Tag Archives: russia

How the world looks from Russia. It’s a picture the US media don’t show.

Summary: The US news media flood us with facts (mostly correct), but seldom show us how the world looks like from the perspective of our foes and rivals. Here we have a senior Russian official who explains that the world is in fact far different than we see it.  That’s a valuable gift.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Russia

Contents

  1. New sources on the Information Highway.
  2. A Russian official’s view of the world.
  3. Who is Leonid Reshetnikov?
  4. Consider the source!
  5. What does this tell us?
  6. For More Information.

 

(1)  Finding new sources on the Information Highway

One fascinating aspect of the information highway is the trust people put into the the new sources it makes available. We see this in the loyalty of so many to DEBKAfile, run by journalists Giora Shamis and Diane Shalem, which disseminates a mixture of fact and fantasy with a strong pro-Israeli government slant  (some examples of their rumor-mongering here).

This has become even more common in the wars of Eastern Europe and the Middle East, where people offering plausible sounding details become reliable sources to their fans. To many they are more reliable than the mainstream journalists at Reuters, BBC, and the London and New York Times. It’s similar in nature to the rise in popularity of fringe science and pseudoscience, as they fill the space left by the drop in confidence afflicting most US institutions except (oddly) the military and police.

In our increasingly tribal society, people’s trust becomes unattached to our big institutions — and somewhat randomly re-attaches to new homes (much like runaway children find new homes in gangs, often cruelly exploited). That so many people credulously immerse themselves in these alternative sources — and consider themselves extraordinarily informed — gives public discussions of so many sources (as in website comments) their often mad flavor. Not just geopolitics; economics and climate change are other realms of American madness. Perhaps health care most of all, with bouts of enthusiasm from Laetrile (“the perfect chemotherapeutic agent”) to the anti-vaxers.

But fringe sources can provide useful information, if handled well. Today’s post looks at an example showing how they can be used.

(2)  A Russian official explains how they see the world

Here’s are excerpts from a widely quoted interview with Leonid Reshetnikov, an important Russian official. Red emphasis added.

About the war in Ukraine

Q: How do you think the events in Novorossia will develop in the spring and summer? Will there be a new military campaign?

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Did Robert Heinlein in 1961 predict the fall of the Soviet Union? Lessons learned from this.

Summary: Our past can help us to better understand our present. The ills of the present didn’t just appear, and often can be seen more clearly in the past — such as as our penchant for believing fables. This post has it all: a great story about Robert Heinlein’s astonishing prescience, the Evil Empire, demographic collapse, gross errors by experts, a spectacular save at the end, and insights to help us tomorrow.  It’s another in a series about experts.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

Writing about geopolitics = progress by making mistakes

Ask an expert

I find it difficult to guess about the future (track record here). But it’s often difficult to get the past correctly, which makes it almost impossible to accurately see the present.

For example, in 2009 I wrote about the failings of our experts, especially those at the intel agencies, during the Cold War. I cited science fiction writer Robert Heinlein as an example of a non-credentialed expert who got a big question right while they were wrong. I told a commonplace kind of story one sees these days, about how the official sources are wrong when the outsiders are right.

It’s the story so often told by many groups — the climate scientists are frauds people, the down with the Federal Reserve crowd, the anti-vaxers, and the pollutants are everywhere (soda bottles, cell phone towers) tribe — as well as people with whom I largely agree (e.g., the military reformers, the 4GW community, and the peace and justice movements).

It’s an extension of the “crowdsourcing” concept — the anti-establishment belief that wisdom is found on the fringes, in the hands of outsiders. Since 2009 I have found other examples of this. Under examination most proved to be false.

As part of an article about our new cold war (it’s only a slightly chilled dispute, the past repeating as farce) I intended to again cite this example of Heinlein’s wisdom. But my mistakes of the past 5 years (tracked here) taught me to dig deeper before writing. Doing so disproved my 2009 post, giving in exchange some useful insights.

Did Robert Heinlein foresee the fall of the Soviet Union?

In 1960 Robert and Virginia Heinlein visited Moscow. In 1966 he published this note about his trip in Worlds of Robert Heinlein, republished in 1980 as Expanded Universe. In 2009 I cited it as an example of genius by a non-expert. Let’s examine it more closely.

Cover of "Worlds of Robert Heinlein"

For many days we prowled Moskva — by car, by taxi, by subway, by bus, and on foot. Mrs. Heinlein, in her fluent Russian, got acquainted with many people — drivers, chambermaids, anyone. The Russians are delightful people, always happy to talk with visitors … She was able to ask personal questions by freely answering questions about us and showing warm interest in that person — not faked; she is a warm person. But buried in chitchat, she always learned these things:

  • How old are you?
  • Are you married?
  • How many children do you have?
  • How many brothers and sisters do you have?
  • How many nieces and nephews do you have?

Put baldly, that sounds as offensive as a quiz by a Kinsey reporter. But it was not put baldly — e.g., “Oh, how lucky you are! Gospodin Heinlein and I didn’t meet until the Great Patriotic War … and we have no children although we wanted them. But we have lots of nieces and nephews.” Etc, etc.  She often told more than she got but she accumulated the data she wanted, often without asking questions.

