9.27.2016 In Depth Look

An insistence that historical, political-economic, and social context are all at once inseparable and separately crucial in comprehending a complicate skein of unfolding eventuality such as occurs on a daily basis now in Ukraine–an insistence not any the less central for its being antithetical to the horse manure that passes for corporate media’s reportage–in this case from a longform piece that graced the pages of Contributoria, a perspective and overview that fits seamlessly with a powerfully reported piece from Consortium News about the push toward war on Russia’s ‘Southern flank,’ where NATO is acting with treachery and impunity after the promises of 1991, an account moreover that dovetails nicely with a recent New Yorker article that delves the difficulty of ‘reforming’ Ukraine after the U.S. coup there in 2014; investigations that focus on Ukraine that in turn intersect powerfully with more general reports about Russia, such as a briefing from Information Clearinghouse, via Nation Magazine, about the phobia that ruling classes feel about the media upstart RT, which is showing establishment outlets up hither and yon in its coverage, and such as  a news analysis from World Socialist Website about Vladimir Putin’s landslide electoral victory in Russia’s polling contests earlier this month, all of which ought to garner the attention of scrappy scribes and stalwart citizens who care even a little about such mundane matters as understanding the world or such vital issues as avoiding nuclear war: “What if we wrote about the United States but forgot to mention that slavery was once standard operating procedure?  Or about England with no mention or consideration for Charles’ losing his head at a certain point in time?  Or about France with neither admissions concerning nor interest in Napoleon?  Or, even more pertinently, about Germany with a blithe unconcern for Hitler’s having once been Chancellor and more?russia church religion orthodox st petersburg
One would imagine that such horrendous contextual gaffes, such hideous historical blindness, might elicit a critique sooner or later.  And yet precisely such obtuseness or willful ignorance or hidden agendas govern almost all of the corporate mediation that comes from the United States, England, France, and Germany regarding today’s evolution of Ukrainian crises that could completely eviscerate civilization or even humanity itself.
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This article first and foremost offers a corrective to such decontextualized, ahistorical emptiness.  These initial remarks give some concrete examples of what has so far been universally absent
For instance, our narratives of Ukraine must account for the fact that Nikita Khrushchev emerged from the coal mines of Donetsk to grow into one of the world’s most powerful leaders— a true working class hero, at the same time that emigrant scions of substantial wealth moved to England, and Canada and the United States both to flee comrade Khrushchev’s ascendancy and to disparage the diminutive Nikita’s life and work; our stories of Galicia and Kiev must make sense of the truth that Leon Trotsky was as much as a seventh generation Ukrainian from a poor Cossack family simultaneously as Stepan Bandera came forth from a small farmstead near the Polish border to achieve National Socialist prominence.

The front side of the 100 hryvnia's bank note of the Ukrainian People's Republic, which existed 1918–1921.
The front side of the 100 hryvnia’s bank note of the Ukrainian People’s Republic, which existed 1918–1921.

Additionally, our conception of the meaning of Ukrainian must not only show the palpable interconnections of such countless undeniable polarities of the relatively recent past, but it must also bring into the light and explain more or less exactly how these events and people and days of life and strife evolved into a current context of similar yearning and struggle, in which miners’ militias chase the hapless mercenaries of mammon out of their lands, and airliners full of helpless innocents explode in midair to litter the fields around Luhansk with the bodies of strangers.

