The court scholar serving Hermann of Thuringia.

The court scholar serving Hermann of Thuringia.
The scholar


Motivations for the Ukraine war


A buddy of mine sent me a lengthy talk radio piece of almost an hour and a half. I took a pass on that as I can listen to clips of a few minutes, but not to something that lengthy and visually boring.

So I looked around and saw the CPUSA had published a piece on Ukraine. Very typically for the really hard-core peaceniks today, NATO is accused of aggressively expanding over the past three decades. What the piece doesn't look at is how the situation appears from the point of view of countries that have joined NATO and of countries like Finland and Georgia that are favorably inclined towards joining it. As I pointed out here, there are strong reasons not to want to be allied to Russia (and Good Heavens, you do NOT want to be in their army!) and there are positive incentives to join the EU. The journalist Julia Ioffe talks about this phenomenon working in real time, right now, as Finland, Sweden and Bosnia have all suddenly developed a interest in joining NATO.

1, “Therefore, we also call on Russia to withdraw troops.”

There is absolutely zero prospect of that happening. The only way that serious peace talks can happen is if Russia feels they’re losing.

2. “ All sanctions must be ended and borders secured and respected.”

Which would make peace talks even LESS likely!

3. “Agreements reached in 2014…”

Were signed at the point of a gun. They were forced onto Ukraine in the wake of the occupation of Crimea. The Ukrainian army was far too weak and riven with corruption to resist.

The reason Biden has been cited as having worked to push out a Ukrainian prosecutor is that Viktor Shokin, the prosecutor, was highly corrupt.

Why was Ukraine corrupt in 2014? Same reason many African countries were run by dictators in the 70s and 80s. It takes time to move from a dictatorial regime to a fully inclusive and democratic one. It takes time for internal checks and balances to begin to work.

From The Black Agenda report:

To secure the interests of the Russian and Ukrainian people, there must be good faith negotiations between the Russian Federation, representatives of the peoples of Donbas, the Ukrainian state, and the U.S.  The EU and the U.S. must end their continuous shipments of arms and other “lethal aid” to Ukraine.

Again, how is this going to happen without serious Russian reversals on the battlefield? This looks like just serious wishful thinking.


Difference between Ukraine and Palestine


A woman named Lizzy Savetsky complains that a fashion model in Vogue drew a parallel between Ukrainians and Palestinians. Her reasons for objecting to the comparison are 1. Russia did not invade Ukraine because Ukraine pose a security threat to Russia. True, Ukraine and Russia were engaged in active, if low-level hostilities since 2014, but the fighting was confined to the far Eastern edge of Ukraine. On the other hand, Palestinians have undertaken many types of attacks on Israel, using all manner of tactics and methods.

2. Ukrainians use very limited forms of violence. Again, true. Fighting in the Donbas has been through standard infantry, air and tank assaults.

3. Israelis have offered peace to Palestinians many times, all of which Palestinians have rejected. True. Palestinians don’t want to live in a “bantustan,” they want a fully independent state with borders they control. Israel feels that their security needs outweigh the need of Palestinians to have such a state.

What is the primary difference in the relationships between Russia and Ukraine versus that of Israel and Palestine? I think Russia-Ukraine had more of a Roman-type model of colonialism. When Rome acquired a colony, it would take over all of the government functions, would draft a portion of the men for its army and would collect taxes.

With “settler colonialism,” on the other hand, like what was practiced in South Africa, the colonists would take over individual parcels of land, pushing the indigenous population into bantustans or over into other countries. There are individual tribes or groups of Palestinians that are administered Roman-style, but others were pushed into Gaza or the West Bank and still others were pushed into neighboring countries, starting with what Palestinians call the “Nakba.”

Palestinians do not, at this time, have anything close to a viable state of their own. Gaza, ruled by Hamas, has been under siege conditions since 2007. Their every entrance and exit for travel and commerce is controlled by Israeli checkpoints. The West Bank isn’t in much better shape, split up into dozens of parcels, each one separated by walls and checkpoints.

