Thursday, February 12, 2015

Slava EUkrainie!

What you need to know about the 'Ukraine Crisis'

For much of what we know, the current 'crisis' in Ukraine started when the Russian President Putin 'annexed' the Crimean Peninsula, declaring 'war' on the newly 'democratized' country. After that Russian forces 'invaded' eastern Ukraine and, despite the attempts of the Ukrainian government to 'free' its citizens from subjugation to "criminals, terrorists and Russian invaders", Ukraine is in critical need of weapons, and money, and somebody else to continue to  'free' itself.

Russia - particularly President Vladimir Putin and the 'oligarchs' who support him - has obstinately refused to stop interfering in the Ukrainian situation. The west (led by the USA) has been 'forced' to lay political, social and economic sanctions on him and  them, personally, and  on organs of the Russian state and economy 'under their control'.

Much of what we consider to be a 'whole story' is missing.

Until 1992 the Ukraine was one of the Soviet Socialist Republics of the USSR. At that time, like many other of the Soviet republics, the Ukraine became independent of what was to be re-formed as the Russian Federation.  Although it was independent, it maintained many social, political and economic ties with Russia and the other ex-republics. At that time, too, the territory of the Ukraine was 'set' - in keeping with that of the former SSR which, after 1953, had been itself reformed to include the annexed parts of Romania, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland that had fallen as 'war spoils' to the victorious Red Army.  The Communist leadership at that time, under the rule of  Nikita Khruschev - a native Ukrainian - attached to Ukrainian SSR,  the formerly 'imperial oblasts' of NovoRussia and the Crimean Peninsula.

 A series of political 'changes' beginning with the "Orange Revolution" in 1994 saw the advancement of 'democrats' and Ukrainian nationalists in the government of the country.  That period also marked the rise of oligarchs who became owners of a number of 'privatized' state industries and publicly-owned concerns. It also led to growing political clashes in the Ukraine and a series of changing government administrations. One of the earlier Presidents was poisoned by, purportedly, 'Russians'; another, Julia Timoshenko, was charged, tried, convicted in a Ukrainian court and jailed  for corruption after her term in office - her family wound-up owning the national gas distribution system. The latest nationally-elected President, Yanukovich, served in the government from the beginning and was, eventually, elected three times to the country's highest office.

The notion of Ukraine becoming an integral part of Europe was present all along.  Indeed Ukraine, as a military 'occupied zone' during WW2, had a collaborationist government, aligned with Germany, and raised two complete divisions for the German Waffen SS,  as  well as maintaining a security apparatus that 'dealt with' communist partisans, subversives, non-Ukrainians and Jews. At the end of the war these Ukrainian forces fled west with the retreating Germans. Many emigrated to the Americas, under the auspices of the Catholic Church, as 'anti-communist refugees'. Some, like Stepan Bandera continued an anti-communist movement in Europe. Bandera was assassinated in Munich, in 1959, by (purportedly) the Russian KGB.  Other Ukrainians returning 'home' were arrested, tried and, if found guilty of treason or war crimes, executed by Ukrainian authorities.  After 1992 many of these began to return to Ukraine, some were repatriated and others maintain 'visitor' or 'temporary resident' status. They were no longer potential war criminals after 1992.

By 2000 the European Ukraine and Nationalist Ukraine movements were well-established. Ukraine sent its military to serve in a number of UN peace-keeping missions and, after 2001, Ukrainian forces were deployed to assist the 'allies' in Afghanistan and Iraq. The costs for these involvements were largely covered by US assistance grants and loans for the Ukrainian military which had been debilitated by economic cutbacks.

 The Ukrainian military, in 1992, had fallen heir to the resources of the forces of the USSR air, naval and land 'fronts' stationed inside its territory. Those included strategic rocket forces and military production plants. In 1993 it had the largest, most well-equipped, army in Europe. By 2001 that force's equipment  had been mothballed, or sold-off to nations in Asia and Africa. Ukraine remained home to Russian aircraft manufacturers such as the Antonov concern  and, until last year, was producing and exporting Russian-designed rocket engines for the US and other space programs and maintaining, under contract, the Strategic Rocket Forces of the Russian Federation. Much of the Russian Black Sea Fleet was transferred to Ukraine, and the former soviet naval base at Sebastopol was leased on a long term basis. Other Russian Federation air and land forces were permitted in Crimea under lease agreements and treaty with Kyiv government.

