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A policy of self-serving hypocrisy towards Russia

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The United States has once again twisted itself into a rhetorical pretzel. As when it threatened military action against Syria if a “red line” was crossed, the Obama administration’s rhetoric about Russia and Ukraine goes far beyond what it will be willing and able to enforce.

Earlier this month, President Obama warned that America would “isolate Russia” if it grabbed more land, and yesterday, he suggested that more sanctions were possible. Likewise, Secretary of State John Kerry said the Group of 7 nations were “prepared to go to the hilt” in order to isolate Russia.

But Washington’s rhetoric is dangerously excessive, for three main reasons: Ukraine is far more important to Vladimir V. Putin than it is to America; it will be hard for the United States and Europe to make good on their threats of crippling sanctions; and other countries could ultimately defang them…

The fundamental problem is that the Obama administration doesn’t want to bear the costs associated with an active foreign policy. That’s understandable. A December Pew poll revealed the lowest level of public support for an active American foreign policy since 1964.

This domestic pressure was on display in Syria. Mr. Obama’s error was not that he backed away from military action and accepted Russia’s proposal to rid Syria of chemical weapons. The mistake was that he drew a red line that would have been more costly to back up than the United States was willing to tolerate. America lost credibility internationally for failing to make good on its threat.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration is repeating this mistake in Ukraine…

“Isolating Russia” as if it were Iran or North Korea isn’t a threat America can feasibly make good on. Just because Mr. Putin is acting like the leader of a rogue state, his country cannot be considered as such. Russia boasts the world’s eighth-largest economy. Given the exposure of American corporations to Russia, there would be serious pushback from the private sector if Mr. Obama tried to relegate Russia to rogue-state status. The Obama administration needs to preach what it will ultimately practice. Otherwise Washington’s credibility will erode further as it walks back its words.

A more hard-line response is not the answer. Mr. Obama was right to rule out the military option; diplomacy is America’s only viable path forward…

The Obama administration should focus on supporting Kiev rather than punishing Moscow. That means using its leverage with Europe to ensure that this support sticks, and that Ukraine’s new government does nothing to provoke an extreme response. This will require an acknowledgment of Russia’s core interests and America’s limitations — and an end to empty threats.

There are about three historic levels to the context of this antagonistic complexity. Most of which is viewed with greater clarity outside the United States than within. Not unusual.

On the longest historic stage, Americans forget we acquired foreign territory much in the same way Albanians did Kosovo, Russians did Crimea. We moved in and colonized economic expansion and then used our [foreign] military might to guarantee the freedom of our colonists to secede. In case you never read a history book, that’s how we got Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Utah and a chunk of Wyoming and Colorado.

Nearer in time, lacking an adjacent border, the US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq – especially the latter – didn’t have a damned thing to do with protecting our nation. Not on that scale, nothing to do with what we set out to accomplish and failed.

Pretending there is nothing comparable between the secession of Kosovo and the Crimea is patent leather revisionism. The voting population of Kosovo was skewed by incomers as much or more than Crimea – over a shorter period of time. The politics of each differs; but, international codes are cobbled together in an attempt to function independent of local politics. Whether they succeed at it or not.

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Written by Ed Campbell

March 30, 2014 at 2:00 pm

Two-thirds of the Ukrainian Army in Crimea joined the Russians

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Russian and Ukrainian sailors in WW2 uniforms practicing for celebration of Great Patriotic War
Getty Images/Sergei Supinsky

Ukrainian soldiers in Crimea have pulled off an impressive feat: ceding a large chunk of territory to an invading army without firing a shot. The question is whether they will be perceived as heroes, traitors or just a sad bunch of guys in ill-fitting camouflage betrayed by their commanders in Kiev.

