian Navy’s lease of Crimean facilities for 25 years after 2017 (through 2042) with an option to prolong the lease in 5-year extensions. The ratification process in the Ukrainian parliament encountered stiff opposition and erupted into a brawl in the parliament chamber. Eventually, the treaty was ratified by a 52% majority vote—236 of 450. The Russian Duma ratified the treaty by a 98% majority without incident.

2014 Crimean crisis

On March 6, 2014, in response to the 2014 Ukrainian revolution, Sevastopol unilaterally declared that it wished to join the Russian Federation as a federal subject. The city council supported becoming a part of Russia, and on 11 March it released a joint resolution with the Supreme Council of Crimea to unite as an independent republic between the potential passing of the referendum and union with Russia. Ukrainian authorities strongly criticized the  referendum decision, while President Turchynov remarked that Building of the Supreme Council of Crimeawas controlled by the Russian military when vote on referendum resolution took place[24]

On March 16, citizens of Sevastopol were included alongside those in the Republic of Crimea in a referendum on 16 March 2014 on leaving Ukraine to join the Russian Federation – with official report of a majority of 95.6% voted to become a part of the Russian Federation, albeit these results are contested. (See Crimean status referendum, 2014#Alternate estimates for details). This referendum resulted in the establishment of the short-lived Republic of Crimea, which consisted of both Sevastapol and Crimea.

On March 18, 2014, the treaty on the adoption of the Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol to Russia was signed between Russia and the Republic of Crimea, with the following content:

  • The territory of the former Autonomous Republic of Crimea is incorporated as the Republic of Crimea (a Federal subject of Russian Federation).
  • The former Special Status City of Sevastopol is incorporated as a Federal City of Russia.
  • Both territories are incorporated as part of the Crimean Federal District.

This new status is not recognised by Ukraine and Crimea is still considered by Ukraine, the European Union, and most NATO members to remain only de jure a part of Ukraine.

 

The Russian Black Sea Fleet had been in Sevastopol for a long time. This painting by Alvazovsky pre-dates the Crimean War.

The Russian Black Sea Fleet had been in Sevastopol for a long time. This painting by Alvazovsky pre-dates the Crimean War.

 

In simple terms, the Black Sea was and is the Russian fleet’s gateway to the Mediterranean. As such it is entry point for the key theatre for the exercise of Russian influence in the Middle East, and for further egress to the Atlantic. As soon as Ukraine started leaning towards Nato, Crimea’s fate was essentially sealed.

The near-hysterical response by the West (particularly the Western media, less so Obama and the Western leaders) to Putin’s adventurism was full of fevered speculation that he was after the whole of the Eastern Ukraine, or even the whole country – or worse, that this was the first blow in a new land war between Russia and Nato.

Now, despite their ever more desperate appeals for help, the Eastern Crimea rebels find themselves assaulted by Ukraine’s ground forces while the Russian troops along the border retreat to their bases and their supply of arms dries up.

Realpolitik has done it’s work. Valdimir Putin has his port back. As we said at the time, it’s very likely it’s all he ever wanted.

Edward SnowdenThe Russian lawyer of Edward Snowden said Tuesday that the fugitive US intelligence leaker has feared for his life since reading of explicit threats against him by unnamed Pentagon officials.

“There are real threats to his life out there that actually do exist,” Snowden’s lawyer Anatoly Kucherena told Russia’s state-run Vesti 24 rolling news channel.

“These statements call for physical reprisal against Edward Snowden,” Kucherena said.

The former National Security Agency contractor is wanted by US authorities on treason charges for disclosing details of a vast Washington intelligence operation that monitored millions of phone calls and emails across the world.

Snowden received temporary asylum in Russia in August – a move that infuriated the United States and was a key factor behind President Barack Obama’s decision to cancel a summit with Russia’s Vladimir Putin last year.

The 30-year-old has remained in hiding but is believed to be living in the Moscow area and learning Russian. Kucherena recently said that Snowden has also been working from home as an IT adviser for a major local website.

The Russian lawyer on Tuesday appeared to be referring to an article posted last week by the popular US online website BuzzFeed entitled “American Spies Want Edward Snowden Dead”.

The article quoted one Pentagon official as saying: “I would love to put a bullet in his head.”

“In a world where I would not be restricted from killing an American, I personally would go and kill him myself,” a current NSA analyst was further quoted as saying.

Widely considered a whistle-blowing hero by many, Kucherena said Snowden is constantly accompanied by security guards and is considering additional security measures.

“Edward is treating these as real threats to his life and wellbeing,” the Russian lawyer said. “Today, it might not be enough to have private guards.”

Kucherena added that he planned to ask US authorities to look into the publications and possibly ask the media outlets to identify their sources by name.

“We think that the US government must take note of such statements,” the lawyer said. “The people who make extremist statements do so while wearing a mask = they do not reveal their identities. We will ask for these people’s masks to come off. We must know who this NSA officer is, who issues orders about ways to eliminate Edward Snowden.”

Snowden’s legacy has been mixed in the United States.

Ironically, it has prompted Obama to announce a review of intelligence practises last week that included an end to the highly controversial monitoring of calls of leaders of allied nations – except for special cases.

The revelation that the NSA had tapped the mobile of German Chancellor Angela Merkel proved especially embarrassing for Obama due to the strength of their relationship and Germany’s importance to the United States.

Influential US publications such as The New York Times and in the UK the Guardian have added to the debate by suggesting that Snowden be either offered amnesty or a plea bargain allowing his safe return home.

The fugitive’s lawyer said Snowden was especially concerned by comments from a US Army intelligence officer that outlined a specific scenario under which the leaker could be discreetly poisoned.

The unnamed army officer told BuzzFeed that Snowden could be “poked” on his way home from buying groceries by a passerby who is actually a US agent.

Snowden “thinks nothing of it at the time (and soon) starts to feel a little woozy,” the US intelligence officer is quoted as saying.

“And the next thing you know he dies in the shower.”

Kucherena said he did not think the US Army officer’s statement was “a simply tongue-and-cheek remark for the media”.

“Such statements, of course, Edward treats as a real threat to his life because he lives a normal life and visits stores and goes outside,” Kucherena said.

(AFP and others)

Infowars is an interesting website. It is frequently full of the most egregiously nonsensical conspiracy theories or libertarian ramblings. But occasionally it also reports news that others largely ignore.

The linking (see below) of Saudi Arabia to terrorist bombings in Russia, for example, attempts to strip back the veil that normally covers the murky depths of international diplomacy, and reveals, yet again, why America defends its proxy allies like Saudi Arabia despite their appalling human rights and social justice records. Is the website right? Who knows. It is becoming nigh-impossible to unpick the miasma of government behaviour worldwide. Certainly, it bears investigating.

The other thing that strikes us forcibly is the difference in worldwide reaction to these tragic events to, say, the much less destructive (though no less morally horrendous) attack on the Boston Marathon. Or, indeed, the continual litany of attacks in Iraq and elsewhere. One cannot help but draw the conclusion that the deaths of Americans (or perhaps Londoners) somehow have a higher value than the deaths of innocent civilians in other countries. And that, Dear Reader, is wrong.

Looking at the bodies of the innocent victims reminds us that terrorists (or Governments) can destroy us at will. Young girls, commuters, families. People, indeed, just like us. While men and women resort to the tactics to achieve political ends it will be, as always, the completely innocent who will pay the price.

Paul Joseph Watson
Infowars.com
December 30, 2013

Twin blasts targeting a train station and a trolley bus in the city of Volgograd which killed at least 31 people follow a threat by Saudi Arabia to attack Russia using Chechen terrorists if Moscow did not withdraw its support for President Assad in Syria.

The first attack took place at Volgograd-1 station on Sunday morning, killing 17 people. CCTV footage shows an orange blast behind the main doors of the station, smashing windows and sending debris out into the street. The prime suspect is a female suicide bomber. (Note, later reports indicate that it was a recent Muslim convert Russian male.)

The second attack occurred near a busy market in Volgograd’s Dzerzhinsky district. A bus packed with people on their morning commute was ripped apart by a suicide bomber, killing 14.

Although no group has claimed responsibility for the blasts, suspicion immediately fell on Islamists from the North Caucasus region who routinely attack soft targets in Russia.

While the media has concentrated on the threat such groups pose to February’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, no scrutiny has been given to a warning issued by Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan back in August when he told Vladimir Putin that Saudi Arabia would activate the Chechen terrorist groups it controls to target Russia if Moscow refused to abandon its support for Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.

