Monday, March 17, 2014

News on Ukraine From Outside the Neoliberal Media Matrix

In the movie, 'The Matrix', humans only belatedly discovered the lives they were living were virtual hallucination lies and they were actually wrapped in pod-like cocoons from which they had to be forcibly liberated. The actual reality of Earth was a dark, dystopian place replete with smoking ruins and few resources - not the glitzy world on offer in the dream world. Something similar obtains with the fictitious view of the world on offer from the U.S. Neoliberal media - hell bent to distort all our vision on external events, especially what's happening in the Ukraine.

To help liberate readers from their respective Neolib-confected news 'cocoons' I offer the following news items from outside the 'Matrix'!

NATO's Warmongers

Nato’s vast air forces blitzed Yugoslavia into submission. When the Balkan war was over, leaving the region in fragments, Nato congratulated itself and looked for another reason to remain in being. Europe was at peace and there were no indications that there could ever be a conflict. There could have been a new era for Russia. But it wasn’t allowed to see the dawn of reconciliation because Nato desperately wanted to expand its numbers and surround and threaten the new Russia that was so anxious to join the comity of nations.

Nato asked Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic to join in 1999. Then in 2004 came Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. To increase the net-drawing round Russia’s borders, Albania and Croatia were added in 2009. At the Chicago Nato summit in May 2012 it was declared that “At the 2008 Bucharest Summit we agreed that Georgia will become a member of Nato and we reaffirm all elements of that decision, as well as subsequent decisions.”

Why did the US want all these countries to join Nato? Russia was no threat to any of them. But Russia could present an economic threat to the US, especially as it was prospering through its cooperation with the European Union in provision of gas, oil and coal. And, who knows? – there could have been a very much wider economic union: that of Russia with greater Europe. This was to be circumvented at all costs.

So Nato re-invented itself at the bidding of Washington. According to Nato, it “has a new mission: extending peace through the strategic projection of security… This is not a mission of choice, but of necessity. The Allies neither invented nor desired it.” Well, in that case, just who did desire and invent it?

Nato’s members “undertake, as set forth in the Charter of the United Nations, to settle any international dispute in which they may be involved by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security and justice are not endangered.” Right now they are engaging in provocative military confrontation that could hazard world peace. Let’s hope, for all our sakes, that they don’t run aground.

Ukraine + Flight 370: Bad News for Neocons


For whatever reason, Ukraine and Flight 370 have held roughly equal appeal in the American news appetite, with 370 often having the edge. So the deep geopolitical dimensions of the Ukraine story obviously don't matter a whole lot to the news-consuming public. The people want to be infotained.

That's very bad news for the neoconservatives who have worked so hard, and are still working, to make the U.S. - Russia showdown over Ukraine a matter of incomparable import and urgency.

Not that they care so deeply about the Ukrainian people. For neocons, Ukraine is just the latest center stage for a drama that is always unfolding (more or less) everywhere, a drama pitting strong U.S. leadership against a global collapse into chaos and anarchy. Those are the only two alternatives neocons can see. And to them it looks like a matter of life or death.

Apparently the rest of America no longer sees it that way. That's the bad news for the neoconservatives.

To understand what’s at stake here for the neocons and for the rest of us, let's look briefly at the history of their movement.

Crimea's Case for Leaving Ukraine:


If you were living in Crimea, would you prefer to remain part of Ukraine with its coup-installed government – with neo-Nazis running four ministries including the Ministry of Defense – or would you want to become part of Russia, which has had ties to Crimea going back to Catherine the Great in the 1700s?

Granted, it’s not the greatest choice in the world, but it’s the practical one facing you. For all its faults, Russia has a functioning economy while Ukraine really doesn’t. Russia surely has its share of political and financial corruption but some of that has been brought under control.

Not so in Ukraine where a moveable feast of some 10 “oligarchs” mostly runs the show in shifting alliances, buying up media outlets and politicians, while the vast majority of the population faces a bleak future, which now includes more European-demanded “austerity,” i.e. slashed pensions and further reductions in already sparse social services.