Russian troops and local pro-Russian militias are now in control of most Ukrainian military bases on the Crimean peninsula, after bloodless “stormings” in which armored vehicles broke through garrison gates, some warning shots were sounded and, in some cases, stun grenades were used. Russian forces took pains not to harm any of their formal adversaries, and the 22,000 Ukrainian troops stationed on the peninsula managed to refrain from shooting at Russians. Only one Ukrainian serviceman has died since Russia invaded the peninsula with unmarked troops in early March, and it is not entirely clear who shot him in the neck.

For their peaceful abdication, the troops received praise from both sides. On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin thanked “those Ukrainian servicemen who did not go the way of bloodshed.” On Friday, acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov said that “despite enormous losses, Ukrainian troops in the Crimea have done their duty,” which apparently consisted of buying time for Ukrainian armed forces elsewhere “to prepare for defense, to achieve full combat readiness and begin a partial mobilization.”

By “enormous losses,” Turchynov meant the hundreds and possibly thousands who have defected to Russia from the chronically underfinanced, underarmed and even underfed Ukrainian army. “I’ve been serving for 15 years, and in these 15 years the Ukrainian army has given me nothing, not even a dorm room,” warrant officer and Crimea native Maxim Shumeyev told the BBC’s Russian service. “As I served the Ukrainian people, so I remain to serve the people of the Crimea.”

To the extent that the Ukrainians defied the Russians, their efforts were largely symbolic. In one famous video, a small Ukrainian unit marches, unarmed and singing the national anthem, on three unbadged Russian soldiers sent to bar their way to the Belbek airbase. The march took courage, and the unit commander, Colonel Yuli Mamchur, quickly became a hero to many Ukrainians…

Ukrainian nationalists worship dead heroes who laid their lives on the altar of Ukraine’s freedom. The national anthem even has a line about doing so. The Ukrainian soldiers in Crimea understandably decided not to martyr themselves…

Perhaps, when forced to make their own decisions, the Ukrainian servicemen simply did not have the stomach for killing people they still considered their brothers. Many officers speak confident Russian and almost no Ukrainian. The banners of some Ukrainian military units date back to World War II, when Russians and Ukrainians fought the Nazis as a single army. The ultimate test proved that killing each other is the last thing Russians and Ukrainians will consider. That is a blessing for Putin and a curse for the nationalist government in Kiev.

The largest civilian group celebrating Crimea’s reentry into Russia are retirees. Senior citizens who lived through the Great Patriotic War or its immediate aftermath as part of a united front against fascism.

And, now, as Russians their pensions will double.

Written by Ed Campbell

March 25, 2014 at 2:00 pm

Great-Power-Politics is back. Whoopee!

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Unless Russia changes course – which seems unlikely anytime soon – the global consequences are apt to be grave. The US and the European Union will impose sanctions, weakening Russia’s economy and the world economy – and stoking even more tension and nationalism. Mistakes on one side or the other could lead to violent disaster. We need only to recall the spiral of hubris and miscalculation that led to the outbreak of World War I, a century ago this year.

As frightening as the Ukraine crisis is, the more general disregard of international law in recent years must not be overlooked. Without diminishing the seriousness of Russia’s recent actions, we should note that they come in the context of repeated violations of international law by the US, the EU, and NATO. Every such violation undermines the fragile edifice of international law, and risks throwing the world into a lawless war of all against all.

The US and its allies have also launched a series of military interventions in recent years in contravention of the United Nations Charter and without the support of the UN Security Council. The US-led NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999 lacked the sanction of international law, and occurred despite the strong objections of Russia, a Serbian ally. Kosovo’s subsequent declaration of independence from Serbia, recognized by the US and most EU members, is a precedent that Russia eagerly cites for its actions in Crimea. The ironies are obvious.

The Kosovo War was followed by the US-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, both of which occurred without the support of the Security Council, and in the case of Iraq, despite vigorous objections within it. The results for both Afghanistan and Iraq have been utterly devastating…

One can add many other US actions, including drone strikes on the territory of sovereign states without their governments’ permission; covert military operations; renditions and torture of terror suspects; and massive spying by the US National Security Agency. When challenged by other countries or UN organizations, the US has brushed aside their objections.

