Did The World Get A Little Absurd in 2014?

Scales Tipped So much of the news this year has been hopeless, depressing and, above all, confusing. Take for example the main topics which have been repeatedly covered by mainstream media over the past twelve months – Ebola, ISIS, Austerity, Ukraine, Russia, Syria, Phone Hacking, Child Abuse, Foreign Exchange Rigging, Beheading, Groping Disc Jockey’s, Kim Kardashian’s Arse, Eat Vegetables or DIE.

To which is the only response is “Oh Dear”.

This defeatist response has become the central part of a new system of political control. To understand how this is happening you have to look at Russia, to a man called Vladislav Surkov.

Surkov is one of President Putin’s advisors and has helped him maintain his power for 15 years. But he has done it in a very new way. He came originally from the avant-garde art world, and those who have studied his career say that what Surkov has done is to import ideas from conceptual art into the very heart of politics.

His aim is to undermine people’s perception of the world so they never know what is really happening. Surkov turned Russian politics into a bewildering, constantly changing piece of theatre. He sponsored all kinds of groups from Neo-Nazi skinheads to liberal human rights groups. He even backed parties that were opposed to President Putin. But the key thing was that Surkov then let it be known that this was what he was doing. Which meant that no one was sure what was real and what was fake.

As one journalist put it, “It’s a strategy of power that keeps any opposition constantly confused. A ceaseless shapeshifting that is unstoppable because it’s indefinable”. Which is exactly what Surkov is alleged to have done in Ukraine this year.

In typical fashion, as the war began, Surkov published a short story about something he called “non-linear war”. A war where you’re never really sure what the enemy are really up to, or even who they really are. The underlying aim, Surkov says, is not to win the war, but to use the conflict to create a constant state of destabilised perception in order to manage and control.

Maybe we have something similar emerging here in the West. Everything we’re told by journalists and politicians is confusing and contradictory. Of course, there is no Mr.  Surkov or his equivalent in charge, but it’s an odd non-linear world that plays into the hands of those in power.

NATO troops have come home from Afghanistan, but nobody seems to know whether it was a victory or whether it was a defeat. Aging disc-jockeys are prosecuted for crimes they committed decades ago, yet practically no one in the City of London is prosecuted for the endless financial crimes that are being revealed month after month. In Syria, we are told that President Assad is the evil enemy, but then his enemies, ISIS, turn out to be even more evil than him. So we bomb them, and by doing that we help keep Assad in power.

But the real epicentre of this non-linear world is the economy. And the closest we have to our own post-modern shape shifting politicians are George Osborne and Mario Draghi. They tell us proudly that the economy is growing but at the same time wages are going down. Osborne says he is cutting the deficit, but then it’s revealed that the deficit is actually going up. Draghi waxes lyrical about how low interest rates are a good thing for consumers and home owners, yet anguishes in the same breath that the inflation rate is TOO LOW! But the dark heart of this shape shifting world is Quantitative Easing.

Governments across Europe have insisted on taking billions out of the economy through their austerity programs. Yet at the very same time the UK is pumping billions of pounds INTO the economy through Quantitative Easing. The equivalent of £24,000 for every family in Britain. I’ve written before that the only way an economy can get itself out of a recession is to spend its way out. But make sure you spend the money on public infrastructure and projects that will benefit the economy on a long term basis, such as schools, nurseries, roads, bridges, hospitals, hell, even the military adds money to local economies where bases and troops are stationed.

Whilst the US and Britain has jumped on the QE band-wagon with great gusto, the European Central Bank have yet to decide on whether they want to continue to weathering the economic storm in the Eurozone without any major fundamental economic policy shifts, or if they want to introduce their version of QE. With the Germans so vehemently opposed to increasing public spending and their continued championing of austerity as a solution, it’s unlikely that the ECB will announce anything soon. In fact the continued decline of the EUR/USD F/X rate is a clear indication that QE will most likely not be  on the cards for the Eurozone any time soon.

But it gets even more confusing, because the Bank of England has admitted that those billions of pounds have not gone where they were supposed to. A vast amount of the money has actually found its way into the hands of the wealthiest 5% in Britain. It has been described as the biggest transfer of wealth to the rich in recent documented history.

It could be a huge scandal comparable to the greedy oligarchs in Russia. A ruthless elite, syphoning off billions of public money. But nobody seems to know. It sums up the strange mood of our time, where nothing really makes any coherent sense. We live with a constant vaudeville of contradictory stories that makes it impossible for any real opposition to emerge, because they can’t counter it with a coherent narrative of their own. And it means that we as individuals become ever more powerless. Unable to challenge anything because we live in a state of confusion and uncertainty, to which the response is “Oh Dear”.

