Saturday, March 15, 2014

Barrett Brown: Keep Rootin’ For Putin

An Excerpt From Barrett Brown’s Keep Rootin’ For Putin: Thomas Friedman Chapter

by [Imprisoned Journalist] Barrett Brown - via FireDogLake

The following is an excerpt from Barrett Brown’s forthcoming book “Keep Rootin’ for Putin: Establishment Pundits and the Twilight of American Competence.” The book will be available on the official Free Barrett Brown website soon.

Thomas Friedman is among the most respected and widely read American pundits working today, which is to say that he is among the most influential. His books crowd the bestseller lists. His lectures are much sought out and attended by the economic elite of every city on which he descends. If one goes home for Thanksgiving and waits around long enough, one will hear him praised by both elderly old Republicans and elderly old Democrats.

Friedman’s 2003 bestseller Longitudes and Attitudes—which is called that—begins, reasonably enough, with an introduction. The introduction is entitled, “Introduction: A Word Album.” You’ve probably heard of a photo album before, but what’s all this about a word album?

The columnist is happy to explain; the book is a composite of columns that he wrote mostly in 2001 and 2002, followed by a great deal of previously unpublished notes from a similar time frame. “My hope is that this collection and diary will constitute a ‘word album’ for the September 11th experience,” he writes. “There are many photo albums that people will collect to remind themselves, their children, or their grandchildren what it was like to experience 9/11. These columns and this diary are an attempt to capture and preserve in words, rather than pictures, some of those same emotions.”

This is the mentality of Friedman and his readership—that it would be reasonable to compose a personal photo album about September 11th and maybe keep it in a special drawer.


Contempt for the media is now ubiquitous but largely misdirected to the extent that these criticisms are based on the view of the media as some sort of monolithic entity.

The news media is the product of a million individuals, each subject to a million impulses. The cable TV news producer in the pink scarf doesn’t understand what’s to be debated on this morning’s program and doesn’t care; she’s in the green room talking to another girl from guest booking about the latter’s old boyfriend and the former’s pink scarf. The freelancer on deadline need not get the feature right if he can just get it done before the girl he’s seeing arrives with a bottle of vodka. The publisher lives in the shadow of the father who bequeathed to him the most iconic paper in America; he knows that many see the paper’s recent failures as deriving in part from his own; he knows what’s said about him in the newsroom; he will prove his worth and his dynamism, he thinks to himself, when he gives William Kristol a column on the op-ed page. Maybe that was too specific.

There is also, of course, the consumer. The woman who subscribes to The New York Times may or may not read the op-ed page, which is to say that she may or may not contribute to the paper’s profitability—and thus its continued existence—based on what appears in that section. If she does read it, she is probably unaware that her favorite columnist has been demonstrably wrong about many of the most important issues facing both the U.S. and the world at large. The columnist’s errors have been pointed out by several bloggers, but she has never heard of them, and at any rate does not bother with blogs as she subscribes to The New York Times, which is a very respected outlet and has been around for well over a century, whereas these blogs seem to have come out of nowhere. The columnist, she knows, has won several Pulitzers, has written a handful of bestselling books, is forever traveling to some far-off place. She has formed her views on foreign policy in large part from his writings as well as from the writings of other, similarly respected journalists, and she votes accordingly.

When systems develop under a free society, no one is minding the store. Things happen because they happen, and things do not necessarily happen because they ought to, but rather because they do. The journalist is promoted to columnist, the consumer finds the columns to her liking, the columnist becomes more prominent, the publisher wants columnists of prominence, the editor is disinclined to cross the publisher and is most likely an idiot himself, the columnist writes more books, the consumer buys them, the columnist’s prominence increases, and at some point we have entered into a situation whereby it is to the advantage of the publisher, the editor, and of course the columnist to maintain the status quo. Whether the columnist deserves any prominence whatsoever does not necessarily come up, particularly after such point as he reaches a critical mass of notoriety. Once a pundit is made, he is rarely unmade.


Thomas Friedman is forever calling things things. He introduces his readers to the concept of 21st-century trade thusly: “These global markets are made up of millions of investors moving money around the world with a click of a mouse. I call them the Electronic Herd, and this herd gathers in key global financial centers—such as Wall Street, Hong Kong, London, and Frankfurt—which I call the Supermarkets.” He elsewhere informs us that he is “a big believer in the idea of the super-story, the notion that we all carry around with us a big lens, a big framework, through which we look at the world, order events, and decide what is important and what is not.”

Friedman is correct that it is wholly necessary to conceptualize our data into understandable frameworks in order that we might better understand it. But the framework into which Friedman has forced the world is almost entirely dependent on wordplay, on convenient structural similarities between unrelated terminology, on rhymes and sayings. In 2000, the columnist composed a “super-story” regarding Colin Powell, whose nomination for secretary of state was expected to be confirmed later in the week.

One way to think about Mr. Powell is this:

He spent thirty-five years of his life with America Onduty, as a military officer. But for the past two years he’s been associated with America Online, as a member of the AOL corporate board. So which perspective will Mr. Powell bring to his job as Secretary of State—the perspective he gleaned with America Onduty during the cold war or the perspective he gleaned with America Online in the post-Cold War?

No serious discussion of Powell’s record or policies follows; no new information is provided; it is never acknowledged that perhaps Powell is capable of thinking of the world in both the terms of a military officer and the terms of an information-age corporate advisory board member even though Powell has clearly served as both of these things. After all, Friedman has already coined the term America Onduty, contrasted it with the term America Online, and provided some allegedly clever distinction between the two mentalities represented thereby. We are informed, for instance, that those who fall under the category of ‘America Onduty’ enjoy the film A Few Good Men and see the world in terms of walls and nation states, because, you see, a character in that very film delivered some line to that effect and it seems to have made an impression on Friedman. Those associated with the ‘America Online’ mentality, by contrast, enjoy the film You’ve Got Mail because such people as these understand that the world is now integrated, and that the receiving of e-mail is a wonderful metaphor for the relatively recent dynamic whereby things occurring elsewhere now effect us all directly and with complete immediacy (“When a Russian financial crisis occurs, we’ve got mail”). Wrapping up the column, Friedman restates the question: “So which lens is Mr. Powell wearing—the one he developed with America Onduty, or with America Online?”

Even such an insufferable framework as this would be of value to the extent that it truly assists in helping Friedman and his citizen-readers to understand Colin Powell and the mentalities that inform him, to draw useful conclusions from this understanding, and to make wiser and better-informed decisions in terms of the manner in which they vote, contribute, advocate, purchase, and otherwise interact with the various entities into which man’s efforts are organized. If the public understanding is increased by dividing Powell’s consciousness into that of America Online and some variant of that brand name and then characterizing in turn each of these mentalities by reference to concepts from popular films, then there’s really no problem here other than that the whole America Onduty thing is lame.

Suppose, however, that such frameworks as these do not seem to grant Friedman any particular insight into a particular subject, and in fact seem to lead him and his admirers astray. This might indicate to us that such frameworks are not actually useful, and that those who compose such frameworks may perhaps not be worth listening to, and that to the extent that they contribute to the national understanding they have damaged it in so doing, and that to this same extent they are responsible for the astounding errors that have been made in our country’s recent past. Suppose all of that!

Friedman’s frameworks provide him with nothing. What he does is fine for writing a reader-friendly column in a pinch, but his cute semantic tricks do not translate into accuracy as much as we might hope that they would. He was not able to provide any useful predictions regarding Powell, for instance, although he certainly tried, announcing in another column that “it was impossible to imagine Mr. Bush ever challenging or overruling Mr. Powell on any issue.” Moreover:

Mr. Powell is three things Mr. Bush is not—a war hero, worldly wise and beloved by African-Americans. That combination gives him a great deal of leverage. It means he can never be fired. It means Mr. Bush can never allow him to resign in protest over anything.

Of course, Powell did indeed leave the administration under circumstances that we may ascertain to involve firing, resignation, or some typically Washingtonian combination thereof—after having first been overruled by Bush on several decisions involving the most significant question of that presidency. To Friedman’s credit, his failed prediction was based on the standard media narrative of the time as well as popular assumptions made solely on appearances, which is to say that it was sourced.

Elsewhere in this column, Friedman notes that it “will be interesting to see who emerges to balance Mr. Powell’s perspective.” That person, who ended up not so much balancing Powell’s perspective as smothering it in its crib, was Cheney. The vice president was not exactly a “war hero,” “worldly wise,” or “beloved by African-Americans,” which is to say that he was in many ways Powell’s opposite number—which is to say in turn that Friedman’s assumptions regarding what sort of person would have the greatest degree of influence over Bush were not just wrong, but almost the exact opposite of the case.


Friedman spent much of 2001 in contemplation of technology. The New York Times sent him off to the Davos World Economic Forum in January of that year; Friedman sent back a column entitled “Cyber-Serfdom,” announcing therein that the Internet would soon be replaced by the “Evernet,” itself the next step in the trend towards greater connectivity. But was humanity walking the dog, or was the dog walking humanity? One might well ask!

The year 2005 loomed large. By that year, Friedman explained, “we will see a convergence of wireless technology, fiber optics, software applications, and next-generation Internet switches, IPv6, that will permit anything with electricity to have a web address and run off the Internet—from your bedroom lights to your toaster to your pacemaker . . . People will boast, ‘I have 25 web addresses in my house; how many do you have? My wired refrigerator automatically reorders milk. How about yours?’” This thing that didn’t end up coming anywhere close to happening was of great concern to the columnist. “I still can’t program my VCR; how am I going to program my toaster?” Much of the column was presumably cribbed from an Andy Rooney monologue circa 1998.

