Malorossiya: Ukrainian Separatism, Mapmaking, and The Continued Restlessness of History

 

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This seems optimistic, to me

 

Dateline, Donetsk:

Separatists in eastern Ukraine have proclaimed a new state in the territories they control.

More than 10,000 people have died in fighting after Russian-backed rebels took control of parts of Ukraine’s industrial heartland in April 2014.

Ukraine signed a ceasefire deal with the separatists in 2015, which provided for a gradual return of the areas into Kiev’s fold while giving them some autonomy, but the agreement was never fully implemented.

Donetsk News Agency has quoted separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenkoas saying that the rebels in Donetsk and Luhansk would form a state called Malorossiya.

Zakharchenko is calling for a three-year transition period in which to establish his new state, which will encompass not just the land annexed by Russia, but all territory that is Russian-leaning, including a great swath of the breadbasket between the Dniester and the Dnieper.

That seems ambitious, and it seems that our man in Donetsk Zakharchenko might have gotten a little ahead of his skis on this one.

Sputnik International has quotes from less-than-thrilled Russians on this, because of course it does.

“This is an unexpected initiative, and from my point of view, it diverges from the general line of actions prescribed by the Minsk agreements… The solution of the problems of Donbass, which have accumulated and are often urgent, has been initially and continues to be within the Minsk process agreed by all sides, and not within the unilateral initiatives announced today,” (Chairman of the Russian upper house of parliament Foreign Affairs Committee Konstantin) Kosachev said.

It makes sense why Russia wouldn’t be terribly happy about this. After all, the Minsk agreements muddle through the question of Crimea, since no one really seems to know how to make Russia leave. And continued unrest in the east works out well, since it leaves a divided and distracted Ukraine, one in which Russia has a lot of power.

It stands to some reason that Russia would have a lot of influence in the new Malorossiya, obviously. Their interference is what led to the schism, and they have been supporting the rebels. And the schism was even possible because Ukraine’s east historcially leans toward Russia. The fact that they have Russia in their name seems a good clue too, as does the proposal of unity between them, Russia, and Belorussia.

But that doesn’t always work out, as Russia knows. Belarus, under the never-dying Bond villain Lukashenko, has started to make overtures toward the west. For a long time he held out hope of a political union with Russia where he became the boss, but realizing that wasn’t happening, and realizing he could maybe play both sides, he has started teasing Putin with thoughts of Western alliances.

Now, Lukashenko is an annoyance to Putin, not a threat, but it goes to show you that life is pretty unpredictable. So there is no way of telling what can happen in a new independent state. What is conveniently violent and unsettled now might soon be settled, peaceful, and demanding respect.

And really, the whole thing seems kind of silly on its face, like a flighty rebel dream. “Soon, we’ll have all the Ukraine!” But really, there’s no reason for this to be absurd.

All of Eastern Europe is unsettled. The current map has only been in place for a decade, and a map from 1991 would be out of date in 1996, just as a map from 1989 would be irrelevant a couple of years later. It wasn’t just Eastern, Mitteleurope and the West (depending on where you define Germany) were shook by the beautiful cataclysms of 89.

But it is the east where the map has been going nuts since the Ottoman Empire started to dissolve, the Balkan Wars shattered the peace, and the late-era dominance of Austro-Hungary, and of course the empire-shattering WWI really made things impossible to follow. New countries were created (Yugoslavia, short-lived, and then long-lived, and then destroyed), old ideas were made real (Poland, also sort of short-lived, and then enslaved by the Soviets), and disparate lands coalesced only to be swallowed (the Ukraine).

 

Not pictured: pretty much everything

 

So what we know of the map is, at best, 100 years old, and even that not really. There’s no reason why Ukraine can’t be divided up, at least no historic reason. There are political and economic and maybe moral reasons why it shouldn’t, but just because we’ve come of age in a time where the Ukraine was a real, unified, independent state encompassing those exact post-Soviet borders, including Crimea, doesn’t mean that’s the only way it can be.