But that’s what they want you to say.

Welcome to 2015!

New Year 2015 formed from sparking digits over black background

President Poroshenko’s Finger Off The Pulse

PoroshenkoIt’s been a little more than a month, forty-five days to be exact, since Poroshenko’s acclaimed ceasefire between Ukrainian forces and Russian sponsored terrorists who continue to occupy large swathes of Ukraine’s territory in Lugansk and Donetsk. And during this past month and a half, there hasn’t been a single 24 hour period where the Ukrainian army hasn’t suffered an attack from these Russian terrorists.

Donetsk airport, the $750m jewel in the crown of Eastern Ukraine’s embryonic redevelopment back in 2012, has been reduced to rubble. It has seen daily pitched battles between the Ukrainian Army, who currently occupy it, and the terrorists, who so badly want it. It’s a strategic win for them if they eventually do end up successfully taking it. It’s the only airport with a runway long enough and which remains undamaged, that can handle the myriad of military jets that are sitting across the border in Russia’s Rostov region waiting to be handed over to a new “Novorossiya” government which would then form the backbone of their air-force.

Villages across the region which were freed by Ukrainian forces are still suffering food and water shortages, with electricity supplies sporadic and sanitation and other basic infrastructure either completely destroyed or in serious need of repair. During peacetime, these people were barely able to cobble together an existence, with their already meagre pensions averaging €200. Now that the pension payouts have stopped, because bureaucrats in Kiev “have not transferred the administration from Donetsk to another part of the region”, they have now had to resort to food handouts from the Army and volunteer batallions that are stationed there to protect them.

Poroshenko is quickly losing hearts and minds. If he is serious about his desire to regain control of the entire country, as his incessant tweeting would suggest, then he needs to focus on issues at home, rather than wasting his time jetting abroad meeting with various world leaders and constantly dropping names on his Twitter feed as he does so.

I’m no world leader, I am but a simple human. But as any economics professor will teach on your first day of economics class, it’s that humans require three basic needs….

  1. Food
  2. Shelter
  3. Safety

The Summer War, has for the most part reached a crescendo. The focus of Poroshenko in the regained territories has been on neither of these three areas. There should be on-going daily re-supply of the troops in both the regular army and volunteer battalion forces so they can deal with and keep at bay the constant attacks from Russia’s proxy forces. This would re-enforce the belief of an already swaying local population that they are indeed safe.

There should also be swift and meaningful efforts to feed and provide shelter/repairs to people who had their homes damaged or destroyed. The oft quoted line favoured by Game of Thrones fans, “Winter is coming” is an important one to heed. Because even if Russia does cut-off gas supplies to Ukraine as a whole, the fact remains that there are thousands of people in Eastern Ukraine who will perish regardless of the gas situation when the dead of Winter arrives. As already evidenced in Oliver Carroll’s excellent piece in Newsweek, the future looks very bleak for the civiliansup and down Lugansk and Donetsk’s recovered regions.

If these people’s needs are not met, because Poroshenko is too busy updating his Twitter-feed with more name dropping and useless meetings, the country will have a humanitarian crisis on its hands, which will only further play into Putin’s hands and result in an already wavering population shifting alliances from pro-Ukraine to pro-Putin. If that happens, then you can kiss goodbye to Eastern Ukraine forever. No amount of broken promises from Merkel, Obama, Cameron and Hollande can ever help recover those lands.

So far, the emphasis has only been centered on making political capital and appeasing the wider population in Kiev that they’re making waves and bringing about changes with the new anti-corruption laws passed and the upcoming elections for a new government. Yes, these are important steps that are vital and necessary to make so that Ukraine realigns herself with the rest of democratic Europe. But neglecting two entire regions of the country, and failing to support the military sent there to protect it will lose Poroshenko this war and WILL bring about both his and his countries downfall.

D-Day Landings – Then And Now

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings. On June 6th 1944 the landings, also known universally as D-Day marked the beginning of the Allied invasion of German-occupied France during WW2.

Reuters photographer Chris Helgren compiled archive pictures taken during the invasion and went back to the same places to photograph them as they appear today to commemorate the occasion.

The most striking thing for me when I looked at the photo’s is the contrast between the past and the present. How today’s generation are oblivious to the death and suffering that was endured in the footsteps of their forebears and how, given enough time, the world rebuilt and moved on.