Later that year, there occurred an unprecedented attack on U.S. commercial and military assets. This shifted Friedman’s lens back towards the Middle East, where he would begin sifting the sand in search of super-stories. Our protagonist knew the Middle East well, having won two Pulitzers in recognition of the reporting he did from that region throughout the ’80s. Back then, the system had identified him as worthy of advancement, and today it would call upon him to inform the citizenry’s decisions on a matter of extraordinary importance. The future of the United States and that of several other nations was now, to some small but measurable extent, in the hands of Thomas Friedman.


It was a month into the war in Afghanistan. “A month into the war in Afghanistan,” Friedman wrote, “the hand-wringing has already begun over how long this might last.”

Hand-wringing is something that old ladies do. They are always wringing their little hands, worrying themselves over some matter that is actually well under control. Friedman, confident that Colin Powell had things under control over at the White House, was not so neurotic as to concern himself with the potential length of a military intervention in such a place as Afghanistan. “This is Afghanistan we’re talking about,” he explained. “Check the map. It’s far away.”

While others wrung their hands due to their misinformed takes on the situation, Friedman expressed doubts based on his knowledge of ongoing events—though not significant doubts, of which he had few. “I have no doubt, for now, that the Bush team has a military strategy for winning a long war,” he explained, although one element of the plan did strike him as worrisome. “I do worry, though, whether it has a public relations strategy for sustaining a long war.” Obviously the Powell administration would win in Afghanistan, but would President Bush and his top advisers be too busy winning wars and otherwise attending to their duties to give any thought to influencing the opinion of voters?

Just in case, Friedman utilized subsequent columns in defending the administration’s aforementioned “military strategy for winning a long war”:

Think of all the nonsense written in the press—particularly the European and Arab media—about the concern for ‘civilian casualties’ in Afghanistan. It turns out that many of those Afghan ‘civilians’ were praying for another dose of B-52s to liberate them from the Taliban, casualties or not. Now that the Taliban are gone, Afghans can freely fight out, among themselves, the war of ideas for what sort of society they want.

As seen, Friedman in those days took to using the terms “civilian” and “civilian casualties” in scare quotes, as if such terminology does not really apply. As dead as these Afghans may be, they do not really mind being killed or maimed—this, at least, is how it “turns out,” as if Friedman is suddenly privy to some new information that confirms all of this. In the space of two sentences, then, the most respected columnist in the country has attempted to imply the inaccuracy of demonstrably accurate and crucial elements of the question under discussion. And he has followed this up with a significant assertion regarding that question based on some unspecified new information that plainly doesn’t exist. All of this is followed by an announcement that “the Taliban are gone.”

Whose Law, Whose Jungle?

Crimea Self-Determination Amid Western Law of the Jungle

by Finian Cunningham - Press TV

Ahead of the referendum in Crimea this weekend on whether the Ukrainian autonomous republic should secede and join the Russian Federation, Washington and Europe are piling on the pressure to scupper the poll with unprecedented threats of reprisals.

German chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated provocative American claims that Russia is using "19th and 20th century tactics» and «law of the jungle" (meaning military aggression), when the reality is the reverse: it is Western states that are railroading political aims with wild threats of war.

US secretary of state John Kerry, ahead of his meeting with Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, in London on Friday, said that if the Crimea referendum goes ahead then that would "close off any available space for diplomacy." Notwithstanding the fact that Washington has already done its best to close off diplomatic options for de-escalating tensions by mobilizing fighter jets, warships and troops on Russia’s borders, as well as brandishing punitive sanctions.

Both the US and European leaders have warned of "massive sanctions" and other veiled threats of "serious steps" should the Crimea referendum pass. Such threats are reckless moves towards war – conducted by Western states that arrogantly presume to be the standard-bearers of law and order.

With a majority ethnic Russian population in Crimea and its parliament having already voted for a declaration of independence from the rest of now-lawless Ukraine, it seems certain that the electorate will approve of joining the Russian Federation.

But the Crimean population is going to the polls to exercise their right to self-determination under conditions of extreme and completely unacceptable duress. That in itself constitutes gross interference in the internal affairs of the autonomous southern peninsula.

The ironies, contradictions and hypocrisies of Washington and its European allies towards the people of Crimea are staggering. Western standards are readily being seen to be nothing but empty, cynical rhetoric, used to conceal their own rapturous embrace of «law of the jungle».

The crisis stems from the Western allies engaging in a tug-o-war to incorporate Ukraine into the European Union, allegedly so that the former Soviet Republic would benefit from EU standards of economics, law and culture. This supposedly high-minded objective has been pursued by Washington, London, Paris and Berlin by destroying the sovereignty and constitution of Ukraine in their illicit support for Putschists who overthrew the elected authorities in Kiev last month – after nearly four months of Western-backed street violence conducted by neo-Nazi paramilitaries.

That violence also included acts of mass-murder, most probably, the evidence shows, carried out by covert snipers working for the Western-backed agitators, in which up to 100 people, protesters and police, were shot dead and hundreds more wounded.

Now the Western sponsors of the coup d’état in Kiev turn around and accuse Russia of violating Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity because Moscow has welcomed the decision by the Crimean republic to hold a legally constituted referendum.

A century ago, Western powers embarked on the First World War allegedly to uphold the principle of "self-determination of small nations." Evidently, that principle does not apply now to the people of Crimea.

What other Western standards are being trampled on when it comes to the Ukraine and Crimea?

This year across Europe, there are much-anticipated referendums within EU states for regional political independence.

In September, Scotland is to hold a vote on becoming an independent, separate state from the United Kingdom. Already, the Scots have their own devolved parliament dating from 1999, which has since given the go-ahead for a vote on setting up a fully independent state.

To be sure, the Westminster parliament in London and the central government led by Conservative prime minister David Cameron are not happy about the prospect of the Scots abandoning the UK. The British monarchy has also expressed concern that Scottish independence may lead to the eventual break up of the entire kingdom. Nevertheless, the right to Scottish self-determination is irreproachable and unstoppable, even by the reactionary British imperialist establishment.

Britain is itself due to hold a referendum on whether to remain inside the European Union. Tory leader Cameron has vowed this year to «let the people decide» if his party is re-elected in the next general election, with the eventual poll on Europe to be held sometime in 2017.

Following the Scottish ballot this year, in November the people of Catalonia in Spain’s northeast region are scheduled to go to the polls to cast their vote on whether to set up an independent Catalan republic. Again, the central government in Madrid and the Spanish monarchy are far from pleased about the move. But it seems incontestable that the Catalan people will avail of their right to self-determination.

Ironically, among the voices within the EU supporting the referendum in Catalonia are the leaders of Lithuania and Latvia, who are now among the NATO allies making a hue and cry about the Crimean republic exercising this very same right.

So, what the people in the Crimea are doing this weekend is conforming to a very European standard and indeed a supposedly universally recognized standard, which Washington in particular has long espoused, going all the way back to president Woodrow Wilson and the League of Nations.

More recently, it was Washington that affirmed the right to self-determination for Kosovo when it voted to secede from Serbia in 2008. A later ruling by the UN International Court of Justice in 2010 upheld that "Kosovo’s declaration of independence did not violate any international norms."

Added to these precedents is the fact that the Crimean parliament has conducted the referendum process constitutionally, with overwhelming majority approval from its members. On March 11, the parliament voted for a declaration of independence, as legally required, to underpin the outcome of the referendum. If the process can be accused of being hasty, as president Obama asserts, then that is because of the political crisis and insecurity that Obama and his Western allies illegally imposed on the Ukraine, prompting the referendum in Crimea.

Moreover, there is the important precedent that the Crimea region was historically part of Soviet Russia up until the 1950s.

For Washington and Europe to now decry that Crimea is acting "unconstitutionally" and "illegally" defies their own avowed principles and practices elsewhere. It is especially odious that the Western-backed unelected regime occupying Kiev is condemning Crimea and Russia of illegality and "violating Ukrainian territorial integrity."

This regime is occupying Kiev after it violently seized power from a legally constituted elected government on February 22. That power-grab destroyed the constitution and rule of law in Ukraine, and it was given full support by Washington and European governments. The installed Junta comprises neo-Nazis and fascists who have openly declared war on Russian-speaking people within Ukraine and who are calling for the "cleansing of occupiers" from the East of the country. The neo-Nazi ministers for National Security, Andriy Parubiy and Dimitry Yarosh, are also warning that their paramilitaries will launch attacks on Crimea if the referendum passes. The prospect of a Western-induced civil war in Ukraine and a wider war with Russia is frighteningly real.

The thuggish threats emanating from the junta in Kiev are integrated with the wider political threats being issued by Washington and its European allies towards Russia.

Despite all the lofty standards of law and rights articulated by Western states, what we are witnessing with regard to the Ukraine and Crimea are the real Western «standards» in practice – of hypocrisy and resort to violence when it suits their aims.

Angela Merkel is half-right. The "law of the jungle" is being practiced. It’s standard Western practice all down through history and presently over Ukraine.

Crimea: Putin's Moving Hand Having Writ

Vlad the Bad Steals a March on the West

by Eric Margolis

Soviet leader Josef Stalin used to shrug off critics by his favorite Central Asian saying: “The dogs bark; the caravan moves on.”