In other words, our thinking about this blessed, cursed land must become more than either a projection of latter-day British imperialists, or a fantasy of American billionaires who insist that they know what’s best for the world, and all others should just shut up and do as they are told.  Our beliefs about Ukraine must illuminate matters in these ways, that is, unless we intend our mental emanations to be mere scraps of propaganda, intellectual detritus to serve the power agendas of ‘leaders’ who, apparently, would sacrifice as large a swath of humanity as every single living human being in order to maintain their dominance.
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This essay seeks to honor these directives. It does not pretend to be comprehensive; it never promises expertise; it reflects no political itinerary other than that of knowledge, no social project other than that of seeking wisdom. It is mostly accurate and fully honest in its statements.money_flying-transparent
Mistakes, in any case, are easy to correct.  If its interpretationsrepresent error, however, then readers should show how and where and why and provide a more robust explication of the litany of facts that appear here as well as of the innumerable eventualities that are not in these lines.  Otherwise, a rational participant in this discursive process will have no choice but to think that the presentation here is persuasive and plausible, whatever truth in all of its rotund completeness ultimately turned out to be.”—Contributoria

Hubble Space Telescope
Hubble Space Telescope
        “A Republican leader calling for a new military base in Georgia is hardly newsworthy — the state already has more than a dozen such installations.  But when it’s the speaker of parliament in the country of Georgia, who belongs to that nation’s Republican Party calling for a U.S. military base on Russia’s southern border, and for a constitutional amendment to guarantee his country’s commitment to NATO, that should raise some eyebrows.  Although major U.S. papers didn’t report that news this month, it reflects another escalation of NATO’s dangerous confrontation with Moscow.  Eight years ago, Georgia’s intense campaign to join NATO — combined with its reckless aggression against the breakaway territory of South Ossetia — helped spark a brief but bloody war with Vladimir Putin’s Russia.  Today, the U.S.-led military alliance is once again promoting its expansion plans in Georgia and other countries on Russia’s periphery as if the Cold War had never ended.

NATO’s relentless expansion toward Russia —in violation of promises by Western leaders a quarter century ago — is a major cause of recent dangerous military escalation by the world’s major nuclear powers.  In 2008, NATO extended membership invitations to both Georgia and Ukraine — two countries on Russia’s direct borders. George Friedman, CEO of the private intelligence firm Stratfor, explained that year why Moscow reacted with such hostility: ‘US Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton had promised the Russians that NATO would not expand into the former Soviet empire.  That promise had already been broken in 1998 by NATO’s expansion to Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic — and again in the 2004 expansion, which included not only the rest of the former Soviet satellites in what is now Central Europe, but also the three Baltic states, which had been components of the Soviet Union.’
The Russians had tolerated all that, but the discussion of including Ukraine in NATO represented to them a fundamental threat to Russia’s national security.  It would, in their calculations, have rendered Russia indefensible and threatened to destabilize the Russian Federation itself.  When the United States went so far as to suggest that Georgia be included as well, bringing NATO deeper into the Caucasus, the Russian conclusion — publicly stated — was that the United States in particular intended to encircle and break Russia.
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Although (in Georgia) Russia came out ahead, some Russian analysts concluded that their failure to teach Georgian leaders enough of a lesson in 2008 contributed to the recent conflict in Ukraine, where a violent putsch in 2014 installed an anti-Russian regime bent on joining NATO.  As one Russian expert at Moscow State University observed last year: ‘The Saakashvili regime survived, it was not punished. What is happening in Ukraine is a direct result of the fact that in 2008 we did not pursue things in Georgia to the end. The junta in Kiev feels that it has absolute impunity, it is confident that Russia will not overthrow and punish it. That is why it is so brazen. And the West, seeing that Russia did not stick it out to the end, decided that it can do what it wants in Ukraine.’