History doesn’t work that way. We thought we were in a freeze, and that the world was permanent. Which is weird: no one ever thought that maps couldn’t change. I know the Cold War had a weird feeling of never-endingness to it, but then the maps changed enormously over the next few decades. Yet we act as if what the world is at the moment is the way it is now and shall always be. We base our politics around it. We base our emotional maps around it, and react violently if there is a disruption.

This isn’t me being a Malorossiyan nationalist or anything. It’s not a good idea, for a number of reasons. But I think it is dangerous when we scoff at the idea of changing national borders. Borders are artificial. What’s more, they are new.  The problem is that the passions contained within those borders, and stoked partly because of those borders, are real. Even if they are manipulated they are real.

That’s the challenge of the 21st century. How do we handle the nation-state when transnational identity is so strong for so many but intense, smaller nationalisms are strong for an equal amount, in reaction to the first group? I don’t have any answers, but if we think the globe spinning in our office is the gospel, and any deviation is the ravings of heresiarchs, we have no chance of meeting the danger.

 

 

Inside Team Trump’s Decision; Or Your Regular Reminded that Ivanka is Useless, Kushner Is a Spiteful Moron And Everyone In The Administration is a Cruel and Thoughtless Morlock

 

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“Think of the look on Merkel’s face, Mr. President!”

 

The WaPo has a great wrapup of the “thinking” that went behind Team Trump’s foregone conclusion that the US should pull out of the the Paris Agreement on climate change, that world-historic event which, apparently, led to Togo, the Ukraine, Afghanistan, and everyone else to get together to laugh at us behind our backs.

If you don’t have time to read the full article, allow me to summarize: Trump wanted to do this, people tried to talk him out of it, other people told him what he wanted to hear, so he made his “choice”. This led to an all-time classic quote about incurious and intemperate children, by the Justification Queen, Kellyanne Conway.

“He’s stayed where he’s always been, and not for a lack of trying by those who have an opposite opinion,” said Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president. “He started with a conclusion, and the evidence brought him to the same conclusion.”

The evidence!

Now, it did seem like there was alively discussion. But, since Trump started with a false idea (“climate change is a hoax and we’re getting screwed”) and never budged from that false idea, it is pretty goddamn clear that opposite notions weren’t entertained.

But that doesn’t mean America’s Working Mom Sweetheart, Ivanka Trump, didn’t try to sway him.

Ivanka Trump, meanwhile, helped lead the effort to stay in the deal. In meetings, she argued that withdrawing could hurt the United States’ global image and weaken its moral authority abroad. She and her allies pushed the case that the president would have more leverage if he remained part of the agreement and negotiated from within.

The opposing camp, however, dismissed the substance of her appeal, brushing off her concerns as a hand-wringing question: “What will the world think of us?”

She also understood she might not be successful in swaying her father. But she helped implement a process in which Trump heard voices from all perspectives, from both inside and outside the administration.

That’s perfect. First of all, the heckling reaction of Bannon and Pruitt about “the world’s opinion”, like that fucking matters, cuck. But, while her arguments seem solid, this is clearly part of her “people don’t know just how much I did” PR strategy to doing nothing. Anytime you hear this, remember that she used whatever credibility she had to try to convince Americans, especially women, to vote for her dad. She has no excuses.

Jared Kushner is even better.

Jared Kushner, a senior White House adviser and Ivanka’s husband, agreed with the president that the Paris agreement was a bad deal. He felt that the carbon emissions standards were too high and that a U.N. fund that helps developing countries counter climate change was costing the United States too much. But he, too, felt Trump should not withdraw but simply renegotiate better terms.

He’s wrong about it being a “bad deal”, since it is voluntary, and wrong about “renegotiating” for the same reasons. He doesn’t know anything about the climate, climate science, or climate politics. But probably a lot about the Middle East! And, of course, screwing over poor people. Mostly just that. Which climate change does. So maybe he is a wunderkind.