Russia’s hard-eyed president, Vladimir Putin, is following the same strategy over Ukraine and Crimea.
Putin swiftly moved his knight into the empty chess square of Crimea, thereby regaining full control of one of Russia’s four strategic port regions: Sevastopol, Murmansk, St. Petersburg and Vladivostok.

Sevastopol, now firmly in Moscow’s hands, is Russia’s sole gateway to the Black Sea, Mediterranean, and Mideast. The vast, co-shared Russian-Ukrainian Sevastopol naval base was a shaky, awkward arrangement doomed to eventual failure.

Semi-autonomous Crimea, over 60% ethnic Russian, will hold a referendum on 16 March to decide to remain in Ukraine or rejoin Russia. A referendum is clearly the answer to the whole Ukraine-Russia problem.

Ukraine has been a corruption-ridden failed state since it separated from Russia in 1991. This writer has long suggested that partition of Ukraine into Western and Russian-oriented halves is the sensible solution, with Crimea returning to Russia.

Putin asks if Western-backed Kosovo can go independent of Serbia, why can’t Crimea break its links with Kiev?

The temporary attachment of majority ethnic Russian Crimea to Ukraine in 1954 after 250 years of Russian rule was unnatural, a ticking time bomb. It has now exploded, triggered in part by the West’s successful effort to overthrow the elected but corrupt government in Kiev of Viktor Yanukovich.

Overturning regimes deemed uncooperative or hostile has long been a CIA specialty. Its first big success came in 1953 with the subversion of Iran’s democratic-nationalist leader, Mohammed Mossadegh by a combination of propaganda, rented crowds, and bribes. We saw this same technique used – enhanced by modern social media – in Ukraine’s first Orange Revolution, Georgia, again in Iran(unsuccessfully), and, with the help of US and British special forces, in Libya and Syria. Egypt came next, where a US-backed tinpot military dictator, the self-appointed “Field Marshall al-Sisi” claims he is answering the people’s call.” Not a peep from Washington. Or about the crushing of opposition by Bahrain’s US-backed monarchy.

Russia, which used to be adept at subversion, has lagged in recent years but it still knows the signs. The Kremlin is convinced that Ukraine’s latest revolution was engineered by Washington. The US Undersecretary of State for Europe admitted Washington has spent $5 billion over recent years in Ukraine to bring it into the West’s orbit – aka “building democracy.”

Two points to note:

  • Did Washington think that tough Vlad Putin would just take its coup lying down?
  • Second, it’s amazing how determined Washington’s cold warriors remain to tear down Russia. The bankrupt US, $17 trillion in debt, running on money borrowed from China, with bridges collapsing and 44 million citizens on food stamps, suddenly finds the money to offer bankrupt Ukraine a new $1 billion loan – just to compete with Moscow. A loan unlikely to be repaid.

America has a bad habit of personalizing foreign affairs and demonizing uncooperative leaders. Remember when Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser was denounced as “Hitler on the Nile?” “Khadaffi, Mad Dog of the Mideast?” Most Americans have little knowledge of geography, history or world affairs so the easiest way to market overseas adventures to them is by creating foreign bogeymen like Khadaffi and Saddam.

Vladimir Putin is the latest. He is being hysterically demonized by the US and British media. Vlad the Bad.

Disturbingly, US Republicans and the usual media propagandists are heaping blame on President Barack Obama for “losing Crimea,” as if any of them knows where it was before last week. John McCain and his sidekick Sen. Lindsey Graham have been demanding that Obama “get tough.”

Sure. Let’s mine Russia’s ports or blockade its oil and gas exports. Nothing like a nuclear war to show how weak the Democrats are. Thank god McCain did not win the presidency. The dolts at Fox TV can’t tell the difference between caution and cowardice.

President Putin’s ambition is to slowly reassemble some parts of the old USSR, Ukraine being the most important. Doing so is in Russia’s national interest, much as we may not like it. Nearly all Russians believe Putin is on the right track. By contrast, Washington wants to keep Russia weak and treat it as an obsequious, defeated nation, like postwar Germany or Japan.

The US won’t accept that Russia has any legitimate spheres of influence, while Washington’s span the globe. Last week, US Secretary of State John Kerry, who used to be a sensible fellow before becoming corrupted by power, blasted Russia: “you just don’t invade a country under a phony pretext!”

I guess Kerry has never heard of the US invasions of the Dominican Republic, Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, Haiti, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Libya. Or can’t remember Vietnam and the Gulf of Tonkin “incident.”

Kerry should cut the hypocrisy and get to work on a diplomatic settlement. Two major nuclear-armed powers cannot – must not – be allowed to confront one another.

Ukraine could turn out to be the 1914 Bosnia-Herzegovina of our era if we don’t stop primitive breast-beating over a region no one could even find on a map until recently.

copyright Eric S. Margolis 2014

Send in the Oligarchs: America's Cunning Ukraine Scheme

America's Oligarch Strategy - a.k.a. Empire in the Age of the 1%

by Peter Lee - China Matters

At US behest, Austria arrested a Ukrainian oligarch named Dmytro Firtash in Vienna on some corruption and bribery charge that appears to be involved tangentially with the United States.

Apparently, Firtash was small fry, 14th on the Ukraine list, worth only $673 million. Being an oligarch is, in itself, no crime in Ukraine. Yulia Tymoshenko is an oligarch (the “Gas Queen); the new Ukrainian government openly appointed oligarchs Igor Kolomoisky and Serhiy Taruta as governors in two western provinces in order to keep a lid on pro-Russian sentiment; and the great white hope of the Maidan activists, the “good oligarch” Petro Poroshenko, a.k.a. “The Chocolate King” is the seventh-richest man in Ukraine, worth about $1 billion.

Firtash’s problem is that the US identified him with the Yanukovych camp and close to Russia because of his gas dealings. It also looks like Firtash moved into Tymoshenko’s gas interests while she was in prison, which may account for the FBI obligingly dropping the hammer on him.

More importantly, I expect, Firtash’s arrest is meant to send a message to another oligarch-heavy area, Russia, in anticipation of Western sanctions for the Crimea referendum.

And, I think, the message is “Work with the US and against Putin if you want your Western assets to be protected and respected.”

This message is likely to be heeded. After all, most oligarchs are laser focused on their personal wealth and their personal interest. In an era of globalized finance, the dependence of the wealthy on the nation states that spawned their biological integument is less important than the matrix of trans-national institutions that sustain their finances and cater to their need for personal impunity. Personal profit, in other words means more than patriotism or even national prosperity.

This state of affairs is magnificently illustrated by the story of a magnificent yacht currently docked in New York, courtesy of the town herald of the globalized wealthy, CNBC:

New Yorkers have been tweeting, instagraming and posting countless photos of a gleaming blue megayacht docked off midtown Manhattan. It's called "Serene." At a staggering 436-feet, with five levels, several swimming pools, two helicopter pads and soaring chrome exhaust pipes at the top, it nearly outshines the Intrepid Museum next door. (Its best amenities are inside: the "underwater viewing room," an indoor climbing wall, children's playroom and cabins for 24 guests and 52 crew, according to the yacht builder.) Anyone doing a quick Google search learns that the owner of Serene is Yuri Scheffler, the vodka-and-spirits magnate behind the Stolichnaya brand. And with the turmoil in Ukraine and Russia , many have also speculated that Serene's sudden presence is a sign of the worried oligarchs-the Putin-connected, Russian super rich who now face a financial backlash from the West for Russia's actions. But they would be wrong. Scheffler is no Putin oligarch. And he has a surprising perspective on Ukraine.

In an email interview, Scheffler said he is in New York on business-hence the boat. Although Scheffler's company, SPI Group, started in Russia, it's now based in Luxembourg. Scheffler is now a British citizen who spends much of his time abroad and hasn't been to Russia in 12 years. Scheffler has publicly battled President Vladimir Putin for years as the Russian government tried to seize the company and "renationalize" its assets. The government even issued a warrant for Scheffler's arrest in 2003 after he refused to hand over the company. So when asked about his views on Ukraine, Scheffler was highly critical of Russia's government.

One might think that, the feelings of a British citizen with a Luxembourg company about Russia might not be newsworthy, even if he is a rich fuck who owns a yacht longer than a football field.

Well, you’re wrong. Oligarchs are not only rich guys and gals. They also invest in media and politics to give their interests the greatest possible weight. So they can bring down governments.

One of the most interesting takeaways of the Ukraine crisis was the report that Victoria Nuland had threatened sanctions against the Western interests of key Ukrainian oligarchs if violence was used against protesters…which erupted with suspicious alacrity. Since the various oligarchs controlled dozens of deputies in the Ukrainian parliament, Yanukovych’s Party of Regions imploded and the rest is regime change history.

It is safe to say that the US has a similar strategy to pressure Russia’s 19 billionaires, first indirectly through sanctions against Russia and then, if British squeamishness over attacking one of the props of London’s prosperity are overcome, against the oligarchs’ personal wealth.

We even have a “good” oligarch, Mikhael Khodorkosky, the oil tycoon who was imprisoned by Putin ten years ago on the well-founded suspicion that he was ready and willing to serve as the vehicle for American interests and mischief in Russian politics and the strategic Russian oil industry.

Khodorkovsky, although he had promised to eschew politics in return for a pre-Sochi Olympics pardon, emerged in Maidan Square recently with an impassioned attack on the Russian adventure in Crimea, and on Putin personally. Khodorkovsky, prior to his imprisonment, had spent lavishly on think tank funding and PR in the West and he apparently still has his soft power mojo; his remarks were recorded and broadcast to the world by a small army of prestige media scribes.