Given the conflicts currently ongoing in Syria, Ukraine, Venezuela, to name but three, there’s no doubt that our future generations will no doubt find themselves pondering the same thoughts and discussing the utter futility of war.

To view more of Chris Helgen’s photo’s click here.

Normandy then and now 1Normandy then and now 2Normandy then and now 5Normandy then and now 6Normandy then and now 7Normandy then and now 4 Normandy then and now 3 Normandy then and now 8

Eye Candy – L.A. Nightfall

Beautiful video, entitled NightFall, made by the very talented Colin Rich.

Rich shot “Nightfall” in an attempt to capture Los Angeles as it transitioned from day to night.

He is quoted as saying – “As you probably know, LA is an expansive city so shooting it from many different angles was critical. Usually I was able to capture just one shot per day with a lot of driving, exploring, and scouting in between but the times sitting in traffic or a “sketchy” neighborhood often lead to new adventures and interesting places.”

I think you’ll agree that his hard work paid off.

 

From Russia, With Fear!

You will probably be amazed when I tell you that the second highest source of refugee arrivals into the EU is not from some war-torn country in Africa or the Middle East, but it’s actually from Russia!

According to Eurostat, 18,000 Russians sought asylum in the EU in 2011, making Russian second after war-torn Afghanistan. For a country that insists that their beloved leader, Mr. Vladimir Vladimirovich LiliPutin, is the freely elected leader and whose aura is akin to a God, with which the punishment for insulting said aura is imprisonment – potentially for life as more trumped-up charges will appear as you reach your initial release date – I find it absolutely amazing that such a Utopian world would result in such a huge number of people fleeing, fearing for their lives, their safety and their well-being. All because of the ego, power plays and maniacal whims of one man. That spells “dictatorship” to me.

The latest additions to the long list of refugees are a couple from Moscow who were accused of protesting on Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square on May 6 earlier this year. Alexei Devyatkin and his wife, journalist Jenny Kurpen. They applied for refugee status in Ukraine fearing prosecution in the wake of the protests.

And it seems that Ukraine is the preferred launch pad for most Russian asylum seekers. Ukraine is an obvious choice. Russians don’t need a visa to enter and there’s no language barrier.

So you’d think that they’d feel safe, right? Sadly not so. Because the powers that be in the Kremlin tighten the screws on the Ukrainian government, often resulting in the Ukrainian government breaking international law – which forbids Ukraine from sending them back – and deporting these asylum seekers back to Russia.

The recent event of two northern Caucasus refugees highlights the current problems. One, named Magomet, has disappeared from a Kiev detention center while the other, an ethnic Chechen Umar Abuyev, was so severely beaten in custody he slipped into a coma.

Abuyev’s lawyer is worried he could be sent back to Russia, despite a ruling by the European Human Rights Court banning Ukraine from extraditing him.

Unrest in the Northern Caucasus has forced thousands to flee. Although Russia claims most are bandits and terrorists, some 100,000 people have been recognized as refugees in European Union member states. Many settled in Turkey and other Muslim countries.

Magomet, a former taxi driver from Ingushetia in Russia’s North Caucasus region, spent 14 months in the Lukyanivske pre-trial detention center. Wanted in Russia, he is not accused of any crime in Ukraine and has been recognized as a refugee by Finland.

However he disappeared almost two weeks ago and, according to diplomatic sources, is now in Kharkiv, a usual stop for detainees being extradited to Russia.

Magomet’s application was turned down by Ukraine. In July, however, he was recognized as a refugee by one of the EU member states and was to be sent there.

But he may already be back in Russia, as neither his lawyer nor representatives of human rights organizations have heard from him since his disappearance from custody.

Like many others Abuyev was refused asylum in Ukraine, but the European Court of Human Rights ruled that he is not to be removed to Russia until the court of appeal hears his case.

Appeals from human rights organizations appear to be moving Abuyev’s case forward. Ukraine’s human rights commissioner Valeria Lutkovska started an investigation and reported the matter to the general prosecutor. The Kiev city prosecutor has also launched an investigation.

Ukraine joined the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention in 2002 and thus is obliged to grant refugee status to a foreigner with “reasonable apprehensions” of being persecuted in his native country because of race, faith, nationality, citizenship, social status or political views.

The last story by the late Anna Politkovskaya, a renowned Russian journalist murdered in 2006, was dedicated to Beslan Gadayev, who was extradited from Ukraine to Russia in 2006.

Politkovskaya wrote that in Chechnya Gadayev was tortured into confessing to several crimes, and registered as one of many terrorists caught by the authorities in a sham anti-terrorist campaign.