As we reported at the time, the threat was made during a closed-door meeting between Prince Bandar and Putin at the beginning of August.

According to a transcript of the comments made during the meeting by Middle Eastern news agency Al Monitor, Bandar made a series of promises and threats to Putin in return for Moscow withdrawing its support for Assad in Syria.

“I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics next year,” Bandar allegedly stated, adding, “The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us.”

Bandar made it clear that his position was supported by the US government.

This “guarantee” to stop the Chechens from attacking the Sochi Olympics was also obviously a veiled threat that if Russia did not abandon Assad, terrorist attacks would be given the green light.

Given that Russia did not abandon Assad and indeed virtually single-handedly prevented a US military strike on Syria, much to the chagrin of Saudi Arabia which is the primary supplier of anti-Assad rebel jihadists, are we to believe that the Volgograd bombings are evidence of Bandar following through on his threat?

alienWell, the guy in this story is either senile, cheerfully barmy, or revealing the most amazing fact in human history.

Strange it hasn’t had more coverage, really.

Or IS it …? Cue eerie music.

http://news.cnet.com/8301-17852_3-57616630-71/canadas-ex-defense-minister-aliens-would-give-us-more-tech-if-wed-stop-wars/

I have often wondered whether aliens might consider us a disgusting and dangerous infestation of an otherwise pleasant planet. I strongly suspect Earth is quarantined.

Wandering the world wide interweb thingy this morning, with our eyes drawn by the massive opening weekend success of the second Hunger Games movie, we were also taken with the ongoing popularity of the film 12 years a slave.

A contemporary portrait of Solomon Northup

A contemporary portrait of Solomon Northup

It is the incredible true story of Solomon Northup who was a free African-American in New York who was kidnapped and held as a slave in the South before winning his freedom. No doubt the popularity of the film in the United States has been boosted by its appeal to the African-American audience, but it is also surely a universally appealing tale of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity and bigotry, and we look forward eagerly to seeing it.

His astonishing history is related here.

Popular culture tackles the problem of the overweening State.

Popular youth culture tackles the problem of the overweening State.

Indeed, both movies are testaments to the power of the individual versus the state, and clearly tap into some deep need we have to believe that we can overcome awesome odds even when faced with the conspiracies of those in power, even if the politics of the Hunger Games series is a tad more subtle than Northup’s story, capable of being adopted by both sides of the political spectrum as a crie de couer for their side.

It may also be, however, that both movies simply leverage some deep need we have as humans to overcome the worst sides of our nature.

One of the more curious features of slavery in the United States was that of manumission, whereby an owner would free a slave, typically as a reward for long service, an act which was often used by proponents of slavery to go to the essentially benevolent nature of the system, or, at least, that it was not as bad as it was painted.

Exploring the phenomenon of manumission, one was then led, click by click, to read the fascinating historical snippet that in Ancient Rome, under the rule of Caesar Augustus, a law had to be passed to reduce the number of slaves freed by owners. Who knew? Indeed, over time, and counter-intuitively, slaves gained increased legal protection, including the right to file complaints against their masters. Attitudes changed in part because of the influence among the educated elite of the Stoics, whose egalitarian views of humanity extended to slaves. It has been said that one of the more important Roman Stoics, Epictetus, spent his youth as a slave.

The lex Fufia (also ‘Furia, Fusia’) Caninia (2 BC) was one of the laws that national assemblies had to pass, after they were requested to do so by Augustus. This law, along with the lex Aelia Sentia, placed limitations on manumissions. In numerical terms the laws meant that a master who had three slaves could free only two; one who had between four to ten could free only half of them; one with eleven to thirty could free only a third, and so on. Manumissions above these limits were not valid.

The limitations were established at the end of the Republic and the beginning of the Empire, at a time when the number of manumissions was so large that they were perceived as a challenge to a social system that was founded on slavery, especially when Romans harked back to the chaos of the slaves’ rebellion led by Spartacus known as the Third Servile War.

That so many Romans were so keen to free their slaves that a law had to be passed to limit their doing so surely changes our popular view of their society, and also poses some fascinating questions about human nature.

A frieze of freed Roman slaves: such Freedmen could achieve high status within Roman society, but were not considered of the same social status are free-born Romans.

A frieze of freed Roman slaves: such Freedmen could achieve high status within Roman society, but were not considered of the same social status are free-born Romans.

Certainly, a large number of slaves in Rome worked in close proximity to their owners, as house slaves, whose duties included cleaning, bathing, sexual services, and cooking. Over a period of time, it is perhaps understandable that mutual respect grew up between the parties to this social arrangement.

It is surely not some kind of 20-20 hindsight aided by rose-tinted spectacles to wonder if, in a society founded on concepts of liberty, many Romans might have been acutely aware that the rapid development of their Empire based of foreign subjugation and domestic slavery was a contradiction of their most profoundly held beliefs which simply made them feel uncomfortable, and especially so when they developed human relationships with their slaves.

One little known historical anomaly is that the role of master and slave was sometimes reversed, as at the celebrations of Saturnalia, where it was the tradition for the slaves of a household to sit down to the type of feast normally enjoyed by their owners, and actually to be served by their owners at table, during which time they could speak freely and critically of their owners. Clearly, the relationship between slaves and slave owners in Rome was far more complex than it is commonly portrayed. But with Saturnalia, everyone knew that the levelling of the social hierarchy was temporary and had limits; no social norms were ultimately threatened, because the holiday would end. Another slaves’ holiday (servorum dies festus) was held August 13 in honor of Servius Tullius, the legendary sixth King of Rome, who was the child of a slave woman. Like the Saturnalia, the holiday involved a role reversal: the matron of the household washed the heads of her slaves, as well as her own. But temporary or no, it is hard to imagine these celebrations occurring commonly if the basic setting for slave-owner relations was one of mutual distaste and loathing. Another curiosity is revealed by examining other Roman laws: if a master wished to marry his female slave and produce legitimate children with her, then he could free her before the age of 30, the minimum age for freedom set by Augustan law. Clearly, as such marriages were so common as to require legislation, such a woman could not have been regarded with such stigma that she could not be socially enfranchised by marriage to an owner.

The stories led us to consider how the abolition of the slave trade, and the eventual eradication of slavery in the United States, was actually led by members of the ruling class who were morally confronted – affronted – by the essentially amoral nature of the societies they ruled over.

It is easy to forget, in a world where daily cruelty and inhumanity seems to be a rule, that humane instincts and behaviour also have their day.

Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy informed each other, thrown together by history. When King was shot, Kennedy's respectful oration has been credited with preventing America's cities descending into social turmoil.

Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy informed each other, thrown together by history. When King was shot, Kennedy’s respectful oration has been credited with preventing America’s cities descending into social turmoil.

It is surely churlish to note, for example, and especially in proximity to the hagiographical anniversary of his death, that John F Kennedy was not especially personally committed to civil rights, and his administration had to be constantly encouraged to take up the fight. Yet there is a process whereby those that rule become aware of the depth of the wrong they inflict on others, and we should also, as we examine JFK’s legacy with clear eyes, celebrate the growth in consciousness, for example, of Lyndon Johnson and subsequently Bobby Kennedy, which was surely in direct relation to their increasing exposure to the legitimate demands of leaders of the African-American community. Jack Kennedy was a product of the ivory tower created by his father. After his death, both Johnson and RFK swung to the left on social justice issues, partly because of their life experience, and partly because of pressure from a growing and widespread liberalism in the community. Justice “seeped into” the ruling class, little by little.

It is a shame, perhaps, that we need our noses repeatedly rubbed into the ordure of injustice before we take up arms against it. But despite this uncomfortable recognition, we can also surely celebrate that one perceives a deep, abiding desire for justice at the heart of humanity that eventually wins out, again and again.

It seems to us that when we examine the entire sweep of history, human nature is ultimately attuned to reject the unjust, the domineering, the brutal, and to embrace the hopeful, the reasonable, and the inclusive.

One sees it in the predictable and certain implosion of autocratic dictatorships throughout the ages.

People power in action. Hundreds of Buddhist monks lead a protest in Myanmar/Burma in 2007.

People power in action. Hundreds of Buddhist monks lead a protest in Myanmar/Burma in 2007.