Even if the U.S.-backed plan for inserting Ukraine into the European Union prevails, Ukrainians would find themselves looking up the socio-economic ladder at the Greeks and other European nationals already living the nightmare of “austerity.”

Beyond that humiliation and misery, the continuing political dislocations across Ukraine would surely feed the further rise of right-wing extremists who espouse not only the goal of expelling ethnic Russians from Ukraine but Jews and other peoples considered not pure Ukrainian.

What’s Wrong with Secession?

And, despite what you hear from the U.S. government and the mainstream U.S. media, it’s not at all uncommon for people to separate themselves from prior allegiances.

It’s especially common amid political upheavals, like Ukraine’s neo-Nazi-spearheaded coup that ousted elected President Viktor Yanukovych – after he signed an agreement on Feb. 21 to relinquish much of his power, hold early elections and order police to withdraw.

Though this agreement was co-signed by European nations, they stood aside when neo-Nazi militias exploited the police withdrawal and overran government buildings, forcing Yanukovych and many government officials to flee for their lives.

Mainstream Media is Lost in Ukraine:


As the Ukraine crisis continues to deepen, the mainstream U.S. news media is sinking to new lows of propaganda and incompetence. Somehow, a violent neo-Nazi-spearheaded putsch overthrowing a democratically elected president was refashioned into a “legitimate” regime, then the “interim” government and now simply “Ukraine.”

The Washington Post’s screaming headline on Sunday is “Ukraine decries Russian ‘invasion,’” treating the coup regime in Kiev as if it speaks for the entire country when it clearly speaks for only a subset of the population, mostly from western Ukraine. The regime’s “legitimacy” comes not from a democratic election but from a coup that was quickly embraced by the U.S. government and the European Union.

Objective U.S. journalists would insist on a truthful narrative that conveys these nuances to the American people, not simply behave as clumsy propagandists determined to glue “white hats” on the side favored by the State Department and “black hats” on everyone that the U.S. government disdains. But virtually the entire mainstream press corps has opted for the propaganda role, much as it has in the past. Think Iraq 2002-03.

You also might remember the mainstream media’s rush to judgment over the Sarin attack in Syria on Aug. 21, 2013. The State Department rashly blamed the incident on the Syrian government despite serious doubts inside the U.S. intelligence community.

[See’s “NYT Backs Off Its Syria-Sarin Analysis.”]

Because the retraction was “buried,” however, much of Official Washington still thinks the earlier story, supposedly proving the Syrian government’s guilt, is operational. That’s why you see politicians, like Sen. John McCain, accusing President Barack Obama of cowardice for failing to bomb Syria after it crossed his “red line” against using chemical weapons.

You’ve had a similar rush to judgment in connection with the violence that broke out in Kiev last month. The U.S. government and news media blamed lethal sniper fire on the government of President Viktor Yanukovych and – after he was driven from office by a neo-Nazi-led putsch on Feb. 22 – the U.S. media made much of how the new rump regime in Kiev had accused Yanukovych of mass murder.

However, according to an intercepted phone conversation between Estonia’s Foreign Minister Urmas Paet and European Union foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, Paet reported on a conversation that he had with a doctor in Kiev who said the sniper fire that killed protesters was the same that killed police officers.

As reported by the UK Guardian, “During the conversation, Paet quoted a woman named Olga – who the Russian media identified her as Olga Bogomolets, a doctor – blaming snipers from the opposition shooting the protesters.”

Paet said, “What was quite disturbing, this same Olga told that, well, all the evidence shows that people who were killed by snipers from both sides, among policemen and people from the streets, that they were the same snipers killing people from both sides.

“So she also showed me some photos, she said that as medical doctor, she can say it is the same handwriting, the same type of bullets, and it’s really disturbing that now the new coalition, that they don’t want to investigate what exactly happened. … So there is a stronger and stronger understanding that behind snipers it was not Yanukovych, it was somebody from the new coalition.”

