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Russophobia and the dark art of making an anti-Russian magazine cover

By Dominic Basulto | July 10, 2016

Chances are, if a story about Russia appears on the cover of a major Western magazine, it’s not good news. Most likely, there’s been an international scandal, a breakout of geopolitical tensions, the resumption of Cold War hostilities, or some nefarious Russian plot to bring the entire free world to its knees.

Russophobia — or the unnatural fear of Russia — generally leads magazine editors to choose the most over-the-top images to convey Russia as a backwards, clumsy, non-Western and aggressively malevolent power. Unfortunately, that’s led to a few rules of thumb for anyone trying to create a magazine cover featuring Russia. You can think of these rules as the dark art of making an anti-Russian magazine cover:

OPTION 1: Go with the Russian bear

This is a no-brainer, actually, and pretty much the default option for any magazine editor. The symbol of the Russian bear is universally understood to be the symbol of Russia, so it’s an immediate attention-grabber that readers will grasp quickly. After all, for centuries, Western satirists have used the Russian bear as a symbol of imperial aggression.

Given the latest round of U.S.-Russian tensions over the Ukraine crisis, the key is to make the Russian bear look as scary as possible. Take the May/June 2016 cover from Foreign Affairs, for example:

The cover title seems relatively harmless — “Putin’s Russia: Down But Not Out.” But check out the image of the bear — it’s bloodied and still relatively menacing, despite being bruised and battered — check out the red, bloodshot eyes and the sharp claws. Definitely not someone you’d want to mess with, even after a few shots of vodka.

And Foreign Affairs is not the only magazine to go the full bear with the cover. Ahead of the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014, Bloomberg BusinessWeek went with what has to be the scariest, most menacing Russia bear that’s ever appeared on the cover of a magazine. The magazine shows a malevolent bear on a pair of skis wearing a Russian hockey jersey, armed to the teeth (literally), with the headline: “Is Russia Ready?”

This Olympic cover immediately calls to mind a cover story TIME ran on Russia (then the Soviet Union) ahead of the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics — “Olympic Turmoil: Why the Soviets Said Nyet.” Here you have a menacing (and slightly psychotic-looking) Russian bear chewing on the Olympic rings:

There are other options, of course, if you don’t want to go with the anthropomorphic bear. In late 2014, The Economist pulled off a story about “Russia’s Wounded Economy” after Western sanctions and falling oil prices — it showed a bear stalking through the wintry, Siberian snow with bloody footprints:

But you probably want to emphasize either the claws or teeth of the Russian bear, right? So here’s a terrifying image of a Russian bear “welcoming” U.S. President Barack Obama to Moscow:

OPTION 2: Go with Vladimir Putin

The next best choice after using the Russian bear is the image of Vladimir Putin. After all, in the minds of most Western readers, Putin is Russia and Russia is Putin.

If you’re ready to head down this road, then an image of an evil James Bond villain, hatching a diabolical plot to take over the world, might work. This 2014 Newsweek cover of Putin, showing him and the menacing sunglasses, is a classic:

To play up the Soviet spy background of Putin, you could try using an image of him wearing sunglasses in a grim-looking Red Square (Gray Square!):

A variant of the James Bond villain look is the classic “moody Putin” look that’s been around for almost a decade. This image somehow captures the Western perception of Russia as a vast, unsmiling wasteland full of snow, ice and a vast moral void. Who better to run that country than an unsmiling dictator? What started it all was this TIME magazine cover naming Putin as “Person of the Year”:

From there, the moody, unsmiling Putin image took off. Pull your camera angle back from the close-up of Putin’s face and you get this — “the unsmiling tsar”:

Which, of course, led to the cover of this 2015 book by Steven Lee Myers of the New York Times:

Of course, the moody, unsmiling, sour-looking Putin can be updated to make him look like a gangster:

Or a Mario Puzo-style mafia don:

If you really want to grab the reader’s attention, though, go for the shirtless Putin. The shirtless Vladimir Putin is a classic Internet meme, of course. (Google: Shirtless Putin hummingbird hamster) The meme of a shirtless Putin doing manly things is so popular that “The Simpsons” even used the image of a completely naked Putin on horseback (bareback?) around the time of the Crimea crisis:

