Posted on 21-03-2014
Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Rashtrakut

This should not be funny, but for some reason it is.  [Hat tip to Chicagoist via Gizmodo.]  The group dynamics of the penguins trying to navigate their way across the rope are fascinating.  Video below:

 

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Posted on 19-03-2014
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

The last week has been a fascinating exercise to watch the Republican Party demonstrate its compassion for the poor and discriminated.  It started with alleged policy wonk Paul Ryan misquoting a story to advance his opposition to free school lunches because the kid at the other end would rather have a home made lunch in a brown paper bag.  This in typical Paul Ryan style ignored the possibility that the brown paper lunch bag from home could be empty.

Ryan then followed it up by following the vintage GOP racial dog whistle on urban poverty, ignoring rural poverty.  As Jamelle Blue notes that after decades of pandering to racial resentment the GOP should not be surprised at such a backlash.  However to give Ryan credit he did backtrack on his comments in a fashion few in his party would do. 

Then over last week the GOP has trotted out female representatives to explain why we don’t need statutes to mandate equal pay for women.  Now the extent of the gender pay gap can be debated, but there have been many cases like WalMart where women were paid less for the same work.

However according to Cari Christman, executive director of the Red State Women PAC, a Texas based group that is backing Greg Abbott, the current state Attorney General and Republican candidate for governor women are “too busy” for equal pay laws.  Watch below:

 

Beth Cubriel, the executive director of the Texas Republican Party, followed that up by recommending that “instead of pursuing the courts for action, [women should] become better negotiators.”

According to Minnesota state Rep. Andrea Kieffer (R) legislation to address equal pay and sick leave does not actually help women in the workplace, but makes them look like “whiners.”   Listen below:

 

In an ideal fantasy world like the one State Sen. Phil Jensen (R-S.D.) inhabits, we would not need discrimination statutes.  The ugly reality is that we are correcting centuries of gender and race discrimination and these attitudes still persist.  Laws that mandate equal treatment based on gender or race are not “special rights.”. But the GOP seems to think it is still 1964.  So much for the vaunted Republican outreach to women and minorities.

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Posted on 18-03-2014
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

For the last few weeks Vladimir Putin has been mocking the intelligence of the world by denying the Russian invasion of the Crimea.  Even if the laughable interpretation that the soldiers taking over the peninsula were “local self-defense units,” the Russians had no explanation for the Russian tanks patrolling the streets.  Then this weekend came the mockery of a referendum on the fate of Crimea.  The status quo was not an option on the ballot.  Resentful Crimean Tatars boycotted the referendum.  Support for unifying with Russia which measured in the 40s somehow manifested in a Soviet style 97% majority (aided by voting miracles like the votes cast in Sevastopol exceeding the voting population).  Fresh off this mockery, Putin then proclaimed that Crimea had “always” been a part of Russia (even though it did not become a part of any Russian state till the late 18th century and the current Russian majority is the product of Stalin’s ethnic cleansing).  The mask is off and Putin has now openly annexed the Crimea.

What happens next is where the danger lies.  Russia is now pushing for the Finlandization of Ukraine – demanding it remain non-aligned and drastically federalize its constitution to meet Russian diktats.  In the last few weeks Putin has asserted the right to intervene on behalf of ethnic Russians beyond his borders – a statement that probably sends a chill down the spines of his neighbors.

Yet in the long run Putin’s embrace of the Chinese model of making friends and influencing people belies a deep weakness – the KGB thug has been unable to steer his most valuable neighbor into his embrace with carrots and now tries the stick.  This model has not worked well for China, which counts on rogue states like Pakistan and North Korea as its ally.  Burma’s junta scared by a future as a Chinese colony choose to release Aung San Suu Kyi and cautiously democratized.  ASEAN countries and Japan scared by Chinese saber rattling have run back to Uncle Sam’s embrace.

This is the future for Russia.  Even if Putin detaches parts of Eastern Ukraine, he now has an extremely resentful neighbor on his western front.  And the reward for this is Crimea – a province that relies on Ukraine for its water and electricity and is currently unreachable from Russian territory by road.  He has ensured Russian expulsion from the G8 (not that Russia belonged there to begin with) and has sent alarm bells ringing in Russia’s former Warsaw Pact prisoners and the Baltic States.  All this because for the second time in a decade Ukraine would not be ruled by Russia’s anointed leader.