The next step is to white-out the brown shirts of the neo-Nazi storm troopers who led the final violent overthrow of Yanukovych. Then, you clean up the unsavory coup regime by having its U.S.-chosen leader, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, receive a formal welcome at the White House. Next, you pretend that the concerns of the ethnic Russians in Ukraine’s east and south are simply the result of Moscow’s propaganda and intimidation.

That’s what we’re seeing now. The New York Times even dispatched correspondent C.J. Chivers, the same guy who falsely fingered the Syrian government with that “vector analysis” last September, to co-author a dispatch entitled “Pressure and Intimidation Grip Crimea,” with the subtitle, “Russia Moves Swiftly to Stifle Dissent Ahead of Secession Vote.”

You get the picture? While the New York Times accepted the rump parliament’s actions in Kiev last month as “legitimate” – voting in lock step under the watchful of eye of neo-Nazi militias to depose Yanukovych and strip away rights of ethnic Russians – a different standard will apply to Crimea’s referendum on bailing out of the failed Ukrainian state.

That vote, if it favors secession, must be seen as rigged and resulting only from Russian coercion, all the better to continue the false narrative that now dominates the U.S. political/media process.

Can Obama Speak Strongly for Peace?


With the neocons again ascendant – and with the U.S. news media again failing to describe a foreign crisis honestly – Barack Obama faces perhaps the greatest challenge of his presidency, a moment when he needs to find the courage to correct a false narrative that his own administration has spun regarding Ukraine – and to explain why it’s crucial to cooperate with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the cause of world peace.

In other words, if Obama is to salvage his historical legacy, he must find within himself the strength and eloquence that President John F. Kennedy displayed in possibly his greatest oration, his June 10, 1963 address at American University in Washington, D.C. In that speech, Kennedy outlined the need to collaborate with Soviet leaders to avert dangerous confrontations, like the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

Kennedy also declared that it was wrong for America to seek world domination, and he asserted that U.S. foreign policy must be guided by a respect for the understandable interests of adversaries as well as allies. Kennedy said:

“What kind of peace do I mean and what kind of a peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, and the kind that enables men and nations to grow, and to hope, and build a better life for their children — not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women, not merely peace in our time but peace in all time.”

Kennedy recognized that his appeal for this serious pursuit of peace would be dismissed by the cynics and the warmongers as unrealistic and even dangerous. The Cold War was near its peak when Kennedy spoke. But he was determined to change the frame of the foreign policy debate, away from the endless bravado of militarism:

“I speak of peace, therefore, as the necessary, rational end of rational men. I realize the pursuit of peace is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war, and frequently the words of the pursuers fall on deaf ears. But we have no more urgent task. …

“Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many think it is unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable, that mankind is doomed, that we are gripped by forces we cannot control. We need not accept that view. Our problems are manmade; therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.”

And then, in arguably the most important words that he ever spoke, Kennedy said, “For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s futures. And we are all mortal.”

Kennedy followed up his AU speech with practical efforts to work with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to rein in dangers from nuclear weapons and to discuss other ways of reducing international tensions, initiatives that Khrushchev welcomed although many of the hopeful prospects were cut short by Kennedy’s assassination on Nov. 22, 1963


Obama has yet to leave behind any memorable quote, despite his undeniable eloquence. There are his slogans, like “hope and change” and some thoughtful speeches about race and income inequality, but nothing of the substance and the magnitude of Eisenhower’s “military-industrial complex” and Kennedy’s “we all inhabit this small planet.”

But now may be the time for Obama to deliver a speech that grapples with the central foreign policy question facing the United States, essentially whether America will continue seeking to be an Empire or return to being a Republic. Obama also needs to confront the crisis in the political/media worlds where propaganda holds sway and the public is misled.

