A Deadly Gamble

First, Vladimir Putin is not Hitler. Not even close. Putin is hampered by a nationally fatal shortsightedness, blinded by the prism of Russian history and culture, and torn between modernizing an oil weighted economy and appeasing oligarchs who could sieze control of the country, or at least split into the Balkan-type civil fracturing of a nuclear power. That isn’t altogether different from the United States, by the way.

In my 2014 book, A TRAGIC FATE: Politics, Oil, the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and the Looming Threats to Civil Aviation Kindle Edition by WC TURCK http://www.amazon.com/TRAGIC-FATE-Politics-Malaysia-Airlines-ebook/dp/B00RPXWDPK I described the dangerous position Russia has found itself, desperately grasping for economic and social equilibrium through the control of oil and gas reserves.

The Syrian crisis illustrates Putin’s precarious position precisely. First, the historic correction of oil prices, affected by a sluggish global economy, de-escalation between Iran and the West, the end of supply-chain disrupting wars, Fracking and OPEC’s assault on Fracking’s profitability, carbon emission initiatives and green technology threatens Putin’s economy and security. More than 2/3 of the Russian economy is based on oil revenues. Low prices are devastating to Russia, exactly the opposite of America’s consumer-based economy. Tensions in Syria with the insertion of Russia’s military appear to have driven a spike in oil prices, opening October 1st at nearly $47.

Second, Western, and particularly US policy and action in Syria’s civil war has proved a complete failure. According to the International Business Times Syria has ” 2.5 billion barrels of crude oil as of January 2013, which makes it the largest proved reserve of crude oil in the eastern Mediterranean according to the Oil & Gas Journal estimate.”

While the US wants Syrian President Assad out, envisioning a chaotic scenario akin to the Libyan debacle, that leaves the door wide open for Putin and Russia to step inside. The airstrikes this week confirmed that Putin is less interested in assailing ISIS than he is in supporting Assad.

The pay off for Russia is clear. Syria possesses vast reserves of oil, gas and oil shale as yet untapped because of the fighting. Think of Syria as something of a mini-Crimea, which Putin siezed from Ukraine because of its strategic interest and proximity to Black Sea oil and gas reserves. If Putin, as he sees it, can end the fighting and alleviate pressure on Damascus, or sweep it off into a corner of the country the appreciation of Assad would pay untold dividends for Putin.

It is all short-sighted of course. The world will only continue moving father and farther away from reliance on fossil fuels. Putin and his government have shown little or no inclination in evolving and adapting to that eventuality. That short-sightedness may be the most dangerous component of all of this. No matter what direction Putin goes, without divesting from oil and gas as the bulwark of his economy, disaster and danger are only a heartbeat away.

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The Price of Gas: Bigger than you think

James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma is now the new chair of the Senate Environmental Committee. That’s sort of like making Adolph Eichmann manager of a Kosher food company. What does that have to do with the price of gas? I’m getting to that.

First, before you think the current low price of gas is a good thing, you should know why. There are a lot of forces right now struggling over the price of a barrel of crude oil. A collapse in the price of oil is dangerous to global piece, and the world is precariously at the brink of just that. For example, in a previous article Brian and I discussed the superpower struggle over Crimean and Ukrainian gas and oil reserves, and how that contributed to the shootdown by pro-Russian rebels of Malaysian Air Flight 17, killing all 298 aboard. Russia’s still fairly rudimentary economy is almost exclusively based on oil. To keep his nation running comfortably Russian President Putin needs the cost per barrel to be just around $110. You may have read about massive Russian air incursions over Europe. Putin is attempting to sway the crude oil market and drive the price up by maintaining tensions. That’s a dangerous game. So is the potential collapse of the Russian economy, or massive unrest. One of the Obama administration’s strategies has been to manipulate the market and drive the cost of oil down to punish Russia for its actions in Ukraine. And you thought that it was all about the dictates of the marketplace guiding the cost of oil and gas. Bless your heart.

But wait, there’s more! The Saudis have been glutting the market with oil to drop the price as well. Why? Two reasons. ISIS is selling so much cheap oil on the blackmarket that legitimate markets are feeling the sting. One of the biggest buyers of ISIS illegal oil is our friends, and NATO and European Union member, Turkey. In my opinion for that and their pro-ISIS belligerence with the Kurds, Turkey should be expelled by the EU and NATO and face punishing sanctions. The other pressure on the Saudis is Fracking in the US and Canada of that filthy, polluting tar sands crude. The Saudi’s goal by lowering the price of oil is to make it far too expansive for Frackers and tar sands producers.

The benefit, it might appear is for consumers. Consumer spending accounts for about 70% of the US economy. When the price of gas drops, the ability to spend by consumers goes up, although it appeared that the debt burdened US consumer, with stagnate wages might have exceeded its debt to income ratio, as spending dropped .2% in September. The concentration of wealth system strangling the economy currently creates a false market. It creates consumer puppets who are merely cash machines to government coffers and ever more wealthy corporations. They do not want you to have any control over the marketplace or economy, but only to remain manipulated for their profit. In that system the consumer has no control.

The good news is that the working class needs time to adjust to lower energy prices, and that might become evident in the October figures, although the price of gas was inching up going into November. If they rebound to August and early September levels any consumer gain would be lost. The slow bleeding of high transportation costs would continue apace for working class and poor families.