International law itself is at a crossroads. The US, Russia, the EU, and NATO cite it when it is to their advantage and disregard it when they deem it a nuisance. Again, this is not to justify Russia’s unacceptable actions; rather, it is to add them to the sequence of actions contrary to international law.

The point of this post is not to endorse Jeffrey Sachs’ particular analysis of any piece of history. Though I often agree — I sometimes disagree. The man has spent a creative political life in a quest for regional and global solutions to the problems politicians continue to create, re-invent.

His understanding of the benefits of International Law is one that isn’t challenged by anyone short of the sort of self-assured maniacs we have managed to throw up from one or another crisis-demented country every couple of generations. Some are obvious threats from the beginning of their political careers. Some – unfortunately – have spent sufficient time in academia, finance or the upper strata of class society to ooze calm and deadly solutions worthy of Solomon or Kissinger or Churchill. Butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths.

We continue to die to satisfy their vision of political economy, nationalism and this week’s omelet.

Written by Ed Campbell

March 25, 2014 at 8:00 am

Restore ancient clam gardens to nurture food security

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A research boat surveys partially submerged ancient clam gardens – click for inspiration

Researchers discovered that ancient clam gardens made by Aboriginal people produced quadruple the number of butter clams and twice the number of littleneck clams as unmodified clam beaches. This is the first study to provide empirical evidence of ancient clam gardens’ superior productivity.

In the past, as indigenous coastal communities from Alaska to Washington State grew in numbers, people needed to devise sustainable ways of feeding themselves. One of the ways they did this was by cultivating clams in human-made, rock-walled beach terraces known as clam gardens.

When the researchers transplanted more than 800 baby clams into six ancient clam gardens and five non-walled natural beaches to compare their growth rates they made a groundbreaking discovery.

The clams in the ancient gardens grew almost twice as fast and were more likely to survive than baby clams transplanted into unmodified beaches in the same area.

“We discovered that flattening the slope of ancient beach clam gardens expanded the real-estate for clams at the intertidal height at which they grow and survive best,” explains Salomon. The…professor adds: “Traditional knowledge by coastal First Nations members further revealed that their ancestors boosted these gardens’ productivity by adding ground clam shell and pebbles to them…”

Dana Lepofsky says, “On the Northwest Coast we are fortunate to have both the tangible record of clam gardens and the culture-based knowledge of local indigenous people to educate us. The lessons learned here have global implications for food security and about the way indigenous people interact with their land and seascapes.”

Lead author Amy Groesbeck and the whole research crew deserve kudos for this piece of work. Cripes, it sounds tempting enough to make me daydream about life back on the New England coast.

Little necks and cherrystones – lightly sautéed with your favorite olive oil and garlic – tossed with pasta and a wee bit of chopped parsley, maybe a little marjorum. Yum.

Written by Ed Campbell

March 23, 2014 at 2:00 pm

Republican State Senator speaks out about his party’s voter suppression

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Embarrassed by Republican corruption

We were treated to a rare moment of candor last week when a Republican legislator expressed a sense of shame about his party’s blatant voter suppression tactics. Wisconsin state senator Dale Schultz appeared on the radio program The Devil’s Advocate last Wednesday to talk about Republican efforts to limit the hours available for early voting in the state.

Not surprisingly, Schultz is a lame duck that doesn’t need to worry about getting reelected nor pandering to the Republican’s resentful, fearful, and misinformed white base.

The lawmaker said, “I am not willing to defend them anymore. I’m just not and I’m embarrassed by this.” He was the lone Republican to oppose the bill, which ultimately passed. After very accurately calling voter fraud “mythology”, he then went on to say:

“It’s just, I think, sad when a political party — my political party — has so lost faith in its ideas that it’s pouring all of its energy into election mechanics. And again, I’m a guy who understands and appreciates what we should be doing in order to make sure every vote counts, every vote is legitimate. But that fact is, it ought to be abundantly clear to everybody in this state that there is no massive voter fraud.