Recently it has been evidenced in the peaceful “people’s revolutions” in the Eastern European block and Russia and in countries like the Philippines, in the progressive move away from military dictatorship in a country like Burma, and in the stumbling progress towards true, robust democracy in countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea, Taiwan, and even, haltingly, China. Even, perhaps, in the unlikely election – and then re-election – of an African-American President in the USA. The outworkings of the “Arab Spring” are unquestionably a mixed bag, but here again, there is the unmistakable urge towards freedom – individual, communal, social, economic – that will simply not be quieted despite the odds against it, and those who have taken advantage of the chaos in the Middle East to erect newly-authoritarian replacements for what had gone before should look out for their heads. The genie of freedom, once having stretched its wings, rarely stays in the bottle for long.

It is as if we instinctively understand that a balance needs to be struck between free expression and freedom of choice and the needs of the State, and that when the balance is tilted too far towards a crushing of the human spirit we will, sooner or later, rebel.

Whereas becoming too granular and examining too many examples that appear to shove the argument one way or another would probably unhelpful, the simple fact is that by any rational analysis (of wealth, of disputation and wars, of the growth of representative democracy, of trade) our world is actually growing, inch by inch, less authoritarian and more open, such as with, for example, the general removal of fascist dictatorships in South America, (and the onward march of their economies), the reduction in internecine strife in Africa, the refusal of societies in Europe to descend into civil collapse despite the effects of the worst economic conditions in decades, and so on, and so on.

Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden - one jailed for 35 years, one forced to flee to a foreign country or risk a similar fate. Heroes or villains?

Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden – one jailed for 35 years, one forced to flee to a foreign country or risk a similar fate. Heroes or villains?

Needless to say, however, the forces of convention, of conformity, of suffocating adherence to authority, are ever-present and tireless. The assumption that power corrupts is nowhere more obviously demonstrated than in the enthusiasm with which one-time liberals are content to crush freedom of expression when it serves their agenda. There can be little doubt that the Obama Administration has been sucked into the vortex of dissembling, suppression and intolerance, just as, for example, the Blair government in the UK were, as the current Abbott Government in Australia is now, and as Putin rolls back the green shoots of Russian democracy. It is for this reason, surely, that we should applaud the whistle-blowing of people like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowdon, and the militant advocacy of groups like Wikileaks, Anonymous, Greenpeace, Sea Shepherd, Pussy Riot, Femen and others, no matter how “inconvenient” they are to the smooth running of the State.

At the outer reaches of protest, they carry a torch for humanity. They puncture complacency. They tell us things that no one else was going to: things we need to know.

And if we are to be fair, we should also applaud the grassroots activism of the likes of the Tea Party in the USA, because in criticising the growing incompetence and waste of the bloated and complacent American Government they raise issues that should be a concern to everyone, not just the right. A dollar that is invested in mindless administrationism – a dollar eaten up by self-sustaining bureaucracy that has long since stopped caring about outcomes – is a dollar that isn’t spent on an aged pension, a sick child, a much-needed improvement to road safety, a diversion program for addicts, or social housing. In demanding that we hold to account the voracious appetite of Government for our tax dollars the Tea Party and their equivalents around the world serve a useful purpose regardless of what one thinks of their wilder assertions or tactics.

Knowledge is the oxygen of freedom: anything that feeds knowledge to the masses will inevitably result in greater freedom, and deliver stronger constraints on the excesses of those that govern us.

We have an absolute requirement for knowledge of those things we still need to rebel against.

propaganda

Which is why, if there is any one thing we should be more wary of than anything else, it is surely the trend of “embedding” of our media with government, the increasingly cosy relationships (which go much further than battlefield reporting), where it becomes more and more difficult to discern news from propaganda, and in the reduction in media diversity as newspapers fold one after another and television channels sub-contract their news gathering from a small number of sources. The growth in Internet-based news and comment of which this blog is a tiny part will compensate to a degree, but as major media organisations gobble up successful purveyors of alternative news and opinion, the creeping hand of conformity moves ever onward and threatens our access to knowledge.

This battle will never end, and in a media saturated world we need to be aware that an appearance of more media does not necessarily mean better media. However, we cannot but view the free availability of an uncomfortable, uncompromising and above all external news source such as Al Jazeera in America, Australia and elsewhere as a very positive development.

reality-tv

We need to rail against homogenised, dumbed down, and supine reporting, too. We once saw a statistic that over 80% of the news covered by newspapers was reprinted directly from press releases.

That was 20 years ago.

Do we really think the situation has improved as media management has become increasingly sophisticated? We suspect not.

And we need to guard against the endless trivialisation of mass media.

Not for nothing did the Roman elite maintain power through “bread and circuses”.

In short, humanity needs people who “subvert the dominant paradigm”, whether or not the paradigm is one with which we agree.

And thank goodness, those people always seem to appear when we need them most.

Whether it’s an uppity slave refusing to accept his kidnapping 170 years ago, a flame-haired Hunger Games contestant from some dystopian future, or, indeed, this collection of philosophers who wrote to the Guardian a couple of days ago, highlighting the ongoing travesty of the imprisonment of Pussy Riot members, we should praise those who subvert the dominant paradigm, and join them.

Wot they said.

For singing a “punk prayer” against Vladimir Putin in the cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, Nadia Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina, of the collective Pussy Riot, were sentenced in August 2012 to two years’ detention in a “prison colony” for “vandalism motivated by religious hate”. After having denounced the inhuman prison conditions and begun a hunger strike, Tolokonnikova, 24, mother of a five-year-old girl, was transferred 4,000 kilometres from Mordovia to the Krasnoyarsk region in Siberia (Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot’s prison letters to Slavoj Žižek, 16 November).

According the Russian human rights commissioner Vladimir Loukine, “serving her sentence in this region would contribute to her re-socialisation”.

Now there is language we had not heard in Russia since the Soviet era and its hunt for all deviants.

The courage of Tolokonnikova and other protestors in Russia leaves us breathless with admiration.

The courage of Tolokonnikova and other protestors in Russia leaves us breathless with admiration.

In fact, the singer of Pussy Riot has become a symbol of those repressed by the regime: gays hounded in the name of the now legalised struggle against homosexual “propaganda”, immigrant workers exploited and brutalised on the construction sites of Sochi and elsewhere, penalisation of anti-religious speech, significant ecological damage caused by construction projects undertaken without consulting local residents, the opposition muzzled, NGOs persecuted.

In the face of these increasingly numerous human rights violations, Europe has remained shockingly silent.

In a letter addressed from her prison cell to the philosopher Slavoj Žižek, Nadia Tolokonnikova criticises the complacency of western governments towards Vladimir Putin’s repressive and freedom-destroying policies. In particular, she writes in Philosophie magazine (November 2013): “The boycott of the Olympic Games at Sochi, in 2014, would be perceived as an ethical gesture.” As called for by Philosophie magazine, we, European intellectuals, call on our governments and all of Europe to break with their attitude of culpable tolerance and put pressure on the government of Vladimir Putin to immediately release Nadia Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina.

Russia is a constitutional republic and permanent member of the UN security council. It has signed the European convention for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. With the Olympic Games approaching this February, it is time to give them a reminder.

Elisabeth Badinter, Pascal Bruckner, Alain Finkielkraut, Marcel Gauchet, André Glucksmann, Agnès Heller, Axel Honneth, Claude Lanzmann, Edgar Morin, Antonio Negri, Hartmut Rosa, Fernando Savater, Richard Sennett, Bernard Stiegler, Gianni Vattimo, Slavoj Žižek

Moscow (AFP) – Russian authorities confirmed Thursday that jailed Pussy Riot punk band member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova had been moved to a new prison in Siberia, after three weeks of worrying uncertainty about her whereabouts.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova's incredibly courageous fight continues, from hospital.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova’s incredibly courageous fight continues, now from hospital.

Her husband Pyotr Verzilov, who spoke to his wife by phone, said she has been weakened by a recent hunger strike and is currently at a hospital for convicts rather than the prison itself, which is in the Siberian Krasnoyarsk region.

Friends and activists have been concerned about Tolokonnikova’s situation as the Russian authorities moved her thousands of kilometres (miles) by train across Russia without saying where she was.

“Convict Tolokonnikova has arrived to an institution of the Russian prison service in the Krasnoyarsk region,” the region’s prison service said in a statement.

A spokesman for the service said he was not authorised to give detailed information out, but told AFP that Tolokonnikova was feeling “normal”.