Over recent years Ukraine failed to thrive economically and ran-up a considerable international debt, as well as steadily  reducing its standard of living. Industries were poorly-maintained and previous production fell  as unemployment became a social fixture. Some western-trained officials saw a hope of redemption in the free market theories espoused in America: low taxation rates, and curtailed government spending. To them the economic austerity being demanded by western banks as precursor for further credit, evoked a closer alignment with the west and a less-socialist government, as the salvation of Ukraine. When the annual bond sale of 2014 failed to generate interest, or funds ($1.5 billion on the sale of $15 billion in bonds through the Bank of Ireland) and European,  World Banks and IMF  remained obstinate in demanding reforms and open markets, the then-President Yanukovich,  reversed his previous position and announced interest in a Russian proposal at a November meeting of the G8 in Sweden. Within hours the "EuroMaidan" protests started. They built in violence and intensity from November 2013 to January 2014 when protestors and police were shot on the square. Yanukovich resigned and fled the country to safety in the RF. An 'interim' government under the appointed President Turchynev and Prime Minister Yatseniuk ruled by decree until general elections installed President Poroshenko. Also elected were  the newly-released Juilia Timoshenko and a small number of right-wing and neo-nazi radicals - some of whom were appointed to government Defence, Police and Security portfolios.

The interim government,  among its initial decrees, had outlawed the use of Russian in Ukrainian territory and criminalized some aspects of 'russian' life.  Street disturbances, targeting 'russians', were extended from Kyiv to outlying cities such as Odessa (where a number of people burned to death when a 'russian' trades union building was stormed). There were killings  and rioting, with street fights in eastern cities like Mariuopol, Donetsk, Kharkiv and  Dniepropetrovsk.

Russian separatists in Crimea voted to secede and join the RF. That was done. Others in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk (and others) occupied government buildings and disarmed government forces and police. The 'interim' government declared war, announced conscription and deployed 5 divisions of the army to the east to retake territory and put down the rebellion.  The campaign was described as an 'Anti-Terrorist Operation' (ATO) and is, still, as is the area under rebel control,  as that name, to-day.

Beginning in May,  the UA rapidly fanned out across the eastern regions stopped only by the protests of local citzenry blocking roads.  A couple of incidents caused by zealous 'heroes of the Maidan' who thought they were putting-down Russian invaders, led to bloodshed and retaliatory ambushes as citizens of the east, with military experience, armed themselves from government supplies (including 'the world's largest arms repository' under the City of Slavyansk).

By midsummer, widespread fighting was underway - ending with a cease fire just before the fall of Slavyansk. A subsequent 'push' by government forces 'liberated'  Slavyansk and almost severed the link between Donetsk and Lugansk leaving a rebel area almost bisected. The  'massacre' of a government unit in the north east of the ATO,  followed by an another unit being trapped against the Russian border and the downing of MH17 followed and resulted in a temporary lull in operations. Before government forces could regroup, they found themselves being 'kettled' in a number of places in Lugansk and in two places north east and south east of Donetsk. One of these latter units was eradicated.

A separatist 'offensive' in late August, started in the extreme south east of the ATO and drove toward Donetsk and Mariuople pushing government forces back out of the entire southern part of the Donetsk region.Government forces were 'hanging on' to villages outside Donetsk, the airport there and at  the transportation hub at Debaltsevo when another ceasefire was called in September.

An abortive government (announced as "massive")  offensive ("Punch in the teeth") was stopped in early January after rebels forces succeeded in clearing Donetsk airport. The rebels maintained their pressure retaking a number of villages from which the airport area had been supplied and later, shelled. In early February operations were underway to cut-off the salient and 'kettle' a considerable (7 000) government force at  Debaltsevo. This was being resisted, as the city of Donetsk continued to be shelled from this position,  but it was isolated 40 Km from the nearest help.

This was the situation before which a third ceasefire was announced on February 13th,  2015.

WTF's Happenin' to the ERL - Part TOO

About a month an a half ago I penned a screed about the plunging price of oil at the pump.  Since then, gasoline - which at that point was just dipping below a dollar-a-litre, took a further dive in January to a low of, in our little community,  0.81 cents per litre. It seemed for a day, or so, that a 'reign of happiness' had fallen upon us. Then the price, almost imperceptably at first, started to millimeter itself back up. A road trip that cost the better part of $200 in gas last summer, was a bargain at $120 just at the end of January.  And then ... and then   ... and then .....