Look long enough, and you start to see images of shirtless Vladimir Putins Photoshopped on top of everything. So it’s perhaps no big surprise that the shirtless Vladimir Putin has ended up on the cover of a few major magazines, including this classic Economist cover where he’s shirtless on top of a Russian tank:

And shirtless while playing poker:

But, if you want an image of Putin, and you also want to keep things classy, how about a mashup of Putin and a classic symbol of Russian culture, like ballet or ice skating? In 2014, The New Yorker pulled off a cover of Putin, pirouetting through the air during the Sochi Winter Olympics, while a bunch of Putin yes-man clones give him top marks for his performance:

And, here’s another cover featuring Putin as an ice skater, this time from The Economist:

But here’s the twist — note the fallen Russian figure skater on the ice and the suggestion that the Sochi Olympics were basically a giant personal ego project for Putin. (Also note the subtext of the imagery — whereas Putin usually opts for “macho” sports like hunting, swimming and hockey, this cover shows him as a slightly effeminate ice skater. Look at the hands!!!)

OPTION 3: Go with a classic image of Russia, slightly twisted

If you’re tired of using the Russian bear image and you’re concerned that putting Vladimir Putin on the cover of your magazine might create a few unsavory possibilities for your editorial team (Russian spies! Russian mafia! Russian hooligans!), there’s the old standby — the matryoshka image. This, of course, conveys the enigmatic nature of Russia — the old “riddle inside an enigma wrapped in a mystery” of Winston Churchill:

But why stop there? To convey the threatening nature of all things Russia, maybe it’s just easier just to come out and show the Russian missiles, tanks, weapons and troops directly:

What all these magazine covers have in common, of course, is their Russophobia. These magazine covers are not so much different from the images that appeared a hundred years ago, when Russia really was an enigma unknown to the West. In fact, the image of Russia as a big, clumsy and aggressive state dates all the way back to the 16th century, and not much seems to have changed since then.

There’s always been a sense in Western media circles that a giant power in the middle of the Eurasian landmass posed a threat to someone — and maybe to everyone:

Although, in all fairness, the image of the Russian bear is probably preferable to the image of the Russian octopus:

Which leads to the obvious question — Are these images of Russia from 100 years ago really so much different from the images appearing today in Western mass media?

At a time when the Kremlin has called on the Culture Ministry to investigate anti-Russian propaganda and Russophobia in the West, this question isn’t very hard to answer.

Dominic Basulto is the author of the new book Russophobia.

November 3, 2016 Posted by | Book Review, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular | , , , | Leave a comment

Trigger Warnings, Safe Spaces, Bias Reporting: The New Micro-techniques of Surveillance and Control

 By Michael Rectenwald, Ph.D. | Legitgov |  September 12, 2016

A singular orthodoxy has infiltrated the discursive parameters of U.S. and other universities and colleges. This orthodoxy now constitutes the ethical vocabulary of academia. Adopted from feminism, anti-racism, and LGBTQ theory and practice, the language, doctrines, and mechanisms of this orthodoxy now dominate academia’s policies, procedures and handbooks. The terminology has become the vernacular among the swelling ranks of administrators, especially the relatively new cohort of chief diversity officers, directors of diversity, associate provosts of diversity, assistant provosts of diversity, diversity consultants, and so on and so on. I refer not merely to the orthodoxy of “diversity,” but in particular to “diversity” initiatives as they are currently administered, using a particular set of policies, procedures, and mechanisms: trigger warnings, safe spaces, bias reporting, and the like.

While ridiculed by media outlets, and, at least where trigger warnings are concerned, disavowed by the American Association of University Professors, nevertheless, American colleges and universities are dominated by this ethos and its collective techne. At the University of Chicago for example, the Dean of Students, John (Jay) Ellison, Ph.D., announced (to the great chagrin of some faculty and many students):

Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called “trigger warnings,” we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual “safe spaces” where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own…

Yet, the same university has also assembled and maintains a “Bias Response Team,” and “urges anyone who has experienced or witnessed a Bias Incident to report it to the Bias Response Team.”