Tolokonnikova, 24, had been missing for 24 days after being moved out of her original prison colony in central Russia’s Mordovia region. She had earlier published a letter in Russian media alleging prison abuse and held a hunger strike in protest.

Her letter said the colony has round-the-clock “slave labour”, with 17-hour days in a sewing workshop, beatings, and lack of sanitary facilities.

Verzilov said Tolokonnikova has in fact been for the past two days in a regional tuberculosis hospital in the city of Krasnoyarsk, a medical ward for convicts in the region.

She does not have tuberculosis but is being treated and examined after health complications that followed her hunger strike, Verzilov said, adding he hoped to see his wife on Friday.

“She is not happy with the isolation of her transfer, but she is content that her conditions have been met,” he told AFP.

Tolokonnikova had demanded to be moved out of her Mordovia colony and started eating when this was done, he said.

Prison authorities are not required to tell relatives of the convicts’ whereabouts until 10 days after transferring them to a new place.

Transfers often take weeks as convicts are slowly moved on trains with stopovers in various prisons in the vast country.

There are no legal limitations as to how long these transfers may take, however they are rarely done in strict isolation and information about prisoners’ whereabouts leaks out via other prisoners.

Tolokonnikova’s long transfer and information vacuum had led rights groups to demand information, with Amnesty International citing “serious concerns regarding her safety and wellbeing.”

Verzilov had earlier said he believed his wife was bound for Nizhny Ingash, a town in the taiga that lies on the Trans-Siberian railway about 300 kilometres (185 miles) from the regional centre Krasnoyarsk and four time zones away from Moscow.

Tolokonnikova and fellow band member Maria Alyokhina, who is being kept in the Ural region of Perm, will in March have served out their jail sentence for performing a “punk prayer” in Moscow’s main Orthodox cathedral protesting ties between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Kremlin.

The conviction and sentencing of Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina on charges of hooliganism sparked an international outcry.

"That's not an economy, Son. This is an economy."

“That’s not an economy, Son. This is an economy.”

We are constantly reminding our fellow Australians that we should be more generous with those in need in our own society, and with overseas aid (the growth in which has just been shamefully scaled back by the incoming government), and with those who seek asylum on our shores. And the most recent data confirms our view, and we will continue to make it.

But sometimes it does the soul good to revel in what’s going right. Which is why we note with interest that Australians are again judged to be the richest people in the world, by one measure at least. What’s more, we share it about more.

The median wealth of adult Australians now stands at $US219,505 ($A233,504) – the highest level in the world, according to the Credit Suisse 2013 Global Wealth Report, released on Wednesday.

Median wealth is the midpoint between richest and poorest.

By the measure of average wealth, Australians fall back to second with $US402,578 per person, ranking behind the Swiss who were the world’s richest on $US513,000.

Credit Suisse chief investment strategist, Australia, David McDonald said the nation’s household wealth per adult grew by 2.6 per cent in the past year. That was slower than the global average of 4.9 per cent, but Australia still had the best distribution of wealth among developed nations.

There's a reasonable chance he or she is a millionaire, too.

Irritatingly for, well, just about everyone else in the world, there’s a reasonable chance he or she is a millionaire, too.

“Although we are up there at a high level of wealth per adult we’ve also got a better spread than a lot of the other developed countries including, obviously, the Swiss, but also places like the US,” Mr McDonald said.

The number of Australian millionaires increased by 38,000 to 1.123 million people.

The millionaire calculation includes the value of real estate and other assets less household debt.

If you get bored making money or playing on the beach, you can always go for a walk out back ...

If you get bored making money or playing on the beach, you can always go for a walk out back …

Australians were shown to have a much higher level of wealth held in property and non-financial assets – 58.5 per cent compared to the world average of 45 per cent and just 38 per cent in the US.

The US remains the millionaire capital of the world, with 13.2 million people topping the seven-figure mark and nearly 46,000 people in the ultra-high net worth $US50 million-plus category.

Australia has 2,059 ultra-high net worth individuals, 2.1 per cent of the global total.

While the Land Down Under has maintained its place at the top in median terms for three years running now, Credit Suisse reported that North America has regained its title as the wealthiest region in the world.

Rising house prices and stock markets fuelled a 12 per cent rise in North American wealth to $US78.9 trillion from mid-2012 to mid-2013, putting the region ahead of the Asia Pacific and Europe for the first time since before the global financial crisis.

Credit Suisse global head of research for private banking, Giles Keating, said Japan’s economic slump had dragged down the Asia-Pacific region.

“The fourth annual Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report shows an $US11 trillion rise in (global) wealth to $US241 trillion, with the US as the clear winner, overtaking Europe, while Asia Pacific fell back due to sharp depreciation of the yen,” Mr Keating said.

What do we think? Well, we think Australia has some marvellous natural advantages, not least, a tiny population by world standards, dotted around a massive continent, supported by staggering mineral and agricultural wealth.

All well and good. But it’s what Aussies have created with that money that impresses us. It is in the distribution of and the use made of that wealth that Australians really lead the world. You do not see the extremes of wealth in Australia the way you do in, say, Russia, America, or the UK.

Along the way, Aussies have created probably the world’s best and fairest healthcare system (even though we still complain about it volubly), a decent social safety net for most people (though some still fall through the cracks), the taxation system is reasonable and mostly progressive (even if it is held up in the air by an essentially regressive broad-based consumption tax, but that is now basically unavoidable if one wishes to combat the ‘black economy’), and entrepreneurial flair is encouraged and applauded.

Industrial disputation is at an all time low, inflation non-existent, unemployment persistently virtually non-existent, and at the root of all this is the obvious fact that the concept of a “fair go” – that calm, decency and fairness should still and always form the core of social planning – is seen in no way to contest the headspace devoted to entrepreneurship.

Aussie cities are essentially functional, safe and enticing, and culturally and sports-wise the country punches way above its weight, revelling in a rich and diverse contest of attractions, just as it also makes the most of the fragile natural beauty that sees it firmly ensconced as one of the eco-playgrounds of the world.

THE right to a "fair go" is the thing almost all Australians put at the top of their list when it comes to values. A survey in 2006 showed 91 per cent of people believe a fair go is important, with most listing the need for rights to welfare, housing and indigenous reconciliation to make the country fairer.

THE right to a “fair go” is the thing almost all Australians put at the top of their list when it comes to values.
A survey in 2006 showed 91 per cent of people believe a fair go is important, with most listing the need for rights to welfare, housing and indigenous reconciliation to make the country fairer.

Most of all, though, and despite all the financial success, Australia is truly a society where the value of one’s character is considered more important than the content of one’s property portfolio.

At the end of the day, the richest in society will sit down with the poorest and enjoy a glass of something cooling, and woe betide any fat cat who tries to pull rank.

And yet somehow, this affection for egalitarianism also somewhat miraculously translates into a society where plenty of people make pots of money, and enjoy spending it, too.

Australians have done something very right, for a very long time.

And whatever the political complexion of the Government, they essentially continue to do so.

When one views the chaos in Europe, and the stagnation of American civil discourse, it is very hard to resist crowing. Just a little.

Every country has its own demons, and no one solution fits all, or is necessarily easily transferable. And needless to say, self-congratulation can go too far – not everything in the Great Southern Land is perfect.

But in all seriousness, some countries could do a lot worse than take a close look at Australia’s modus operandi.

(Reporting from AAP and others)

Deep, deep concerns about the wisdom of this course of action - the least the powers that be could do is show us the evidence.

Deep, deep concerns about the wisdom of this course of action – the least the powers that be could do is show us the evidence.

With his “red line” commitment, and the likely imminent bombing of Syria, Obama may have committed the worst blunder of what has in many ways been a Presidency mired in lost opportunities and disappointment.

When all’s said and done, it was never likely that Obama’s incumbency would reach the height of expectation generated by his first election victory.

And the economic crisis he had to deal with – and which he handled with some aplomb despite the criticism of an ornery Congress and the rabid right in America – dominated his first term.

Yet as we go along, there were also worrying signs that Obama lacks any genuine understanding of his role as a centre-left reformer on vital civil liberties issues.

He didn’t close Guantanamo as he promised to – but why? Was there ever any real doubt that Guantanamo inmates could be housed humanely and safely in America? No.

Just one of the many blight's on Obama's record as a small "d" democrat,

Just one of the many blights on Obama’s record as a small “d” democrat.