The first important thing to realize about the US economy, indeed the world economy, is that it is not structured around any particular economic theory, and no universal marketplace ideal. The economy of the world is a mad patchwork of cobbled together ideas, emotions and trust levels, all broadly bound by a complex set of assumptions. But at the end of all that one thing is universal, and that is the basic notion that if consumers have more money, they will generally buy more stuff. If fuel costs are low enough then the money consumers might otherwise spend on energy needs is diverted and spread throughout the economy.

The more of that income that is discretionary, that is not going directly to survival needs, the more power resides with the consumer. That is the reason behind the wealth disparity in America. It is by design. With less money moving freely in the engine of the economy, debt is increased and those who control the assets control the consumer. But because we know that when prices are lower, spending goes up, and when gas prices are lower that the economy improves, why not extend that argument, and take it to the logical conclusion. The key lies in energy, and the American consumer has power to drive down the costs of energy. That would also directly assail the economic hegemony of the 1%. Here’s how.

Despite dramatic improvements in solar and wind power, 85% of America’s energy consumption comes from fossil fuel. Agricultural production eats up most of that, through wasteful manufacture of artificial fertilizers and pesticides, and in canning. Simply eating fresh vegetables, locally sourcing as little as a 1/3 of your vegetables and cutting meat consumption by 10%, or about 18 pounds of meat per year, would lower your medical costs, help the environment, spur local economic growth and force greater efficiency in the market. Nationally, savings in health care from a cleaner economy are estimated at almost $100 billion annually. An enormous amount of energy is wasted in packaging, processing and storing food.

James Inhofe has openly expressed his disdain for hybrid and electric cars. But Inhofe is bought and paid for by major corporate donors, including big oil. He works for the 1%-ers who want you to be a faceless, manipulated consumer. By switching to or supporting hybrid and electric cars the gas and oil royalty of the country and the world would finally be deposed, and once again we would have some say in the marketplace instead of mere victims, or fish swimming against an ever increasing current of manipulation, control and corruption. Just a thought…

CAM00236WC Turck is an author, artist, playwright and talk radio host in Chicago. He has been called the most dangerous voice on the Left. He is currently working on a new book “Shoot Down: An unflinching look at the events leading up to the shooting down of Malaysia Air Flight 17.” His first novel, “Broken” was recommended by NAMI for its treatment of PTSD. In 2006 he published “Everything for Love,” a memoir of his experiences during the siege of Sarajevo. He wrote and produced two critically acclaimed plays, “Occupy my Heart” and “The People’s Republic of Edward Snowden.” He works with the homeless and foreclosure victims in Chicago. He partners in a weekly radio show dedicated to issues, society and politics with cohost, activist and artist Brian Murray For more information, past shows, videos and articles, visit www.revolutioandbeer.com

The Illinois Policy Institute (IPI) is a conservative think tank with offices in Chicago and Springfield, Illinois, and member of the State Policy Network. IPI is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) as of 2011. IPI is also a member of ALEC’s Health and Human Services Task Force and Education Task Force. Senior Budget and Tax Policy Analyst, Amanda Griffin-Johnson, presented model legislation (the “State Employee Health Savings Account Act”) to the HHS task force at ALEC’s 2011 annual meeting.[4] Collin Hitt, Director of Education Policy, is a private sector member of the Education Task Force representing IPI. He sponsored the “Local Government Transparency Act” at the ALEC 2011 States and Nation Policy Summit. In its 2006 annual report the Cato Institute states that it made a grant of $50,000 to the Illinois Policy Institute. The Cato Institute is a libertarian think tank founded by Charles G. Koch and funded by the Koch brothers.

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Obama’s misteps as tension mounts between NATO and Moscow. An excerpt from the upcoming book, “A TRAGIC FATE: Politics, Oil, the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17and the Looming Threats to Civil Aviation” by Revolution and Beer’s WC Turck

One could not concoct a better scenario for conspiracy and intrigue. The scope and spectrum of the international impact bespeaks the integration of world markets with politics and the micro dynamics of men killing men on an obscure battlefield. The sheer timing of events that Thursday, July 17th 2014 is the stuff of conspiracy, and could not have come together more precisely. Immediately it called to mind the curious and still unexplained activity in the stock market immediately prior to September 11, 2001, when massive bets were made that United Airlines and American Airlines stocks would drop. Stocks sank precipitously for both airlines, which had each lost 2 aircraft in the September attacks.

The problem with history is most often the failure of proper perspective. The trouble with conspiracy or at least the appearance of conspiracy, sometimes is a consequence of a lack of true context, or that it is simply an intentional tool for partisanship. Which isn’t to negate the fact that true conspiracies do occur, and in the aggregate that may well prove true for the tragedy surrounding the shooting down of MH-17. Setting that aside for the moment, what is critical is a consolidation, as best as can be amassed of the context, the events and the human scope of a terrible tragedy and perhaps a criminal act of war.

At the very least, the tragedy indicts all of the parties involved in the conflict. It indicts the Russians and their Ukrainian separatist proxies in eastern Ukraine. While the West may be blamed for missing or even exploiting Russia’s territorial anxieties, Russia cannot simply pander to those anxieties if they expect to interact equitably on the international stage.

Russia is as complex and filled with contradictions as any nation or individual, but basic assumptions can be drawn. These descriptors are illustrative in gaining some understanding of the Russian heart and mind. It is in that understanding that the gaps to building strategies, finding solutions and overcoming issues like the current crisis in Ukraine may be bridged.