But what of the crackdown in Russia on freedom of speech and the Peoples rights to dissent and voice their objections to their governments actions?

Well, LiliPutin has enacted several laws over the course of the summer since his “re-election” varying from large fines of up to one million roubles (approximately $31,000) being levied on anyone organising, attending or even TWEETING about unauthorised rallies, as well as administrative authorities now having more powers to refuse permits for mass gatherings, through to laws which tightened controls on civil rights groups funded from abroad – a move to placate LiliPutin’s usual paranoid belief that all NGO’s are engaged in espionage….because that’s what HE would’ve done.

Hilariously though, RT reported that Russia is calling on international organisations to respond to attacks against journalists in Syria. How LiliPutin and the Kremlin can be openly two-faced about journalistic privilege and openness in one dictatorial regime, but readily silence the media and murder journalists to retain control and power over their own dictatorship is laughable.

Maria Zakharova, deputy Director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s press office said in a statement posted on the ministry’s website on Tuesday.

“All media personnel should receive equal treatment; arbitrariness and double standards are unacceptable on this issue,” she wrote.

Meanwhile, in Moscow courts, Alexey Navalny and the band members of Pussy Riot are experiencing first hand the farcical and corrupt ways of Russian justice and their own flavour of arbitrariness whilst they are being tried in separate cases. Navalny is accused of fraud on trumped-up charges made in late July. Pussy Riot meanwhile are looking at seven years behind bars, for what would have been dealt with in the West as a simple case of “disturbance of the peace” and dealt with in the form of a fine and/or community service. The Pussy Riot performance in Christ the Saviour Cathedral was neither a hate crime nor “hooliganism.” It was a political protest that went way past the limits of moral good taste.

But this same iron-fist method is reminiscent of the same tactics LiliPutin adopted when he wanted to frighten the Oligarchs into understanding who the real boss is by way of making an example of Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Khodorkovsky famously said Putin was more liberal than 70% of Russians, but that was before the remaining 30% had turned against him. Only time will tell if Putin is now doing a “full Soviet” or will ease up once the Kremlin’s dominance has been re-established.

In either case, people opposed to the Putin regime have three main choices. One, proceed with voluntary actions, such as bringing aid to the flood victims in Krymsk, which do genuine good while showing up the government’s ineffectiveness at providing basic services. Some see spontaneous responses to specific social needs as the way to create a genuine Russian civil society from the bottom up.

Two, build an opposition party slowly and patiently that has a real chance of winning power, using demonstrations and strikes when the government tries to cripple the growth of that party.

Three, join the brain drain and the capital flight — that is, leave the country. This is the subject of serious discussion around many kitchen tables.

In the end, Navalny’s case is more important than Pussy Riot’s. If he becomes the Khodorkovsky of his generation, it’s time to pack.

The period between the State Duma elections in December and LililPutin’s inauguration on May 7 belonged to the opposition. The streets and the headlines were theirs. But the counterattack began as soon as LiliPutin took the oath of office. Now there are only two questions: How severe and persevering will that counterattack be, and what should be the opposition’s response?

Belarus PM Afraid Of Teddy Bears

Belarus has ordered Sweden to close its embassy in Minsk by the end of the month, a move that comes only days after Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime forced the Swedish ambassador out of the country.

The dispute is the latest in a series of diplomatic spats between Belarus and Western nations, especially European Union states that have taken steps against the ex-Soviet country and its longtime leader, Lukashenko, over its stifling of human rights.

The move comes days after Belarus expelled Sweden’s ambassador to Minsk for allegedly irritating authorities by meeting with the country’s opposition and providing a university with books containing material about human rights issues. In turn, Sweden said it would not allow entry for the incoming Belarusian ambassador to Stockholm and by asking two Belarusian diplomats to leave the Nordic country.

Sweden’s Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said Wednesday that Lukashenko’s “fear of human rights (is) reaching new heights,” by deciding to also kick out Sweden’s six envoys there.

Lukashenko has ruled Belarus, a nation of 10 million, since 1994, repressing opposition groups and independent news media while preserving a quasi-Soviet economy with about 80 percent of industry in state hands. He has earned the nickname in the West of “Europe’s last dictator.”

The expulsion also comes weeks after a pair of Swedish activists were reported to have used a light plane to drop hundreds of teddy bears bearing messages supportive of human rights into Belarusian territory.

Lukashenko fired two generals over the incident. Bildt, however, has said there was no word that the teddy bears were linked to the expulsion.