Among the few dissenters (in relation to such imperial depredation) are foreign policy ‘realists’ like the CATO Institute’s Ted Galen Carpenter, who have the temerity to question the rationale for NATO in the post-Soviet age.  Citing the cost and danger of growing U.S. commitments to that alliance, he wrote last month, a propos of countries like Georgia: ‘The only thing worse than committing the United States to defend a small, weak, largely useless ally is doing so when that ally is highly vulnerable to another major power. . . Alliances with such client states are perfect transmission belts to transform a local, limited conflict into a global showdown between nuclear-armed powers.’  His words have gone largely unheeded.  America’s dangerous commitment to Georgia (and Ukraine) (are) taking place nominally in public but far below the radar of most voters.  So let me propose a serious question for the next presidential debate: ‘What would you do, if you were elected, about Tbilisi (or Kiev)?'”—Consortium News
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        “(Sergii Leschenko) is the son of two Soviet-trained engineers, and grew up in Kiev, where he studied journalism.  He aspired to become an on-air correspondent, but his speech was mumbly and imprecise.  After an unsuccessful summer internship at a local news channel, in 2000, he heard that a new online publication, Ukrayinska Pravda, was desperately looking for reporters; in recent weeks, nearly all the staff had quit, fed up with low pay and worn down by pressure from authorities.  His interview took place in a cramped and sparsely furnished three-room apartment, where he was met by the site’s founder and editor-in-chief, Georgiy Gongadze, a thirty-one-year-old reporter. Gongadze regularly received threats from Ukrainian officials because of his muckraking investigations.  The power was out in the apartment, so Leshchenko and Gongadze sat in darkness.  After a few minutes, Gongadze told him that he could start right away.

Two weeks after Leshchenko began work, Gongadze disappeared.  ‘I thought maybe he wandered off somewhere, went on a bender,’ Leshchenko recalled recently.  ‘He could have met a girl, gone to L’viv, or maybe Georgia.’  Two months later, Gongadze’s body was found in a forest outside Kiev.  He had been decapitated, his body doused in chemicals and burned.  Leshchenko had never expected journalism to be a deadly profession, but now that it was it didn’t seem right to do anything else.  ‘There was no going back,’ he said.

But in Ukraine’s years of independence its political culture had become dysfunctional.  It had not managed to create strong institutions, relying instead on clannish relationships among the country’s rich and powerful individuals.  Before long, (pro-Western Viktor) Yushchenko was pursuing the same oligarchic and nepotistic politics that he had promised to transcend.  Six months after he took office, he was questioned at a press conference about allegations that his nineteen-year-old son was dropping cash in night clubs and speeding around Kiev in a hundred-and-twenty-thousand-dollar BMW.  Yushchenko lashed out at the reporter who had published the initial article. ‘Act like a polite journalist and not like a hit man!’ he said, adding that he had told his son to take his restaurant bills and “throw them in the journalist’s face.’clipboard write teach journalism
The journalist was Leshchenko.  (Another rising star reporter, Mustafa) Nayyem was also at the press conference.  The two men kept running into each other in Ukraine’s tight journalist circles, and eventually decided to work on some articles together.  They became allies and confidants, their profiles and stature rising in tandem. Nayyem’s poise and gift for repartee made him an obvious fit for television, where, as an on-air host, he deployed his natural ease and charm to discomfit politicians.  Savik Shuster, a journalist who hired Nayyem as a correspondent for his political talk show, recalled that he was skilled at asking blunt questions: ‘And so how much money did you steal yesterday?’  That sort of thing.  In 2013, Nayyem, along with some friends and colleagues, founded a television channel, Hromadske, and he became its most visible correspondent.  It was the country’s first independent news network, run without the backing of an oligarch or interference from the state.

