The Watering Hole, Saturday, March 18th, 2017

Preet Bharara, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York who was fired by President Donald Trump last weekend, was so despised by Vladimir Putin’s Russia that he was banned from entering the country in 2013. According to The New York Times, Russia banned Bharara and 17 other Americans in retaliation for U.S. sanctions over human rights violations. The Russian government reportedly targeted Bharara because of his prosecution of Viktor Bout, a convicted arms dealer. Bharara, who is known for investigating officials regardless of political party, also prosecuted three Russian nationals for acting as spies in 2015. “The arrest of Evgeny Buryakov and the charges against him and his co-defendants make clear that – more than two decades after the presumptive end of the Cold War – Russian spies continue to seek to operate in our midst under cover of secrecy,” Bharara said at the time. Bharara was fired by the Trump administration on Saturday after he refused to comply with a request to resign. It was not immediately clear if Bharara was involved in any current investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Surprisingly, Bharara had been personally asked to stay on by Trump last November. Not surprisingly, he had been investigating Fox News at the time of his dismissal. Without directly saying so, Bharara hinted that he may have been investigating Trump, too. Before firing Bharara, Trump tried to call him to thank him for his service, but Bharara refused to take the call without the permission of his superiors. It would have been a breach of protocol for the president to call a US Attorney directly, and it would have been extremely awkward if Bharara was, in fact, investigating Trump. That said, if he did open a formal investigation, his successor could choose to continue that investigation, but they would probably do so at their own peril. Just ask former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates.

This is an open thread. Have fun.

Guest Blog: Occupy Ukraine?

Today’s guest blogging post (and open thread) is by our friend, TerrytheTurtle.

What is happening in Ukraine is awful, bloody, murderously awful. Depending on where you come from in your world view, there are at least three ways of looking at what is happening:

1. If you follow the Western media, it is about Ukraine wishing to “join the EU” (quotes because there are many sources of this over-simplification) and the coverage is dumbed down to this one point time and again. But the EU trade agreement Yanukovych refused to sign after promising to in his manifesto, is only the catalyst, the problems lie much deeper than that.

2. This is part of the Neo-Cold War, pitting American power against the Czar of All the Russias and his part-dictatorship, part-kleptocracy. If you read the full transcript of the intercepted Nuland phone call two weeks ago, there is no question the US is picking sides, and picking which opposition horse to back, the whole point of which seems to be, to use the violence in Ukraine to win ground in a wider struggle. And for his part, Putin, by blaming ‘entirely, the terrorists and radicals’ for the violence, is shamelessly backing his client, Yanukovych, just like he has backed Syria’s Assad. It seems the US and Putin are both ‘playing cards’ and the people of Kiev are doing the dying.

3. The third thesis is that what we are watching is the Occupy movement of Ukraine. Ukraine’s government is controlled by a very small number of hyper-rich Ukrainians who owe their riches to a perpetuation of the same style of oligarchy and kleptocracy that Vladimir Putin sits atop in neighbouring Russia. They want the massive income inequality and lack of social justice to continue – its good for business. But you won’t hear this in the Western media. That kind of discussion is too close to home and would remind people of what Occupy Wall Street was all about. When Yanukovych returned to power, in 2010, as president (in an election the EU certified as fair), mainly because the Orange Revolution had stalled in the world depression after the financial crisis, he changed the constitution away from the 2004 constitution: more power to him and his cronies. Corruption blossomed again. You know the formula: billionaires, owning politicians for favours, closing and selling off factories, looting the old industries where ordinary people made a living and punishing dissent. The Kochs and Waltons would love these people.

What do Ukrainians think about some of this? The most recent poll I could find (Feb 5th) said:

Showing divisions between Ukrainians on foreign policy, 48% said Ukraine should reconsider its rejection of an EU partnership, but 40.3% said it should not.

Asked if the protests should continue, 48% said yes and 45.1% said no.

These divisions have an ethnic and geographic element to them – west is more likely to be ethnic Ukrainian and east and south more Russian. But like the American south, the Russian-leaning part is voting for more income inequality, more Russian-style “democracy”. But Ukrainians seem to distrust the EU only a little less than Russia, especially when it comes to helping them now. It seems to me they feel like they are on their own.

OK, so all this geopolitics aside, you just have to look at the faces of the people in the streets and in the makeshift hospitals to get an idea of which of these theses is closest to the truth and it is complicated, even if I am getting some coaching.  🙂  That ordinary Ukrainians just want the freedom to have their government represent them and protect their freedoms from foreign powers (all of them!) and from their own “entitled” citizens and corporations.  Just spend some time on the blogs (helpfully translated on request and forwarded to people like me by friends). You will see what I am seeing and hearing directly.

Yes, there are protesters with guns now and policemen have died, but today’s toll of death was far unbalanced to the 10s of thousands of mostly unarmed protesters, shot in the square, or beaten by police or paid thugs, the “tituski”, in the side streets as they try to leave to take care of families or escape the bloodshed. Or as volunteers try to treat them in makeshift hospitals while the police try to arrest them from the bloody floor where they lie.

Take a look at two of Putin's "radicals and terrorists."

Take a look at two of Putin’s “radicals and terrorists.”

Finally, and I wish it was finally, this article I was sent today goes roughly like this: A former policeman has come to Kiev to find his 19-year-old son, a student in Kiev. Like all fathers he wished his son did not go to the protests, but as a Ukrainian he was proud of his son to go. He holds in his hand the helmet he wore, covered in blood, a single sniper bullet hole in the helmet where his forehead was. Facebook posts are full of pictures of young people like this….

And yes, like Zooey said Thursday, this could be us too, someday soon.

The Watering Hole, Saturday, February 16, 2013: Keep Watching the Skies!