Apparently the Forbes list of the world’s richest people had 424 billionaires on it with $1.1 trillion worth of wealth ($2.5 billion per capita and about 3% of global world product) in 1996; now it’s 1,565 billionaires with $6.5 trillion ($4 billion per capita and around 10% of the global nut). In case you’re wondering, the growth in billionaires and their wealth is outrunning inflation (about 50% since 1996), real GWP (about 40%), and my 401K (don’t ask). All I can say is, “Waiter! I’ll have what they’re having!”

I suppose it’s good that the United States is keeping up with global economic trends and has a strategy to exploit the proliferation of oligarchs who view national governments as just another item in their portfolios of assets and interests, to be rebalanced as pressure from the United States indicates.

Even though the PRC has largely maintained the Communist Party’s political and media monopoly, China has an oligarch problem, too, and has been aggressive in making sure that rich people with reformist inclinations and large followings on social media are cut down to size. The PRC also cares about rich people who have evaded capital controls and stashed their ill-gotten gains in the West, making them vulnerable to US and EU extortion. The PRC has to tread carefully in its anti-corruption drive, since the threat of local prosecution will drive the rich to put more of their money overseas and out of the Party’s reach and within range of US sanctions. I expect some thought is being given to identifying and cultivating a safe overseas haven for cash and investments, to deal with the headache that the West is still the most attractive destination for investment, liquidity, and the free movement of capital.

In passing, I might note that for lefty liberals it is one of those inconvenient truths that the countries that occasionally attempt to subordinate the interests of the wealthy to those of the state (and possibly to the occasional benefit of the huddled masses of the 99%) are often, by a funny coincidence, America’s most detested enemies, i.e. Russia, China, Cuba, and Venezuela.

The United States also has an oligarch problem. Rich guy Michael Bloomberg ran New York for several years. We’ve got the Koch brothers lavishly funding political candidates at the state and national level, and turning Wisconsin into a petri dish for their economic agenda. A California billionaire, Tim Draper, is engaging in the oligarch version of nation building, funding a ballot initiative to split California into six states. And of course Tom Perkins came straight out and said it: it should be one dollar not one person one vote. I suppose we should be grateful that some oligarchs are still interested in restructuring the balky United States operation instead of just “going Galt” and abandoning it outright.

Maybe you haven’t noticed the oligarch problem because the rather dubious decision has been made to shield the identities of the malefactors of great wealth behind the anonymizing “1%” tag, allowing their defenders to deploy the “class warfare” trope and talk about economic growth and tweaks to the minimum wage as a solution for the “income inequality” crisis.

I doubt that giving burger flippers an extra two dollars an hour will restore prosperity and dignity to the working poor. But there is no mainstream constituency for redistributing oligarch wealth to solve our problems, on the valid basis that any attempt to mess with the oligarchs will simply send them and their billions scampering to a more amenable jurisdiction.

When Bill Clinton went whole hog on globalization, we pretty much let the oligarch cat out of the bag. Now the national government of the United States has committed to globalization with the idea that the America’s globalization-related problems of employment and investment can be solved…with more globalization, a rather dubious assertion that resembles the voodoo-economics mantra of Republican conservatives that the problems encountered in cutting taxes will be solved by…cutting more taxes.

So we have a solution for manipulating and exploiting oligarchs overseas. Too bad we don’t have one for oligarchs at home. Welcome to the 21st century.

UChicago and the Academic Provenance of America's Proto-Fascist Revival

UChicago Neo-Nazi Neo-Cons: Obama, Nuland & Ukraine

by Francis A. Boyle

It is now a matter of public record that immediately after the terrible tragedy of 11 September 2001, U.S. Secretary of War Donald Rumsfeld and his pro-Israeli Neo-Conservative Deputy Paul Wolfowitz began to plot, plan, scheme and conspire to wage a war of aggression against Iraq by manipulating the tragic events of
September 11th in order to provide a pretext for doing so. Of course Iraq had nothing at all to do with September 11th or supporting Al-Qaeda. But that made no difference to Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, their Undersecretary of War Douglas Feith, and the numerous other pro-Israeli Neo-Cons inhabiting the Bush Jr. administration.

These pro-Israeli Neo-Cons had been schooled in the Machiavellian/Hobbist/Nietzschean theories of Professor Leo Strauss who taught political philosophy at the University of Chicago in its Department of  political Science for many years. The best exposé of Strauss's pernicious theories on law, politics, government, for elitism, and against democracy can be found in two scholarly books by the Canadian Professor of Political Philosophy Shadia B. Drury: The Political Ideas of Leo Strauss (1988); Leo Strauss and the American Right (1999). I entered the University of Chicago in September of 1968 shortly after Strauss had retired. But I was trained in Chicago's Political Science Department by Strauss's foremost protégé, co-author, and later literary executor Joseph Cropsey.

Based upon my personal experience as an alumnus of Chicago's Political Science Department (A.B., 1971,  in Political Science), I concur completely with Professor Drury's devastating critique of Strauss. I also agree with her penetrating analysis of the degradation of the American political process that has been inflicted by Chicago's Straussian Neo-Con cabal. Strauss was a protégé of Nazi Law Professor Carl Schmitt, who justified every hideous atrocity that Hitler and the Nazis inflicted on anyone, including the Jews. Chicago's Neo-Cons are Neo-Nazis.

The University of Chicago routinely trained me and innumerable other students to become ruthless and unprincipled Machiavellians. That is precisely why so many neophyte Neo-Con students gravitated towards the University of Chicago or towards Chicago Alumni at other universities. Years later, the University of Chicago became the "brains" behind the Bush Jr. Empire and his Ashcroft Police State. Attorney General John Ashcroft received his law degree from the Neo-Con University of Chicago Law School in 1967.

Many of his lawyers at the Bush Jr. Department of Injustice were members of the right-wing, racist, bigoted, reactionary, elitist, war-mongering, and totalitarian Federalist Society (A.K.A.:"Feddies"), which originated in part at the Neo-Con University of Chicago Law School. There Barack Obama would teach constitutional law. Feddies wrote the USA Patriot Act (USAPA) I and the draft for USAPA II, which constitute the blueprints for establishing an American Police State. Meanwhile, the Department of Injustice's own F.B.I. is still covering up the U.S. governmental origins of the post 11 September 2001 anthrax attacks on Washington D.C. that enabled Ashcroft and his Feddies to stampede the U.S. Congress into passing USAPA I into law.

Integrally related to and overlapping with the Feddies are members of the University of Chicago Law School Movement of Law-and-Kick-Them-in-the-Groin-Economics, which in turn was founded upon the Market Fundamentalism of Milton Friedman, now deceased but long-time Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago. Friedman and his "Chicago Boys" have raped, robbed, looted, plundered, and pillaged economies and their respective peoples all over the developing world, especially People of Color, and now here in the United States.

This Chicago gang of academic con-artists and charlatans are proponents of the Nazi Doctrine of "useless eaters" that was condemned by the Nuremberg Judgment (1946). Pursuant to Friedman's philosophy of Market Fundamentalism, the "privatization" of Iraq and its Oil Industry are already underway for the primary benefit of the U.S. energy companies (e.g., Halliburton, formerly under Bush Jr.'s Vice President Dick Cheney) that had already interpenetrated the Bush Jr. administration as well as the Bush Family itself. Enron.

Although miseducated at Yale and Harvard Business School, the "Ivies" proved to be too liberal for Bush Jr. and his fundamentalist Christian supporters, whose pointman and spear-carrier in the Bush Jr. administration was Ashcroft, a Fundie himself. The Neo-Cons and the Fundies contracted an "unholy alliance" in support of Bush Jr. For their own different reasons, both gangs also worked hand-in-hand to support Israel's genocidal Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, an internationally acknowledged war criminal.

According to his own public estimate and boast in a 26 February 2003 speech before the American Enterprise Institute (another front-organization for Straussian Neo-Cons), President Bush Jr. hired about 20 Straussians to occupy key positions in his administration, intentionally taking offices where they could push American foreign policy in favor of Israel and against its chosen enemies such as Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, and the Palestinians.

Most of the Straussian Neo-Cons in the Bush Jr. administration and elsewhere were and still are Israel-firsters: What is "good" for Israel is by definition "good" for the United States. Dual loyalties indeed. These same principles hold true for the not-so-closet Neo-Cons in the Obama administration: e.g., Rahm Emanuel, Larry Summers, Elena Kagan, Dennis Ross, Cass Sunstein (married to Samantha Power), Victoria Nuland, etc. In addition, it was the Chicago Straussian cabal of pro-Israeli Neo-Cons who set up a special "intelligence" unit within the Pentagon that was responsible for manufacturing many of the bald-faced lies, deceptions, half-truths, and sheer propaganda that the Bush Jr. administration then disseminated to the lap-dog U.S. news media in order to generate public support for a war of aggression against Iraq for the benefit of Israel and in order to steal Iraq's oil.

To paraphrase advice Machiavelli once rendered to his Prince in Chapter XVIII of that book: Those who want to deceive will always find those willing to be deceived. As I can attest from my personal experience as an alumnus of the University of Chicago Department of Political Science, the Bible of Chicago's Neo-Con Straussian cabal is Machiavelli's The Prince. We students had to know our Machiavelli by heart and rote at the University of Chicago.

As for the University of Chicago overall, its New Testament is Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind (1987). Of course Bloom was another protégé of Strauss (and thus the intellectual grandson of Nazi Law Professor Carl Schmitt), as well as a mentor to Wolfowitz. In his Bloom-biographical novel Ravelstein (2000) Saul Bellow, longtime member of the University of Chicago Faculty, outed his self-styled friend Bloom as a hedonist, pederast, and most promiscuous homosexual who died of AIDS.