“The only thing that we do have in this state is we have long lines of people who want to vote. And it seems to me that we should be doing everything we can to make it easier, to help these people get their votes counted. And that we should be pitching as political parties our ideas for improving things in the future, rather than mucking around in the mechanics and making it more confrontational at the voting sites and trying to suppress the vote.”

Every now and then I joke about my cynicism; but, I walked away from white-bread America sixty years ago because of the hypocrisy, bigotry and corruption common to so much of social life in this nation. The excuse accepted by politicians, then, was the Cold War and McCarthyism, the excuse for their cowardice and inaction.

But, today, we’re washed in the hypocrisy, the abundant waste of a liberal government that accepts all the lies and garbage of a conservative government. The Democrats – with whatever power they’ve had over the past six years – were just as cowardly as the Truman government. Campaigning for a National Health Service and then fighting for halfway measures that guarantee continued and unneeded profits for the insurance industry is another example of corruption selling out America’s working families.

The incredible waste of money and effort that shells out billions of dollars to combat the existence of a pitiful number of terrorists scattered about the globe is characteristic of a dying imperial nation – more like 19th Century England than the 21st Century United States.

Our education policy under a liberal Harvard Constitutionalist is no less corrupt and futile than the advocacy of that “education president” who spent his college career at Yale stuffing drugs up his nose.

Cynicism isn’t required to comprehend how often and how thoroughly the American middle class has been sold out by our political saviors – of both parties. All we are left with is voting against the evil of two lessers. When we’re allowed to vote.

Written by Ed Campbell

March 22, 2014 at 2:00 pm

Why do you think QE didn’t work?

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“Aren’t there any Republicans left who can ask a useful question?

Maybe you have heard a line that goes something like this: The weak recovery is proof that the Federal Reserve’s program of asset purchases, otherwise known as quantitative easement, doesn’t work…If you were the one saying those words, you don’t understand the counterfactual.

That is the only conclusion I can draw from this common criticism of the Fed’s policies of zero interest rates and QE.

This flawed analytical paradigm has many manifestations, and not just in the investing world. They all rely on the same equation: If you do X, and there is no measurable change, X is therefore ineffective.

The problem with this “non-result result” is what would have occurred otherwise. Might “no change” be an improvement from what otherwise would have happened? No change, last time I checked, is better than a free-fall.

If you are testing a new medication to reduce tumors, you want to see what happened to the group that didn’t get the test therapy. Maybe this control group experienced rapid tumor growth. Hence, a result where there is no increase in tumor mass in the group receiving the therapy would be considered a very positive outcome…

We run into the same issue with QE. In the absence of a functional Congress or an adequate post-recession stimulus program, the Fed is the only game in town. Neither you nor I truly know what the impact of QE has been. Without that control group, we simply don’t know. I have my suspicions, you have yours. But neither of us truly knows…

The counterfactual seems to get loss in most discussions of QE. Those engaged in the debate — either ignorantly or disingenuously — make claims such as “Look how few jobs have been created, and look how high unemployment is.”

But because there is no control group, the right question to ask is “How many fewer jobs would have been created? How much higher would unemployment be?”

RTFA to examine the question in more detail. Lots of folks don’t know much about modern economics. Times I feel the number who have no appreciation of logic in the world of material reality is even larger.

Barry Ritholtz is one of my favorite financial analysts. He has a habit counter to American pop culture of relying on historic fact. Sometimes, even [gasp] mathematics.

He describes himself as a Recovering Republican.