Russia has the ability to cause mischief (notably in Iran and Syria) but barring miscalculations that lead to war in Ukraine, not much more.

The reaction in the United States has been typical.  The Republicans agree with President Obama’s plans in substance (other than the silly desire to put missiles in the Czech Republic) but want more effective posturing.  Mitt Romney not realizing his 15 minutes are up showed up to predictably bash the President but had no real substance to add in terms of solutions.  The Obama administration’s hands are tied by the reality that its sanctions can have limited effect on Russia.  The substance has to come from Europe, where the United Kingdom has been cheerfully accepting the wealth of Russian oligarchs and Germany is worried about the economic fallout.  The next week will be critical to see if the Russians spend their time digesting the Crimea of proceed with the dismemberment of Ukraine.

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Posted on 10-03-2014
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

This blog discussed the desperate attempts to gin up support for Obamacare last week.  The oligarchs Koch have been running a series of mendacious sob stories about sympathetic victims losing health coverage.  Cancer patient Julie Boonstra starred in one of the first commercials.  As soon as the advertisement aired people smelled a rat and asked the Koch front group for supporting material for their assertions.

The group ran ads with Boonstra claiming that identifying factual inaccuracies was an attempt to “silence here.”  However, when confronted with information from her insurer that she would actually save money, Boonstra retorted she did not believe it was true.  Such is the legacy of Republican misinformation of the act.  It must also be noted that Boonstra is the ex-wife of former country Republican party chairman.  But of course that is just a “coincidence.” The mendacity will continue

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Posted on 09-03-2014
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Asif Mandvi dismantles another tedious right wing talking point about Obamacare – that it will destroy “the best healthcare system in the world.”  Of course the WHO has ranked our system 37th- but why should facts interfere with a talking point.  The reality also is that many people cannot afford our health care.  The speechless look on Fox Business commentator Todd Wilemon who cheerfully opined that the solution for poverty was that the poor should “just stop being poor” is priceless.  Video below:

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Posted on 09-03-2014
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

The Russian invasion of the Crimea is grist of the Obama derangement syndrome mill.  It is truly impressive how the right can fit their view of President Obama for any point of view.  He is the tyrant, the dictator, the man taking away all of your freedoms.  But now he is weak, feckless and wears mommy jeans.  Coupled with their contempt for the President is the odd fascination with former KGB agent Vladimir Putin (whose stock rose in certain circles after Russia passed statutes restricting the rights of homosexuals.

Putin of course is not the strongman of their wet dreams.  He heads a corrupt oligarchy funded by Russian oil and natural gas.  Russia is a decaying country facing demographic disaster and Putin’s long tenure has not even begun to stem the rot.  Even the invasion of Ukraine occurred from a position of weakness.  Putin’s patsy in Kiev was abruptly toppled and the demonstrators in the Western part of the country indicated that their future is in Europe not in Putin’s corrupt oligarchic embrace.

Jon Stewart has a nice rundown of the derangement infecting the right.  Video below:

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Posted on 05-03-2014
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

The Republican party was often tagged as the party of the rich.  The last few years they have barely concealed their contempt for the poor.  The poor in this world view are the “takers”… leeches who live off the bounty graciously provided by the 1%.  Poverty is always due to some inherent character failing… rather than due to unfortunate circumstances.

Such a world view sees no need for a social safety net and any such net must be eviscerated to give tax breaks to the worthy.  It does not matter if you once benefited from the safety net… A dynamic that surfaced last week in Arkansas where a Republican state legislator alive today because of Medicaid was opposed to expanding Medicaid under Obamacare to cover the mooches (he of course was not one).

Alleged policy wonk Paul Ryan resurfaced this week with a policy paper claiming the war on poverty was a failure… though in typical fraudulent fashion the studies he cited did not support his assertions. 

Jon Stewart lit into some of the babblers on Faux News and their ilk for the nonsense they spouted on food stamps.  Video below:

Yes there is some fraud in any entitlement or social service program and it must be stopped.  But the contempt these people have for the poor and disadvantaged is truly despicable.