As it usually happens, any perspective that deviates from this “academic” orthodoxy – or any opposition expressed by faculty members in reasoned commentary or debate about the premises of the creed and/or its techniques – is virtually proscribed in advance. Whether or not they happen to be progressives, left communists, or radicals of another stripe, potential critics rightly fear being figured as right-wing reactionaries opposed to diversity and the confrontation of oppression. Any complaints or criticisms, they fear, would be peremptorily dismissed, and likely circulated among other faculty members within their own universities or in academia at large as gossip, subjecting the critic to ridicule and disrepute.

Indeed, despite the fact that a new form of policing has been surreptitiously introduced into academia at large, one would be hard-pressed to find a single article, essay, or book that subjects the entire administratively controlled apparatuses of “diversity” to any kind of real scrutiny. While innumerable articles have appeared on one or another of these topics (mostly on trigger warnings and safe spaces), no one has explained the structural provenance nor analysed the probable effects of these developments as a whole. Nor has anyone provided a theoretical or historical framework with which to understand them.

Ironically, perhaps, the most clearly appropriate critical theoretic for grasping the structural origins, as well as the social and political implications of this new largely “academic”1 development, can be found within the ambit of postmodern theory itself. The new mechanisms adopted and adapted by academic administrations clearly and incredibly mirror those described in a text widely read within humanities and social science studies courses throughout American universities and beyond. Indeed, it is a wonder that no one has, until now, applied this critique to the mechanisms of this academic creed. Faculty members, graduate students, and even many undergraduates, who have had even the slightest brush with trends in the humanities and social sciences, will know to what I refer here: Michel Foucault’s brilliant 1975 book, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Particularly uncanny is the resemblance of the academic mechanisms in question to the “micro-physics of power” described in the third chapter, “Panopticism.”

In this riveting essay, Foucault effectually describes the transmutation of power from the pre-modern to the modern period. Adducing Jeremy Bentham’s architectural model of the “Panopticon,” Foucault proffers what at the time was an utterly novel understanding of modern “discipline” and control. The new disciplinary mechanisms that Foucault discusses replace the earlier corporeal forms of punishment, such as quartering people in public, or branding them with the crimes they supposedly committed, and so forth. While the Panopticon was first introduced by Bentham as a model of prison, asylum, and school reform, the forms of surveillance and discipline to some extent prefigured by the Panopticon and in some sense preceding it, for Foucault had already metastasized beyond the prison system, becoming the general means of discipline and control in so-called “democratic” societies.

The Panopticon itself is a circular building, in which its subjects – inmates, patients, students, etc. – are arrayed in cells surrounding a central tower. The subjects can be seen at any time by a guard, who may (or may not) occupy the central tower. The captive subjects cannot see into the tower, nor can they see each other. Likewise, they are never certain whether or not they are being observed:

Bentham’s Panopticon is the architectural figure of this composition. We know the principle on which it was based: at the periphery, an annular building; at the centre, a tower; this tower is pierced with wide windows that open onto the inner side of the ring; the peripheric building is divided into cells, each of which extends the whole width of the building; they have two windows, one on the inside, corresponding to the windows of the tower; the other, on the outside, allows the light to cross the cell from one end to the other. All that is needed, then, is to place a supervisor in a central tower and to shut up in each cell a madman, a patient, a condemned man, a worker or a schoolboy. By the effect of backlighting, one can observe from the tower, standing out precisely against the light, the small captive shadows in the cells of the periphery. They are like so many cages, so many small theatres, in which each actor is alone, perfectly individualized and constantly visible. The panoptic mechanism arranges spatial unities that make it possible to see constantly and to recognize immediately. In short, it reverses the principle of the dungeon; or rather of its three functions – to enclose, to deprive of light and to hide – it preserves only the first and eliminates the other two. Full lighting and the eye of a supervisor capture better than darkness, which ultimately protected. Visibility is a trap (Foucault 200).

panopticon

Although the captive individual can never verify with certainty that she is being observed, the very possibility of being observed at any time produces the intended effects of hyper-vigilance and self-circumspection on the part of the subject. As such, the subjects themselves internalize the observer, and effectively monitor and police themselves. As Foucault brilliantly describes the effects of this technological innovation:

He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles [that of observer and observed]; he becomes the principle of his own subjection (203, emphasis added).