But overall, this is nothing but a worldview of spite, summed up perfectly with this:

Pressure from leaders abroad also backfired. One senior White House official characterized disappointing European allies as “a secondary benefit” of Trump’s decision to withdraw.

Imagine that. I mean it, try to put yourself in that mindset. “Well, our main goal is sticking it to liberals at home, who care about clean air and water and land and livable cities, but if we can also make those snooty Europeans upset. Check. Mate.”

These, America, are our leaders.

The Comey Firing and the Coming Constitutional Crisis: Crossing the Border

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When talking about the firing of James Comey, that smirkingly moralistic Boy Scout who clearly decided to hand over the election to Donald Trump, there are a few things to stipulate.

  1. The stated reasons for his firing–that he engaged in a grotesque abuse of power, or at the very least, political malpractice in how he handled Clinton’s emails–were the correct ones. James Comey should no more be the Director of the FBI than I should.
  2. The stated reasons are clearly bullshit.
  3. The stated reasons are initially clever, but incredibly witless. They hang a lampshade on how cheap and petty the arrangement is.  They only make it more clear that this is, in one way or the other, about Russia.

You can tell the Administration is somehow stunned that no one believes their nonpartisan rectitude in this manner. They honestly expected to be praised for this. That’s how they operate: they still assume that if they say something, us normal non-billionaire totally un-President people should believe it.  It’s Trump’s way. One of the reasons for his increasingly erratic ways are that it isn’t working. The media isn’t just reporting what he says as reality.

Because really, this is too much. I bet there are 10 hours and 2000 tweets worth of material on top Republicans praising Comey for disclosing the Anthony Weiner email “investigation” (and I still can’t believe we have to talk about that as a world-changing event). Many of these are by the President! We’re expected to believe that they are now outraged about this? And if so, why five months in?

It is belaboring the obvious to say that this is about Russia. It’s either that Comey got “too close” to something they are trying to hide, or just that he refuses to close the investigation, to do the bidding of Donald Trump. Either way, these aren’t headlines we should be reading in America.

But again, the lie is the key here. In his public letter, Trump says “While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.” Why even bring that up? It’s a way to change the story, to say, “see, there’s nothing here!” It’s the typical Trumpian con. You can just say anything, so long as it gets you to a yes.

That reckless cynicism and nearly supernatural disregard for the truth isn’t just a part of this crisis; it is key to it. They actual tawdry crimes and corruption that drive this Administration are, in and of themselves, enough to cause a genuine catastrophe, but it is what they are driven by that makes this moment so scary.

Our system of government is formed less around laws than it is around norms and expected behavior. There are rules, but when they are broken, there is shockingly little that can be done until the rule-breaker himself is forced to change his behavior. When the exemption on conflict of interest rules were carved out for the President due to the complexity of the job, it was assumed that the President would avoid potential conflicts, not that he would see it as carte blanche, an open door. That’s obviously not the case with Trump.

He has no instincts except to enrich himself and to further his brand. There isn’t a democratic bone in his body, or a thought for the greater good anywhere in the arid warped-mirror desert of his mind. That’s why he can fire the FBI Director for lack of loyalty: he thinks this is how it should be, and there is really no way to stop him.

That’s the problem, and that’s why we are in a crisis. It was assumed that the President wouldn’t be in hock to a foreign power and wouldn’t have every top staffer equally entangled. It was assumed they wouldn’t fire the FBI Director for looking into it. It was assumed that they would adhere to some basic democratic standards. Donald Trump, with his unique and terrible sicknesses and vanities, turned out all those assumptions.

That’s what has always worried me the most about this Administration. That the only real mechanisms to stopping his revolt against the Constitutional order were Republicans, enthralled with a right-wing strongman and unable to put basic patriotism over their lust for tax cuts. And even if they did (and now is the moment, boys), there is only so much that can be done.