After years of incarceration, he has not released Guantanamo inmates who have been shown by any reasonable standard, including the opinion of the Administration, to be innocent of any crime. And trials of those considered guilty seem endlessly delayed.

Guilty as hell they might be, but justice delayed is justice denied, no matter who the defendant is.

He has not intervened to pardon whistleblower Bradley Manning, a principled if somewhat naive young person who many consider a hero.

He has argued it is acceptable for the Administration to kill US citizens without trial, via drone strikes, even within the USA’s borders if necessary. (You can’t even lock people up without trial, but you can execute them, apparently.)

For all his posturing, he has failed to act effectively on gun control.

He has done nothing to persuade states to drop the death penalty, nor has he intervened in cases where it is patently obvious that the soon-to-be-executed prisoner is innocent.

Troy Davis, just one of many executions against which there was serious disquiet, where Obama could have intervened, but didn't.

Troy Davis, just one of many executions against which there was serious disquiet, where Obama could have intervened, but didn’t.

He has continued – indeed, increased – drone strikes in countries nominally allied to the USA, despite their counter-productive effect on local opinion.

And now, faced with worldwide concern that we might be about to slip into a morass from which our exit is entirely uncertain, he seems determined to bomb the hell out of Damascus.

Current plans involve nearly 200 cruise missiles being dropped on the poor, benighted citizens of that beleaguered city.

(And that doesn’t count the payload of war planes that were yesterday landing at a rate of one every minute in Malta, according to one correspondent we have.)

One of our more popular t-shirts. You might check out this one, and others, at http://www.cafepress.com/yolly/7059992

One of our more popular t-shirts. You might check out this one, and others, at http://www.cafepress.com/yolly/7059992

Large scale civilian casualties will be brushed off by everyone as “sad but inevitable” except, of course, by the vast majority of the Arab and mid-East populace, already instinctive opponents of America, who will become, without doubt, angrier at the US and the West than ever, whatever they think of Assad.

Meanwhile, rumours continue to swirl unabated that the gas attack in the city was nothing to do with the regime, and could even have been an appalling accident from stocks held by rebel forces.

The US claims to have evidence of rockets being prepared with gas by the regime, but as this article argues, then why on earth not release that evidence?

We also have previous evidence that Syrian rebels have used gas themselves.

We have the persistent assertion that neo-cons have been planning to use Syria as just one more stepping stone to Mid-East hegemony, and that current alarums are just part of a long-range plan to hop into Syria on the way to Iran, as disclosed by retired general Wesley Clarke, presumably to depose the theocratic Islamic regime and grab the Iranian oilfields at the same time.

The fog generated by the secret state also makes it completely impossible to discern what was really going on when the Daily Mail first printed, then retracted as libellous (paying damages), an article about a British defence contractor revealing plans for a false flag gas attack on Syria.

So now, on the brink of war, we have the Obama government refusing to release all the facts that it is showing to members of Congress.

We can only ask “Why?”

If the case against the Assad regime stacks up, then the world – especially those in the mid East – need to know it before any action takes place. So does the UN, whether or not the Security Council can be persuaded to unanimity. (Extremely unlikely.) Because after Damascus is reduced to a smoking ruin will be too late to save the West’s credibility if it acts prematurely, or without irrefutable evidence.

And forgive us, but politicians reassuring us that the evidence is irrefutable just doesn’t cut it any more.

The continual accusation that something murky is going on will bedevil Obama unless this whole situation is conducted with total transparency. Memories of the “sexed up” dossier that led to the bloody war in Iraq (casualties 500,000 and counting) are still raw and fresh.

If he cares less about his legacy, Obama would do well to observe how Bush’s and Blair’s reputations have been forever trashed by that event. The tags “aggressors” and “war criminals” will follow them to their grave and beyond.

Why not simply release all the evidence, publicly. Why? That's what you have to tell us.

Why not simply release all the evidence, publicly. Why? That’s what you have to tell us.

As far as Wellthisiswhatithink is concerned, one piece of commonsense reasoning stands out for us above all others, fundamentally requiring an answer.

Obama had issued his red line warning. Why, in the name of all that is sensible, would Assad risk bringing down the wrath of Nato on his head by flinging chemical weapons at a relatively unimportant residential suburb, knowing full well what the response would be?

The war in Syria is a stalemate, his regime has suffered some losses but also some gains, and there is no evidence his personal grip on power was threatened. Why would this turkey vote for Christmas?

On the other hand, if a rogue Syrian officer wanted to aid the rebel cause, then what better way than to launch an attack which was guaranteed to provoke the West’s intervention, and possibly tip the scales emphatically in the rebel’s direction, something they seem unable to achieve for themselves?

As we contemplate the utter and ultimately murderous failure of diplomacy, we feel constrained to point out that the West – and all the other players like Russia – had a simple solution to the Syrian conflict available on the 23rd December 2011, while casualties were still horrific but minimal (just over 6,000), and before another civilian population had been utterly torn apart and traumatised.

Instead of standing back and doing nothing except chucking verbal rocks, Putin could be part of the solution. Nu-uh. Not so far.

Instead of standing back and doing nothing except chucking verbal rocks, Putin could be part of the solution. Nu-uh. Not so far.

We offered it in an article that explained patiently that there cannot be a solution to the Syrian crisis unless the leaders of the Baa’thist regime are offered a safe haven somewhere (either Russia or Iran, in all likelihood) and also pointed that we would need to keep the bulk of the civil administration in place even after a handover to the Syrian opposition, in order to prevent a complete breakdown in civil society as occurred in Iraq. And, of course, to prevent handing over power to the appalling al-Qaeda forces that were swarming into the conflict on the rebel side.

Now, thanks either to the complete ineptitude of Western politicians, or due to some hazy conspiracy the details of which we cannot clearly discern, we have the ultimate disaster on our hands.

One hundred thousand men, women and children who are NOT combatants are dead, and countless others injured.

Assad is weakened but has no way out.

The Opposition is in thrall to murderous savages that cut the heads off innocent people with pocket knives and shoot soldiers captured on the battlefront.

And we are about to waste hundreds of millions of dollars that we don’t have “taking out” Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles which, in reality, means taking out civilian neighbourhoods with yet more horrendous losses while the Syrian Government squirrel any WMDs they do have deep underground where they can’t be found, let alone bombed.

As the new Australian Prime minister Tony Abbott presciently remarked a few days ago, our choice in Syria is really between “baddies and baddies”.

Not exactly the brightest intellectual star in the political sky, for once Abbott's common touch pitched it about right.

Not exactly the brightest intellectual star in the political sky, for once Abbott’s common touch pitched it about right.

He was criticised for dismissing the conflict so colloquially, but frankly we think he deserves to be applauded for putting it so simply. We may well be about to intervene on behalf of one baddie, when the other baddie is at least as bad, if not worse.

And we do not refer, of course, to the principled, secular and democratic Syrian opposition that has bravely argued for regime change for a generation, but for the lunatics who would hijack their cause in the chaos.

And we are not even allowed to see the evidence for the upcoming attack. We repeat: why?

So much for democracy. So much for humanity. So much for truth and justice. Meanwhile, let’s feed the population bread and circuses – a steady diet of game shows, reality TV and talent quests, with some sport thrown in – let us anaesthetise our sensibilities to the hideous nature of what is about to happen – while the real powers behind the throne seemingly effortlessly manoeuvre public opinion in a relentless search for power, personal wealth and to justify corporate greed.

Frankly, always more of a fan of the cock-up theory of public administration (that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong) we are actually beginning to sense that the shadow state is more real than any of us beyond the wildest conspiracy theorists ever truly imagined.

And we are also so very grateful that we do not live in a country with major oil fields.

His administration decided that it was better to let gas attacks continue if they might turn the tide of the war against Iran. And even if they were discovered, the CIA wagered that international outrage and condemnation would be muted. How times change, huh?

Declassified CIA reports reveal that his administration decided that it was better to let gas attacks continue if they might turn the tide of the war against Iran. And even if they were discovered, the CIA wagered that international outrage and condemnation would be muted. How times change, huh?

Last but by no means least: how do you like the hypocrisy of flattening Syria for theoretically using chemical weapons – although we are not allowed to see the proof – that actually might well have made their way to Assad via Saddam Hussein, that were originally cheerfully supplied to him by America, to chuck at Iranian troops in the Iraq-Iran war?