And then the price of a barrel of oil on the world market, blipped, almost overnight and for no good reason at all, 'back up' to the $40 US mark.  That necessitated an overnight .13 cents per litre 'adjustment' at the pump. A week later, and this time without another hike in world price, the pumps started charging 7 cents more.

So now in mid-February the gas price is set to crest $1 per liter  - probably because the Canadian dollar is worth 81 cents  in the ' land o' the free, home of the brave' and gas prices, to maintain the "traditional bulk price differential", have to be almost 2 times higher for litres, than Billy Bob and the swami-haters pay in gallons (US).

A remarkable thing that I, a user of 'premium grade' gasoline, have noticed, is that the price of diesel fuel seems strangely unaffected  by all the Saudi shenanigans - and, given that - in the oil-cracking business - the 'cheap stuff' comes off first with less effort, so should the price of home heating oil and aviation fuel remain as drivers of the profit margin, while the oil industry 'takes its bath' in reduced gasoline revenues.

I'm still trying to figure out which aspect of dementia might have driven the Saudis - who market the most easily-produced oil on earth -  to go 'mano a mano' with the producers of the dirty, expensive stuff that drives the world price higher,  in order as we've been told,  to  'put them out of business'??

It just beggars the imagination that the heads of OPEC would choose this route to punish Putin (who hasn't done anything, lately, to them - even supporting Assad or the Ayetolleh)  let alone mess up a $100+ a barrel 'good thing' they've had going for a long while.  I don't care if their economies are predicated on $45 a barrel. It used to be we in the west squawked whenever OPEC tried to get 'their due' out of  'our' oil investments, but now we're grousing because the 'cheapness' is affecting our cash flow?   We just can't catch a break?

                               Buy Alberta - it ain't noways as scary
                              or as cheap and it won't need as much subsidy

At a similar rate of increase should the world price of oil ever again get near the $100 dollar a barrel mark - and why shouldn't it?  There's even less now than there was last summer - the price at the pump should get to an even $2.00 .... right where the oil producers panned it would be  .... on its way to  $5.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Battle Scars and Public Policy

You can judge a society by how it treats its veterans. 

By that measure to-day's societies are a vast improvement from days past.  In the not so very long ago crippled and wounded veterans had a place on the sidewalks of the nations they served. Post World War One Germany comes to mind as a place where the war-wounded were very much on their own - aside from any familial support they might have received. I don't know if the Nazis awarded war pensions to the disabled of the Great War, (I couldn't imagine not) but the Weimar Republic simply couldn't afford it.

In Britain and France there were 'homes' for the wounded, a pension in some cases,  and the 'dole' for many others. In Canada the 'permanently hospitalized' in the Great War were conveniently dying, to be replaced by the  'basket cases' produced by the Second. It was only in the 1980 that the Sunnybrook Military Hospital, in Toronto was 'converted' for civilian use, it still maintains a 'veterans' wing'. There were, and are, others.

There are, of course, places where veterans are still very much 'on their own'. I couldn't imagine there are many benefits for the native wounded in Nigeria, Somalia or any of Africa's wars. Aside from a reward for suicide bombers' families, I couldn't imagine much beyond community charity for those who merely fail to die in many Muslim countries. We know that Muslim 'charity' is often the first target of western 'anti-terrorist sanctions'.

But how is it in the First World?

 The first thing we need remember is that Military and 'casualties' are essentially mutually exclusive. The casualty is a net loss to the military effort in a large number of ways. Studies have been written in an effort to minimize the effect of  'the casualty'.  By that, of course, we mean 'the wounded', the dead are a very simple matter to be resolved.  Most armies strive to inflict the greatest number of wounded on an enemy. Killing may be a short term solution, but generally isn't as effective as sending lots of the enemy home in an ambulance.

First off,  all  wounded men require at least some degree of assistance and protection. The 'walking wounded' my help each other, but they still require provision and a safe place to be. They require first aid and medical attention. They also require a period of time out of service, or on light duty, to recover - all that time they still need to be clothed and fed.