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Posted on 04-03-2014
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

Republicans appear to have convinced themselves that Obamacare is a disaster.  Horror stories are repeatedly trotted out only to wither in the gaze of scrutiny.  In most of these cases the alleged victim ends up getting better coverage for less money or was not aware of better coverage options (often due to deliberate  misinformation spread by the Republican party).  If Obamacare was such a disaster surely there would be more victims available. 

This brings back memories of the desperate Republican attempts a decade ago to identify the hallowed family farm that would be lost due to estate taxes.  They failed to find one… Probably because American agriculture is dominated by corporate farms and the yeoman farmer is increasingly a relic of history.

The video below shows Stephen Colbert mocking the desperate Republican attempts (now funded by the oligarchs Koch) to identify Obamacare horror stories.

Colbert followed that up with a hilarious satire with Patrick Stewart playing an Obamacare hating Louisiana workman on a fake anti-Obamacare ad. Video below:

Paul Krugman postulated recently that part of the problem is that the few losers are likely to be people in the 1% paying more taxes or healthy young men forced off minimalist policies.  These obviously are not likely to draw much sympathy.

This brings up another point.  Almost 4 years since Obamacare became law the Republicans have yet to unveil their oft promised viable replacement.  Part of the problem always has been the fact that Obamacare was a Republican idea that somehow got tainted because President Obama embraced it.  The other problem is that almost every Republican alternative diminishes consumer protections and would be far more disruptive to the healthcare industry.

As a result it is just easier to peddle faux Obamacare horror stories.  The mendacity (like attacking Democrats for Medicare “cuts”that were part of the Paul Ryan budget) will continue.

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Posted on 03-03-2014
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

The Russian ambassador to the United Nations read a purported letter today from the impeached  ex-President of the Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych where the corrupt oligarch calls for the use of Russian troops  “to establish legitimacy, peace, law and order, stability and defending the people of Ukraine.” If genuine it constitutes a major departure from Yanukovych’s press conference last week where he stated the use of military force was unacceptable.

It also indicates Putin is relying on his quisling to find a justification for the invasion of Crimea.  Yanukovych’s letter also claims there have been acts of terror requiring foreign intervention.  Even though parts of the Maidan movement are xenophobic and fascistic, the Crimea is ruled by an autonomous republic dominated by ethnic Russians.  No actual cases of these atrocities in the Crimea have yet come to light.

Putin’s government at present is reduced to talking out of both sides of its mouth, claiming that their quisling is the legitimate president of Ukraine bit acknowledging that restoring his kleptocratic regime to power is not possible.

The concern now is preventing the escalation to a shooting war.  Russia denies that it gave ships of the Ukrainian navy an ultimatum to surrender.  We will find out tomorrow.

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Posted on 03-03-2014
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

This blog obviously is not a fan of Tsar Vlad and his invasion of the Crimea.  However it does feel that the cheerleaders and supporters of the Bush administrations Iraq war in the media and in office (a list that includes Secretary of State John Kerry, Senator Grumpy and Senator Lumpy) should desist from pontificating that such invasions are unacceptable.  Russia has long held that American policy has been hypocritical and here we continue to bear the brunt of the Bush administration’s frittering away American credibility abroad.

On a related note Peter Beinart has a column worth reading about the Russian sense of an ever expanding America after the United States reneged on its agreements not to expand NATO east after the fall of the Berlin Wall.  Libya exposed the European components of NATO as paper tigers.  However, some level of Putin’s paranoia does stem from an alliance that was conceived as a bulwark against Russia expanding to Russia’s borders.  The United States has been hostile to similar expansions in its backyard (Cuba, Grenada, Nicaragua etc.).  Russia has also previously justified its recognition of the separatist Georgian republics based on the Western recognition of Kosovo.

America’s questionable behavior is still no justification for Russia’s invasion of the Crimea under the spurious guise of protecting its compatriots.  However, the pontificators in the United States would be wise to exercise self awareness and avoid easy charges of hypocrisy.

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Posted on 03-03-2014
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

It has become an article of faith among American conservatives that Vladimir Putin is a Machiavellian maestro running circles around the United States.  The reality is the Russian despot rules over a petrostate with nukes that is gradually morphing into the stereotypical “Oriental” despotism.  Putin earned plaudits at home by improving on the inebriated Boris Yeltsin and “pacifying” Chechnya in a manner that brings to mind the famous quote attributed by Tacitus to the Caledonian chieftain Calgacus regarding Pax Romana:

Auferre, trucidare, rapere, falsis nominibus imperium; atque, ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.