It’s difficult to see how Palestinians could form a viable state out of these two parcels. Negotiations would have to produce serious changes in how Palestinian land is configured.

From Wikipedia: “There are also various economic and political restrictions placed on Palestinian people, activities, and institutions which have had a detrimental effect on the Palestinian economy and quality of life. Israel has said repeatedly that these restrictions are necessary due to security concerns ... The key obstacle therefore remains the Israeli demand for security versus Palestinian claims for rights and statehood."


Alternative demo

In addition to the demo being held by the Granny Peace Brigade, Code Pink is sponsoring anti-war demos at Dilworth Park at 1:00pm and at Independence Plaza at 4:00pm.

Personally, I think Code Pink offers a “BothSides” platform “We oppose the Russian invasion and call for the immediate withdrawal of all Russian troops. We recognize that the expansion of NATO and the aggressive approach of Western states have helped cause the crisis and we demand an end to NATO expansion.“ I've addressed the charge of aggressive NATO expansion here.

Fundamental to the Code Pink recommendation is the idea that we and the Russians should open negotiations immediately. Problem with that is that successful negotiations are dependent on what's happening on the battlefield.

When the North Vietnamese attacked South Vietnam in 1975, they made a breakthrough very quickly and after a few weeks, it was clear they were going to roll over what was left of the South Vietnamese army. The US offered to negotiate. The North Vietnamese figured, yeah, they could do that, but as the South was going to soon fall into their laps anyway, why bother?

TFG (The Former Guy) or the former President Trump, offered to begin re-opening negotiations with Iran over the nuclear deal of 2015. Iran didn't see any point in that as Trump wasn't offering any positive incentives. TFG was simply offering a way for them to make unilateral concessions and to get nothing in return. They passed on that.

Is there any reason to think that negotiation with the Russian President Putin will produce positive results?

Tweet by Natasha Bertrand - “Putin told Emmanuel Macron that he will continue military operations in Ukraine during a 90-minute call initiated by Putin, an Élysée Palace source told reporters today.   Putin told Macron he will 'continue military interventions and go all the way,' the source said.

And from Kevin Rothrock - “Russian lawmakers have introduced legislation that would conscript into the military anyone arrested for protesting against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. These people would be forced to fight in the invasion itself. What the fuck is happening to Russia. This is absolute madness.

Putin thinks he's on a roll. He has absolutely no reason to seek to negotiate. The Granny Peace Brigade has a better idea. Putin's at fault. Period.


My evolution in thinking about peace


Yes, back in 2003, I joined with peaceniks to protest the Iraq War. I concluded from the very start that the younger George Bush was untrustworthy, that he was lying about WMDs in Iraq and that he was exaggerating the human rights abuses that Saddam Hussein was engaged in. But when I was a tween/young teen, nonfiction paperbacks on World War II were popular and I read a number of them.

One of the big lessons I learned was “Don’t think that this war is going to be just like the last one.” The British and French thought that the 1940 battlefield would be just like the 1914-1918 one, with slow, cumbersome infantry divisions doing most of the fighting. Nope, it was dominated by fast, flexible panzer divisions that quickly drove the allies into the sea at Dunkirk. The Soviets figured out by the Battle of Kursk in 1943 how to defeat the German Blitzkrieg tactic, but they suffered some serious setbacks and incurred serious casualties long before that.

Further readings in the 80s showed me that the Vietnam War was essentially a political war and not, as US leaders had assumed, a matter of applying enough soldiers and guns and planes and tanks.

So no, this war between Russia and Ukraine is not necessarily a replay of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. I don’t assume that Joe Biden is just like G.W. Bush and that it’s the US leadership that needs to be lobbied and convinced here.

One of the major issues that my fellow peace supporters regularly bring up is the expansion of NATO after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Let’s think in terms of I’m a Ukraine bureaucrat and my president has asked me to draw up a list of reasons for and against joining Russia versus joining the West.