The more heavily wounded need to be transported away from the fighting. Aiding the wounded was often perceived as disguised 'shirking' as the 'help' was often able to 'lose' itself, on the way back to the front. At times 'aid'  was against orders.  The wounded sometimes died where they fell,  often days after they were wounded. It was a risk to life to retrieve them, and if that was done - or if they managed to make it back into lines - then some fighters had to be told-off to tend to and protect them. Moving an immobile soldier required at least two of his fellows and often, under 'rough' conditions, a considerably greater number.

Once safe,  a more protracted hospital stay is then followed by recuperative therapy and possibly retraining for less arduous service. Some cases were irretrievably lost to future military service and became a client of a non-military body.

Militaries by and large are casualty-averse for a number of reasons. One of the first is psychological - the wounded sap morale. While the burial of a fallen comrade may be a depressing event, it is transitory once the immediacy passes and, in time,it may be a boost to morale or unit cohesion. The presence of a wounded comrade has an opposite, and on-going, effect that becomes more pronounced with exposure. The sights and sounds of the wounded are more affecting than the presence of the dead - the necessity of attending to them, in addition to other, perhaps more important duties, are after the first curiosity, deleterious to those as yet unhurt.  Evident suffering does most fighters no good. The adage that 'there is nothing sadder than a sick soldier' is more than a truism.

Modern armies seek to evacuate the wounded, as much for the fighting spirit of their pals, as for their own good. In practice this is shown to be the first step in the depersonalization and disconnection that later affects these men.

                                          The Golden Hour

On return to the home front the wounded veteran faces a range of new challenges. The military may provide some aid and assistance, but the essential duty there is to get the wounded man off the roster, and the pay roll, as quickly as possible and hopefully into the tender care of a different organization.

Such organizations have been set up, in times past, by ex-soldiers themselves - to look after the needs of wounded comrades and the widows and children of the fallen. Such 'benevolent societies' still exist. Other ex-service organizations take a primary role in advocating for the veteran and for veterans' benefits, with government bodies and organizations set up by government,  to 'look after' them.

Veterans' affairs are often at the whim of political forces because they are most often funded by the taxpayer.  In times past, the qualification for veterans' benefits has been dependent on the number of veterans in the electorate and on the number of potential qualifiers for such benefits. For instance, veterans of World War Two rarely qualified for service pension benefits unless they could prove they were wounded or injured in the course of their military duties. The onus of this proof was often laid on them. As the large number of such veterans began to dwindle in the late twentieth century, the qualifications - and the actual benefits - were opened and increased for all aging ex-servicemen - dependent on their financial status. The 'wise' veteran often divested himself of any accrued wealth by setting it 'in trust' to  family members, before applying as a 'pauper' for government benefits. A whole 'planning  industry' grew up around this.

These benefits were made available to a larger number of current war veterans than was the case to their grandfathers - again because there were far fewer of them. A service pension comes after a lesser period of service and, for the wounded, can begin after they are militarily discharged. After numerous court cases, veterans' benefits have been extended to those who in times past might not have qualified for them. Girlfriends and illegitimate children qualify for survivor benefits due the families of deceased soldiers.  Divorce is creating a whole new set of problems in looking after the possibly multiple  families of the dead. That did not exist in times past, as only one beneficiary was permitted. No doubt gay rights' will have the same effect.

Indeed the term 'veteran' has been extended from those who actually served in a combat or 'war zone',  to those who served in any capacity, and of late to police and firemen as well. With that blurring goes the possible extension of veterans benefits. This is getting to the point where the actual war wounded are disappearing in a sea of 'PTSD'-affected servicemen, who - in some cases - never left the country to serve overseas, let alone in combat. The costs are encouraging some governments to curtail such spending - 'in fairness' - across the board. This latter eventuates in a number of ex-service personnel, including combat veterans - particularly those with mental, emotional or social problems 'falling through the cracks' to find themselves unwanted, and unhelped, living on the streets.  Many veterans organizations are quick to divorce themselves from such 'sick soldiers'  in order to look to their own economic interests in politically-oriented milieux.

Wounded Warriors Scam

Letterman Scores a Bulls .....eye! Sniper -style.