Make no mistake, Foucault describes and mobilizes the architectural model of the Panopticon in order to introduce his central argument – in modernity, entire societies are inscribed with, underwritten by, and even predicated upon a generalizable and generalized method of surveillance and control – panopticism. Even the once structure-bound, institution-specific disciplinary techniques as represented so well by the Panopticon have metastasized and traveled well beyond their former institutional borders. They now permeate the entire social body. In fact, in an important section, Foucault discusses “the swarming of the disciplinary mechanisms” of panopticism. The phrasing will invoke for contemporary readers the sentinels in “The Matrix,” the legion of squid-like robots that seek out, locate, and swarm about the escapees from the matrix in sweltering masses.

For our purposes, perhaps the most salient aspect of panopticism is the way that it makes all of its subjects into potential sentinels of surveillance: “We have seen that anyone may come and exercise in the central tower the functions of surveillance” (207). That is, anyone and everyone can be interpellated as a functionary of panopticism. “If you see something, say something” is the mantra that effectively encapsulates this logic. Universities and colleges employ the micro-techniques of power precisely in the fashion described by Foucault.

At this point, I should make clear a parallel between the late eighteenth/early nineteenth-century model that Foucault treats, and the contemporary devices employed in academia and beyond. A point that is often lost on many readers of Foucault’s “Panopticism,” especially those unfamiliar with nineteenth-century British cultural history, is that Jeremy Bentham was not some reactionary, right-wing or even conservative thinker attempting to impose a nefarious, draconian form of discipline and punishment upon the population. In fact, during his time, Bentham was regarded as a radical, what today we would call a “progressive.” Bentham was known as the principle member of an early nineteenth-century group of reformers known as “the philosophical radicals.” As noted in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, he advocated numerous liberal reforms, including “annual elections; equal electoral districts; a wide suffrage, including woman suffrage; and the secret ballot. He supported in principle the participation of women in government and argued for the reform of marriage law to allow greater freedom to divorce.”

My point here is that regardless of the political provenance or original intention of the repertoire of diversity mechanisms, as Foucault makes clear, such methods and techniques, whether introduced initially by reformers for progressive ends or not, can and have often been co-opted by administers of power and wielded to oppressive ends. Likewise, the origin of the new academic instruments or “micro-physics of power” in feminism, anti-racism and LGBTQ discourse and practice in no way exempts them from being employed as mechanisms of surveillance and control.

Academia has co-opted and now brandishes identity-politics and its techniques of micro-power – including trigger warnings, safe spaces, and bias reporting – as means of the disciplining of the subject. Bias reporting lines are examples of the ways colleges and universities are able to enlist everyone within their ambit as sentinels of surveillance, discipline, and punishment. Bias reporting lines and reporting systems encourage everyone to act as an instrument of panopticism, an instrument of self- and other-policing.

In terms of the academy, however, the use of such mechanisms does not represent a perversion of intent. They are coercive as such, by definition. They are part of a growing panoply of micro-techniques of power representing the appropriation and defusing of politics, rather than opposition to the systems of oppression that such politics intend to represent.

These techniques of surveillance and control recall such organizations of the nineteenth century as The Society for the Suppression of Vice, founded in 1802. The only real difference involves what now count as punishable offenses. In the early to mid-nineteenth century in Britain, offenses included the production, distribution and consumption of pornography, as well as expressions of blasphemy, and the like. Today, “vices” and “blasphemies” include real or imagined “micro-aggressions,” or any conceivable displays of “bias,” however absurdly construed. Both regimes, however, are equally religious in character, involving as they do moralistic, individualized, and personalized policing. While both are insidious, only contemporary academic panopticism, operating under the guise of protecting and encouraging “diversity,” is anathema to academic freedom and inquiry, while simultaneously underming any potential for collective agency, or solidarity, among its subjects. Above all, panopticism individualizes.