I’d point out that Ukraine was under the authority of Moscow in 1932-1933. Ukraine suffered a man-made famine, the “Holodomo,” a famine that began with the attempted “collectivization” of agriculture and ended with 3.9 million Ukrainian dead.

In Hungary in 1956, Hungarians demanded democracy. “Thousands were killed and wounded and nearly a quarter-million Hungarians fled the country.”

Czechoslovakia in 1968, the “Prague Spring” was ended by Warsaw Pact forces led by Moscow, crushing that revolution.

In 1980, the Polish trade union movement Solidarnosc was successful for awhile, but “The government imposed martial law, a state that continued until 1983, and dramatically restricted civil liberties. Some 10,000 dissidents were detained, and dozens were killed. Solidarnosc had to go underground and was not allowed to register again until 1989.”

In 1994, Moscow fought its first post-communist war against Chechnya. About a million Chechens (Out of a Russian population of some 150 million), tried to carve an independent state out of a landlocked province. The freedoms granted by Russian leader Boris Yeltsin were withdrawn and two wars later, Chechnya was brought under control by Vladimir Putin.

This is not an exhaustive list, but the fact is that Western Europe and NATO simply don’t have this sort of history of having to use armed force to keep their alliance together.

What about Putin’s energy policies? In 2019, Russia produced roughly twice as much in energy resources as it consumed, which means that it exported the rest. Of that total, coal, dry natural gas, petroleum and other fossil fuels made up the vast majority. Nuclear and renewables made up a small fraction. Specifically, the OECD counts hydro, biofuels plus waste burning and geothermal, solar and wind power as constituting less than 4% of Russia’s energy resources. The rest is made up of various fossil fuels. Clearly, Russia is not leading the way to renewable energy!

The American Heritage Foundation uses an “Economic Freedom” index that liberals generally ignore as it makes lots of value judgments that we don’t necessarily share, but it dings Russia on many areas. Property Rights, Judicial Effectiveness, Government Integrity, Business Freedom and Trade Freedom are all given poor marks.

So if I, as a Ukrainian bureaucrat, had to produce a report on whether or not to move more closely to Russia and away from Europe, I think I’d run screaming away from the chance to recommend a closer relationship with Russia! To me, there simply isn’t any mystery as to why NATO has expanded into Eastern Europe over the past 30 years. Nations like to align themselves with successful countries that enjoy a high degree of prosperity, that respect human rights and that are working hard to move away from fossil fuels and towards renewables.


Letter to Philadelphia Inquirer

 Piece by Marc Thiessen

The 10 worst things Biden did in 2021” Jan 3

[Biden] showed weakness in the face of Russian aggression against Ukraine.”

When an America president (or any national leader, for that matter) considers military options, he has to “game it out” as far as possible and to consider the likely consequences. To make threats that we can't fulfill would be to invite a far worse catastrophe than to give up land that we're not prepared to go all-out to defend.

How many Americas are willing to give their lives for a free Ukraine? Could we really sustain a military supply line? Overconfidence and underestimating the difficulty of the job could lead to a far woes disaster than just looking weak. I suspect Biden and his team looked at those questions and decided the US simply wasn't ready for a war there. Biden's doing pretty well on this issue, keeping temperatures low and being open to discussions.

His withdrawal from Afghanistan was the most shameful foreign policy calamity in my lifetime”.

Casualties among Afghan civilians were steadily rising from year to year during both the Obama and Trump Administrations. Sure, the US military was in shape to continue to fight a war there, but the country of Afghanistan was suffering more and more damage all the time.

Former President Donald Trump reached an agreement with the Taliban (The official government of Afghanistan played no role in this agreement) a year before he left office, to reduce the number of US troops in the country to fewer than 9,000. The resulting force may have been enough to hold onto a small portion of Kabul, but any determined effort by the Taliban would have been sufficient to wipe out that modest contingent.

As South Vietnam suffered an abrupt collapse after years of American occupation and training and equipping , so too did Afghanistan. It was only due to Biden's better diplomacy that we were able to continue to get Americans and Afghan allies out of the country after the Taliban had taken all of the rest of Kabul.