(In the mayhem of years since, ‘reform’ has turned corrupt, fascism has infected ‘patriotism,’ and journalists have shrugged and felt the futility of merely ‘reporting’ events, even as Nayyim attained plum gigs like attendance at a Stanford elite conclave).  When Nayyem returned to Kiev (from Palo Alto), he told Leshchenko about (program director Francis) Fukuyama’s suggestion, and said that he was thinking of running for parliament.  Leshchenko laughed, but in the coming days he and Nayyem talked about how the post-revolutionary rupture was likely to present a fleeting moment for outsiders to enter parliament—an opportunity that might never recur.  They discussed their options with Svitlana Zalishchuk, a veteran democracy activist from Kiev who had dated Leshchenko for several years and was close to both men.  She, too, had attended Fukuyama’s Stanford course, in 2011.  They would form a bloc of three—it would be all of them in parliament or no one. Zalishchuk knew that even if they won they would be, at most, ‘troublemakers, not decision-makers,’ she told me.  But the chance seemed worth taking.  ‘The old system was much more powerful in terms of media, resources, money, infrastructure.  What did we have?  Public trust, and some new ideas.'”—The New Yorker
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        “One subgenre of this frenzy (against Trump’s ‘inclination’ toward Putin) is a renewed focus on Russian-funded English language cable network Russia Today, which critics have accused of going to bat for Trump and working to undermine Clinton.  The latest example of this sub-take is Jim Rutenberg, media columnist for The New York Times.  In ‘Larry King, the Russian Media and a Partisan Landscape,’ Rutenberg muses on the rise of relativism and the loss of objective truth in media.  This is a typical frame when discussing the uniquely sinister nature of RT, and it’s one worth dissecting in detail.  ruler writing construction architecture
Rutenberg begins by citing RT’s lockstep support for the Russian invasion of Crimea as evidence it’s not a real news source.  However, it’s worth noting, The New York Times‘s editorial board has supported every single US war—Persian Gulf, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, Libya—for the past 30 years.  While its reporting and op-eds on these wars has often been critical, much of it’s coverage has also helped to sell war-weary liberals on the current military mission—the most notable example being Judith Miller and Michael Gordon’s hyping Iraq’s nonexistent nuclear program in the buildup to the March 2003 invasion.  Indeed, the image of The New York Times as an objective, unbiased news outlet is precisely how it was able to sell the war in the first place.  The difference is one of efficacy, not affect.

(In this context of double standards and attendant hypocrisy), (t)he odds are, the average American is far more likely to hear about how terribleRT is than actually watch RT.  From The New York Times to Time toBuzzFeed to The Daily Beast to Politico to The Washington Post, virtually every major American news outlet has dedicated considerable time to column inches to reminding us how sinister the Russian-funded network is.  The question is, who cares?  Russia Today’s reach is relatively minor.  What, one may ask, are we so scared of?  More speech, as the adage goes, is always better than less speech.  Soviet propaganda added urgency to the United States’ taking the civil-rights movement seriously.  Japanese propaganda was, according to Douglas Blackmon in his book Slavery by Another Name, one of the primary reasons Franklin Roosevelt sought to end debt peonage for African-Americans in the South.  Getting trolled, for lack of a better term, by counties hostile to your interest can have healthy consequences.

(To note the likely duplicity in play in these matters is merely massive understatement).  Also missing from the posturing over RT is a bit of perspective.  For decades the United States has supported similar tactics overseas to push their agenda—from the Voice of America and its assortment of spin offs to ‘pro-democracy’ initiatives that often, with the help of Western NGO and think tanks, funnel money horizontally by sponsoring pundits who write in foreign media outlets.  The professional hand-wringing classes make a distinction: that US-backed media are truthful and held to higher standards.  While this is true in a strict sense, often times this simply means the United States is better at information war, not that it does less of it.  The CIA helped produce, without disclosure, Argo and Zero Dark Thirty, two glowing CIA commercials.  The US government, via USAID, secretly created a fake social-media platform and infiltrated the hip-hop scene in Cuba to ‘stir unrest’ and undermine the government.  The Department of Defense runs a $100 million program to manipulate social media overseas, complete with fake sock-puppet profiles in ‘Arabic, Farsi, Urdu and Pashto.’  How many Americans are aware of these practices?  Probably a lot fewer than know about Putin’s evil cable network.

Erdogan v. Putin
Erdogan v. Putin

The fundamental question is: Why do powerful media outlets feel the need to rush in and play ideological hall monitor and decry such a relatively minor player in American news?  If a fraction of this energy went into critically examining our own country’s propaganda techniques and giving voice to the marginalized topics and people, perhaps the market—to the extent there is one—for a ‘counternarrative’ would dry up and render outlets like RT irrelevant.”—Information Clearinghouse