Putin’s Gamble — Uneasy lies the head…

Putin’s Gamble

Uneasy lies the head…

February 25th 2022

Bryan Zepp Jamieson

Most of the discussion surrounding Putin’s move to invade and subjugate the Ukraine has been based on a realpolitik stance that Russia needs to have a “buffer zone”–a sphere of influence on its western flank that corresponds roughly to the Iron Curtain countries, the Warsaw Pact of the second half of the 20th century. The explanation goes that while Putin is never going to have Poland, half of Germany and the Czech and Slovenian areas under his control, he can subsume the Ukraine, possibly the Baltics, and in a fever dream, Romania and parts of Yugoslavia and rebuild much of the old Soviet empire.

The reality is a bit more complex. Russia is only a few bad harvests away from becoming a failed state. When the USSR collapsed, the economy collapsed with it, with the Ruble dropping to 2,500 to the dollar, about a 99.5% drop in value. Between 1991 and 1993, Russia lost nearly a third of its population—to starvation, to suicide, to drink. Boris Yeltsin took over the collapsed country in late 1991, inheriting a financial and social catastrophe that dwarfed the Great Depression of the 1930s.

By the end of 1993, Yeltsin had swept away the remaining pieces of the Soviet regime, including the Supreme Soviet and the Congress of People’s Deputies. He then issued a stock voucher program that permitted Russian citizens to invest in private businesses, part of a glowing image of a “free market reform” that would lead to wealth and plenty for all.

Didn’t happen. Russian plutocrats snapped up most of the vouchers, offering as little as 1% of face value in cash to desperate and starving citizens, which led to a vast concentration of wealth. And of course the “free market reform” was totally unregulated, which led to an economic gang-rape of Russia by the resident plutocrats—which already included the sinister and corrupt future trillionaire, Vladimir Putin—and western corporations.

Russia is a vast country, even now larger than the US and Canada combined. However, it only has 144 million people, and a GDP of $4.1 trillion. By way of comparison, California, with just under 40 million people, has a GDP of over $3 trillion.

But that’s misleading. A large percentage of that Russian GDP consists of money games amongst the plutocrats, and oil and gas alone make up a entire half of the Russian economy. In terms of what economists like to call “the Main Street economy” Russia’s economy is about the size of Romania’s. Russia never recovered from the 1990s, not in any meaningful way.

Russia under Putin is as viciously repressive as it was in the Soviet days, only under communism people at least got some food to eat and a roof over their heads. It was a shitty existence, no doubt of that, but it was better than what the average Russian faces now.

About the only other significant difference between the Soviet Union and Putin’s Russia is that the flow of information isn’t as absolute as it was in the 60s, before satellites and the internet. So the citizenry get to hear about how deeply they are being screwed.

Putin is deeply unpopular in Russia. Only election corruption on a level Trump can only dream of keeps him afloat. He’s had to imprison, poison and murder political dissidents and opponents. He managed to install a puppet president in America, but the puppet turned out to be too incompetent to be of any real use other than as a huge intelligence leak. He also had a puppet in Ukraine, but again, he was an incompetent and the citizenry replaced him with someone willing to stand up against Putin. Much of the American puppet’s regime was devoted to trying to overthrow the non-puppet president of Ukraine.

There’s no hope the Russian economy will improve because just by himself he’s stealing an estimated 10% of it every year. His buddies take over half.

Invading Ukraine will make him look strong, and while the Ukraine is also just a few steps removed from also being an economic basket case, it does have vast stretches of rich farmland and other resources. He can at least pretend he’s doing it to improve the lot of the Russian citizenry, and some of them may even believe it for a year or two before reality crashes in.

It raises the possibility that other former Soviet Republics might take the implied threat posed by the attack on the Ukraine seriously enough to question if they might not be better off rejoining Russia as opposed to being bombed. Some of the nations are badly enough run that they may be considering it, and if nothing else, Putin might believe they are considering it.