That’s when Saddam was still our good ol’ buddy, remember. Before he got a bit uppity.

Those weapons – which the dictator was actively urged to use by America backed up by American supplied intelligence – killed tens of thousands – if not hundreds of thousands – of people.

But that’d be wrong, right?

Sorry, my brain hurts.

The very brave Anton Kraskovsky ... out, and out of work.

The very brave Anton Kraskovsky: out, and out of work.

Russian television anchor Anton Krasovsky has been fired from his job after coming out on the air earlier this year.

“I’m gay, and I’m just the same person as you, my dear audience, as President Putin, as Prime Minister Medvedev and the deputies of our Duma,” he said, according to an interview with Snob.ru.

He was reportedly fired from KontrTV, a government-backed cable network that he helped launch in December, and the footage of his announcement was quickly deleted from KontrTV’s website and YouTube.

Krasovsky also spoke to CNN from Lisbon this week and said he knew he would lose his job for coming out.

“Somebody should do it,” he said. “I decided it’s time to be open for me. That’s it.”

He told Snob.ru that he felt like a hypocrite after covering the so-called gay propaganda law on a show.

“The meaning of this whole story we are discussing now is that throughout my whole life, I’ve been struggling with myself,” Krasovsky said. “And this — as you call it — coming out is just another battle with myself, with my own hypocrisy, my own lies, and my own cowardice.”

He said after making the announcement at the end of the show, Angry Guyzzz, the audience and the crew applauded. He said he then went into his dressing room and cried for 20 minutes before being fired a few hours later.

“They immediately blocked all my corporative accounts, my email. Literally immediately, overnight,” Krasovsky said. “They deleted not only my face from the website, but also all of my TV shows, as if I’d never really existed. The next day I wrote to [network head Sergey] Minaev that I was totally shocked. Because it takes them half a day to put up a banner when I ask them to, and here we had such efficiency. One could say they can when  they want to. Now they’ve put everything back, but you couldn’t say why, really.”

While his firing occurred earlier this year, his story is catching the attention of international press now that Russia’s antigay law has passed and is clearly being enforced. In February, he told the Los Angeles Times that he had kept trying to persuade himself that working with the government to launch the network would keep him secure.

“I kept trying to persuade myself all the time that working for the Kremlin also gives me a better chance to combat idiots and idiocy at all levels,” he said. “But they soon found a way to show me who ran the show as I was trying to stop short of turning into a Kremlin propaganda tool.”

(As reported at TheAdvocate.com)

Individual liberty is on retreat the world over, and in Russia as rapidly as anywhere on the planet. Citizens Awake!

Holding a multi-coloured flag is now a threat to state security.

Holding a multi-coloured flag is now a threat to state security.

Despite widespread criticism, Russia will apparently enforce a new law cracking down on gay rights activism when it hosts international athletes and fans during the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, the country’s sports minister said Thursday, appearing to contradict assurances to the contrary from the International Olympic Committee.

Russia’s contentious law was signed by President Vladimir Putin in late June, imposing fines on individuals accused of spreading ”propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” to minors, and even proposing penalties for those who express these views online or in the news media. Gay pride rallies also are banned.

”An athlete of non-traditional sexual orientation isn’t banned from coming to Sochi,” Vitaly Mutko said in an interview with R-Sport, the sports newswire of state news agency RIA Novosti. ”But if he goes out into the streets and starts to propagandize, then of course he will be held accountable.”

So, it’s OK if you keep it in the closet, but being out and proud is no longer acceptable in “modern Russia”. Pfft. The country slides ever further back into the bad old past under Vlad’s dictatorial KGB-bred rule.

"That hat is SO Priscilla Queen of the Desert, darling."  " I knew you'd love it, big boy."

“That hat is SO Priscilla Queen of the Desert, darling.”  ” I knew you’d love it, big boy.”

Mutko emphasized that the law wasn’t designed to punish anyone for being gay or lesbian. But like the Russian lawmakers who authored the bill, Mutko said athletes would be punished only for propaganda, a word that remains ambiguous under the new law. The shameful treatment of peaceful protestors like Pussy Riot shows what the laughable disgrace that passes for a legal system in Russia is capable of.

Murko said: ”The corresponding law doesn’t forbid non-traditional orientation, but other things: propaganda, involvement of minors and young people.”

Whether or not a gay lifestyle is ‘non traditional’ – highly debatable if one looks at history, Ancient Greece anyone? – and whether or not portraying a gay lifestyle as acceptable to young people could be in any way considered propaganda or even wrong – surely they will emerge as better adjusted adults, regardless of their sexual orientation, if equipped with a balanced world view? – to see Russia moving emphatically in the other direction from the rest of Europe, the Americas, and much of Asia merely serves to stress that the country is a long, long way to conforming to modern notions of equity and equality.

The law specifies punishment for foreign citizens, to include fines of up to 100,000 rubles (US$3,000), prison for up to 15 days, deportation and denial of re-entry into Russia.

Four Dutch citizens working on a documentary film about gay rights in the northern Russian town of Murmansk were the first foreigners to be detained under the new law, although their case did not make it to court, according to RIA Novosti.

While activists and organizations supportive of gay rights have called for a ban on Russian-made products like Stolichnaya vodka in bars across North America, they have yet to find a unified response to the Sochi Games.

Instead of a boycott of the Olympics, athletes have made individual gestures and called for protests, such as a pride parade, to be held during the games. One wonders what Russian attitudes will be to a podium gay rights protest similar to the black civil rights protest at the Mexico Olympics.

Despite the obvious grey areas and potential for conflict, the IOC said last week that it had received assurances ”from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the games.” It pledged to ensure there would be no discrimination against athletes, officials, spectators and the media in Sochi.

IOC spokesman Mark Adams said Thursday the committee continues to accept past assurances from the Russian government that the law will not affect athletes, officials or spectators during the games.

Gerhard Heiberg, a senior IOC member from Norway, also said Thursday that in winning the games, Russia and the city of Sochi had committed to preventing discrimination of any sort. But he issued a word of caution to the athletes.

”At the same time we always say to our athletes, ‘We do not want any demonstrations in one or the other direction. Please, you are there to compete and behave. Please don’t go out on the Net or in the streets,’” Heiberg said. ”I think it was very clear for London in 2012 and it will be very clear in 2014. Demonstrations in one way or another, no, but discrimination, absolutely not.”

(Definitely the case: whatever you do, if you’re a female, don’t flash your tits anywhere near the Olympics.)

More moral courage on display from the IOC. They really are an appallingly conservative organisation.

Oh well. So much for free speech. Just another small blow; just another small slip on the slope towards removing the right to protest, a trend we see gathering pace worldwide.

Your thoughts, Edward Snowden?

Meanwhile, all those – gay, straight, or anything in between – who are interested in sexual equality in sport and an end to homophobia will be interested in this campaign organisation.

And protests continue grow, including a spreading movement to stop using Russian products such as Stolichnaya and other Russian vodkas.

Luckily, I prefer Finnish vodka anyway, so that switch will be easy enough.

(With Associated Press, Yahoo and others)

Read more about Russia’s homophobic traditions here.

Eisenhower

Eisenhower

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.”

Dwight Eisenhower, speaking to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, April 16, 1953

In my opinion, American defence spending is bloated beyond belief, beyond anything necessary to fulfil either a defensive or offensive role in the world, and this is the result of an active and ongoing conspiracy between corrupt politicians (perhaps I should say, a corrupted political system) and the military-industrial complex.

Remember, American defence spending is greater than ALL of the next ten biggest defence budgets in the world, and that includes Russia and China.

And who pays for this? American taxpayers.

The role of the military-industrial complex is hardly new - as this 19th century cartoon exemplifies. Isn't it time we really tackled it?

The role of the military-industrial complex is hardly new – as this 19th century cartoon exemplifies. Isn’t it time we really tackled it? Over to you, taxpayers.

See, I cannot understand, for the life of me, why Americans – and especially those who detest taxes and Government waste of public money – do not rise up and demand that their defence budget is radically trimmed.

I cannot understand, for example, why Tea Party activists – almost universally anti excessive taxation – do not target defence spending first.

Just why is defence spending protected from cuts that are clearly necessary?

Why does the right wing demand defence spending be exempted from cuts?

Is it somehow a measurement or reflection of some deeply ingrained macho-psyche bullsh*t?