There is an exuberant pride tempered by melancholy and stoicism and deepened by the fatalistic resignation to hardship, rooted by a strong and linear traditional heritage. Russia is, by and large, a patriarchal society, with hardly more than a generation, at the time of the MH-17 incident, since the end of the Cold War and opening of the Berlin Wall.

The population of Russia itself, plagued by emigration, poverty, low birth rates and alcoholism has been in decline since that period. Life expectancy for men has remained relatively stagnate since 1959. An April 2012 article in Forbes noted that while Moscow has more billionaires than London and New York, that nearly 20 million Russians lived below the poverty line. Percentage wise in comparison to the United States, the basic number same about the same, however, the standards in either country are much different.
There is a rejection by Russians of the notion of a once great nation broken by the West, and yet that notion nonetheless haunts that rejection. For many Russians the question of who actually won and lost the Cold War is a deeply arguable point. _h0_w628_m6_otrue_lfalse

What all of this argues is that the West has consistently misread and misunderstood Russia and the Russian mind, to the detriment of true progress between nations. In Ukraine, despite the lofty slogans and machinations of democratic principles and sovereignty, Russia feels more than compelled to maintain its interests and security.

The Russians have also acted every bit as bullishly as the West in pursuit of interests outside its own borders, especially with countries it shares a border with. With Ukraine, and the lusty appeal of oil and gas riches in Crimea, the stakes for Russia could not be higher. Add to that an ethnic Russian constituency in strategically import regions of Ukraine and Crimea and the mix becomes volatile. When Russian forces moved into Ukraine on August 29th, 2014 in support of rebel forces fighting Ukrainian forces in key coastal towns on the Sea of Azov, the ultimate strategy was nakedly transparent. The move would consolidate Russia’s direct control over the Sea of Azov, and provide unfettered access to Ukraine along a key road.

From the start of the crisis in Ukraine the West acted out of a mixture of short-sighted greed and fundamental ambivalence to the Russian perspective. Russia acted like a dog chasing a not-too-distant bone. Caught in the middle, on the ground and in the skies are civilians.

In August 1999, former President Clinton met then Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s handpicked successor for the first time. Yeltsin, the son of a mining engineer. Like his predecessor, Yeltsin understood that rebuilding the fracturing Soviet economy was a lost cause without fundamental political and social reforms. Yeltsin was a true reformer, and championed the cause of battling government corruption. His decision to pick a young and politically astute former KGB agent named Vladimir Putin was hardly a rash or ill-informed action for the ailing reformer, Yeltsin. Putin’s record as he rose through the ranks of Russia’s volatile politics reflected at once one of reform, strength and vision.

Clinton noted in his memoir, My Life, that “Putin presented a stark contrast to Yeltsin. Yeltsin was large and stocky; Putin was compact and extremely fit from years of martial arts practice. Yeltsin was voluble; the former KGB agent was measured and precise. I came away from the meeting believing that Yeltsin had picked a successor who had the skills and capacity for hard work necessary to manage Russia’s turbulent political and economical life better than Yeltsin could, given his health problems; Putin had the toughness to defend Russia’s interests and defend Yeltsin’s legacy.”

The final point is debatable, but Putin had a tough uphill battle to defend or reform a system and society far different from the West. In the vacuum created by the collapse of the Soviet system, corporatism and a rise of an exceedingly wealthy and powerful oligarchy wrested control of the economy and with it the reigns of true power. By 2008, according to Forbes, there were 87 billionaire’s in Russia, with a net worth of half a trillion Dollars. Despite Putin’s efforts at reforms, poverty remains an issue, while the quality of life of the average Russian has stagnated or declined. Former defense secretary Robert gates summed up in a January 2014 interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt his perception of Putin’s shortcomings:

“I think Putin is bad for Russia. And I think right now, it’s the Russians that are paying the greatest cost for him being in power, and he potentially could be president of Russia until 2024. And his refusal to open the country up politically, his refusal to encourage, and provide predictability for foreign investment, his regard of all the natural resources as a kind of a natural patrimony, so not any encouraging foreign investment there, and frankly, stealing from Western companies by expropriating what they’ve invested. Russia just has a number of problems. I think that former President Medvedev, who is now again the prime minister, had a pretty good idea what was wrong with Russia and what needed to be done to fix it. But Putin pushed him out of the way. And my own view is, as I say in the book, is Putin’s a man of the past. He’s all about lost glory, lost empire, lost power. And he’s, while he will cooperate with us in certain areas, and one example is he did let the sanctions on Iran go through the U.N. He did agree not to provide the S-300, very advanced air defense system, to the Iranians. And he did let our military equipment go across the Trans-Siberian Railroad to Afghanistan. Even with all that, he’s not going to miss an opportunity to embarrass us or create problems for us.”

But the fact that Medvedev could be brushed aside by Putin is evidence that is was not the right leader to reign in the oligarchs, battle rampant crime and corruption and satisfy flagging Russian national pride as their patriarchal icon. That speaks to Gate’s over simplification that Putin is a man of the past; about lost glory, lost empire, lost power. In national security, national pride and ego are equally important components. Likewise they are critical to forging a national focus, whether political, social or economic, and that is the key to Putin’s power and perspective.

But the blame is hardly all on the West’s side. Putin also has shown a fundamental ignorance of the Western perspective. From the short-term gains of defense spending and arms sales to exports of gas and oil, while Putin has used these as rudimentary peasant-like marketplace tools to maintain or wield power. He seems not to understand or care that the West, and particularly the Obama administration, convolutes vague notions of freedom with unfettered or predatory market economics. Russian banks are bludgeon tools to the state run defense and oil concerns, spinning their wheels in a bid with China and other nations to create a new monetary alternative, or simply keep the Ruble afloat with the burden of 21st Century oil and gas realities around its neck.