All this was common knowledge at the University of Chicago, where Bloom was and is still worshiped on a pedestal and his elitist screed against democratic education in America still revered as gospel truth. In Ravelstein Wolfowitz appeared as Bloom's protégé Philip Gorman, leaking national security secrets to his mentor during the Bush Sr. war against Iraq. Strauss hovered around the novel as Bloom's mentor and guru Professor Davarr. Strauss/Davarr is really the eminence grise of Ravelstein. With friends like Bellow, Bloom did not need enemies. On the basis of Ravelstein alone, Wolfowitz warranted criminal investigation by the F.B.I.

Immediately after the Bush Jr. administrations wanton aggression against Iraq, the University of Chicago chose the occasion to officially celebrate its Straussian Neo-Con cabal responsible therefore, highlighting Wolfowitz Ph.D. '72, Ahmad Chalabi, Ph.D. '69 (the CIA's Iraqi puppet), Abram Shulsky, A.M. '68, Ph.D. '72 (head of the Pentagon's special "intelligence" unit), Zalmay Khalilzad, Ph.D. '79 (Bush Jr.'s roving pro-consul for Afghanistan and then Iraq), as well as faculty members Bellow, X '39, and Bloom, A.B. '49, A.M. '53, Ph.D. '55, together with Strauss.

According to the June 2003 University of Chicago Magazine, Bloom's rant "helped popularize Straussian ideals of democracy." It is correct to assert that Bloom's book helped to popularize Straussian "ideas," but they were blatantly anti-democratic, Machiavellian, Hobbist, Nietzschean, and elitist to begin with. Only the University of Chicago would have the unmitigated Orwellian gall to publicly assert that Strauss and Bloom cared one whit about democracy, let alone comprehended the "ideals of democracy."

Does anyone seriously believe that a pro-Israeli Chicago/Strauss/Bloom product such as Wolfowitz could care less about democracy in the United States let alone in Iraq? Or for that matter anyone in the Bush Jr. administration?

After they stole the 2000 presidential election from the American People in Florida and before the Republican-controlled U.S. Supreme Court, some of whom were/are Feddies? Justice Clarence Thomas is a Straussian to boot.

For eight years the Neo-Cons, Fundies, Feddies, and Con-Artists of the Bush Jr. administration did everything humanly possible to build an American Police State. So far University of Chicago Constitutional Law Teacher President Barack Obama has failed and refused to deconstruct and dismantle their totalitarian handiwork. To the contrary, the Obama administration has defended and justified in court almost every hideous atrocity that the Bush Jr. administration perpetrated on international law, human rights, civil rights, civil liberties, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

At the behest of its Straussian Neo-Con Political Science Department, in 1979 the entire University of Chicago went out of its way to grant the "first Albert Pick Jr. Award for Outstanding Contributions to International Understanding" to Robert McNamara, who was personally responsible for exterminating 3 million Vietnamese and 58,000 men of my generation. In other words, the University of Chicago itself maliciously strove to rehabilitate one of the greatest international war criminals in the post-World War II era. History shall always record that the University of Chicago gratuitously honored Bob Half-an-Eichmann McNamara.

Do not send your children to the University of Chicago where they will grow up to become warmongers like Wolfowitz and totalitarians like Ashcroft and politicians like Obama! The University of Chicago is an intellectual and moral cesspool. As J.D. Rockefeller, the Original Robber Baron and Funder of the University of Chicago once commented about his progeny: "It's the best investment I ever made."

Still is.

Keeping Canada's Health Care: National Day of Action for The Health Accord Renewal

On March 31, sound the alarm for public health care!

by Council of Canadians

We are facing an important moment in the history of public health care. The Health Accord – an agreement between the federal, provincial and territorial governments that sets federal funding for health care, and ensures all Canadians can access good quality services regardless of where they live – will expire on March 31.

To date, the Harper government has refused to meet with premiers to negotiate a new accord. Instead, the federal government plans to cut $36 billion over 10 years from public health care and walk away from its responsibilities to ensure equal access to all Canadians.
Join us on March 31 for a National Day of Action!

We are sounding the alarm about the federal government’s funding cuts to wake Canadians up to what this means for our health care services. Removing $36 billion from our health care system will put an end to national standards. It will lead to the fragmentation of services across the country and that increasingly, access to care will depend on where you live.

We are asking people to organize actions in their community on March 31 to speak out against these cuts and to demand that the Harper government negotiate a new health accord. Any action, big or small, is important! You could hold a rally, distribute pamphlets or organize a public forum. See if your community is on the list or organize your own event.

Be sure to let us know about your National Day of Action activities so we can highlight them on our website. Fill out this form or e-mail your event details to Don’t forget to check out our resources and publications that you can use to help inform people and raise awareness. Send an e-mail to if you would like to order materials for your event.

We’re looking forward to raising our voices with people across the country to sound the alarm on the Harper government’s attack on public health care. Together, we can strengthen public health care for generations to come.

NEW RESOURCE: Health Care Media Outreach Kit, Tips and materials for Council of Canadians chapter activists and other health care advocates

It’s time to #Stand4Medicare


Kingston: 12:00 p.m. “Honk for Health Care” car parade. Meet at the tourist information office at the bottom of Fort Henry Hill. Bring noisemakers! Contact Ross Sutherland at or 613-532-7846

Ottawa: 12:00 p.m. Funeral procession to mourn the death of Canada’s Health Accord on Parliament Hill. Bring alarm clocks to make lots of noise! Contact Marlene Rivier at or 613-222-8392.

Orillia: 12:00 p.m. “Raise the Alarm” Rally with alarm clocks, bells, horns and pots and pans. Outside the office of Bruce Santon, Conservative MP Simcoe-North, 575 West Street South, Willow Court Plaza, Unit 12. Contact Emily Smith van Beek at, 416-441-5202.

Oshawa: 12:00 p.m. “Raise the Alarm” demonstration with alarm clocks, bells, horns and pots and pans. Outside the office of Conservative MP Colin Carrie, Lord Simcoe Place, 57 Simcoe St S. Contact Charlie Courneyea at 416-557-5935 or Trish McAuliffe at 905-436-0665

Sarnia: 12:00 p.m. “Raise the Alarm” Rally with alarm clocks, bells, horns and pots and pans. Outside the office of Conservative MP, Patricia Davidson, 1000 Finch Dr. Contact Arlene Patterson at, 519-542-1895

Sault Ste. Marie: 11:00 a.m. "Raise the Alarm" demonstration with alarm clocks, bells and pots and pans. Outside the office of Conservative MP Bryan Hayes, 369 Queen St.

Scarborough *March 24*: 3:00-6:00 p.m. “Raise the Alarm” Rally with alarm clocks, bells, horns and pots and pans. Outside the office of Conservative MP Roxanne James, 1450 Midland Ave, Suite 211. Contact Kingsley Kwok at, 416-835-3377.

St Catharines: 4:00-6:00 p.m. “Raise the Alarm” demonstration with alarm clocks, bells, horns and pots and pans. Outside the office of Conservative MP Rick Dystra, 61 Geneva Street. St Catharines. Contact Sue Hotte at or 905-932-1646.

Toronto: 12:00 p.m. Rally and Raise the Alarm and Honk for Health Care. Meet at Queen’s Park and march down University Ave to Dundas St. alongside taxis driving down, honking for healthcare. Contact Emily Smith van Beek at or 416-441-2502.

Toronto: 8:00 p.m. "Artists for the Accord" night of music and performance. The lineup will include David Craig, playwright; Brent Carver, Tony award-winning actor; Bob Rae on the piano and Shirley Douglas. The Trinity St. Paul's Centre. 427 Bloor St W. Contact David Craig at 416-271-3030 or


Bridgewater, Nova Scotia Citizen's Health Care Network
Mary Wright,, (902) 527-0766
1) 11:00 am – Noon: Leafleting at South Shore Regional Hospital, Collaborative Health Care Centre, Atlantic Superstore & Sobeys

2) Noon – 1:00 pm: Rally in parking lot of MP Gerald Keddy’s office (Aberdeen Commercial Centre, 129 Aberdeen Rd., Suite 106). Participant parking available in nearby commercial lot not presently in use. Bring signs! See the Facebook event page for more details.

Halifax, Nova Scotia Citizen's Health Care Network
James Hutt,, (902) 406-9422
Meet at Noon in Victoria Park for a rally with music, speakers, and art. See the Facebook event page for more details.

Fredericton, New Brunswick Health Coalition
Daniel Légère, CUPE/SCFP,
Gathering at the corner of King and Carlton St. from 12 to 1:00 p.m.

Moncton, New Brunswick Health Coalition
Serge Landry, CLC/CTC,, (506) 851-7088 or (506) 871-8496
Noon march from city hall to the office of MP Robert Goguen.

Saint John, New Brunswick Health Coalition
Jean Claude Basque, Common Front for Social Justice - Front commun pour la justice sociale,, (506) 389-1578 or (506) 862-9182

Dieppe, New Brunswick Health Coalition
Daniel Legere, New Brunswick Health Coalition,
Gathering at the 4 Corners in front of Dieppe City Hall on Champlain Street from 8-9:00 a.m.