Yes, a splinter group of ISIS attacked and killed some American troops, but had we not been actively talking with and working with the Taliban, our situation there could have ended up much worse.


“Let’s go, Brandon!”


President Biden was on the line at the NORAD Santa Tracker call and spoke with children who had called in to find out where Santa was. He and the First Lady were having short chats with them. One fellow was Jared Schmeck of Oregon, a fan of the former President Trump, who ended his time with the President by saying “Let’s Go, Brandon.”

Schmeck claims “’he didn’t intend his parting message to be vulgar.” But “The phrase ‘Let’s Go, Brandon’ has become a conservative dig at the Democratic president, a code for ‘F--- Joe Biden,’” so it’s hard to see how Schmeck could have been confused into thinking he was NOT delivering a vulgar insult to the President. Schmeck’s wife admitted online that her husband had indeed used a vulgarity against the President.

Schmeck called his remark a “joke,” and listed a series of policy disagreements with the President, but what he actually said was an insult and no one understands where the humor in his statement is. Schmeck also, of course, claims the election was “stolen” from The Former Guy.

Schmeck claims he was “utilizing my freedom of speech,” which is fine, but freedom cuts both ways. You’re free to use a vulgarity with anyone you choose, but others are free to disparage you for doing so.

I of course liked Joy-Ann Reid’s response tweet, but was very impressed with this one:

"Confession: I find it in poor taste to tell the President of the United States 'Let's go Brandon' when the man just wanted to wish you Merry Christmas. Good manners should still matter," conservative blogger and radio host Erick Erickson wrote in a series of tweets.

Fox News had a defensive-sounding headline for the angry liberal response, but appropriately stuck to reporting what liberals said.

Mehdi Hasan said:

“Encouraged by senior elected Republicans who pretend to otherwise care about ‘civility’ and who are never asked by the press to justify their indulgence of this childish and offensive slogan.”

Problem is, it’s one thing when you’re explicitly stating a political position like “Free the Hanoi 5!” or somesuch. Then people can recognize your earnestness and people can take your politics seriously. But when you use a vulgar slur, you’re just a vulgar jackass.

Update: Fox News does damage control.

Fox News called out their C-Team to run interference for the son of a Navy SEAL who thought it would be cute to insult the president so he could get a viral Instagram post. It was pathetic and so is Jared Schmeck.

Two examples that the Fox crew used. Yes, Robert DeNiro got up in front of an audience and said "Fuck Trump." He knew he was being transgressive and improper and his audience knew it too. No, Kathy Griffin did NOT meet with any approval for posting a picture of herself with Trump's "severed head." Her career as a stand-up comedian was dead for several years as a direct result.  

And again, I'm completely and utterly baffled by the assertion that Schmeck was attempting to make some sort of joke. There is simply nothing funny about his attempt. 


Answer to a piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

This was published in the Inky on 12 November:

Dems lie if they say that critical race theory not taught in schools

Let's parse a paragraph of Thiessen's commentary of this last Friday ("Dems lie if they say that critical race theory not taught in schools"):

For the Marxists, the bourgeoisie were the oppressors. For the Nazis, the Jews were the oppressors. And today, in 21st century America, critical race theory teaches that Whites are the oppressors.

In Marx's day, the "bourgeoisie," the businessmen who ran the factories and sold commercial goods were in complete control of the state. The politicians all represented the businessmen. Is that true today? Not so much. Many other groups have gained quite a bit of political power.

In Germany before World War II, Jewish people were certainly prominent in the government and the culture at large, but by no means did they hold a commanding position. 

White people in opposition to Black people certainly had a regional advantage. In the South, they completely controlled the politics of the region. In the North, the political power of the abolitionists grew and grew until the Civil War broke out. Today, the descendants of the abolitionists hold a grip on the levers of political power, but yes, the racists have made great gains. 

The panic over Critical Race Theory is easy to understand. If you're not guilty of harboring racial animus, then you have no problem with CRT being taught.