The Russian market reforms of the 1990s saw the privatization of certain sectors of the economy. The exceptions were in defense and oil, which remained solidly, strategically and predictably in the state’s hands. It belies several differences, socially, economically and politically from the West and the United States. The first is that Russia and its economy are ties to the production, refining and sale of oil and gas far more than the US. An estimated 40% of Europe’s gas needs are pipelined from Russia through Ukraine, and some 70% of the country’s exports are oil and gas. A correlation can be made between the rise of oil prices since the mid 1990s and the precipitous rise of Russia’s gross domestic product, GDP. When, following US led sanctions in the wake of the downing of MH-17, Putin remarked that they did not even consider the vast oil and gas reserves in the Crimea region, even the average observer would have believed it a work of fiction.

That, for a nation so animated historically over the vehement, often blind defense of its borders, as in the cases of KAL 902 and 007, the near monopolistic dependence on oil and gas exports is a supreme and potentially disastrous liability. It is that weakness which the Obama administration sought to exploit with sanctions beginning in the winter 2014 over Crimea, and mounting that summer over MH-17, Russian military incursions and rebel support in eastern Ukraine.

At a fundraiser for her eventual 2016 presidential bid, Hillary Clinton was quoted in the Long Beach Press Telegram that Putin’s actions in Crimea sounds familiar, it’s what Hitler did back in the ’30s, All the Germans that were … the ethnic Germans, the Germans by ancestry who were in places like Czechoslovakia and Romania and other places, Hitler kept saying, They’re not being treated right. I must go and protect my people,’ and that’s what’s gotten everybody so nervous.”

Nor is Putin, as the hawkish Arizona Senator John McCain described on FOX News in August, a thug with aspirations of reawakening the Russian bear.

Both were ridiculous statements. What Vladimir Putin is not is Hitler and he is not a thug. Crimea is not Czechoslovakia or the Sudetenland. But Putin also cannot be absolved of violations of international law. The recognition of sovereign national borders is a tenant of 21st Century international stability. There can be no dispute that Russia and Putin have failed to adequately respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine in a grab for oil, gas and strategic resources, but then neither has the West. In the case of Ukraine, both Russia and the West are guilty of violating international law with respect to Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence. Putin’s willingness to use the cover of so-called ethnic and national sympathizes is cynical and antithetical to the interests of Russia and its people. Sadly, he is left with few options.

Still, the lessons of history cannot be ignored. The sanctions and pressure from the US and the West may have enlivened many of those old Russian anxieties. Vladimir Putin, who entered the KGB in the dangerous years of the mid-1980s would not have been immune from pervasive, even obsessive fears of a US-led first strike against the Soviet Union. There are indications some of those old Russian fears about outside threats began to surface with Putin. Germany’s Bild Newspaper reported on a telephone conversation between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Obama in which she reportedly wondered whether Putin was “still in touch with reality.”

By July Merkel seemed to have amended those views, which may revealed a moment of frustration for the German leader. Meeting before the World Cup soccer finals in Brazil on July 13th, days before the shoot down, there seemed some small movement towards progress. Spokesman for Putin, Dmitry Peskov told Reuters that both leaders had “stressed the necessity to urgently resume the work of a contact group on Ukraine, possibly in the format of a video conference. It is their common opinion that, in order for the contact group to resume its work, a ceasefire needs to be declared as soon as possible.”

Additional blame in the Ukraine crisis must be leveled directly at the Press. It was natural that the Russian press would side with Putin. In the United States the growing crisis became something far less predictable. A partisan, decidedly anti-Obama American press helped to stir a substantial component of egotism which became a part of the impasse and competition between Obama and Putin, and by extension; the US and Russia. The effect was to convolute the facts of what was happening in Ukraine and to undermine the public’s opportunity to understand the stakes involved in the crisis.

Throughout the winter and spring of 2014 that so-called anti-Obama Press resounded with base and insulting comparisons and contrasts about the two leaders. Charles Krauthammer called Putin and Obama mismatched in favor of President Putin. The level of commentary from sources such as FOX News and others descended quickly from there. Broadcasters gleefully talked about Putin’s manliness in contrast to Obama in the most obtuse and latently homo-erotic manner. Talk host Sean Hannity, with KT McFarland described Vladimir Putin’s “rock-hard abs.” One site put it this way:

On one hand you have the former KGB agent, Putin, who is seen as an uber masculine machine and a picture of physical strength and stamina. Photos have surfaced on the internet with him (shirtless) riding on the back of a horse and a photo shopped grizzly bear in the wild; an image that would suggest he’s a real manly man. He is a proud Russian with a large ego and is precise about what he says and means and does what he says he will do. On the other hand, you have Obama, the former community organizer who is seen as a mom-jeans-wearing “Steve Urkel” type. Instead of horses and bears, he prefers a Daisy 3 speed bike and a safety helmet as his means of transportation…http://clashdaily.com/2014/03/putinobama-phenomenon-james-bond-vs-steve-urkel/

Former Presidential candidate Allen West even went so far as to demean the first lady Michelle Obama’s appearance in comparison to Putin’s wife: “Putin married this soft-spoken beauty…Obama…..well….”