Charlottetown, PEI Health Coalition
Mary Boyd,, (902) 892-9074
Public demonstration

Summerside, PEI Health Coalition
Mary Boyd,, (902) 892-9074
Presenting postcards to Conservative MP Gail Shea


Saskatoon, Saskatchewan Health Coalition
Stan Rice,, (306) 280-5315 or (306) 382-2865
Join us for a news conference featuring physician Ryan Meili at 10 am at the Saskatoon Community Clinic Annex – 424 1st Avenue North.

Regina, Saskatchewan Health Coalition
Stan Rice,, (306) 280-5315 or (306) 382-2865
Press conference

Edmonton, Alberta Friends of Medicare
Sandra Azocar, Alberta Friends of Medicare, 780-423-4581

Yellowknife, Alternatives North
Alternatives North,
Leafleting and postcard campaign. Details to follow.


Kamloops, Kamloops Health Coalition, Kamloops Chapter of the Council of Canadians, Kamloops Retired Teachers and Kamloops HEU

Rick Turner 250-819-5694 or Barb Nederpel 249-320-1635,

Meet at the Smorg deli by 3:30pm to march (about 3 blocks) to Conservative MP Cathy Macleod’s office. We will have speakers and signs and we will present her with one thousand signed postcards calling for a renewed and improved Canadian Health Accord.

Campbell River/Comox Valley, The Council of Canadians
Rich Hagensen, The Council of Canadians,, 250-286-3019

Rally at 3:00pm outside the office of John Duncan, Conservative MP for Vancouver Island North (1250F Cedar Street, Campbell River)

RSVP on Facebook.

Medicare's Gaping Holes: Bureaucratic Horror Stories from America's Wounded Health Care System

Medicare Madness – How Americans Can Lose Benefits in a Hospital 

by Joel S. Hirschhorn - Dissident Voice

Tuck away the many horror stories of the wrong limbs being amputated, things being left in surgery patients, terrible infections picked up in hospitals and totally wrong diagnoses. More relevant is a bureaucratic hospitalization horror that far too few Americans covered by Medicare are aware of.

Odds are that you do not know a key question to ask if you ever find yourself in a hospital for an overnight stay that could last from one or two days, or perhaps much more. What you and anyone accompanying you want to know is whether you are being classified as “under observation.” This means that legally you are not an inpatient. If the former, then you are likely to find yourself owing the hospital a large amount of money, because your Medicare or other health insurance will not provide the benefits associated with inpatient status. Many, many Americans nationwide that were classified as under observation have faced unexpected bills of many tens of thousands of dollars.

So pay very close attention to what you are about to read.

If you are in a hospital, possibly in an emergency room, then you or family or friends should ask some tough questions of hospital staff if you are kept in the hospital after being handled in the emergency room. Ask if you will be kept in as an inpatient. If told that you will be in the observation category, then you might seriously consider whether you should stay in that hospital, or perhaps seek another one if you are not in immediate need of medical attention beyond what was received in the emergency department.

Indeed, ordinary Americans should recognize what Medicare does; namely, that the decision made by the hospital to classify a patient as under observation for billing purposes is a “complex medical judgment.” What that means is that different interpretations and decisions can be made, either by someone else in the hospital or professionals in a different hospital. The critical decision to use the observation classification, with so much potential negative impact for patients, is “open to widely variable interpretation” as physician Steven J. Myerson has noted.

Because you may be in a very stressful state resulting from facing some medical condition, it is imperative that family and friends also need to become educated. Realistically, you may not be in a clear enough mental state when you enter a hospital to ask questions and demand good answers about how the hospital is classifying your stay.

Understand this: Nothing is crazier than entering a hospital for one or more nights and being designated as under observation, which amounts to being an outpatient, rather than an inpatient. Despite coverage by Medicare you will not have expected benefits.

Beyond hours in the emergency department, you can spend days in a hospital bed, receive regular nursing care, be given drugs and all kinds of tests. You might even spend time in a critical care or intensive care unit. But you can still be officially designated an outpatient in observation status. Even though you might stay in the hospital for more than just one or two nights, unless officially designated an inpatient you face major financial liability.

Under Medicare this means you are not covered by Part A which provides the best hospital coverage, but rather covered under Part B with far inferior coverage. This practice is as bad as anything you have ever heard about awful health insurance coverage. Furthermore, Medicare does not cover post-discharge care for Part B observation stays. For example, a patient in observation status for a broken bone will have to pay the full cost of rehabilitation or a nursing home. But for an inpatient Medicare pays for skilled nursing care following at least three consecutive inpatient days. Also, observation patients pay out-of-pocket for the medication they receive in the hospital and Subtitle D drug coverage may not cover these costs.

Hard to believe but your personal physician may not know that their patient has been classified by the hospital as outpatient or under observation. Though it would be very smart for you to raise this issue and make it clear that you do not want to stay in a hospital unless you are being admitted as an inpatient. But starting in an emergency room makes it difficult to push this issue, but not impossible.

Even the key public document from Medicare makes clear that:

You’re an outpatient if you’re getting emergency department services, observation services, outpatient surgery, lab tests, or X-rays, and the doctor hasn’t written an order to admit you to the hospital as an inpatient.

Regardless of what a doctor has said, however, hospitals have the power to classify you as under observation. The government advises “If you’re in the hospital more than a few hours, always ask your doctor or the hospital staff if you’re an inpatient or an outpatient.” Note the word “always.” That is terrific, critically important advice.

You or your accompanying relative or friend must be prepared to challenge a decision of observation status and even raise the possibility of immediately leaving the hospital. Remember, this is after any actions given in an emergency department. Being prepared to challenge an observation status decision requires that you fully understand the considerable downside of this hospital classification.

Actually, Medicare maintains a one way communication street. Medicare doesn’t require hospitals to tell patients they are “under observation,” though many will do so. It only requires hospitals to tell patients they have been downgraded from inpatient to observation.

To be clear, if you are not classified as an inpatient, then you officially have not been admitted to the hospital though you have entered it. Toby Edelman of the Center for Medicare Advocacy has noted that “People have no way of knowing they have not been admitted to the hospital. They go upstairs to a bed, they get a band on their wrist, nurses and doctors come to see them, they get treatment and tests, they fill out a meal chart – and they assume that they have been admitted to the hospital.”

How much of a problem is observation status? In recent years, hospitals have increasingly classified Medicare beneficiaries as observation patients instead of admitting them, according to a Brown University nationwide analysis of Medicare claims. From 2007 through 2009, the ratio of Medicare observation patients to those admitted as inpatients rose by 34 percent. Worse, more than 10 percent of patients in observation were kept there for more than 48 hours, and more than 44,800 were kept in observation for 72 hours or longer in 2009 — an increase of 88 percent since 2007.

A recent New York Times article noted that under Medicare: “the number of seniors entering the hospital for observation increased 69 percent over five years, to 1.6 million in 2011.” And from 2004 to 2011, the number of observation services administered per Medicare beneficiary rose by almost 34 percent, according to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, while admissions per beneficiary declined 7.8 percent. In other words, this observation issue is not a trivial or minor issue affecting just a few people.

Data showing far greater use of the observation status option than widely reported were in a 2013 report to Medicare by the Health and Human Services Inspector General for 2012 hospitalizations. Some 2.1 million hospitalizations were designated observation status with 11 percent three nights or more and 80 percent originating in emergency departments, but another 1.4 million were long term outpatient stays that could and perhaps should have been coded as observation status. There were also 1.1 million short term inpatient stays (less than two nights) that also could have been coded as observation status. With increased enforcement by Medicare and penalties for hospitals, therefore, there is the possibility of 4.6 million or more annual observation status stays. Medicare patients should be aware of large differences among hospitals.

AARP did its own study and found that from 2001 to 2009 both the frequency and duration of observation status increased. Although only about 3.5 percent of Medicare beneficiaries were in this class in 2009, Medicare claims for observation patients grew by more than 100 percent, with the greatest increase occurring in cases not leading to an inpatient admission. The duration of observation visits also increased dramatically. Observation service visits lasting 48 hours or longer were the least common, but had the greatest increase, almost 250 percent for observation only and more than 100 percent for observation with inpatient admission.

According to a survey by the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers (NAPGCM) in 2013 more than 80 percent of US geriatric care managers reported that “inappropriate hospital Observation Status determinations were a significant problem in their communities and 75 percent noted that the problem was growing worse.”

A University of Wisconsin study found that 10.4 percent of hospitalizations in 2010 and 2011 were in the observation status category and 16.5 percent of them exceeded 48 hours and concluded “observation care in clinical practice is very different than what CMS [the Medicare agency] initially envisioned and creates insurance loopholes that adversely affect patients, health care providers, and hospitals.” In an Invited Commentary on the Wisconsin study, physician Robert M. Wachter of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, summed up the observation issue as having “morphed into madness.”

Note that Medicare guidelines recommend that observation stays be no longer than 24 hours and only “in rare and exceptional cases” extend past 48 hours. Obviously, this is nearly meaningless in the real world.

Why are hospitals placing more patients in observation status?

Like so much in American society, the answer is money.

Hospitals are at risk from Medicare audits that declare patients wrongly defined as inpatients. Payment is then rejected, potentially large amounts of money. The government has increased audits to such a degree that since 2009 four recovery firms have reviewed bills from hospitals and physicians nationwide and recuperated $1.9 billion in overpayments. Billion!

Two physicians writing in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine said:

When observation is used as a billing status in inpatient areas without changes in care delivery, it’s largely a cost-shifting exercise – relieving the hospital of the risk of adverse action by the RAC [Recovery Audit Contractor] but increasing the patient’s financial burden.