… Mrs. Heinlein is a close student of Russian history, history of the Russian Revolution, history of the Third International or Comintern, and so skilled in Marxist dialectical materialism that she can argue theory with a Russian party member and get him so mixed up that he’s biting his own tail.

So far, so good. He’s established some grounds for credibility.

{Virginia said…}  “They claim to have finished the War with about two hundred million and Moscow at four million. Now they are claiming twenty-five million more in the Union, and over a million increase in Moscow. It’s a lie. Unless they are breeding like flies everywhere outside Moscow, they have lost population since the War — not gained. I haven’t found even one family with more than 3 children. The average is less than 2. And they marry late. Robert, they aren’t even replacing themselves.”

…We stopped in many other cities — Alma Ata, Tashkent, Samarkand, Minsk, Vilno, Kiev, Riga, Leningrad, etc. — and she continued her gentle questioning but never found reason to change her opinion. Even out in the Muslim countries of Turkestan the birthrate was low, or the answers seemed to show it.

By the 1990’s Russia’s demographic collapse spread so that the total population began to decline, something rare in modern times except during wars. The Heinleins had discovered this in its early stages 2 decades before the CIA saw it! I was awed. Heinlein had more observations in this article.

One day we were seated on a park bench, back of the Kremlin and facing the Moskva River. I said, “How big does that guide book say this city is?”

“Over five million.”

“Hmmph! Look at that river. Look at the traffic on it. (One lonely scow) “Remember the Rhine? … Ginny, this dump isn’t anything like five million. More the size of Copenhagen, if that. Pittsburgh. New Orleans. San Francisco, possibly.  Yet they are trying to tell us that this dump is bigger than Philadelphia, bigger than Los Angeles, bigger than Chicago. Nonsense. … Three quarters of a million, not five million.”   {1960 population of San Francisco: 740 thousand}

She looked at that empty river. “Not quite as big as Copenhagen is my guess.”

The CIA estimate of Moscow’s population in 1960 was 6 million. Heinlein’s estimate of 750,000 was absurd. That’s almost an order of magnitude difference. Asserting that experts are grossly wrong is a red flag for wingnuttery.

How was it possible for the Russians to claim that Moscow was seven times as big as it actually was? How could I be right and the whole world wrong? The World Almanac gave the same figures the Russians did, all news services seemed to accept Russian population figures. How could a Big Lie that big not be noticed and denounced?

About a year later I had a chance to discuss it with an old shipmate, an admiral now retired but then holding a major command. I asked him how many people there were in Moscow. … He closed his eyes and kept quiet for several minutes. “750,000, not over that.” (Jackpot!)

I said, “Mister 007, have you made a special study of Russia? Or shouldn’t I ask?”

“Not at all. [This command] gives me all the trouble I need without worrying about Russia. I simply worked it as a logistics problem, War College style. That city just doesn’t have the transportation facilities to be any bigger than that. Get much over three quarters of a million and they’d starve. Until they double their tracks and increase their yards they can’t risk a bigger population. You don’t do that over night. They can pick up some slack with the river, but it doesn’t go where they need it most.”

Look, both the Pentagon and the State Department know exactly how big Moscow is, and the Kremlin knows that they know. We were highflying ‘em with the U-2 for four years; you can bet Moscow was carefully photographed many times. Our present Eye-in-the-Sky satellites are so sharp-eyed that they can come close to reading the license plate on your car …

I have one very wild theory. Our State Department may see no advantage in calling them liars on this point. Through several administrations we have been extremely careful not to hurt their feelings.

This should have loudly rang the FAKE alarm for me, since it has so many of the classic elements of urban legends: an anonymous authority figure, an assertion that the author has the hidden truth not visible to lesser beings, and a conspiracy theory about the government hiding truths for mysterious reasons. But I wanted to believe him, and so my critical sense slept.

David Hume

Conclusions

A generation of Boomers grew up with Robert Heinlein as a voice of authority about the world. But this is an odd story in many ways.

Millions still believe Heinlein’s insights from his fiction — such as “an armed society is a polite society” (Beyond This Horizon, 1942), but this assertion about the Soviet Union’s weakness never caught on. Also, after WWII Heinlein was a far-Right conservative. Yet Heinlein’s story contradicts the Right’s belief about the USSR’s growing power, powerfully asserted even in the 1977 by the right-wing Team B (although largely wrong, its members went on to great career success).

Heinlein reminds us that political delusions passed by trusted people are always with us. They are easier to see in the past, which can help us to see them in the present. There are so many of them today, from both Right and Left. I doubt we can regain control of the Republic until we regain our sense of skepticism, even about those we trust.

Also: this post was added to the “Smackdowns” page.