To ravage, to slaughter, to usurp under false titles, they call empire; and where they make a desert, they call it peace.

The Russian Federation may not be in a state of anarchy of the Yeltsin years but it is a profoundly diseased state.  Putin has grasped on the sinews of power but has fundamentally failed to regenerate the institutions of the state that create great leaders.  Wealth is concentrated with the oligarchs so long as they remain loyal to the Kremlin.  Public dissent is not tolerated and public protests require permits.  Journalists have been killed and opposition leaders have been locked up on spurious charges.  The last round of elections in Russia and the blatant rigging of the results underscored a deep dissatisfaction with the path Putin’s Russia has taken.  Yet with no rivals visible and with any threats snuffed out, Tsar Vlad continues to rule.  Oil, nukes and size ensure that for now Russia will not be a basket case like the next door (Russian subsidized) despotism in Belarus.

Yet Tsar Vlad is deeply paranoid.  The color revolutions over the past decade (Green in Iran, Rose in Georgia and Orange in Ukraine in 2004), even if they were not all successful, have evidently create a determination that Putin’s creaky aristocracy will not be next.  The fall of his patsy Viktor Yanukovych, even though he distrusted him, was an unwelcome slap in the face that eliminated the buzz from the Sochi Olympics.

The trigger for the protests that brought down Yanukovych was his backtracking on an agreement with the European Union in favor of a Russian led customs union.  Over the course of the crisis Putin dangled the bait for the 15 billion dollar loan Ukraine desperately needed and at times withheld funds when Yanukovych showed signs of wobbling to the protesters in the Maidan.  All of this was to no avail.  His fellow kelptocrat fled Kiev and the despised opposition took over in Kiev.

Ukraine is a divided country with a large Russian speaking population.  It desperately needs Russian natural gas and financial help.  Putin could have disavowed Yanukovych as a corrupt incompetent and made the desperate Ukrainian regime the type of offer that wins friends.  That would have been the act of a statesman.

But Tsar Putin has never been confused with a statesman.  The man who felt the fall of the Soviet Union was a tragedy has over the years been obsessed with restoring Russian prestige in the near abroad.  So the wounded Tsar chose to flex his muscles by invading the Crimea under the shield of a laughable subterfuge.

In the finest Russian tradition of acting to protect its compatriots – who never were really in any danger – Russia sent soldiers in camouflage into the Crimea in violation of a 1994 agreement to respect Ukraine’s borders.  The Crimea has always been a sore sport for Russia since Nikita Khrushchev arbitrarily gifted to Ukraine in the 1950s.  With a majority Russian population it has long seethed at ties to Kiev.  Yet for the last 20 years it has internationally been recognized as a part of Ukraine and has had its own autonomous sub-republic.   More worryingly Tsar Vlad declared a right to interfere on behalf of Russian minorities anywhere which sent chills down the spines of Russia’s neighbors.

The intervention leaves the United States with few options.  Military intervention is unthinkable and Ukraine is not a NATO member.  The United States needs Russian cooperation in Syria and Iran.  Yet the usual suspects have gone to the TV shows bleating about this being due to American “weakness.”  Senator Grumpy already proclaimed that “we [were] all Ukrainians,” a reminder of his similar dumb comment during the 2008 Russian war with Georgia.  Senator Lumpy excoriated President Obama’s weaknesses for encouraging the Russians.  Senator Rubio desperate to regain his conservative bonafides in time for the 2016 Presidential primaries proclaimed that “Russia has a government of liars.”

None of this is immediately helpful for solutions on what the United States should do with Tsar Vlad’s petulant invasion.  Senator Grumpy in his continuing efforts to get us into another war wants the United States to bring Georgia into NATO. The immediate aftermath will be a cancellation of the impending G-8 meeting in Sochi.  Russia which never really belonged in the group will likely be suspended from the organization.  The primary weapon will likely be some type of targeted economic retaliation – even though sanctions have had limited effects on countries in the past.  Hopefully the solution includes a generous economic assistance package to the wobbly Ukrainian government (hopefully without the German depression inducing austerity prescriptions).

But for now we watch and wait…and hope that Putin’s miscalculations and bluster do not trigger a civil war in Ukraine.

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