To cut its spending, Medicare has accused hospitals of over-charging by “admitting” patients instead of putting them on “observation” status. For example, in July 2013, Beth Israel New England Deaconess Hospital in Boston paid Medicare $5.3 million to settle claims over this issue.

A new wrinkle under Obamacare is that hospitals can be penalized for readmitting patients in less than 30 days. But observation patients cannot be counted as readmissions if they happen to return because they were not officially admitted in the first place. To avoid this risk of financial loss, more patients can be classified as under observation.

A new Medicare rule taking effect April 1, 2014 requires doctors to admit people they anticipate staying for longer than two midnights, but to list those expected to stay for less time as observation patients. Many medical professionals doubt that this will improve things. Physician Ann Sheehy of the University of Wisconsin closely examined how this rule will work and concluded:

We found that four of five diagnosis codes were the same across length of stay, indicating that the cut point is arbitrary and really does not distinguish different patient groups, even though insurance benefits will be different based on length of stay.

Time, not medical condition or hospital actions, is being used. She also noted that the government will not count nights spent at different hospitals, and that 9 percent of their observation were transfers.

Dr. Sheehy made this great point:

Observation is an outpatient designation, which implies all services delivered could be done in an outpatient setting. This is totally not the case, which is why observation status is so frustrating.

Because there is essentially no upside to being put into observation status, it is critically important for you or your advocate to be very assertive when entering the hospital. What actions can you take after you are in the hospital and you are likely in a better mental state to address this problem? Nothing that is likely to work for you.

The imperative is to check your status each day you are in the hospital and remember that it can be changed (from inpatient to observation, or vice versa) at any time by various hospital doctors or officials. Sadly, in many cases a patient may not be informed that they have been in observation status until the discharge process. That is why it is very important to ask the hospital, either through a doctor or nursing staff, what your status is and, if observation, to formally reconsider your case. Ask if there is a hospital committee that could review your status. Definitely ask your own doctor whether they are willing to press your case for inpatient status based on medical factors. In theory, you could appeal observation status with Medicare after you leave the hospital, but that is difficult and few have succeeded.

The Center for Medicare Advocacy makes available a Self Help Packet for Medicare “Observation Status.” This is definitely worth keeping handy and it would be great if hospitals distributed it. This group has an active legal case challenging the government’s policy of allowing hospitalized Medicare beneficiaries to be placed in “observation status,” rather than formally admitting them, and depriving them of their Part A coverage in violation of the Medicare statute and other laws. This group makes this important observation: “Neither the Medicare statute nor the Medicare regulations define observation services. The only definition appears in various CMS manuals.”

What is really needed is action by Congress to eliminate observation status for any overnight stay, but this is unlikely unless many millions of Medicare beneficiaries demand it. The ugly truth is that this observation status was a bureaucratic tactic to reduce Medicare spending. It puts hospitals in the difficult position of putting their patients in a very bad financial situation. In a real sense hospitals are being blackmailed into serving as agents to implement this awful observation policy. A vigorous national campaign by AARP demanding congressional action is needed.

Joel S. Hirschhorn has a book, Delusional Democracy: Fixing the Republic Without Overthrowing the Government, which supports constitutional conventions and other peaceful ways to restore American democracy. Read other articles by Joel, or visit Joel's website.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Passing: Tony Benn

Tribute to Tony Benn 

by Left Unity

Left Unity is deeply saddened to hear of the death of Tony Benn.

Bianca Todd of Left Unity said:

“Tony Benn was an inspiration – a towering figure for the whole left and beyond. His skills in writing, campaigning and speaking led an untold amount of people to organise and become politically active.

“He was the polar opposite of today's career politicians. For as long as he could stand and speak, he was part of the campaigns against cuts, against war and so much more.

“There was only Tony Benn. He will be missed greatly, but across the left, we will continue to organise in his memory. We send our love and condolences to the family, friends and comrades whose lives Tony Benn touched.”

Left Unity is the new party of the left in Britain. Founded in November 2013, it already has over 1,400 members and 40 branches across the country.

Ukraine: America the Defender of International Law?

The Hypocritical United States of Amnesia and Russia

by Walter C. Uhler

During the mid-1980s, right-wing Americans loved to invoke President Reagan’s observation about the Soviet Union: “They reserve unto themselves the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat, in order to attain a one-world Socialist or Communist state." The Soviet Union was the “Evil Empire.”

But, it was the Reagan Administration, you’ll recall, that ordered the execution of Operation Urgent Fury, the invasion of Grenada in October 1983. Eleven of the twelve members of the United Nations Security Council called the invasion a “flagrant violation of international law.” The only Security Council member to veto the condemnation was the very country accused of the flagrant violation.

It also was the Reagan administration, you’ll recall, that was hauled before the International Court of Justice in 1984 by Nicaragua, and found to be “in breach of its obligations under customary international law not to use force against another State”, “not to intervene in its affairs”, “not to violate its sovereignty,” “not to interrupt peaceful maritime commerce”, and “in breach of its obligations under Article XIX of the Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation between the Parties signed at Managua 21 January 1956.”

Moreover, when the Reagan Administration gave the CIA the order to mine the harbors of Nicaragua, it was legally obligated to inform the Senate Intelligence Committee, headed by Barry Goldwater. When it failed to do so, Goldwater went ballistic. In a letter written to Secretary of State, George Schultz, Goldwater wrote: “But mine the harbors in Nicaragua? This is an act violating international law. It is an act of war.”

But, such criminality, lying and cheating was nothing when compared with Reagan’s “Iran-Contra Scandal.” In order to circumvent the funding prohibitions, which the U.S. Congress (with its Boland Amendment of 1984) placed on the covert war that the Reagan administration was waging against Nicaragua, Reagan and his right-wing zealots decided to sell weapons to Iran secretly, initially through Israel, and use those funds to continue the war that Congress refused to finance.

Time magazine put it well when it asserted that Reagan “stands exposed as a President willfully ignorant of what his aides were doing, myopically unaware of the glaring contradictions between his public and secret policies… unable to recall when, how, or even whether he had reached the key decision that started the whole arms-to-Iran affair… the President has consistently and vehemently denied that the U.S. was swapping arms for hostages, though the voluminous record assembled by the Tower commission leaves no question that that is what happened.”

Reagan probably escaped impeachment due to his reputation for stupidity, lax management, and inability to remember his own actions. People genuinely believed him when he attempted to explain his lies: “I’m afraid that I let myself be influenced by others’ recollections, not my own…the simple truth is, I don’t remember – period.”

Thus, the very President who accused the Soviet leaders of reserving unto themselves “the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat,” in order to achieve their broad objectives was at least as immoral as the doddering Soviet gerontocrats he slandered. Reagan became a monument to U.S. hypocrisy in international affairs.

Today, America’s conservatives ignore his crimes and, instead, credit President Reagan with ending the Cold War and precipitating the collapse of the Soviet Union. They are wrong on both counts. Moreover, that was not the tune they were singing when Reagan left office.

Some felt that Reagan had been duped by Mikhail Gorbachev. For example, Henry Kissinger, William Safire and George Will accused Reagan of “creating a false ‘euphoria’ that would give breathing space to an unchanging enemy.” Mr. Will went so far as to claim, “Reagan has accelerated the moral disarmament of the West – actual disarmament will follow.”

Nevertheless, the criminality continued under the leadership of President George H.W. Bush when, in December 1989, the United States invaded Panama and deposed its dictator, Manuel Noriega.

The invasion sparked international outrage. On 22 December, the Organization of American States passed a resolution that denounced the invasion. Seven days later the General Assembly of the United Nations condemned the invasion as a flagrant violation of international law. When the UN Security Council drafted a resolution calling for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Panama, it was vetoed on 23 December by France, Great Britain and the U.S. – which cited its obligation to protect some 35,000 Americans in the Canal Zone. (Sounds eerily similar to President Vladimir Putin’s justification for Russian troops in the Crimea today, does it not?)

In February 1990, President Bush’s Secretary of State, James Baker, flew to Moscow to discuss the peaceful unification of Germany. He promised Gorbachev that there would be no further eastward expansion of NATO if he assisted the West in the peaceful unification of Germany under NATO. According to Jack Matlock, America’s Ambassador to the Soviet Union, “We gave categorical assurances to Gorbachev back when the Soviet Union existed that if a united Germany was able to stay in NATO, NATO would not move eastward.”

Secretary Baker subsequently denied making such a deal. In addition, some American diplomats, policy wonks and news reporters noted that, even if there was such a deal, no such deal was put in writing. Apparently, none of them understand what it means to be a man of one’s word.

Mikhail Gorbachev, however, claims that there was such a deal – and his word counts, especially when assessing Russia’s attitude about NATO then and today. Moreover, supporting his claim is German archival evidence, publicized by three writers for Der Spiegel.

According to a 26 November 2009 article in Der Spiegel, “On Feb. 10, 1990, between 4 and 6:30 p.m., [German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich] Genscher spoke with [Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard] Shevardnadze. And, according to the German record of the conversation, which was only recently declassified, Genscher said: ‘We are aware that NATO membership for a unified Germany raises complicated questions. For us, however, one thing is certain: NATO will not expand to the east.’ And because the conversation revolved mainly around East Germany, Genscher added explicitly: ‘As far as the non-expansion of NATO is concerned, this also applies in general.’”