Let’s say this is impeachable (High crimes and misdemeanors are not just jailable offenses, but crimes against the Presidency), or something is, and the GOP actually decides to do it.  Say they impeach, and the Senate convicts. Then what? What if he refuses to leave? Again, it is assumed that a convicted President will leave office, but what if he refuses to, claiming that Congress can’t usurp an election? What horrors await us there?

This is the problem. We assume a President will behave one way. This one won’t. I’ve been worried that at some point he will order the military to do something flagrantly illegal, or that he’ll govern as a strongman, ruining our democracy, and the military will have to decide to do something. (This is the Turkish model, as I argued) A coup against an elected leader is antithetical to democracy, but it also might be needed. It is a terrible, unfathomable situation. But it is fathomable, now.

We have no idea how this President will act or what he’ll do. We don’t know if we have the legal mechanisms to alter some of his worst behaviors. We don’t know if he’ll follow the Constitution, and impeachment is part of the Constitution. If he doesn’t follow that, then what?

The title of this post is about a border. I felt that on Jan 20th we crossed the border into another land, in a way. Our conceptions of ourselves have changed, because the norms that guided us don’t any longer. It’s a psychic shock, and I think the naked and sweaty corruption of yesterday’s assault on democratic norms is pushing us further across the line.

(B)eyond his ignorance, his vapid stupidity, his tireless and pathetic ego, is that he is the exact kind of dull and base grotesquerie we’d laugh at in other countries. There is nothing there but ego and avarice, brainless pronunciations in the service of cheap laughs from his braying sycophants, who react tumescently whenever he punches down. He’s the comic bouffant strongman, the kind you see in some wretched mountain land. And that’s the border we somehow crossed over.

The true psychic shock of this transition will, I think, be hard to measure, and hard to predict. But I do think, now that the elegies are over and Donald Trump is sworn in, placing his hand on the Lincoln Bible, that there will be a subtle breaking. Its effects won’t be felt all at once, of course. But our conception of who we are will change.

We’ll have a penny-ante Balkan-esque strongman in the White House instead of a President. We’ll have a witless dummy who thinks his smirks are poetry. We’ll have a man whose conception of leadership is finding and punishing enemies. Our country will be different. We’ll be different.

I wrote this in January. I was hoping to be wrong, and the resistance still makes me hopeful. I do think that this might really spur the GOP into action, partly because he made them look foolish (most of them praised Comey for the October letter with effusive partisan bonhomie). But we also might be slowly ground underfoot, one lie at a time, until we think the bottom of a shoe is the wideopen sky.

 

Some Unrequested Advice to Mr. President Trump, In Re: The First 100 Days

Far be it from me to give advice to our President, especially when I actually agree with him. The “First 100 Days!” measurement is such a breathtakingly stupid and destructive media-driven standard that it makes me dizzy. It’s arbitrary and emphasizes the image of “wins” over the long hard work of government.

But it seems to me that when you are “the ultimate deal maker”, and all you promise are “wins”, and have frequently talked about how many wins you’ll get in the first 100 days, maybe you shouldn’t slag it? And maybe you shouldn’t brag about how much you’ve accomplished when it has been essentially nothing?

And maybe the one accomplishment you can point to is filling a Supreme Court seat that was stolen for you and was, by dint of majority, guaranteed to be filled, so much so that a not-particuarly-bright chimpanzee throwing rocks at the Federalist Society could have done the same, maybe don’t brag about how much you’ve done?

And maybe when everything you’ve done has failed, don’t say that you have new plans that are very, very good, and you’re going to have health care and a budget next week, when no one seems to have a bill for either, and Congress isn’t even in session, because people will begin to realize that you just say things to fool them, kicking the can down the road, but now you’re the only one on the road, and you can’t duck away and hide from your own ineptitude, and the tidal wave of unrelenting and greedy bullshit that has taken you so far in life has crashed, has taken you to the top, but it doesn’t work anymore.