If his gamble pays off, Putin buys time. He’s shrewd enough to realize that Biden can only go so far in imposing economic sanctions, and that ones that hurt the Russian plutocracy the hardest will exact a financial toll on the American economy, and American support for Ukraine is like Lake Winnipeg—very broad but very shallow. And of course Putin’s puppet-in-exile is still effectively the head of a national political party and he and the GOP are already propagandizing on Putin’s behalf.

Which leads to the real threat: that between trying to occupy the Ukraine and the growing discontent at home, he might soon be facing an organized and widespread revolt.

A former KGB apparatchik, Putin has to know that no amount of repression and propaganda and military might can save a regime that has lost support. The mighty Soviet Union died with only a handful of shots being fired simply because enough of the citizenry turned their backs and walked away.

He has nothing to offer his people, and even before this winter’s mad gamble, his position was becoming more and more precarious. Even as the blitzkreig rages across the Ukraine with blinding speed, in what should have been a moment of glory, he finds himself making wild, if veiled threats of nuclear war, and the head of his space program even threatened to crash the International Space Station into the United States, exposing the desperate madness that lies behind Putin’s actions.

The best Putin can hope for is that Ukraine doesn’t form an organized guerrilla resistance, and the same doesn’t happen at home. Otherwise, he is likely to die at the hands of the mob.

And if that happens, he won’t have any sympathy from the rest of the world.

Massie Delusion — Witless Congressman promotes gun lobby’s biggest lie

Massie Delusion

Witless Congressman promotes gun lobby’s biggest lie

Bryan Zepp Jamieson

February 13th, 2022

Ignorant Republican Buffoon is nearly a triply redundant phrase when it comes to describing some members of Congress. Some are stupid. Some are vile. Far too many combine all traits and produce a loud braying that is dangerous to American democracy.

Thomas Massie, (Gun Nut-KY) is one of those. He attracted notice just before Xmas when he sent out a card featuring his family, including young children, brandishing weapons of mass destruction. Nothing says “Peace and Love for the Holidays” like a little girl with a Mac-10. I wonder how many of her classmates will die because there’s so many children with access to so much firepower. He also attributed this quote to Voltaire: “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.” While it’s not difficult to imagine Voltaire saying something like that, the quote was actually from a neo-Nazi pedophile, one Kevin Alfred Strom, who said it in terms of Jews secretly ruling the world. Interesting role model you got there, Tommy.

More recently, he made the outlandish claim that “Over 70% of Americans who died with COVID, died on Medicare.” I’ve got news for you, Tommy. Ninety-nine percent of all humans that ever lived breathed oxygen and are now dead. Better stop breathing oxygen, Tommy.

So Tommy has a well-worn record for being vile and ignorant.

But he managed to top himself over the week end, as part of his pose of willing, crawling subservience in the name of Donald J. Trump and gun nuts everywhere.

According to David Badash at the New Civil Rights Movement, “A U.S. Congressman is calling on Americans to own ‘sufficient’ weaponry to overthrow the government, suggesting they should do so “if 30 to 40 percent agree” the nation is living under ‘tyranny.’

“If 30 to 40 percent could agree that this was legitimate tyranny and it needed to be thrown off they need to have sufficient power without asking for extra permission – it should be right there and completely available to them in their living room in order to effect the change,” U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) said in a video (below) posted by Right Wing Watch.

It really scary how many gun nuts believe that nonsense. Oh, 30 to 40% of the general population would be enough to foment a revolution, but the United States is nowhere near that now. For all the romantic nonsense about colonists having guns to fight the British with, the fact is deaths by gunfire were well under 10,000 on all sides, with greater numbers coming from hypothermia, infection, and non-gun wounds. It will be of interest to anti-vaxxers to know that during that same 8.3 year period, over 130,000 colonists died of smallpox.

Gun nuts love to claim that the Second Amendment exists to empower the people to overthrow the government. They always quote the second part, “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed,” but leave out “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State…” That collection of gun industry whores and Russian spies that make up the NRA literally leave out that first part.

Other gun nuts claim that the militia exists to fight the government. This even has some backing from amongst the Founders, with James Madison arguing, “a standing army… would be opposed [by] a militia.” and “would be able to repel the danger” of a federal army.