Yesterday, and be thankful to Whomever or Whatever you believe in that we can start with that word, a large asteroid given the ever so endearing name 2012 DA14 (don’t you want to adopt one?) passed within about 17,000 miles of the Earth. We have satellites orbiting at about 22,237 miles (approximately 35,787 km) above mean sea level. [Thank you, Arthur C. Clarke, for figuring that out for us.] This asteroid passed (yes, past tense!) closer to us than that. It didn’t hit anything as it passed by, but that is really just a matter of luck, no matter how you believe the Universe works. You may be thinking, “So what? It missed us, right? What’s the problem?” Think of it this way: It missed us by fifteen minutes. As famed Science Guy Bill Nye explains, that’s not the one you should be worried about. For every one of these large asteroids that they’ve been able to find, it is estimated there are 99 that that haven’t been found yet.

But just as much a matter of luck was the meteorite that came crashing down in Chelyabinsk, Russia that same day. [BTW, that link you just passed has some fascinating information in it, including an explanation of the difference between a meteor and an asteroid. Check it out.] Due to some kind of fad or obsession among the Russian people (official motto, “Screw you, Life, we’re still here!”), there are a lot of people driving around with dashboard cameras. It has something to do with insurance claims, or maybe encounters with the police, or maybe even to catch a meteorite flashing across the sky in front of you.

And, because it crashed into Russia, there were the inevitable comparisons to the Tunguska Event. And that’s where I start to get worried. Because they’re talking about a once-in-a-hundred-years event that hasn’t happened in more than one hundred years!

Good night, now. Go to sleep. 😉

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss asteroids, meteorites, conspiracy theories, or any other topic you wish.

The Watering Hole: August 12 – Chernobyl reloaded

It never stops. For thousands of years still nature will have to cope with the effects of mankind’s hubris. The Chernobyl accident left thousands of humans dead and maimed and nature virtually uninhabitable in the vicinity of the accident site. Now the (man made?) Russian heat wave has caused massive forest- and even worse – peat fires that ravage the country and the crops and have stretched into the most badly contaminated area of Chernobyl and not Chernobyl only. Now what happens? The fires cause material from the scorched earth to be displaced, the extent and range depends on temperature and wind.

As a result of failure on the Chernobyl nuclear power plant a total of six million hectares (ha) of forest lands were polluted by radionuclides. The most polluted forest area covers over 2 million ha in Gomel and Mogilev regions of Byelorussia (Belarus), in Kiev region of the Ukraine and in Bryansk region of the Russian Federation. The main contaminator is caesium-137 (137Cs); in the core zones of contamination strontium-90 (90Sr) and plutonium-239 (239Pu) are found in high concentrations. Radioactive emissions from wildfires occurring in contaminated vegetation represent a high risk for firefighters. In addition populations are affected by radioactive smoke particles transported over long distances.(read more)

The new catastrophe is a stark reminder that a technology which will have detrimental lingering effects for thousands of years, is hardly a good idea to solve immediate military or energy needs.

This is our open thread. Go ahead and tell it like it is.

McCain Solicits Contribution From Russian Ambassador

I had to read this one twice because, I know it is illegal for a Presidential Candidate to receive money from a foreign government.  The irony is that McCain, just the other month, was shooting off his mouth about Russia  and they fired back with their own round of insults after his knee jerk criticisms.   The Washington Post has the excuse from their spokesman over the “mix-up” and the letter that the U.N. Russian Ambassador received from the McCain Campaign.

The Russian mission to the United Nations furnished a copy of a Sept. 29 campaign letter it received urging U.N. ambassador Vitaly I. Churkin to contribute up to $5,000 to “stop the Obama Democrats from seizing control of the entire federal government.”

“Please know this — we will not concede any region to the Democrats,” the letter states.

The Russian mission issued a statement saying “we have received a letter from Senator John McCain with a request for a financial donation to his presidential election campaign. In this respect we have to reiterate that neither Russia’s permanent mission to the United Nations, nor the Russian government or its officials finance political activities in foreign countries.”

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McCain Gets Foreign Policy Advice From Sarah Palin – OMG

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I swear this is exactly what McCain said this morning to NPR. I had to read it twice to make sure something wasn’t wrong with my contacts. This is starting to sound like a satire piece already. I realize McCain is trying desperately to pump up Sarah Palin to the general public, but please, I can only stomach so much BS in one day. I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry when I read that statement. Here is what McCain had to say to NPR today

http://npr_me_mccain_palin_advice_081001a.mp3

Given what you’ve said, senator, is there an occasion where you could imagine turning to Gov. Palin for advice in a foreign policy crisis?

I’ve turned to her advice many times in the past. I can’t imagine turning to Sen. Obama or Sen. Biden, because they’ve been wrong. They were wrong about Iraq, they were wrong about Russia. Sen. Biden wanted to divide Iraq into three different countries. He voted against the first Gulf War. Sen. Obama has no experience whatsoever and has been wrong in the issues that he’s been involved in.

But would you turn to Gov. Palin?

I certainly wouldn’t turn to them, and I already have turned to Gov. Palin, particularly on energy issues, and I’ve appreciated her background and knowledge on that and many other issues.

Here is the part of the interview where the Senator is asked about the VP debate and Joe Biden. I love the snarky question about Alaska’s proximity to Russia. Also, Steve asks a very important question about her knowledge of the International Energy Market. Now don’t laugh Steve was being very serious.

Senator, as you know, the vice presidential debate comes on Thursday – your running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin, against Joe Biden. Gov. Palin has been asked about her foreign policy qualifications and cited Alaska’s proximity to Russia as one reason she’s qualified. I’d like to ask you, senator, what specifically do you believe that Alaska’s proximity to Russia adds to Palin’s foreign policy qualifications?
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