And maybe when realizing that take a moment to reflect, probably for the first time in your life, at what you’ve done. Not what you’ve done to other people, of course, because that’s asking the moon to shine only for me, but to yourself. Everyone knows you are a liar now. Everyone knows your little games. Everyone can see that you promise things you have no intention, and no capacity, to deliver. They see you doing the same thing you’ve always done, like building a third casino, and then going bankrupt, and blaming the economic climate, like you weren’t the idiot who built during that climate in the first place (and that other casinos were doing fine, anyway). Maybe realize that it’s too late for you to save your reputation. Everyone knows you are empty, and a joke. You’ve spent your whole life running both away from and inexorably toward your fraudulent nature, and now it is there for the whole world to see.

Anyway, I don’t have any advice for how to deal with that. It just makes me happy to think of you suffering a bit for the trashy horror you’ve brought upon us to satiate your empty vanity.

Tillerson’s “Warning” To Russia about Assad: Trump’s Meaningless Foreign Policy in a Nutshell

 

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The President gathers his top men

 

The Wall Street Journal reports that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has landed in Moscow, where he will seek to convince Russia to back away from its support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Yeah, Russia: you better start following this policy that we’ve had for nearly five days now.

It isn’t even that I disagree. It’s just that: is Russia supposed to take this seriously? “Oh, the Americans bombed an empty airfield and announced it was a one-off, except when Spicer said it wasn’t, then said he was wrong. This sure seems consistent and permanent. We better do what they say!”

This is what happens when you elect a man who has no idea what he’s doing and whose top advisors (Bannon, Kushner, Priebus) have exactly zero days of federal government experience between them.

Update: Syria Responds With Another Bombing

From The Guardian:

A warplane on Friday bombed the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhun, where a chemical attack killed scores of people this week and prompted US missile strikes, a witness in the rebel-held area and a war monitoring group said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based organisation that monitors the war, said a Syrian government or Russian warplane hit Khan Sheikhun, in rebel-held Idlib province, before noon local time.

This is what happens when you “send a message”: people want to know just what it meant. Either the Assad government or the Russians (which you can’t 100% seperate) have decided to test whether the US is actually interested in involving themselves in the fight against Assad, or just wanted to send a very limited and ultimately ineffective message. Because the people killed in this strike are no less dead than those killed by chemical weapons.

So, again, are we just saying there is one line that can’t be crossed, and otherwise essentially stepping away from the battlefield? Or are we going to continue to degrade Assad and involve ourselves in Syria’s future? To be honest, I don’t know what is the better course. But nor does Trump.

Pakistan and Climate Change: Presented Without Comment

 

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Pakistan takes steps to politicize tragedy

 

Sigh...

The Pakistan senate’s approval of the Climate Change Act on March 17 was warmly welcomed by many as a step in the right direction for a country that is battling the growing threat of climate-related disasters.

The bill, authored by senator Zahid Hamid who heads the climate change ministry, was passed to ensure the country meets its obligations under international conventions relating to climate change and address its effects. Though ranked 153rd in terms of greenhouse gas emitting countries, Hamid told the senate it was the seventh most vulnerable country to climate change. The bill had already been approved by the National Assembly.

With this new law, Pakistan has joined the ranks of a handful of countries that have passed legislation to specifically tackle the impact of climate change, said Michal Nachmany who has been leading a global review of climate legislation at the Grantham Institute. As of 2017 there were over 400 laws relevant to climate change and energy, according to the institute’s review of 99 countries. However, there are just a few countries like Finland, United Kingdom, Denmark, Kenya, Australia, Bulgaria, New Zealand, Austria, Switzerland, Micronesia and the Philippines that have passed climate change acts.

OK, just one comment: Pakistan officially believes in science more than the Republican Party.