But it may all have been a ruse, or at least a broader effort to delude or confuse the public about what was really at play over Ukraine. At the very least criticism of the Obama administration seemed designed to make broader arguments in support of the Keystone XL pipeline debate in the United States and to shift European dependence on Russian gas with dependence on American gas, or at the very least Ukrainian gas which was more and more under nominal, if not direct US control. In early March Fox contributor and big-energy advocate KT McFarland offered Obama advice on dealing with Putin and the Russians.

“We can do what we did in the 1980s,” she said, “push down the price of oil, in this case by fracking and use our abundance of natural gas resources that we’ve had just in the last few years and start selling them to Europe. What would that do for Putin? If he can’t have high oil prices and high gas prices to Europe, he can’t meet payroll. If the cost per barrel goes below a hundred dollars per barrel Putin is in trouble…”

McFarland was referring to manipulations in the market and a collapse of quotas under OPEC in 1985 that had a devastating impact on the Russian economy, which was emerging as the world’s biggest oil and gas producer at the time. For McFarland, who regularly blusters about the so-called “free market” unburdened by government interference and regulations, the statements seemed a glaring contradiction.

It was already obvious, as the world reacted to Russia’s annexation efforts of Crimea, in early 2014 that the Russian Ruble was Putin’s Achilles heel. It was too closely dependent on oil, of which the total Russian economy was dependent. That would have been obvious to the Obama administration as well. Just three days after McFarland’s remarks Businessweek published an article connecting Ukraine and the viability of the Keystone XL Pipeline. Soon after Senator Mary Landrieu, democrat and chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, began making the case that the pipeline would offer a solution to Europe’s gas worries.

On March 27th,, in the wake of Washington’s first round of sanctions on individuals, many connected directly to Russia’s energy concerns, Landrieu released a statement following passage of a bill authorizing $1 billion in loan guarantees to Ukraine:

“Today’s vote to provide $1 billion in loan guarantees to help stabilize Ukraine’s economy is a good first step toward helping the millions of Ukrainians and Eastern Europeans affected by the tyrannical ambitions of Vladimir Putin. I am committed to bolstering this effort. As Chair of the Senate Energy Committee, I will continue my work to increase domestic energy production and make the US a global leader in energy exports. America can and should be an energy superpower that helps our allies across the globe. One of Putin’s greatest weapons is the gas that Russia produces and sells to countries like the Ukraine and Lithuania. By entering the market and giving these nations someplace else to buy gas, we will break the stranglehold of despots like Putin, who use their energy stockpiles to crush the freedoms of neighboring nations. The last thing President Putin and his cronies wants is competition from the United States of America in the energy race, and I look forward to playing a leading role to bring energy security and independence to America and its democratic allies around the world to advance the cause of freedom. ”

The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 98-2. A strong case can be made that the Ukrainian people were not the primary reason for the vote.

That spring, on nervousness regarding Russian troop concentrations on the Ukraine border, Crimea and disruptions in oil helped drive the price of oil to around an average of$105 per barrel. The price dropped, unseasonably, and with additional concerns over Islamic State successes in Iraq and Syria to under $95 a barrel; odd given the inherent emotional uncertainty in investors who generally reacted on far less than the market was facing during the summer of 2014. The weakness in the oil market was great news for the US public and helped to spur consumer spending. It also benefitted Halliburton, actively engaged in Ukraine, making its stocks more attractive and accessible to investors.

The price per barrel of oil is a key factor here, for both Russia and the US. Russia budget’s its economy based on an average per barrel cost for oil of around $114. Below that, given their near monopolistic reliance on oil, the effects of lower oil costs begin strangling the economy very quickly. The effect is opposite that of Europe and, in particular, the United States, in which a drop in oil prices can have a benefit to the economy, particularly on the consumer side. Russia’s best card to play in that dangerous game was to maintain heightened tensions and the threat of direct military intervention in Ukraine, which is exactly what happened at the end of August. In part on rising tensions, reports of Russian regulars fighting in Ukraine and Kiev’s fears of a full scale conflict, the price of crude oil had climbed above $103 per barrel.

The downing of MH-17 changed everything. And there is reason to believe that the Russian leadership was just as shocked by the tragedy as the rest of the world. That eve3ning, meeting with economic advisors he released a statement, which was translated by the Associated Press:

You know that a terrible event occurred today in the sky over Ukraine, an awful tragedy — a civilian plane was killed, 285 people, according to preliminary information, were killed.
On behalf of the Russian leadership and the Russian government, we express condolences to the bereaved families, the governments of those countries whose nationals were on that plane. I ask you to honor their memory.
In this regard, I want to note that this tragedy would not have happened if there were peace on this land, if the military actions had not been renewed in southeast Ukraine. And, certainly, the state over whose territory this occurred bears responsibility for this awful tragedy.
I have already given instructions to the military departments to provide all necessary assistance in the investigation of this crime. And I also ask the government of the Russian Federation through the available civilian agencies that have the capability to do everything for a thorough investigation of this event. We will do everything — everything that depends on us, anyway — in order that the objective picture of what happened is part of the public domain here, in Ukraine and in the rest of the world. This is an absolutely unacceptable thing, and no one has the right to let this pass without the appropriate conclusions and without all of us having objective information about the incident.

But what other consequence could the use of violence and force by both the US-backed Kiev government and the Russian-backed rebels have? MH-17 was a tragedy waiting to happen.