In the end, they decided to make the militia a federal force, under Article I, Section 8, Clause 16 of the U.S. Constitution, which states: “To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.” Obviously the militia isn’t meant to overthrow the federal or state governments if the only entities that can finance them, equip them, appoint their officers and call them out are the same governments the gun nuts say the militia is there to overthrow!

Instead, the Founders decided to limit the federal force. Article I, Section 8, Clause 12:

[The Congress shall have Power . . . ] To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years; . . . “

If there is a mechanism meant to overthrow the federal government, it is there. Just don’t provide new funding for the US military for more than two more years. I doubt that will popular amongst the strutters and cringers of the far right, who hate federal power but love federal military might. (Honestly, have any of them ever actually thought this through?)

That state militia even exist was a sop to the South, who wanted people to raise slave gangs to capture runaways and rebellionists without having to go to the trouble of deputizing them. They existed to capture or shoot slaves for reading or having unapproved churches, not overthrowing the government.

The civilian militia are even sillier. I can’t imagine any of them lasting 5 seconds against a platoon of Marines, or SEALS. Even with all those guns.

Tallyrand has been credited with the line, “Treason is mostly a matter of timing.” Fire on the government and have popular support and win, and you’re a hero. Rebel foolishly and without popular support, and you’re a bullet-riddled corpse in a gutter whose next-of-kin might disavow.

If violence does arise, it will be extremely bloody, and even if it’s just 5% of the population, it might destabilize the country enough that it collapses. Why do you think the NRA gets so much support from the Putin regime, and why is it financed by corporate fascists intent on seizing control of the country?

Massie is an idiot, and would remain so even if he read this. But people have the ability to keep the idiots in check. Now is a good time to start.


Other Truckers — Expect tactic deployed in Ottawa to spread

Other Truckers

Expect tactic deployed in Ottawa to spread

February 8th 2022

Bryan Zepp Jamieson

By now, people who thought Ottawa was an indigenous tribe in Kansas know of the Canadian capital. Ottawa in February is a bleak, gray place, buried in snow and still beset by temperatures well below freezing. It’s the second coldest national capital on Earth next only to Ulan Bator, Mongolia. Yes, it’s even colder than Moscow.

The place comes to life in the Spring, which is usually on a Tuesday. The world-famous tulips erupt, the forests are eye-searingly green, and the tourists arrive. Winter returns in November and the place goes back to a monotonal study in gray: gray skies, gray buildings, gray streets, gray slush. Even the residents get a bit gray as the tans wear off. Only night relieves the grayness.

So Ottawa doesn’t make the news very much, and even in the rest of Canada people don’t know much about the place outside of Parliament Hill. It has two seasons, really: Life is Wonderful, and Oh, God, Please Kill Me Now.

How is it I know so much about the place? It’s the city of my birth, and I spent a fair bit of my childhood there. Wonderful people, but not exactly the wildest place to grow up in.

The truckers rally/protest changed all that. It is, at its heart, an astroturf movement. Fully 90% of all licensed eighteen-wheel operators in Canada are fully vaccinated and can cross the border freely. And it’s a pretty safe bet that even amongst the unvaccinated drivers, only a small minority are willing to sign on to a movement that enrages most Canadians, paralyzes cities, and features such non-Canadian flags as the American rebel flag, Trump flags, and even swastikas. Nearly all the known funding underwriting this movement is coming from American sources. Most of the cheerleading of politicians are among the scummier Americans, such as Donald Trump, and some of the scummier American politicians who renounced their Canadian citizenships in hopes that people wouldn’t notice they can’t be president, such as Ted Cruz. Compare with actual Canadian politicians, where rabid dissent come in the form of “Well, they might have a point. Let’s listen to what they have to say.”

Canada has right wing extremists, but nothing like the neo-Nazi madness that has beset America for the past six years or so. Fascists haven’t been able to flood the population with propaganda the way they have in America. Canada has no equivalent to Faux News, or fascist propaganda pits such as the Heritage Society or the Federalist Society.