If Obama doesn’t meet this challenge head on – and explain to the American people why he has sought (mostly behind the scenes) to work with Russian President Putin to reduce tensions over Syria and Iran – he can expect that the final years of his presidency will be overwhelmed by neocon demands that he start up a new Cold War.

If President Obama doesn’t actually believe that the United States should undertake the willful destabilization of nuclear-armed Russia, he might want to tell the American people before these matters get out of hand. He also should describe more honestly the events now overtaking Ukraine.
But it has been Obama’s custom to allow his administration’s foreign policy to be set by powerful “rivals” who often have profoundly different notions about what needs to be done in the world. Obama then tries to finesse their arguments, more like the moderator of an academic debate than President.

The best documented case of this pattern was how Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and General David Petraeus maneuvered Obama into what turned out to be a pointless “surge” in Afghanistan in 2009. [See’s “Robert Gates Double-Crosses Obama.”]

Kerry’s Double-Dealing

But Obama has been undercut, too, by his current Secretary of State John Kerry, who has behaved more like President John McCain’s top diplomat than President Obama’s. To the surprise of many Democratic friends, Kerry has chosen to take highly belligerent – and factually dubious – positions on Iran, Syria and now Ukraine.
As Obama quietly tried to build on his collaboration with Putin, Kerry’s State Department undercut the relationship once more when neocon holdover Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland stoked the crisis in Ukraine on Russia’s border.

Last December, Nuland, the wife of prominent neocon Robert Kagan, told a group of Ukrainian business leaders that the United States had invested $5 billion to promote the country’s “European aspirations.” She also personally encouraged anti-government protesters in Kiev by passing out cookies and discussed in an intercepted phone call who should serve in the new regime once President Yanukovych was gone.

Last month, when snipers opened fire and the violence killed both protesters and police, Kerry’s State Department was quick to point the finger of blame at the democratically elected President Yanukovych, although more recent evidence, including an intercepted call involving the Estonian foreign minister, suggests that elements of the opposition shot both protesters and police as a provocation.

Nevertheless, the State Department’s rush to judgment blaming Yanukovych and the gullible acceptance of this narrative by the mainstream U.S. news media created a storyline of “white-hat” protesters vs. a “black-hat” government, ignoring the many “brown shirts” of neo-Nazi militias who had moved to the front of the Kiev uprising.

How the West Enabled the Rise of Russian Nationalism (The Nation)


With the ascent of Arseny Yatsenyuk’s pro-Western coalition in Kiev, Moscow has had reason to believe that Kiev would resume its drive to join NATO and denounce the Black Sea agreement that allows Russia to keep its fleet in Crimea until 2042. By intervening in Crimea, Putin acknowledged that his leverage against Kiev—largely based on natural gas supplies and personal ties with Ukrainian pragmatists—was insufficient to ensure Ukraine’s neutral status and preserve Russian fleet in the Black Sea.

In addition to security hawks, the Ukrainian revolution empowered Russian ethno-imperialists who have been insulted by the new Ukraine’s version of history that devalues the Soviet contribution to Nazi defeat and glorifies Stepan Bandera. Bandera fought alongside the Nazi against the Soviets and actively participated in Holocaust. Former Ukrainian leader Yushchenko awarded Bandera the medal of Hero of Ukraine that Yanukovych subsequently cancelled. That the Western nations never condemned such a nationalist version of history and embraced those who advanced it exacerbated Russians’ sense of betrayal by Kiev

Steps that followed confirmed Russian fears. Kiev canceled the law on Russian language (it has now repealed that action), restricted Russian media coverage, pushed many eastern and southern representatives out of the Rada, proposed “lustrations” against members of the “old regime,” and formed a new government with a heavy representation of nationalist figures. Indeed, prominent positions in the new cabinet are now held by members of ultranationalist organizations who trace their political roots to Bandera. Among them are minister of defense, head of national security, prosecutor general and minister of education—presumably to educate Ukrainians in the spirit of Russophobic history. Back in the government is also the proponent of NATO under Yushchenko, Boris Tarasyuk. The new Rada is now considering a law on gaining membership in the alliance. In response to many Crimeans obtaining Russian passports, there is also a proposal to punish the second (Russian) citizenship with ten years jail time.