Is it merely that the political forces are so deep in their trenches that they cannot move from ossified positions?

Is it simply  that defence is a dog-whistle topic for the GOP base, and it’s better to try and make cuts to needed social security spending, despite the harm it causes, than to seek to educate their own supporters?

In which case, shame on them. And shame on the Democrats for letting them get away with it.

Yes, I understand that decisions about what items to cut are always complex … I have heard persuasive arguments from friends in the US Navy that they believe expenditure on capital ships has fallen to dangerously low levels. But I am talking here of the overall budget. Someone needs to get to it with a serious knife and cut deep, hard and long. It’s time.

There is another good reason for America to get it’s defence spending under control. Without excess (and excessive) forces, they will be less inclined to engage in military adventures overseas that are both morally and legally dubious. Iraq – and the 500,000 subsequent dead – would never have happened. And Afghanistan, in the absence of Iraq, would have been a two year event, and a much more likely success, rather than the morass it has become.

So – it’s over to you, American taxpayers. We are all relying on you. Are you really happy with the way things are going?

Feel free to cut and paste this on your Facebook page, blog, etc

Feel free to cut and paste this on your Facebook page, blog, etc. It is from the excellent “Ethical Reporters Against Faux News” Facebook page, a source of regular facts that need to be known.

Yes, before someone upbraids me, I know US military spending IS tipped to fall. From $638 billion this year to $538 billion by 2020.

But it’s not enough. And anyway, if pressure is not kept on, who says if that goal will be met?

Do I think it is beyond the wit and wisdom of Washington insiders to dream up another false-flag reason to suddenly ramp up spending again?

No. Sadly, I do not. Do you?

Oh, and Ike? He was a Republican. The type of moderate, thoughtful Republican that doesn’t seem to exist any more, more’s the pity. He was hawkish against communism, expanded America’s nuclear arsenal, but also launched the Interstate Highway System; the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which led to the internet, among many invaluable outputs; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), driving peaceful discovery in space; the establishment of strong science education via the National Defense Education Act; and encouraging peaceful use of nuclear power via amendments to the Atomic Energy Act.

In social policy, he sent federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, for the first time since Reconstruction to enforce federal court orders to desegregate public schools. He also signed civil rights legislation in 1957 and 1960 to protect the right to vote. He implemented desegregation of the armed forces in two years and made five appointments to the Supreme Court. He was no captive of extremists – he actively and adroitly condemned the excesses of McCarthyism without upsetting his own right wing – in marked contrast to the current leadership of the GOP, he articulated his position as a moderate, progressive Republican: “I have just one purpose … and that is to build up a strong progressive Republican Party in this country. If the right wing wants a fight, they are going to get it … before I end up, either this Republican Party will reflect progressivism or I won’t be with them anymore.”

He was a talented politician. He prevented the GOP from collapsing into extreme-right irrelevance, and became, in doing so, wildly popular with both Democrats, independents and Republicans.

In summary, Eisenhower’s two terms were peaceful and productive ones for the most part and saw considerable economic prosperity except for a sharp recession in 1958–59.

So why was Eisenhower so chary of military spending?

Further comment superfluous.

Further comment superfluous.

Perhaps it was because, unlike most politicians today, he had actually witnessed the effects of that spending at first hand.

Not just the theft from those who needed the money spent on them, but also the carnage that war let loose really entails.

He walked the beaches after D Day.

He had ordered into battle legions that he knew would suffer 50%, 60%, 75% casualties.

He spoke with those men, face to face, hours before they left for France, knowing that most were just hours from dismemberment, disablement, or a  grisly death.

For him, every bullet fired, on both sides, was a disaster. But that understanding did not prevent him being one of the greatest military commanders in history.

And it didn’t stop him being a Republican.

Bradley Manning

Bradley Manning

If you want to know what it must be like to be trapped in a legal system which shows no sign of wanting you to have a fair trial, and every sign of being determined to punish you for your offensiveness to the state, you might look at the case of Pussy Riot in Russia, a group of young female musicians locked up in the harshest possible conditions for daring to sing a song for two minutes.

Or you could imagine you were a young American soldier, horrified by what you were reading in secret transcripts, who wanted his country to return to the principles on which it was founded, and who decided to leak the contents of those transcripts so the world could see what was happening, and make a judgement.

Not the great and good of the world, but people just like you and me.

Indeed, one has to ask, if Bradley Manning is charged with “aiding the enemy” for sharing government lies and secrets with us, then are we the enemy?

At every turn the United States Government, presumably with the full cognisance and approval of the so-called Democratic president, Barack Obama, has treated Bradley Manning with mental cruelty beyond belief – including for a time keeping him locked in a small windowless solitary confinement cell for no good reason – which led to a paltry reduction in any future terms of imprisonment – and has steadfastly refused to allow him to make the defence he wishes to make.

Just so that is clear, in some Kafkaesque world of their own making, the military and civil authorities in the USA are telling this man how to, and how not to, defend himself against the charges laid against him.

Bradley Manning served his country. Now his country wants to lock him up and throw away the key - or worse.

Bradley Manning served his country. Now his country wants to lock him up and throw away the key – or worse.

Now the military judge in his case has ruled that Manning will not be allowed to present evidence about his motives for the leak – a key plank of his defence. Colonel Denise Lind ruled that general issues of motive were not relevant to the trial stage of the court martial.

This must be the first time in legal history that motive could not be considered germane to the question of guilt.

By denying Manning the chance to make a whistleblower defence in his upcoming court martial in which he faces possible
life in military custody with no chance of parole his situation will be rendered much weaker. Manning’s lead defence
lawyer, David Coombs, had argued that his motive was key to proving that he had no intention to harm US interests
or to pass information to the enemy.

It should also be noted that neither the US government (nor anyone else) has ever claimed that the information released by
Manning has caused any harm to a single individual, such as soldier, spy, or government official.

Unsurprisingly, given the way this is going, the judge also blocked the defence from presenting evidence designed to
show that WikiLeaks caused little or no damage to US national security. Coombs has devoted considerable time and
energy trying to extract from US government agencies their official assessments of the impact of WikiLeaks around the
world, only to find that he is now prevented from using any of the information he has obtained.

The general issue of motive must be held back until Manning either entered a plea or was found guilty, at which
point it could be used in mitigation to lessen the sentence. The ruling is a blow to the defence as it will make it harder
for the soldier’s legal team to argue he was acting as a principled whistleblower and not as someone who knowingly
damaged US interests at a time of war.

“This is another effort to attack the whistleblower defence,” said Nathan Fuller, a spokesman for the Bradley Manning
Support Network, after the hearing.

The 25-year-old intelligence analyst faces 22 charges relating to the leaking of hundreds of thousands of classified
diplomatic cables, war logs from the Afghan and Iraq wars, and videos of US military actions. The most serious
charge, “aiding the enemy”, which carries the life sentence, accuses him of arranging for state secrets to be published
via WikiLeaks on the internet knowing that al-Qaida would have access to it.

The US government is expected at trial to present evidence that allegedly shows that Osama bin Laden personally
requested to see some of the WikiLeaks publications attributed to Manning and that documents were found on his
computer following the US navy Seals raid that killed him.

In a limited victory for the defence, Coombs and the defence team will be allowed to talk about the soldier’s motives
on two narrow counts: where it can be used to show that he did not know that his leaks would be seen by al-Qaida;
and as evidence that he consciously selected certain documents or types of documents in order to ensure they
would not harm the US or benefit any foreign nation.

Lind’s ruling means that some of the most impassioned statements by Manning about why he embarked on the
massive transfer of information to WikiLeaks will now not be heard at trial. In the course of a now famous web chat
he had with the hacker-turned-informer Adrian Lamo, Manning wrote : “information should be free / it belongs in
the public domain / because another state would just take advantage of the information … try and get some edge /
if its out in the open … it should be a public good.”

Public pressure is the key to determining whether this man gets anything remotely resembling a fair trial. Many,
including this writer, consider him a hero for wanting the public to know what was being done and said in their
name, including when their Governments were openly lying to them.

You can read more about the case, and get involved in the fight for justice for Bradley Manning, as many of
your fellow concerned citizens such as veterans, journalists, Nobel Peace Prize winners, and legal experts
worldwide already have, at http://www.bradleymanning.org/

Facebookers will also find this page interesting https://www.facebook.com/savebradley?ref=ts&fref=ts and
you can also visit a remarkable outpouring of popular outrage and at your own photograph at
http://iam.bradleymanning.org/

Expect to hear much more from Wellthisiswhatithink on this vital public interest case as the trial continues …

Are you?