But it does have social media, which has been a boon for the extremists. They figured that out right away—even back in the 80s, when “on line” meant local privately owned networks called “BBSes” or Bulletin Board Systems, right wing extremists flooded the nets with neo-Nazi, KKK and Christian fascist propaganda. They began with a presence far out-sized to their actual numbers, and they do to this day. Coupled with financial and communication support from America’s fascist billionaires, they were able to transform a small and powerless fringe group into a force that has paralyzed several cities and as of today, the busiest single border crossing spot in North America, the bridge that connects Windsor with Detroit.

It’s an effective tactic. Ordering a fleet of 18-wheelers to disperse isn’t going to work if the drivers of the trucks don’t want to disperse. All they have to do is set their air brakes, and moving said truck will be nearly impossible.

But what little popularity the movement had is evaporating fast. Residents felt besieged by the endless sounding of air horns and fireworks, and a court finally did uphold an injunction against that tactic in Ottawa yesterday. A significant incident late last week is getting a lot of attention: two males ignited fire starter blocks in the lobby of a 400 unit apartment building near the wood panelling of the lobby, and then used duct tape to make the lobby doors impossible to open from the inside. If the parties responsible were associated with the truckers in any way, the events just slopped over from raucous demonstration and major annoyance into the realm of outright terrorism. Fortunately, the arson attempt failed, and nobody was hurt.

Ottawa authorities have already blocked fuel from entering the truck zone, leaving the truckers to deal with Ottawa’s marvelous February climate once the tanks run dry. I would advocate that the RCMP and other authorities go through the ranks of the trucks, demanding passports and/or licenses from the drivers, with the promise that they will get them back at the city limits, and if they try the same thing a second time, the papers would be confiscated. It probably wouldn’t hurt to let the citizenry of Ottawa to parade peacefully amongst the trucks, chanting, blowing whistles, and beating drums. After all, if the truckers don’t want people to get any sleep, then there’s no reason they should be able to enjoy a nice nap while they freeze.

Because Canadians did get vaccinated in large numbers (83% as opposed to America’s 61%) several provinces are already planning to drop mask and access provisions over the next couple of months, and barring any more surprises from this disease, can do so safely. But border crossings will still be problematic, particular since the Canadians aren’t the only ones who demand proof of vaccination at the border.

This tactic will spread rapidly to America, where the outcomes are much more likely to turn bloody.

If Canadians find a solution that doesn’t get people hurt and opens up the roads again, not only will it be good for Canadians, but it may save many lives in America.

Maus: A Survivor’s Tale — History bleeds us, too

Maus: A Survivor’s Tale

History bleeds us, too

Bryan Zepp Jamieson

February 1st, 2022

There was a huge uproar over the past week over the removal of Maus: A Survivor’s Tale from the shelves of the McMinn County Schools in Tennessee. I doubt the action of the board, which voted 10-0 to ban the graphic novel, was antisemitic, let alone pro-Nazi, but rather reflected the urge toward authoritarian control disguised as concern for the children that is currently sweeping the right. But, coming as it did the day before Holocaust Memorial Day, it was incredibly tone-deaf and showed the basic moral and intellectual cowardice of so called “critical race theory,” or the Bowdlerizing of history to suit a narrative that erases the errors and crimes of authoritarian regimes.

It prompted me to pull out my own copy of Maus and reread it. I first read it about 15 years ago, and thought that the first reading might diminish the impact of a second reading years later. It didn’t. It’s still magnificent, angry, grim, human and utterly brilliant. Using cartoon animals, it humanizes the Holocaust experience in a way that none of the thousands of works about the Holocaust can quite manage.

As a child in London, I heard of the Holocaust, but it was in general terms. “Hitler murdered Jews, Hitler was evil, they used gas.” I don’t think I grasped how uniquely awful it was, but equated it to the other horrible things Hitler did, such as the Blitz, or Dunkirk.