Written by Ed Campbell

March 22, 2014 at 8:00 am

Electoral college reform = 50 equal states

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Click to enlarge

The electoral college is a time-honored, logical system for picking the chief executive of the United States. However, the American body politic has also grown accustomed to paying close attention to the popular vote. This is only rarely a problem, since the electoral college and the popular vote have only disagreed three times in 200 years. However, it’s obvious that reforms are needed.

The fundamental problem of the electoral college is that the states of the United States are too disparate in size and influence. The largest state is 66 times as populous as the smallest and has 18 times as many electoral votes. This increases the chance for Electoral College results that don’t match the popular vote. To remedy this issue, the Electoral Reform Map redivides the fifty United States into 50 states of equal population. The 2010 Census records a population of 308,745,538 for the United States, which this map divides into 50 states, each with a population of about 6,175,000

Do I agree? Uh, nope. Just decide elections on the basis of one person = one vote. Get rid of archaic crap.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Written by Ed Campbell

March 21, 2014 at 8:00 pm

Archaeologists discover earliest example of a human with cancer

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Click to enlarge – Left clavicle with the pathological lesions indicated by arrows

The skeleton of the young adult male was found by a Durham University PhD student in a tomb in modern Sudan in 2013 and dates back to 1200BC.

Analysis has revealed evidence of metastatic carcinoma, cancer which has spread to other parts of the body from where it started, from a malignant soft-tissue tumour spread across large areas of the body, making it the oldest convincing complete example of metastatic cancer in the archaeological record.

The researchers from Durham University and the British Museum say the discovery will help to explore underlying causes of cancer in ancient populations and provide insights into the evolution of cancer in the past. Ancient DNA analysis of skeletons and mummies with evidence of cancer can be used to detect mutations in specific genes that are known to be associated with particular types of cancer.

Even though cancer is one of the world’s leading causes of death today, it remains almost absent from the archaeological record compared to other pathological conditions, giving rise to the conclusion that the disease is mainly a product of modern living and increased longevity. These findings suggest that cancer is not only a modern disease but was already present in the Nile Valley in ancient times.

Lead author, Michaela Binder, a PhD student in the Department of Archaeology at Durham University, excavated and examined the skeleton. She said: “Very little is known about the antiquity, epidemiology and evolution of cancer in past human populations apart from some textual references and a small number of skeletons with signs of cancer.

“Insights gained from archaeological human remains like these can really help us to understand the evolution and history of modern diseases.

“Our analysis showed that the shape of the small lesions on the bones can only have been caused by a soft tissue cancer even though the exact origin is impossible to determine through the bones alone…”

Previously, there has only been one convincing, and two tentative, examples of metastatic cancer predating the 1st millennium BC reported in human remains…

The skeleton was examined by experts at Durham University and the British Museum using radiography and a scanning electron microscope (SEM) which resulted in clear imaging of the lesions on the bones. It showed cancer metastases on the collar bones, shoulder blades, upper arms, vertebrae, ribs, pelvis and thigh bones.

The cause of the cancer can only be speculative but the researchers say it could be as a result of environmental carcinogens such as smoke from wood fires, through genetic factors, or from infectious diseases such as schistosomiasis which is caused by parasites.

They say that an underlying schistosomiasis infection seems a plausible explanation for the cancer in this individual as the disease had plagued inhabitants of Egypt and Nubia since at least 1500BC, and is now recognised as a cause of bladder cancer and breast cancer in men.

As our scientific knowledge progresses, I’m confident we’ll discover more and more ailments are as much the result of pollutants from our society as simply advancing age. There have been significant numbers of illnesses reduced if not removed from our life’s experience by an understanding of just how little of one or another chemical or residue can induce ill health.

I’ve witnessed enough of the silliness in the bad old days. Cripes, when I served my apprenticeship at the age of seventeen the factory I worked in still did little custom case-hardening jobs by dropping red-hot steel parts into cyanide powder!

