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Friday, April 25, 2014

Note #1 from the Land of Lost Literacy : Example of a word that has been flogged to death by MSM

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Sick of 'iconic' ?  I am. And if Einstein were still around, I think he'd be, too.
 Might even suggest some alternatives (see insert above).

Friday, April 18, 2014

Germany's Distorted View of Russia, Seen Through German Eyes

...specifically, those of Christian Neef, who says it's time Germans stopped romanticizing Russia, in a recent--and perceptive--DER SPIEGEL article, excerpted below.

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There's little in the current debate in Germany over Russia's Ukraine policies to suggest much in the way of expertise. People claim the new government in Kiev is fascist and has fallen into the hands of right-wing extremists and anti-Semitic forces. The far-left Left Party's claims are sheer nonsense. When were the party's intellectual leaders -- Gregor Gysi and Sahra Wagenknecht -- last in Kiev? If we're going to discuss developments in Ukraine, then we should also talk about right-wing extremists in Russia and the anti-Semitism that is tolerated there.

It's also nonsense to claim that Crimea is "ancestral Russian territory". As of 1441, Crimea belonged to the realm of the Tatary, a state that at one point stretched from today's Romania across the Caspian Sea to an area a short distance from Moscow. It wasn't until the 1700s that Potemkin used cunning and force to conquer the Tatars for Catherine the Great.

The Germans' romantic image of the Russians is to be blamed for Berlin's misguided policies toward the country and for the fact that the Kremlin is no longer inclined to take us seriously. The oft cited line is that we should be more inclusive of Russia rather than keep it at arm's length. That's what happened in 1996 when, in the midst of a war in Chechnya that had been launched by Moscow, Russia applied for membership in the Council of Europe, the continent's human rights watchdog. The appeasers prevailed with the argument that it was a way of preventing Moscow from entering into further acts of military force. The second Chechen war began three years later.

Force has remained a tried and true element of Russian policy since 1991. The kind of political compromise that is standard in the West is seen as a sign of weakness. And that thinking isn't just isolated to the Kremlin -- it's the mentality shared by most of Russian society. That's why you don't even find dissent against Crimea's annexation among Putin's opponents. This is fueled by a major Russian superiority complex. First the Russians spoke disparagingly of people in the Caucasus, calling them "our blacks." Despite the fact that they are in great demand in the labor market, the Tajiks and Uzbeks have never been much liked either. The Jews are the constant subject of discussion in Russia. Now the Russians are going on about the Ukrainians -- about their "Khokhol," a play on the hairstyles of Dnieper Cossacks during the medieval period, but also used today as a pejorative term in Russia for ethnic Ukrainians. The idea being that the Ukrainians are somehow a backward people.

And that takes us back to Wolfgang Schäuble. Many found the comparison he made last week of the occupation of Crimea with the Nazi occupation of the ethnic German Sudetenland in the former Czechoslovakia offensive. Of course it is absurd to compare Putin with Hitler. But astoundingly similar arguments were made in both the speech given by Hitler on Sept. 26, 1938 in Berlin and in Putin's appearance at the Kremlin on March 18 -- at least in the vocabulary about providing protection to compatriots located outside the country. Why should we keep quiet about that? And why should we keep quiet about the fact that the coverage on Russian television leading up to the annexation of Crimea, with all its lies and agitation, was reminiscent of Joseph Goebbels?

Germany is currently scratching its head over the best way to deal with Russia in the future. If we don't finally take a sober look at Russia, one that is erased of all romanticizing and historical baggage that distorts our view of Putin's world, then we will never succeed in finding a reasonable strategy.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

How do other countries in Eastern Europe regard Russian actions in the Ukraine ?

Glad you asked.

The Prime Ministers of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary--member nations of the Visegrad Group or 'V4' --issued the following statement on March 4, 2014, nearly two weeks before the sham Crimean referendum and more than a month before the recent neo-Soviet acts of aggression against Ukraine.
The Prime Ministers of the Visegrad countries are deeply concerned about the recent violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and the fact that the Russian parliament has authorized military action on Ukrainian soil against the wishes of the Ukrainian Government. This represents a serious escalation. We condemn all action threatening the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and call on to decrease the tensions immediately through dialogue, in full respect of Ukrainian and international law and in line with the provisions of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum. 
The Visegrad countries believe that the recent military actions by Russia are not only in violation of international law, but also create a dangerous new reality in Europe. The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia are appalled to witness a military intervention in 21st century Europe akin to their own experiences in 1956, 1968 and 1981.
The Prime Ministers of the Visegrad countries call on Russia to respect its international commitments and legal obligations, including the Budapest Memorandum. We have always recognized historical ties between Russia and Ukraine. Their specific character implies due respect to the legitimate rights of Russian minority population. Nevertheless, any related concerns must be addressed peacefully, through engagement with the government of Ukraine and under the auspices of relevant international organizations, especially that of the OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe].
The Visegrad countries are in solidarity with the people and the Government of Ukraine and reiterate their strong commitment to the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country. It is more important than ever to ensure that the Government takes measures which unify the country, and that it protects the rights of all Ukraine’s citizens, including those of cultural, national and linguistic minority groups, in the spirit of inclusiveness.
The European Union and NATO should demonstrate solidarity with and assist Ukraine in this difficult moment and stand united in the face of this dangerous development threatening European peace and security.
For more on the Visegrad Group, see my post of last May.