It wasn’t until I was 12 when I learned, in Social Studies in Ottawa, about Auschwitz and Treblinka and what happened there. I remember those particular classes because of the images and the graphic descriptions of victims trying to claw their way out of the gas showers and the hopeless hunch in the shoulders of the inmates in the camps as the Germans raused them hither and yon. We learned about propaganda, and the ability of a society to make an entire segment non-human and remove from them all the protections and benefits of society. (In the same class we learned about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and read horrific tales of children staggering around with half their skin hanging off their bodies. The kids didn’t die of guilt.)

This was in peaceful, sedate Ottawa, where the worst torment we could imagine was having our books knocked out of our arms by a school bully. Should we have had to imagine the hiss of the gas, the screams of the dying, the despair of the not-yet-dead? Did it make me ashamed?

Well, yes. It made me ashamed to be human. But it also made me aware that I didn’t have to be that way, and should strive never to be that way.

Was it a lesson I needed to learn when I was twelve?


In subsequent years I learned that what Nazi Germany did, while horrifying in its deliberate approach, wasn’t unique or even special. England has had dozens of Holocausts in the past, including a 13th century attempt to flat-out exterminate the Jews. Canada is only now coming to grips with 300 years of genocide against the First Nations, and lurking in the shadows are the “reform schools” and orphanages that systematically turned children into hamburger. Japan had monstrous war crimes prior to the atomic bombings, and Germany suffered destruction of many cities, including Dresden and Berlin. Even Israel rising from the ashes of the camps, has amassed its own catalogue of war crimes. Nobody is pure, nobody was only a victim. We are all human, and a mixture of these things. That’s why its so important to fight against the warmongers and propagandists and bigots. We may not attain purity, but we should at least try.

Spiegelman’s characters reflect this. His father Vladek (the survivor of the camps) proves to be as bigoted and dismissive of the humanity of African-Americans (Schvartzes) as the Germans and Poles were of his humanity 40 years earlier. Art Spiegelman himself is mildly contemptuous of the history of the Holocaust, equating it to his own feelings of inadequacy and guilt. If it weren’t for those pesky Germans, his older brother, who died at age 6 in the camps some 10 years before his was born, wouldn’t be the unattainable ideal with which he had to compete.

I remember when I first read this, I felt a certain amount of depression. After all he had been through, and Vladek learned nothing of what becomes of dehumanizing others? And Art trivializes the Holocaust over a petty and actually non-existent sibling rivalry?

Well, perhaps I’ve grown since that first read. I understand now that Vladek was heavily damaged by what he went through, and not all of his humanity returned. Further, he was sick and clearly suffering from early-onset dementia. And Art wanted us to see the facile and trivial approach he initially had to his father over the Holocaust as part of showing how he slowly came to grips with it. It’s not exactly something you can process in one sitting like a homily from a calendar page.

In short, the reread helped me to humanize the Spiegelmans. Failing to humanize is, after all, a first step toward dehumanization.

One side note (sort of): A common refrain among right wingers is that the gay pride flag is just like the swastica flag. It’s about like saying having the Star of David on the front of a synagogue is exactly the same as having a swastica on the front of a building. Hitler murdered six million Jews, but that was only half the people he targeted, and homosexuals were probably the second largest group to get shot, gassed, and starved. To equate gays to Hitler is every bit a big a disgrace as equating Jews to Hitler. In their ignorance, the right skip along in the footsteps of Hitler, unaware of where their ideology will lead them. If you feel that way, read Maus and ask yourself where the similarities lie.

Maus, along with about 250 other books targeted by the authoritarian right should be on the shelves of all school libraries. They teach the kids in GERMANY about the Holocaust and it doesn’t destroy them. American kids should be able to handle it. Stephen King has the right idea: kids should flock to read any book the authoritarians want to hide “to protect the kids.”

And let’s get rid of the notion kids need to be protected from the horrors and errors of the past because they might somehow take it personally. Instead, that just leaves them ignorant, and fertile ground to repeat those horrors and errors. And that’s what the authoritarians actually want.

Creator Art Spiegelman

Date 1991

Page count 296 pages

Publisher Pantheon Books

Original publication

Published in Raw

Issues Vol. 1 No. 2 – Vol. 2 No. 3

Date of publication 1980–1991


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