During the Ukrainian revolution, Putin could not ignore those who turned to Russia for protection. In the war in Georgia he defended not only Russia’s security perimeters, but also Russian citizens and small nationalities in the Caucasus. Putin further embraced some ethno-nationalist ideas in response to nationalist and middle class protests in 2011–12. For instance, in one of his pre-election articles he described ethnic Russians as “the core [sterzhen’] that binds the fabric” of Russia as a culture and a state. Inaction to the Ukranian revolution would have come with the high cost of declining support for Putin”s claims to leadership in Eurasia.

Although the exact extent of nationalist influences on Putin remains unknown, it is clear that the Crimea intervention has made his internal position stronger. Until security guarantees are provided to Russia, and the issue of Ukraine’s non-NATO status and protection of ethnic Russians is seriously addressed, it is increasingly likely that Crimea will remain the Kremlin’s leverage and will not be returned to Ukraine.

NY Times Manufactures More Half Truths On Ukraine:


I have explored previously in this space the journalistic phenomenon I term “the power of leaving out.” We have a classic case before us.

I cannot find anywhere an account that rests on the self-evident proposition that as action begets reaction, reaction by definition requires antecedent action. Putin’s speech at the Kremlin Palace Tuesday revealed his boiling reaction to events in Ukraine since Yanukovych was deposed. He stood before all as a man provoked, and in case anyone missed this he did the favor of saying so in spades.

“If you press a spring too hard it will recoil,” Putin said. Entirely apt, pretty good one-sentence summary, including an acknowledgment that he has sprung swiftly at Ukraine, and in angry reaction.

Nothing, no hint of responsibility explained in the news reports and analysis, no causality. There are the merest flicks at the role of unnamed “foreigners,” but only such as to make Putin appear paranoid. Here is my favorite, from the Times coverage of the Putin speech:

“He said that the United States and Europe had crossed ‘a red line’ on Ukraine by throwing support to the new government that quickly emerged after Mr. Yanukovych fled the capital.”

Can you spot the phony chronology? Putin’s gripe predated Yanukovych’s flight by a long way, arising out of the covert meddling of Americans among the friendliest pols in Kiev (and, if history is any guide, probably among the demonstrators in Independence Square, too).

The Ukraine crisis was the final touch, the political piece, in a two-decade campaign to entice westward the country’s vigorously anti-Russian elements. More broadly, we have the advance of NATO up to Russia’s borders, a strategy so provocative and ahistorical that even Tom Friedman thinks it was dumb (or he did for at least one afternoon at the computer not long ago).

This kind of willful omission can do lasting damage to public understanding. It is an eternal point of contention among scholars, but many are the historians who recognize that the Soviet Union, as it long insisted, was indeed surrounded during the Cold War, and its posture was in important measure defensive. Few Americans even now grasp this as at least an arguable dimension of the period’s history.

This week we witness the manufacture of the same ignorance again. This is the open and shut of it.

I blame the media only in part. Their sin lies in not calling the political leadership on its failure to accept responsibility in Ukraine crisis — and its consequent determination to repeat the same mistakes.

The Pentagon has sent new F-16s to Poland and new F-15s to the Baltics. It is now flying surveillance jets over the Polish and Romanian borders with Ukraine. It is planning new naval exercises in the Black Sea, the rough equivalent of Russian naval exercises in the Caribbean.
Nothing provocative here. No, the lesson drawn is that the East–West chasm now opening requires more of this, not less. Ian Bond, who directs foreign policy studies at the Center for European Affairs, a London think tank, thinks American military exercises scheduled to take place in Ukraine this July (unconscionable in itself) should be moved up in response to the crisis.

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