Meanwhile, and probably most importantly, none of this policing and self-policing will do anything to challenge or overturn systemic oppression in the least. In fact, while serving the ideological function of obscuring the underlying structural inequities, oppression and exploitation of capitalism, they also constitute their own form of oppression.

[1] As Lori R. Price has pointed out, these same mechanisms have metastasized and infiltrated such social media platforms as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.com.

Michael Rectenwald is a professor in Global Liberal Studies at New York University. He is the author of Nineteenth-Century British Secularism: Science, Religion and Literature (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), primary editor of Global Secularisms in a Post-Secular Age (De Gruyter, 2015), and primary author of Academic Writing, Real World Topics (Broadview Press, 2015). His essays have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies, including the British Journal for the History of Science, Endevour, and George Eliot in Context (Cambridge University Press, 2013).

November 3, 2016 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance, Timeless or most popular | , | Leave a comment

Misplacing priorities and freedom of expression

20160307_bds-supporters-protest-anti-bds-activities-in-london-06

BDS supporters protest anti BDS activities in London
By Ramona Wadi | MEMO | November 3, 2016

It would be slightly premature to consider the statement by the EU Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, regarding the right of EU citizens to boycott Israel as some sort of victory. At first glance, it might look as if activism has overcome a significant hurdle, given the Israeli government’s obsession with suffocating the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS). A study of the brief statement actually suggests otherwise, and all in the name of freedom of expression.

Mogherini asserted that the EU “stands firm in protecting freedom of expression and freedom of association in line with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union”, even when such information or ideas “offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population.” You just knew that there was a “but” coming: she made it equally clear that “the EU rejects the BDS campaign’s attempts to isolate Israel and is opposed to any boycott of Israel.” The EU official missed the point, of course; Israel isolates itself by its contempt for international laws and conventions, along with its brutal military occupation and colonisation of Palestine.

Commenting on Mogherini’s statement, BDS Europe Campaigns Officer Riya Hassan voiced the expectation that the EU should respect “its obligations under international law and its own principles and laws by, at the very least, imposing a military embargo upon Israel,” as well as a suspension of the EU-Israel Agreement signed in 1995. The latter stipulates regulations regarding political dialogue, economic cooperation, security and cooperation on social matters, based upon the premise in Article 2 of the agreement that all provisions “shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles.” Israel has no such respect; it is a colonial entity and the EU functions as a protector of colonialism. The entire agreement should thus be declared null and void, or amended according to each entity’s characteristics, without the need to drag pretentious terms such as democracy into the equation.

Through Mogherini’s recent statement we have a clear example of how the EU actually demeans human rights and freedom of expression by utilising the discourse meant to uphold them. The entire essence of the EU’s true intentions lies in its opposition to BDS. Hence, any concession given by the EU should not be misconstrued as support, or upholding the right to freedom of expression. It is merely a recurring political ploy that ridicules the very essence of freedom. At the same time, it is through these clauses that BDS has managed to retain ground. Notwithstanding the genuine efforts of the masses which have embarked upon collective and individual efforts to boycott Israel, the fragile compromise upon which the global boycott outlook rests may well become tarnished if it continues to laud statements blatantly supportive of Israel while grudgingly allowing dissent as proof of freedom of expression.

Hence, Mogherini’s statement is not welcome. It is a calculated contribution to the debate that places Israel’s interests above the legitimate demands and legal rights of the Palestinians. BDS should distance itself from the litany of symbolic gestures that have taken precedence over genuine, active support for the anti-colonial struggle unless, that is, the movement seeks to become just another actor that thrives upon Palestinian demands as the means for the entity’s survival. If the movement’s chartered course is in the slightest way intertwined with that of the EU, however insignificant it may seem on the surface, Palestine may well be destined to accumulate festering wounds; the objective — which is already compromised due to the two-state subjugation rhetoric — will in the meantime become ever more distant from the land and the indigenous people.