Regardless of who fired the missile the US and Russian leadership had created the environment which allowed the tragedy to take place. All the parties to the conflict had been distracted in the rush for resources and in the folly of what amounted to a national pissing contest that no one was concerned for the safety of international civilian air travel. The airlines placed their trust in authorities whose facilities and priorities lay elsewhere. What appeared at first appeared to be an open window for peace, from those casual discussions between Chancellor Merkel and Putin in Brazil, and which might have prevented the destruction of MH-17, had been extinguished in the blink of an eye.

By late August those strains were showing once more. As Ukrainian forces pressed their assaults in the east and against Luhansk and Donetsk. While government forces appeared to advance in the north east, Russian-backed rebels had suddenly opened up a new front along the northern coast on the Sea of Azov. Putin’s statements on the 29th appeared defiant, but betrayed a growing pressure for the Russian leader as he compared Ukrainian military actions against Luhansk and Donetsk to the Nazi siege of Leningrad during the Second World War.

“Small villages and large cities surrounded by the Ukrainian army which is directly hitting residential areas with the aim of destroying the infrastructure,” Putin said. “It sadly reminds me the events of the Second World War, when German fascist … occupiers surrounded our cities.”

The statement was imprudent; theatre for ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine and Crimea, and for the folks at home. It also illustrates that pillar of Russian national identity and its inherent insecurity forever mired in a past defined through centuries of invasion. It may be an oversimplification in the Russian mind, but what becomes culture and heritage for any nation is of a history and choosing all its own.

As the current figurehead of that culture and history, there are differing views of Vladimir Putin. They are all subjective. What is not in dispute is that he is Russian, and his prime motivation will be towards the security and prosperity of his homeland, and to that task he seems singularly focused.

CAM00236WC Turck is an author, artist, playwright and talk radio host in Chicago. He has been called the most dangerous voice on the Left. He is currently working on a new book “Shoot Down: An unflinching look at the events leading up to the shooting down of Malaysia Air Flight 17.” His first novel, “Broken” was recommended by NAMI for its treatment of PTSD. In 2006 he published “Everything for Love,” a memoir of his experiences during the siege of Sarajevo. He wrote and produced two critically acclaimed plays, “Occupy my Heart” and “The People’s Republic of Edward Snowden.” He works with the homeless and foreclosure victims in Chicago. He partners in a weekly radio show dedicated to issues, society and politics with cohost, activist and artist Brian Murray For more information, past shows, videos and articles, visit www.revolutioandbeer.com

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Europe, Ukraine, Gas and the superpower sandwich. A new rant from the FILTHY PUNDIT (He ought to have his mouth washed out with soap)

Did Europe just become the bitch to the United States over the issue of gas exports from Russia? That’s how things are beginning to look as winter approaches and the disruption of gas from Russia amid the Ukraine crisis could lead to higher fuel costs and crash the EU’s already sluggish climb out of recession. Yesterday a semi-fossilized Senator John McCain said that he is working on a plan to alleviate Europe’s gas concerns within 2 years. Russia and the US have been using Ukraine’s strife in a gas and oil grab. The US targets the gas rich northeast region and Russia got huge reserves off the Crimean Black Sea coast. They could give a shit for Ukraine’s independence of the glorious ascendency of ethnic Russians in Crimea. It is about the oil. It’s always about the oil. The US could care less about Russian trade, which this country can piss away in a day of spending, but to the Europeans, particularly for winter heating gas that trade is sort of important. Unless you think its a good thing to freeze off some old Euro-grandmas? The US has pushed trade sanctions hard, using the emotion of the crash of MH-17 to drill it home and turn Europe from an emerging power broker and player in the Ukraine issue into a beggar unsure whether to kick the dead of the Malaysian crash and fuck over Ukraine’s EU aspirations by sucking Russian dick over gas to protect its economy, or if it should bend over and take it in the ass from the United States and hope for a half-hearted reach-around, likely by McCain. Either way, for the Europeans, and the Ukrainians, being trapped in the middle between to bigger and more powerful pimps like Russia and the US means eventually you are going to have to blow someone. Now how is that for cogent analysis of complex international and geo-political topics?

CAM00236WC Turck is an author, artist, playwright and talk radio host in Chicago. He has been called the most dangerous voice on the Left. He is currently working on a new book “Shoot Down: An unflinching look at the events leading up to the shooting down of Malaysia Air Flight 17.” His first novel, “Broken” was recommended by NAMI for its treatment of PTSD. In 2006 he published “Everything for Love,” a memoir of his experiences during the siege of Sarajevo. He wrote and produced two critically acclaimed plays, “Occupy my Heart” and “The People’s Republic of Edward Snowden.” He works with the homeless and foreclosure victims in Chicago. He partners in a weekly radio show dedicated to issues, society and politics with cohost, activist and artist Brian Murray For more information, past shows, videos and articles, visit www.revolutioandbeer.com

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Excerpt from my new book “Shoot Down, and the real story behind America’s intervention in Ukraine

The Maidan Square protests in the winter and spring of 2014 were transformative to Ukraine’s political, cultural and economic fabric, and one thing was fully evident from the start: Russia and the United States were in it as adversaries from the start. In truth, despite the bravery and passion of the vast majority of anti-government protesters and activists on both sides were being manipulated. The proxies of Russia and the United States were extremists who co-opted events and who encouraged violence, drawing the protest in Maidan from an initiative against political corruption and Russian interference in Ukrainian politics towards civil chaos seemingly constructed for the benefit of two antagonistic and historically competitive powers. Ukraine, in truth had little or no opportunity for reconciliation, coalition, negotiation or an exploration for charting the country’s future course. 19_CRASH3_r_W
Reaction to the protests opened the door to the possibility of exploitation. It seems clear that, at least from available evidence that both the United States, Russia and to a lesser degree the EU found ample opportunity. Public sentiment regarding the protests was sharply divided, with the country almost evenly split between supporting and not supporting the protests. By March Ukrainians supporting the Euromaidan protests approached 60%. But the population of Ukraine, including ethnic Russians in the East and in Crimea among the protesters was not as evenly represented. On February 6th a Kiev Post poll found that some 55% were from the western portion of the country, 24% from central Ukraine and 21% from the eastern portion of the nation.