Notes on the Coming Conflict

 
It should be clear by now that Mr. Putin has taken the measure of his adversaries, and found them lacking in foresight, intelligence, imagination and courage when it comes to handling international affairs in general, and himself in particular.

One reason :  his adversaries do not accept, or are unwilling to confront the fact, that they are regarded by Putin as such, or that their interests are clearly counter to his own and to those of his imperialist, neo-Soviet state, and that their nations' long-term interests require firmness now to forestall tragedy later.

Time and again Putin has tested the West.  In Abkazia and South Ossetia.  In Syria. And now in the Ukraine. The results have been horrendous, from any but a neo-Soviet point-of-view.

What are the odds Putin makes moves on Moldava before year's end, say, in October or November, when the U.S. is in the midst of its Congressional elections ?

Meantime, where does the Western alliance stand ? 

When, or should I say if, an objective history of the coming conflict is written, it should make reference to the seemingly unrelated 2011 Tohoku, Japan earthquake and tsunami, which caused level 7 meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant complex.

Why ? Because the ensuing environmental disaster prompted the German government to embark on a phase-out of nuclear power. Which obliges Germany to find an alternate source to supply the 12GW currently provided by the plants to be closed.  Which makes Germany all the more dependent on currently available forms of energy like oil and natural gas and even coal from Russia.

How dependent is Germany currently (April, 2014) ?  According to Deutsche Welle
The most important energy supplier is Russia: It provides 38 percent of Germany's natural gas imports, 35 percent of all oil imports and 25 percent of coal imports, covering a quarter of the country's entire energy needs. There are no suitable alternatives in sight that could cover shortfalls of this magnitude. 
Germany can supply only 15 percent of its gas needs using its own resources, the Association of Energy and Water Industries (BDEW) says. Most of its gas is supplied by Norway and the Netherlands. Both countries could increase their short-term shipments via pipelines, but not in the long run, because experts believe North Sea gas reserves are slowly being used up.   
Importing cooled, liquefied gas in tank ships from Algeria, Qatar or the US is an alternative - in theory. But US ports lack facilities to handle liquefied natural gas, and Germany does not have the corresponding unloading stations. In addition, it is very difficult to purchase large amounts at short notice on the global market. Supplies are already short because Japan has been importing large amounts of gas since the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Could the Germans make do with their own considerable reserves of coal ? Nope. Germany has committed to ending coal-power by 2018. 

Could the Germans employ fracking to extract abundant supplies of natural gas ? As DW points out, that's unlikely given the considerable domestic opposition.

But wait. There's more ! As DW observes
[Russian company] Gazprom and [German company] Wintershall also jointly own the 2,300-kilometer German pipeline network "Gascade." But Russia now controls Germany's gas storage - and with it, the safety margin of the German gas supply. The German economics ministry evidently has no worries about the deal.
German utilities company RWE is still waiting for the green light for the sale of its oil and gas exploitation subsidiary Dea. Wintershall and Dea are the only two German companies that have enough expertise to perform fracking. Last year Dea reported a profit of 521 million euros.
But due to a debt burden of 30 billion euros, RWE desperately needs new funding. Therefore the electric utility has welcomed the 5.1 billion euros that Luxembourg-based L1 Energy is willing to pay. L1 is owned by the second-richest Russian oligarch, Mikhail Fridman, who has close ties to the Kremlin and state-owned Rosneft.
Meantime,  economic woes have forced unilateral disarmament on Britain, whose defense establishment is so strapped that it cannot afford a single aircraft carrierAnd our own enlightened administration proposes to do away with the A-10 Thunderbolt, aka 'Warthog', one of the most formidable close air-support, anti-tank weapons in our arsenal, one which was designed to counter Soviet tanks.

Then again, the U.S. might forego waging a conventional war in favor of financial one  against the neo-Soviet state, while our adversary could well engage in cyberwarfare against the U.S., which it has already successfully rehearsed : a scenario obvious even to those whose primary focus is the economy and investing.



How can you tell if your ETF 's in mortal danger ?


Well, for one, you could check out the updated list of nearly 300 imperiled ETF's compiled by Ron Rowland and displayed at the Invest with an Edge website.

How accurate is Rowland's analysis ?  To quote...
One of the primary purposes of ETF Deathwatch is to warn investors of potential closures. Of the thirteen ETF closures in March, twelve were on the list, implying that ETF Deathwatch is performing its duty. The one closure not identified as being in danger is somewhat of a mystery. The moderately successful Pax MSCI EAFE ESG Index ETF (EAPS) had more than $50 million in assets when Pax World announced the fund’s fate back in January. However, EAPS was far from a typical closure. Instead of shutting down and liquidating, it converted to an old fashion open-end mutual fund.







Soviets -- er, I mean, Russians - Know All It Takes to Rewrite History...

...is to put up a plaque in another country's cemetery, as the Soviets-- darn it, I meant 'Russians' --did in the Czech Republic.

The plaque memorialized heroic Russians who supposedly died defending socialism in Prague in 1968.

The rest of us--especially the Czechs--remember events differently. They remember the Soviets' invasion of their homeland. They remember the  brutal suppression of 'Prague Spring', the liberalization movement personified by Czech governmental leaders Dubcek and Svoboda.

Needless to say,  once the Czechs discovered the plaque, they removed it.

The Prague Post carries the March 2014 Czech news agency story.