Dave's retiring, probably none-too-soon, but not soon enough to stop him from laying another dose of the dolt he must truly be under the silk sox and unpressed 'strides'. He's pulled a few boners, literally and metaphorically, and presented an academy performance or two in the on-air apology category, but what he did while 'ennertaining' Ms Siena Miller on a recent evening, takes one of his proverbial pizza prizes.

 Ms Miller was on the show, reveling in her latest success in the 'blockbuster hit 'American Sniper (although I'll bet she doesn't have 'points' in the profits). Dave was at his charming best, leering down at the anorexic beauty while reviewing the 'narrative' surrounding the film.

Q: How was it working with Eastwood? Ans: A 'cool guy' who made fun of her prosthetic baby belly ("Morning fatty!") at the site commissary. She didn't comment on whatever on earth possessed the 'great one' to substitute a plastic dolly, or the cadaver of a real infant, in the big 'Ah luv mah baybee! But it a-lookin like a sand spider'  PTSD scene.


Working with Hollywood's leading leading man, Brad Cooper, was a real experience, considering he packed-on close to 200 extra pounds to 'flesh out' the heroic sniper. She also referred to a notable speech, or facial, defect portrayed in the first half of the movie, that magically disappears by the end of it.  One would think that improved elocution wouldn't be a by-product of post traumatic stress but, hey, maybe? Or maybe it was all just a giant Texas 'chaw'. The 'meat roll' at the back of the star-hero's neck, however, isn't depicted in any photos of the real McCoy and the lumbering gait of the Hollywood star is contrasted with the 'Prince of Persia' gymnastics displayed by a leaner, infinitely meaner, AQ antagonist. Thank goodness wind-sprints and extended sex scenes weren't part of shooter Cooper's film repertoire, he might have 'busted' Ms. Miller (her film tata's were 'prosthetic' too?)

There was, of course, time spent on Siena's role as the wife of a trained killer. Mrs Kyle has credits on the movie, probably due to her insight and advice on her husband, the man - on his struggles with his demons and, by the end of the movie, with his success in 'overcoming'. And about his desire to help his fellows, even the ' nasty little coward who shot Mr. Howard and laid poor Jesse in his grave.' - another 'important American pitcher',  about another important American shootist.  Nobody mentioned she was being sued to cough-up  3.1 million bucks  (probably more now) due to the 'success' of the 'story'  - because a part of it, unmentioned in the movie but part of the 'successful book' on which the movie was based, was found, in a court, to be an out-and-out lie

                                                       Chris Kyle and "Scruff-face"
                                                      - his "bitch-slapped coward"

But the best part of all was when 'the Daverino' started waxing all Hollywood critic-ky about the film.  "Important" is the word he used to describe it, in explanation of an otherwise inexplicable box office bonanza (the highest earning movie of the year - if ever). It was, as Dave intoned to the 'starlet',  'important' because it was "about modern times" and about "something that's going on in the lives of everybody in the world."

Having seen the movie, and thinking perhaps that Dave had skipped some medication, I realized that Dave was a victim of 'wag the dog'.  Somehow he had bought the staged media reports of 'world crises', and 'evil doings', and 'heroes fighting for our freedoms' as a real part of his life, right up there with taking a dump or keeping his hands off the interns. Like having another row with the 'harridan' who had 'trapped him' in a 'loveless', but very expensive, marriage,  Dave lived the experience of  'the warrior', 'deploying daily' to 'keep overwatch' and 'save lives'. That's about the only thing that I got out of the film, that's 'a part of our lives', or the media's saga of such.  It wasn't, surely, leaving ones' family for years spent killing, coming home with 'troubles' to be overcome in a variety of destructive ways, or even playing with the baby. If those were the point, why a war movie?  That stuff apparently happens to the guy at the grocery store too - in a far more common and shared environment.

I'm pretty sure that centering the crosshairs for a body shot on a potential bomber, or dropping a kid by hailing him in the forehead, aren't things any of us do on a regular basis for a living, or, simply, for 'some fun'. The bullet's eye view of Kyles long-shot to  take out  the AQ sniper is straight out of a video game, along with the cinematographic brain splash. If he was still able  to dream, that one would have made a real killer somewhat damp. Some few of us might have found ourselves letting the others exit the theater first,  after 'experiencing' that.

By the way,  'American Sniper' was knocked-off the number one box office  position by the new "Sponge Bob Square Pants' cartoon.  That's ennertainment, and real life.