Are you?

What better way to support Pussy Riot than to send their new song to Number 1 worldwide? To do that iTunes need to sell the song which they are not at the moment. So if you believe in freedom … Please … Sign the petition, make it happen!

http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/Apple_please_sell_Pussy_Riots_new_song_on_iTunes/

In case you don’t recognise her t-shirt, it’s a famous resistance statement from the Spanish civil war – No Pasarin, “they shall not pass”. I am moved and amazed by these young womens’ courage. So what can the rest of us do to help?

 

I have a simple question for Apple and iTunes.

When will I be able to buy Pussy Riot’s latest single? Putin Lights the Fires it’s called.

It strikes me as by far the simplest and most direct way I – anyone – can show my support for their right to free expression. No one should be jailed for a peaceful three minute protest in a church.

If the song went to the top of every chart in the Western world – not to mention in Russia – what a statement that would make to the Russian authorities. And might help pay for their legal case, and support their families, too, I guess. (Two of those jailed are mothers, I believe.) Pussy Riot have been in jail already for months. Now they are sentenced they will get one phone call a quarter, and be able to see their families once every six months. This is barbarism, writ large, in defiance of world opinion.

So how about it, Apple? Anyone?

Meanwhile, the Guardian in the UK have got the single which they have put to a montage of Pussy Riot coverage, and coverage of their supporters.

It’s horrible. It’s un-listenable to. See, I hate punk music, and I don’t speak Russian.

But I really want to buy it. How can I do that?

Please spread this blog, ask the question, ask Apple and other music retailers yourselves, post about it yourselves, Facebook and Twitter about it. Quick. Let’s get these women released – fast.

20120818-234012.jpg

The sort of young person that Vladimir Putin should be drafting in to help him run the country – virbant, toughtful, well-educated, unselfish. So what does he do? Throw her in jail for daring to criticise him. How much longer will the world tolerate this petty tyrant turning Russia back to the days of Stalin, and before that, the Tsars … how much longer?

I am indebted to mishato for posting thisinformation as a response to my earlier piece on Pussy Riot, the music group being disgracefully persecuted by the morons in the Kremlin.

Religion Dispatches has posted an English translation of 22-year-old Nadezhda Tolokonnikova’s closing statement in their trial for singing a song, which saw them jailed for two years having already spent months in jail. Please: read it. It’s long, but read it. It was spoken by a woman facing an unknown period in jail simply for daring to speak her mind – and nothing else.

Please: read it.

I was literally moved to tears by her words – tears of sympathy, tears of rage – and very impressed by the breadth and depth of the arguments she puts forth. Please: take the time to read this, and then join the fight to free these incredibly brave women, which even the might of the Russian pseudo-democratic dictatorship will not silence.

http://www.religiondispatches.org/dispatches/theeditors/6295/pussy_riot_members_sentenced_to_2_years_for_offending_russian_orthodox_church/

Russia jails Pussy Riot protest punks for two years

(AFP and others)

Pussy Riot demonstrators (from left) Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Maria Aliokhina during their trial. This is what courage looks like. Assange, Pussy Riot, Bradley Manning – see a pattern developing? Photograph: Maxim Shipenkov/EPA

A Moscow court Friday handed a two-year jail sentence to three feminist punk rockers who infuriated the Kremlin and captured world attention by ridiculing President Vladimir Putin in Russia’s main church.

The European Union immediately called the decision “disproportionate” while Washington urged Moscow to review the case and thousands rallied across world capitals calling on the Russian strongman to set the Pussy Riot members free.

Judge Marina Syrova said the three young protesters had displayed a “clear disrespect toward society” by staging a “Punk Prayer” performance just weeks ahead of Putin’s historic but controversial March election to a third term.

“Considering the nature and degree of the danger posed by what was done, the defendants’ correction is possible only through an actual punishment,” she said to a few cries of “Shame!” and “This is not fair!” from the packed courtroom.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina — 22 and 24 respectively and both mothers of young children — and 30-year-old Yekaterina Samutsevich exchanged glances and laughed nervously as they listened to the marathon verdict reading from inside a glass cage.

“I did not expect the verdict to be so harsh,” Samutsevich’s father Stanislav quietly told reporters after his daughter was led away.

But co-defence attorney Nikolai Polozov said the three “will not be asking (Putin) for a pardon” for what they consider a purely political act. (And quite right too, in my opinion, as asking for a pardon implies an acceptance of guilt.)

The trio had pulled on knitted masks and stripped down to short fluorescent dresses near the altar of Moscow’s biggest cathedral on February 21 before belting out a raucous chorus calling on the Virgin Mary to “drive out Putin”.

To many they represented prime examples of disenchanted youth whose support Putin could almost certainly have counted on at the start of his 12-year domination as both president and premier.

The state-appointed judge opened the hearing with dozens of passionate supporters of the band and the Russian Orthodox Church being held apart by riot police and Western diplomats jostling with reporters for a spot inside the courtroom.

Witnesses saw about 60 Pussy Riot fans – ex-chess champion and fierce Putin critic Garry Kasparov among them – being taken away into waiting vans by police during more than three hours of hearings.

The once-unheralded band members have already been held in pre-trial detention for five months despite international protests about their treatment by Putin’s team.

The US State Department expressed immediate concern “about both the verdict and the disproportionate sentences”.

“We urge Russian authorities to review this case and ensure that the right to freedom of expression is upheld,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement.

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said the case “puts a serious question mark over Russia’s respect for international obligations of fair, transparent and independent legal process.”

And German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the sentence “excessively harsh (and) not in harmony with the values of European law.”

The ruling was handed down as Pussy Riot release rallies hit major world cities and celebrities ranging from Paul McCartney and John Malkovich to Madonna and Bjork decried Putin’s tough stance on dissent.

A spokesman for the Russian leader said Putin had no say in the court’s decision and argued that the women always had the option to appeal.

“He has no right to impose his views on the court,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the PublicPost.ru website.

Putin had earlier this month said he thought the band members should not be judged “too severely” while stressing that he strongly disagreed with what they did.

The jailing capped an initial 100-day spell in office spell for Putin in which he has breached reforms put in place by his predecessor Dmitry Medvedev with new curbs on protests and political groups with foreign sources of income.

Yet the moves – all stemming from Putin’s charge that Washington was funding the historic protests against his return to the Kremlin last winter – appear to be backfiring.

A poll published on the front page of the Vedomosti business daily on Friday showed Putin’s approval rating slipping to a post-election low of 48 percent — a notable slide from the 60 percent he enjoyed around his May inauguration.

There were some initial signs that the polling data and international pressure may force the authorities to adapt their approach.

Leading ruling party member Andrei Isayev called the sentence “harsh” and noted that Putin had yet to speak his full mind on the matter.

And a senior Church council issued a formal statement calling on the state “to show mercy for the convicted within the framework of the law.”

Eduard Khil became a web sensation after decades-old TV footage of him singing was uploaded to YouTube. Sadly he has now died.

He had been taken to hospital last week after suffering a stroke.

Although a household name in Russia, Khil was best known around the word as Mr Trololo, after decades-old TV footage of him performing I Am So Happy to Finally Be Back Home was uploaded to YouTube in 2009.

The song became known as “Trololololololololololo” because of Khil’s distinctive vocal performance.

The “Trololo” meme re-ignited interest in Khil’s singing career, with his performance receiving a massive 12 million views since November 2009. I guess that will be a couple of a million more in the next few days.

Khil himself was flattered by the attention, saying:

“It’s nice, of course! Thanks for good news! There is a backstory about this song. Originally, we had lyrics written for this song but they were poor. I mean, they were good, but we couldn’t publish them at that time. They contained words like these: ‘I’m riding my stallion on a prairie, so-and-so mustang, and my beloved Mary is thousand miles away knitting a stocking for me.’

Of course, we failed to publish it at that time, so we, (composer) Arkady Ostrovsky and I, decided to make it a vocalisation. But the essence remained in the title. The song is very playful – it has no lyrics, so we had to make up something for people would listen to it, and so this was an interesting arrangement.”

Thank God the original lyrics were crap. And so a legend was born. Rest in peace, Mr Trololo.

(Herald Sun and many others)