November 3, 2016 Posted by | Deception, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , , | 1 Comment

German Political Fairy Tales Feature Ridiculously Russophobic Propaganda

Sputnik – 03.11.2016

On the airwaves of the German radio station Deutschlandfunk, there is a children’s program, “Cockatoo,” which relays news about international affairs to children, including news about Russia. However the quality of coverage leaves much to be desired.

The following message aired on October 19, Sputnik Germany reports.

“Russian President Putin is waging two wars now: in Ukraine and in Syria. German Chancellor Merkel and French President Hollande want to make Putin stop the wars. But it seems like it does not work, because Putin does not observe international rules. He thinks that he should extend Russian influence throughout the world by all means, including wars. German Chancellor Merkel and French President Hollande repeated many times that Putin seriously violates human rights in Syria.”

The radio program goes on to paint a picture of Russian ‘atrocities’ in Syria: “Russian planes are bombing hospitals and UN humanitarian convoys. That is why many Syrians flee to Germany with their families. Russian soldiers are fighting in Ukraine too, despite the agreements.”

Then the German journalists explain to kids why everybody should join together and blame Putin. “We do not know yet how to stop Putin. We can put pressure on him if we stop selling certain goods to Russia. This is called ‘sanctions’. But to do that, all the Europeans have to agree, which has not been done yet.”

According to Sputnik Germany, the author of this message is Deutschlandfunk journalist Marcus Pindur, who is known for his devotion to transatlantic narratives and his enmity for Russia.

Sputnik Germany addressed Deutschlandfunk’s representatives, asking them to comment on their stance on such messages being broadcast in a news program for children. The radio station’s press secretary Eva Sabine Kuntz said that she “does not see in the text any wrong or biased statements which stretch reality.”

It appears that no one in Deutschlandfunk is confused about the fact that Russia’s participation in the attack on the UN humanitarian convoy has not been proved, while a group of independent experts from the group ‘Friends of Syria’ argue that the incident was staged.

Nor is there any evidence of Russia bombing Syrian hospitals. Russian Army General Stuff notified that not a single document or fact proving Moscow’s implication in civilian deaths has been provided.

The same applies to the Ukrainian conflict, in which Russia is not participating.

However not every German media source is sympathetic to Deutschlandfunk’s stance. For example, the analytic website NachDenkSeiten is questioning whether such ‘fairytales’ meet the definition of “incitement of ethnic hatred.”

The German organization “Regular Public Media Conference,” in its turn, commented that “Cockatoo” programs are insidious because kids, unlike adults, are not able to analyze information on such complicated issues as the Syrian and Ukrainian conflicts, and cannot form their own opinion.

When under the veil of an educational program they are brainwashed using taxpayer money, it pushes the envelope too far. Sputnik Germany’s reporter expressed hope that the “Cockatoo” program about Russia was just an unpleasant confusion, and next week they will say something about the USA, for example.

November 3, 2016 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , | Leave a comment

Phony ‘Corruption’ Excuse for Ukraine Coup

By Robert Parry | Consortium News | November 2, 2016

If Ukraine becomes a flashpoint for World War III with Russia, the American people might rue the day that their government pressed for the 2014 overthrow of Ukraine’s allegedly corrupt (though elected) president in favor of a coup regime led by Ukrainian lawmakers who now report amassing, on average, more than $1 million each, much of it as cash.

The New York Times, which served as virtually a press agent for the coup in February 2014, took note of this apparent corruption among the U.S.-favored post-coup officials, albeit deep inside a story that itself was deep inside the newspaper (page A8). The lead angle was a bemused observation that Ukraine’s officialdom lacked faith in the country’s own banks (thus explaining why so much cash).

Yet, Ukraine is a country beset by widespread poverty, made worse by the post-coup neoliberal “reforms” slashing pensions, making old people work longer and reducing heating subsidies for common citizens. The average Ukrainian salary is only $214 a month.

So, an inquiring mind might wonder how – in the face of all that hardship – the post-coup officials did so well for themselves, but Times’ correspondent Andrew E. Kramer treads lightly on the possibility that these officials were at least as corrupt, if not more so, than the elected government that the U.S. helped overthrow. Elected President Viktor Yanukovych had been excoriated for a lavish lifestyle because he had a sauna in his residence.