President Clinton came to office in the wake of a scandalous draft Defense Planning Guidance, written under the supervision of Paul Wolfowitz. The draft called for the exercise of diplomacy, backed by unassailable military power, in a quest for America’s “benevolent domination” of the world. It sketched “a world in which there is one military power whose leaders ‘must maintain the mechanisms for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.’” [New York Times, March 8, 1992]

(After Mr. Wolfowitz’s abomination was leaked to the press, President Bush rushed to repudiate it as un-American. But it was resuscitated by neoconservatives during the presidency of George W. Bush.)

President Clinton had no plan as obnoxious as Wolfowitz’s Defense Planning Guidance. Instead, on 22 October 1996 he asserted: “America truly is the world’s indispensable nation. There are times when only America can make the difference between war and peace, between freedom and repression, between hope and fear. We cannot and should not try to be the world’s policeman. But where our interests and values are clearly at stake, and where we can make a difference, we must act and lead.”

During that same speech, Clinton acknowledged: “At the first NATO summit I attended in January of 1994, I proposed that NATO should enlarge steadily, deliberately, openly.” By doing so, Clinton reneged on the pledges made by Baker and Genscher to Gorbachev and Shevardnadze.

Clinton made what George Kennan called a “fateful error.” Writing in the New York Times on February 5, 1997, Kennan asserted: “Expanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold-war era.”

“Such a decision may be expected to inflame the nationalistic, anti-Western and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion; to have an adverse effect on the development of Russian democracy; to restore the atmosphere of the cold war to East-West relations, and to impel Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking.”

I received a dose of such anti-American sentiment during my first and only meeting with Igor Sutyagin on 7 September 1998 at Moscow’s Aerostar Hotel. A senior scholar in the Department for Military-Political Studies at the Institute for the USA and Canada Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Dr. Sutyagin had answered a series of questions about the economic crisis in Russia, before I asked him, “What do you make of President Clinton’s recent decision to permit the expansion of NATO”

Much to my surprise, Igor’s face turned crimson as he reached into his wallet to withdraw a folded newspaper article that described a deal struck between former Secretary of State James Baker and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

According to the article, Baker assured Gorbachev that, in return for the Soviet leader’s assistance in accomplishing the peaceful unification of Germany, the United States would not pursue any further expansion of NATO. (Gorbachev reiterated Baker’s promise as recently as March 2009) Having read Baker’s promise, Igor characterized Clinton’s decision to expand NATO as a “stab in the back.” He quickly added: “Why should Russians trust the United States to honor any of its agreements?” Why, indeed?

Earlier in the year, a book edited by Ted Galen Carpenter and Barbara Conry and titled NATO Enlargement: Illusions and Reality suggested that Sutyagin’s anger wasn’t an isolated incident. “The rhetoric coming from Moscow suggests a continuing seething resentment about the West’s determination to expand NATO and a growing determination to prevent any further rounds of enlargement. The danger is that, when Russia recovers economically and militarily, Russians will remember that the West exploited their country’s temporary weakness to establish a dominant position in Central and Eastern Europe and seek to overturn that outcome.”

Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic joined NATO in 1999. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania joined in 2004. Albania and Croatia joined in 2009. Russians could do little but seethe at the cumulative impact of Clinton’s perfidy. (Yet, one could hardly blame these countries for voting with their feet, given their recent experience with the Soviet Union.)

Aggravating Russian sensibilities further was the fact that these countries were joining a NATO that was in the process of jettisoning the solely defensive posture of its organization. Its central stipulation, found in Article 5, was defensive. An armed attack against one member would be considered an attack on all. In 1991, NATO affirmed, “The Alliance is purely defensive in purpose; none of its weapons will ever be used except in self-defense.”

Yet, it was impossible for NATO to claim self-defense when, on 30 August 1995, NATO launched Operation Deliberate Force – the large-scale bombing of Serbian targets that constituted “NATO’s biggest military assault in its entire history.” After all, Serbia hadn’t attacked a single NATO member.

According the Beverly Crawford, author of the 1998 working paper titled, “The Bosnian Road to NATO Enlargement,” in the spring of 1994 a few top policy makers in the Clinton administration made the decision to support the enlargement of NATO as a way on strengthening it and keeping Russia out. (p.13)

Why? Because, as Ms. Crawford concludes, “The Bosnian war provided NATO with the renewed legitimacy that it needed to expand eastward. It left no doubt in the minds of both European and American leaders, that other institutions in which Russia participated would be too conflict-ridden and too weak to provide a common security umbrella for Europe. NATO enlargement was thus an unambiguous strategy to keep Russia out of the security institution in Europe that really counted.” (pp. 16-17)

Russia joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace program on June 22, 1994. But, President Boris Yeltsin justified the move this way: “NATO’s plans to expand eastward…became a threat to Russia’s security…The task was to minimize the negative consequences of the North Atlantic alliance’s expansion and prevent a new split in Europe.” [Leon Aron, Yeltsin: A Revolutionary Life, p. 667] Unfortunately, NATO’s decision to bomb the Bosnian Serbs in 1995 quickly demonstrated to Russia that it had little power to control NATO from within.

Russia’s relationship with NATO took its most serious nosedive in 1999, when NATO began bombing Serbia to make Serbian forces stop their unconscionable and criminal ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Serbian forces were in the process of killing some 10,000 Kosovar Albanians, raping and gang-raping countless women to produce Serbian offspring, and forcibly displacing some 1.5 million people from their homes.

In her examination of Russia’s relations with NATO during the late 1990s, Sharyl Cross noted: in 1999, “Russian officials responded to the first full-scale intervention in the 50 year history of the Alliance by suspending relations with NATO. NATO’s representative was asked to leave Moscow immediately and Russia’s military liaison representatives were removed from Brussels. Objection to NATO airstrikes in former Yugoslavia generated adamant and even emotional outrage throughout the Russian political-military elite and society. The revision of NATO’s Strategic Concept to enable NATO to intervene in situations beyond the borders of member nations led Russians to conclude that the Alliance had become an offensive, rather than solely defensive, military organization that could one day threaten the Russian Federation.” ["Russia and NATO Toward the 21st Century," p. 2]

In 2003, using the false pretexts of weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaeda to manipulate an American public still angry about and fearful from al-Qaeda’s attacks on 11 September 2001, the administration of George W. Bush ordered the illegal, immoral invasion of Iraq – perhaps the worst war crime since those committed by Nazi Germany during World War II. The invasion precipitated an incipient civil war between the Sunnis and Shias, give rise to an anti-American insurgency, caused a massive destruction of property, cost Iraq the lives of least 100,000 innocent men, women and children and forced the displacement of at least 4 million people from their homes. (Thus far, Putin’s intrusion into the Crimea has caused nothing like that.)

France, Germany and Russia ended up on the right side of history when they opposed America’s invasion. But, none of them threatened economic sanctions against the U.S. for its brazen violation of international law. Their feckless behavior brings to mind the observation made by an Athenian in Thucydides’ “Melian dialogue:” “You know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” (But, Russia can play that game, too.)

In 2008, Russia finally began to defend its national interests against the West’s never-ending attempts to encircle it with states incorporated into the European Union and NATO. President Putin did so in Georgia by seizing upon Georgia’s reckless shelling of Russian peacekeepers in Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, to invade Georgia. As the New York Times reported on November 6, 2008, “The brief war was a disaster for Georgia. The attack backfired. Georgia’s army was humiliated as Russian forces overwhelmed its brigades, seized and looted their bases, captured equipment and roamed the country’s roads at will.” Ultimately Russia supported the right of South Ossetia and Abkhazia to secede from Georgia.

Georgia’s bigger mistake, however, was it publicly expressed desire to join NATO. Professor Stephen F. Cohen – who, in my 47 years of studying Russia, has probably been the most astute expert about that country, with the exception, perhaps, of George Kennan – probably got it right when he observed: “…the fundamental issue here is that, three or four years ago, Putin made absolutely clear he had two red lines. You remember Obama’s red lines in Syria? But Putin was serious. One was the former Soviet republic of Georgia. NATO and NATO influence couldn’t come there. The other was Ukraine. We crossed both. You got a war in Georgia in 2008, and you have got today in Ukraine because we, the United States and Europe, crossed Putin’s red line. Now, you can debate whether he has a right to that red line, but let’s at least discuss it.”

I’m no fan of Vladimir Putin. I made my first public protest against him in 1999, when he permitted my friend, Igor Sutyagin, to be arrested on the trumped-up charge of espionage. Moreover, I’ve temporarily ceased visiting Russia – even the St. Petersburg that I love – due to my outrage about political repression in Russia and its slide from incipient democracy toward autocracy.

But, I reject the views of Madeleine Albright, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Hillary Clinton who recklessly compared Putin to Hitler. I also reject the facile allegations made by Rachel Maddow and Martha Raddatz (a so-called “journalist” whose mind has been completely captured by sympathy for the U.S. military) who assert that Putin is “mad.” After all, as Henry Kissinger has observed: “The demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy; it is an alibi for the absence of one.”

Moreover, I resent the hypocrisy of President Obama’s Secretary of State, John Kerry. On March 2, 2014, Kerry commented on Russia’s intervention in Ukraine by making the following observation: “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped-up pretext.” (Germany’s Angela Merkel said something similarly hypocritical.) Yet, Mr. Kerry voted to support America’s illegal 21st century invasion of Iraq and Ms. Merkel did nothing to stop it.

Why my rejection and resentment? Because, I completely understand how President Putin could believe that Russia’s national interests have been under an unrelenting assault by an expansionistic NATO and European Union. There’s solid evidence to support that point of view. And it goes back to President Clinton’s decision to renege on the promise that James Baker made to Mikhail Gorbachev.