Written by Ed Campbell

March 20, 2014 at 8:00 am

A good day to remember the trade in Irish slaves

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The Irish slave trade began when James II sold 30,000 Irish prisoners as slaves to the New World. His Proclamation of 1625 required Irish political prisoners be sent overseas and sold to English settlers in the West Indies. By the mid 1600s, the Irish were the main slaves sold to Antigua and Montserrat. At that time, 70% of the total population of Montserrat were Irish slaves.

Ireland quickly became the biggest source of human livestock for English merchants. The majority of the early slaves to the New World were actually white.

From 1641 to 1652, over 500,000 Irish were killed by the English and another 300,000 were sold as slaves. Ireland’s population fell from about 1,500,000 to 600,000 in one single decade. Families were ripped apart as the British did not allow Irish dads to take their wives and children with them across the Atlantic. This led to a helpless population of homeless women and children. Britain’s solution was to auction them off as well.

During the 1650s, over 100,000 Irish children between the ages of 10 and 14 were taken from their parents and sold as slaves in the West Indies, Virginia and New England. In this decade, 52,000 Irish (mostly women and children) were sold to Barbados and Virginia. Another 30,000 Irish men and women were also transported and sold to the highest bidder. In 1656, Cromwell ordered that 2000 Irish children be taken to Jamaica and sold as slaves to English settlers.

Many people today will avoid calling the Irish slaves what they truly were: Slaves. They’ll come up with terms like “Indentured Servants” to describe what occurred to the Irish. However, in most cases from the 17th and 18th centuries, Irish slaves were nothing more than human cattle…

…In 1839, Britain finally decided on it’s own to end it’s participation in Satan’s highway to hell and stopped transporting slaves. While their decision did not stop pirates from doing what they desired, the new law slowly concluded THIS chapter of nightmarish Irish misery.

But, if anyone, black or white, believes that slavery was only an African experience, then they’ve got it completely wrong.

Irish slavery is a subject worth remembering, not erasing from our memories.

I’ve a few personal contacts in my life of the cruelty of Imperial England and how they “relocated” Celtic people who were in the way of their landed aristocracy. John Connell, the main builder of Wester Ross cycle frames in Scotland and Yorkshire was descended from one of those Irish lads sent by Cromwell to Jamaica. He and I worked together in the 1970′s.

My own family came to North America via slave ship in 1851 from the island of South Uist. Not being a cargo as profitable as slaves they didn’t need to be treated as “well”. A third of those transported died at sea. Almost another third died that winter after being dropped on the coast of Nova Scotia in November.

RTFA for details of this part of the slave trade. It will be what you expect.

Thanks, Mike

Written by Ed Campbell

March 17, 2014 at 2:00 pm

Daisy — Medal of Honor of New York City

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image
Click to enlargeRob Lowry photo

James Crane worked on the 101st floor of Tower 1 of the World Trade Center .. He is blind so he has a golden retriever named Daisy.

After the plane hit 20 stories below, James knew that he was doomed, so he let Daisy go, out of an act of love. She darted away into the darkened hallway.

Choking on the fumes of the jet fuel and the smoke James was just waiting to die. About 30 minutes later, Daisy comes back along with James’ boss, Who Daisy just happened to pick up on floor 112. On her first run of the building, she leads James, James’ boss, and about 300 more people out of the doomed building.

But she wasn’t through yet, she knew there were others who were trapped. So, highly against James’ wishes she ran back in the building. On her second run, she saved 392 lives. Again she went back in. During this run, the building collapses.

James hears about this and falls on his knees into tears.

Against all known odds, Daisy makes it out alive, but this time she is carried by a firefighter. “She led us right to the people, before she got injured” the fireman explained. Her final run saved another 273 lives. She suffered acute smoke inhalation, severe burns on all four paws, and a broken leg, but she saved 967 lives.

Daisy is the first civilian Canine to win the Medal of Honor of New York City.

Now you know why some of us humans love dogs more than we love humans.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Written by Ed Campbell

March 14, 2014 at 8:00 pm

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