Kramer’s article on Wednesday tried to explain the bundles of cash as a sign that “many of the lawmakers and officials responsible for inspiring public trust in Ukraine’s economic and banking institutions have little faith that their own wealth would be safe in the country’s banks, according to recently mandated financial disclosures. …

“Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, for example, declared over one million dollars in savings in cash — $870,000 and 460,000 euros — apparently shunning Ukraine’s ever-wobbly banking system. The top official in charge of the country’s banks, Valeriya Gontareva, who is responsible for stabilizing the national currency, the hryvnia, maintains most of her money in American dollars — $1.8 million.

“A tally of the declarations filed by most of Parliament’s 450 members compiled by one analyst, Andriy Gerus, found that the lawmakers collectively held $482 million in ‘monetary assets,’ of which $36 million was kept as cold, hard cash. …

“Some politicians seem to have approached the declaration as a sort of amnesty, revealing everything they have earned from decades of crooked dealings, in an effort to come clean. … One minister reported a wine collection with bottles worth thousands of dollars each. Another official declared ownership of a church. Yet another claimed a ticket to outer space with Virgin Galactic. …

“Another theory making the rounds in Kiev — where people generally acknowledge the inventive, venal genius of their politicians — suggests that the public servants are padding their declarations,” so they can hide future bribes within their reported cash holdings and thus offer plausible excuses for luxury cars and expensive jewelry.

Accessing More Money

Ironically, passage of the law requiring the disclosures of what appears to be widespread corruption among Kiev’s officials unlocked millions of euros in new aid money from the European Union that then flowed to the same apparently corrupt officials.

Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych

However, because the Ukraine “regime change” in 2014 was partly orchestrated by U.S. and E.U. officials around the propaganda theme that elected President Yanukovych was corrupt – he had that sauna, after all – the continued corruption in the post-coup regime has been a rarely acknowledged, inconvenient truth. Indeed, some business people operating in Ukraine have complained that the corruption has grown worse since Yanukovych was overthrown.

Yet, only occasionally has that reality been allowed to peek through in the mainstream U.S. media, which prefers to deny that any “coup” occurred, to blame Russia for all of Ukraine’s problems, and to praise the post-coup “reforms” which targeted pensions, heating subsidies and other social programs for average citizens.

One of the rare deviations from the happy talk appeared in  The Wall Street Journal on Jan. 1, 2016, observing that “most Ukrainians say the revolution’s promise to replace rule by thieves with the rule of law has fallen short and the government acknowledges that there is still much to be done.”

Actually, the numbers suggested something even worse. More and more Ukrainians rated corruption as a major problem facing the nation, including a majority of 53 percent in September 2015, up from 28 percent in September 2014, according to polls by International Foundation for Electoral Systems.

So, as the hard lives of most Ukrainians got harder, the elites continued to skim off whatever cream was left, including access to billions of dollars in the West’s foreign assistance that has kept the economy afloat.

There was, for instance, the case of Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko, who was regarded by many pundits as the face of Ukraine’s reform before departing last April after losing out in a power struggle.

Yet, Jaresko was hardly a paragon of reform. Prior to getting instant Ukrainian citizenship and becoming Finance Minister in December 2014, she was a former U.S. diplomat who had been entrusted to run a $150 million U.S.-taxpayer-funded program to help jump-start an investment economy in Ukraine and Moldova.

Jaresko’s compensation was capped at $150,000 a year, a salary that many Americans – let alone Ukrainians – would envy, but it was not enough for her. So, she engaged in a variety of maneuvers to evade the cap and enrich herself by claiming millions of dollars in bonuses and fees.

Ultimately, Jaresko was collecting more than $2 million a year after she shifted management of the Western NIS Enterprise Fund (WNISEF) to her own private company, Horizon Capital, and arranged to get lucrative bonuses when selling off investments, even as the overall WNISEF fund was losing money, according to official records.