The protests themselves were really rather benign and straightforward. What began in the late Autumn of 2013 over a refusal by Yankovych to sign association with the European Union. As part of that agreement the EU expected democratic reforms, including the controversial imprisonment of Yulia Tymoshenko for abuse of power with regards to gas deals between Ukraine and Russia. The proceedings were suspect from the start. According to a report in Germany’s Deutsche Welle, there were allegations of a young and inexperienced judge being appointed by Yanukovych, setting off a firestorm amid the negotiations between the EU and Ukraine. After clashes with police and escalating measures meant to end the protests the battle lines were drawn between the government and protesters.

From the start both Russia and the United States were deeply invested and more in the events unfolding in Ukraine. Audiences in both countries and Europe were fed alternative narratives on the protests, while behind the scenes not so subtle manipulation continued apace. Russia stopped the import of goods from Ukraine, a significant blow to the economy of Ukraine. By the time the protests began in November 2013 Ukrainian industrial production had slid by almost 6%, coupled with a nearly 2% fall from the previous year.

Seeing an opportunity, Ukrainian billionaire businessman and Foreign and Trade minister, Petro Poroshenko was boastful about the role his television network played in the protests. On December 11th, the same day Russia countered an EU loan offer of $10 billion USD with $15 billion without the EU’s required regulation changes, Poroshenko’s network broadcast and interview with the US State Department’s Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Victoria Nuland and EU diplomat Catherine Ashton.

Mrs. Nuland was the wife of Robert Kagan, it should be noted, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, which advises and makes recommendations on foreign policy to congress, diplomats and the president of the United States. It was here, in 1947 that the term “containment,” with regards to American policy towards the Soviet Union was coined; a policy that seems to still be a component of the relationship between Russia and the US. Kagan also co-founded The Project for the New American Century (PNAC) with conservative commentator former Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. PNAC advocates a position of prominence with the US as the world’s preeminent superpower, and was influential in America’s invasion of Iraq in 2004, ostensibly to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein. It was a PNAC member, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, who was a driving architect behind that war, and who, in a PNAC paper titled “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” infamously wrote of the need for a ”catastrophic and catalyzing event— like a new Pearl Harbor.”

What that reveal is a systemic and institutionalized perspective with regard to narrow national interests. That narrow perspective was evident on both the American and Russian sides. Russia and the West abandoned diplomacy and started playing the angles. The angles all point to oil and gas.

But it appears that Europe was less fixated on wrestling for strategic resources and more concerned with stability, particularly as the world emerged grudgingly from a severe and prolonged global recession. Struggling economies like Greece and Moldova would severely impacted, their anemic recoveries threatened, halted or reversed. While falling on the side of Ukrainian sovereignty and democracy Europe refrained from the aggressive momentum of the United States, and often seemed to resist that momentum. Adding additional weight was the specter of a replay of the 2009 gas dispute between Ukraine and Russia which cut off badly needed Russian gas to Europe, which was resolved in an agreement between Putin and Tymoshenko, leading to her imprisonment on abuse of power charges.

The United States appeared to be losing patience over European intransigence. In early February a conversation between Nuland and US Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt was leaked to the media. There is a smaller contextual concern over the recording, part of a larger and broader discussion, which was obviously intended to embarrass the Americans, but the larger context remains, reproduced here in part:

Nuland: I think Yats(enyuk) is the guy who’s got the economic experience, the governing experience. He’s the… what he needs is Klitsch (Kiev Mayor and one of three opposition leaders Vitaly Klitschko) and Tyahnybok on the outside. He needs to be talking to them four times a week, you know. I just think Klitsch going in… he’s going to be at that level working for Yatsenyuk, it’s just not going to work.
Pyatt: Yeah, no, I think that’s right. OK. Good. Do you want us to set up a call with him as the next step?
Nuland: My understanding from that call – but you tell me – was that the big three were going into their own meeting and that Yats was going to offer in that context a… three-plus-one conversation or three-plus-two with you. Is that not how you understood it?
Pyatt: No. I think… I mean that’s what he proposed but I think, just knowing the dynamic that’s been with them where Klitschko has been the top dog, he’s going to take a while to show up for whatever meeting they’ve got and he’s probably talking to his guys at this point, so I think you reaching out directly to him helps with the personality management among the three and it gives you also a chance to move fast on all this stuff and put us behind it before they all sit down and he explains why he doesn’t like it.
Nuland: OK, good. I’m happy. Why don’t you reach out to him and see if he wants to talk before or after.
Pyatt: OK, will do. Thanks.
Nuland: OK… one more wrinkle for you Geoff. [A click can be heard] I can’t remember if I told you this, or if I only told Washington this, that when I talked to Jeff Feltman [United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs] this morning, he had a new name for the UN guy Robert Serry did I write you that this morning?
Pyatt: Yeah I saw that.
Nuland: OK. He’s now gotten both Serry and [UN Secretary General] Ban Ki-moon to agree that Serry could come in Monday or Tuesday. So that would be great, I think, to help glue this thing and to have the UN help glue it and, you know, Fuck the EU.
Pyatt: No, exactly. And I think we’ve got to do something to make it stick together because you can be pretty sure that if it does start to gain altitude, that the Russians will be working behind the scenes to try to torpedo it. And again the fact that this is out there right now, I’m still trying to figure out in my mind why Yanukovych (garbled) that. In the meantime there’s a Party of Regions faction meeting going on right now and I’m sure there’s a lively argument going on in that group at this point. But anyway we could land jelly side up on this one if we move fast. So let me work on Klitschko and if you can just keep… we want to try to get somebody with an international personality to come out here and help to midwife this thing. The other issue is some kind of outreach to Yanukovych but we probably regroup on that tomorrow as we see how things start to fall into place.
Nuland: So on that piece Geoff, when I wrote the note [US vice-president’s national security adviser Jake] Sullivan’s come back to me VFR [direct to me], saying you need [US Vice-President Joe] Biden and I said probably tomorrow for an atta-boy and to get the deets [details] to stick. So Biden’s willing.

That winter, amid Nuland’s controversial remark, 44 year old Hunter Biden, son of then Vice President Joe Biden was in discussions with the Ukrainian gas firm Burisma Holdings Ltd., based out of Limassol Cyprus, according to Businessweek, engages in a broad spectrum of gas and oil exploration and production. In May of that year it was announced that Biden had been appointed to Burisma’s board, which drew attention and immediate criticism around the globe. The timing was certainly notable and advantageous to US energy interests which had been deeply invested in Ukraine for some time. The U.S. energy firm Vanco won a contract to extract gas from the Black Sea in 2007. Initially the deal was approved by Yanukovych, but then later cancelled by his predecessor, Yulia Timoshenko.

And while the Obama administration insisted there was nothing untoward in Biden’s appointment it is curious that Burisma is controlled by a close confidant of Viktor Yanukovych, Wall Street Journal, and former government official, Nicholai Zlochevsky. In a press conference following the appointment, White house Press Secretary Jay Carney said that “Hunter Biden and other members of the Biden family are obviously private citizens, and where they work does not reflect an endorsement by the administration or by the vice president or president.” Carney added that there was no connection between Biden’s appointment to Burisma and US Policy.

While there were no accusations of illegality, for an ethical and perhaps even moral standpoint it raises strong concerns. But the United States, which has often been criticized for unfairly furthering its economic interests in pursuit of its ever growing energy demands, was playing a duplicitous game. The issue here was one of access, and that multiple lines of access directly between energy strategy, the Obama administration and Ukraine can be clearly and distinctly distinguished. Biden, the son of a sitting American Vice President was at the table of Ukraine’s energy concern in a time of war, with access to the highest levels of power in both governments. Meanwhile a second American also joined Burisma. His name, Devon Archer, a former partner of Biden’s at Washington D.C. based equity firm Rosemont Seneca partners. The company is half owned by Rosemont Capital a private equity firm founded by Devon Archer and Secretary of State John Kerry’s stepson, Christopher Heinz.

“The primary problem here is the fact that Hunter Biden has set up a financial arrangement with someone who might have business pending before this administration,” Craig Holman, an ethics expert with Public Citizen, a Washington-based government watchdog group told the Associated Press.
Furthermore, the appearance of an incestuous relationship between Ukrainian energy concerns and the administration risked damaging American credibility with regard to the growing crisis. It appeared to be only the latest and most aggressive step in a rush to secure and control gas deposits in the region.

Adding fuel to that flame was the deal between Kiev and the US-based Chevron in 2013 to extract Shale gas in Western Ukraine, and a failed deal by ExxonMobil to extract gas in the Black Sea. In the United States there was hardly any mention of hunter Biden’s appointment.

In June 2014 Hunter Biden, sporting an American flag lapel pin attended the inauguarion of Petro Poroshenko as Ukraine’s new president, telling the new leader, billionaire and businessman that “there is a window for peace and you know as well as anyone that it will not stay open indefinitely … America is with you.”

The announcement of targeted sanctions by the United States seemed intended in disrupting Russian efforts in exploiting exploration and drilling. It comes as quite a coincidence that the coveted and embattled eastern regions also boast substantial gas reserves. Among the companies holding permits to develop gas fields in the Dneiper-Donetsk region is Burisma. The embattled city of Slavyansk rests upon the Yuzivska shale gas deposit, estimated at more than 4 trillion cubic meters, which In May 2012, Shell, owned jointly by great Britain and the Netherlands won the competition to develop. 40 miles to the southeast lies the field where MH-17 will ultimately come to rest.

CAM00236WC Turck is an author, artist, playwright and talk radio host in Chicago. He has been called the most dangerous voice on the Left. He is currently working on a new book “Shoot Down: An unflinching look at the events leading up to the shooting down of Malaysia Air Flight 17.” His first novel, “Broken” was recommended by NAMI for its treatment of PTSD. In 2006 he published “Everything for Love,” a memoir of his experiences during the siege of Sarajevo. He wrote and produced two critically acclaimed plays, “Occupy my Heart” and “The People’s Republic of Edward Snowden.” He works with the homeless and foreclosure victims in Chicago. He partners in a weekly radio show dedicated to issues, society and politics with cohost, activist and artist Brian Murray For more information, past shows, videos and articles, visit www.revolutioandbeer.com

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