For instance, Jaresko collected $1.77 million in bonuses in 2013, according to a WNISEF filing with the Internal Revenue Service. In her financial disclosure forms with the Ukrainian government, she reported earning $2.66 million in 2013 and $2.05 million in 2014, thus amassing a sizeable personal fortune while investing U.S. taxpayers’ money supposedly to benefit the Ukrainian people.

It didn’t matter that WNISEF continued to hemorrhage money, shrinking from its original $150 million to $89.8 million in the 2013 tax year, according to the IRS filing. WNISEF reported that the bonuses to Jaresko and other corporate officers were based on “successful” exits from some investments even if the overall fund was losing money.

Though Jaresko’s enrichment schemes were documented by IRS and other official filings, the mainstream U.S. media turned a blind eye to this history, all the better to pretend that Ukraine’s “reform” process was in good hands. [See Consortiumnews.com’sHow Ukraine’s Finance Minister Got Rich.”]

Biden’s Appeal

Worried about the continued corruption, Vice President Joe Biden, who took a personal interest in Ukraine, lectured Ukraine’s parliament on the need to end cronyism.

But Biden had his own Ukraine cronyism problem because three months after the U.S.-backed overthrow of the Yanukovych government Ukraine’s largest private gas firm, Burisma Holdings, appointed his son, Hunter Biden, to its board of directors.

Burisma a shadowy Cyprus-based company also lined up well-connected lobbyists, some with ties to Secretary of State John Kerry, including Kerry’s former Senate chief of staff David Leiter, according to lobbying disclosures.

As Time magazine reported, “Leiter’s involvement in the firm rounds out a power-packed team of politically-connected Americans that also includes a second new board member, Devon Archer, a Democratic bundler and former adviser to John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign. Both Archer and Hunter Biden have worked as business partners with Kerry’s son-in-law, Christopher Heinz, the founding partner of Rosemont Capital, a private-equity company.”

According to investigative journalism inside Ukraine, the ownership of Burisma has been traced to Privat Bank, controlled by the thuggish billionaire oligarch Ihor Kolomoysky, who was appointed by the U.S.-backed “reform” regime to be governor of Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, a south-central province of Ukraine (though Kolomoisky was eventually ousted from that post in a power struggle over control of UkrTransNafta, Ukraine’s state-owned oil pipeline operator).

In a speech to Ukraine’s parliament in December 2015, Biden hailed the sacrifice of the 100 or so protesters who died during the Maidan putsch in February 2014, which ousted Yanukovych, referring to the dead by their laudatory name “The Heavenly Hundred.”

But Biden made no heavenly references to the estimated 10,000 people, mostly ethnic Russians, who have been slaughtered in the U.S.-encouraged “Anti-Terror Operation” waged by the coup regime against eastern Ukrainians who resisted Yanukovych’s violent ouster. Nor did Biden take note that some of the Heavenly Hundred were street fighters for neo-Nazi and other far-right nationalist organizations.

But after making his sugary references to The Heavenly Hundred, Biden delivered his bitter medicine, an appeal for the parliament to continue implementing International Monetary Fund “reforms,” including demands that old people work longer into their old age.

Biden said, “For Ukraine to continue to make progress and to keep the support of the international community you have to do more, as well. The big part of moving forward with your IMF program — it requires difficult reforms. And they are difficult.

“Let me say parenthetically here, all the experts from our State Department and all the think tanks, and they come and tell you, that you know what you should do is you should deal with pensions. You should deal with — as if it’s easy to do. Hell, we’re having trouble in America dealing with it. We’re having trouble. To vote to raise the pension age is to write your political obituary in many places.

“Don’t misunderstand that those of us who serve in other democratic institutions don’t understand how hard the conditions are, how difficult it is to cast some of the votes to meet the obligations committed to under the IMF. It requires sacrifices that might not be politically expedient or popular. But they’re critical to putting Ukraine on the path to a future that is economically secure. And I urge you to stay the course as hard as it is. Ukraine needs a budget that’s consistent with your IMF commitments.”

However, as tough as it might have been for Ukraine’s parliament to slash pensions, reduce heating subsidies and force the elderly to work longer, that political sacrifice did not appear to extend to the officials making financial sacrifices themselves.

November 3, 2016 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , | Leave a comment