Some thoughts about Heinlein

Here are comments about Heinlein much like my own, from Walter Jon Williams’ “Revisiting the Classics“:

Heinlein had the gift of a perfect avuncular voice: if you were a bright kid of thirteen and curious about the world, he was the kindly uncle who would help you find out how things worked. And as a 13-year-old I read Heinlein and I believed everything Uncle Bob told me: I believed we should bring back flogging (Starship Troopers), practice Upton Sinclair’s version of socialism (Beyond This Horizon), and practice Free Love (Stranger in a Strange Land).  (Of course, when you come down to it, what 13-year-old male doesn’t want to practice Free Love?)

That Heinlein’s various visions of the future were contradictory did not occur to me. I also was unable to distinguish between the ideas that Heinlein meant seriously and the ideas he was just throwing out for their own sake.

When I re-read the book in college, I had the feeling that my kindly uncle was something of a blowhard. Now that I’m older, I’m finding the avuncular voice just the least bit condescending.

Comment by MDHughes:

Stranger’s weird now because it’s not so weird; at the time it must’ve been pure fantasy, and today it passes for current events minus Mars (and we’ll be there soon enough). The sexuality and politics seem plausible … The religious lunatics and stormtroopers are half our political system.

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.  See the other posts about Robert Heinlein and the other posts about experts, especially these:

  1. Today’s debate: a passionate defense of credentialism. State your view!
  2. Experts now run the world using their theories. What if they fail, and we lose confidence in them?
  3. Do we face a future without confidence in experts?
  4. Our confidence in science is crumbling. Why? How can we fix this?
  5. 2015 might bring an end to the great age of experts’ experiments on us.
  6. Tips to find the experts that help you see the world more clearly.
  7. Will our geopolitical “experts “lead us to ruin?

 

 

America plays the hegemon while ruled by fear and machismo. FAIL.

Summary:  Machismo in its many forms has played a big role into geopolitics, but often with poor results. Today America has the exotic combination of a global hegemon — ruling by the usual methods, albeit with unprecedented global reach and power — whose elites rule at home by appeals to the fear AND machismo of their people. It seems to be working, but probably not for long.

“Most mainstream US foreign policy “debate” is over tactics of imperial management: how WH should be better controlling other countries, etc.”
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald), 1 September 2014

Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood, the epitome of US foreign policy

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Contents

  1. Machismo as a grand strategy
  2. Daily fear-mongering. Wet your pants on command!
  3. Warnings about our mad rush to war
  4. For More Information

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(1)  Machismo as a grand strategy

There are many forms of realistic grand strategies. In American today we have the belligerent strategies of the neocons (and their allies) in both parties (Obama made his allegiance clear in 2008; Hillary recently reaffirmed her membership). There are the sugar-coated belligerence of the humanitarian militarists (social work with guns). There are a few advocates of rational grand strategies, of the kind that have worked in the past.

We also have emotional “strategies”, suitable for manipulating the pawns of the inner party and the wider audience among the proles. It appeals to men watching gender roles change, and a middle class watching its economic foundations wash away. War, especially violence against weaker powers, restores our self-esteem. Jeremy Egerer plays us well in “What kind of men are we?“, American Thinker, 31 August 2014 — Excerpt:

If we share anything with the Romans, it is their delinquency, laziness, and effeminacy right before they remembered who they were. But if the Romans were overrun with pirates, we’re overrun far worse with illegal immigrants; the former required a war, and we require only a wall. If Rome was embarrassed by Jugurtha {King of Numida, now Algeria; executed by Rome 104 BC) , we’re embarrassed far worse by the Islamic State {whose} advancement could be stopped with a faceless but insistent bombing campaign.

If Rome was infested with layabouts, we’re infested far worse with race-rioters; Romans rioted partially because their citizens were unjustly overrun with usury – as ours are currently by national and private bankers – and Americans riot not when innocents, but when known robbers, thugs, and menaces are shot by the police.

The question, then, may not be a matter of what kind of men we are. For unless men take stands in the Senate and remind us who we are before we become Mexico; unless preachers go to their pulpits and spur us into battle against an inexplicable yet stoppable Islamic evil; unless our fathers teach their sons that trials for citizens and not ignorant marches for robbers are the closest we’ll ever come to justice – a justice admittedly flawed, but the best we can manage outside Eden – then we are asking the wrong question entirely.

A challenge to our manhood composed mostly of falsehoods and fear-mongering. It’s the Right-wing world view. Consider this this confident statement:

“Islamic State’s advancement could be stopped with a faceless but insistent bombing campaign.”

How often have massive American bombing campaigns failed since WW2? Almost always. Also hear the echoes to 1914, another war fought amidst cries that it was necessary to prove our manhood. Consider this paragraph:

Sometimes they ruin themselves because they become so proud that they pick fights they shouldn’t, but more often they become so secure in their happiness that they forget that happiness is the result of reason, justice, labor, and war.

He’s speaking of America. A nation whose military and intel spending are almost half of the world’s total, and with its allies are most of the world’s total. A nation with hundreds of bases around the world, who this decade invaded and occupied two nations — fought in a dozen more — expanding into Africa in order to increase that number. Where’s this effeminacy Regerer speaks of?

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AFP: Defense Budgets Around The World

Narrow use of “military”, not including all US spending on intel, nukes, military pensions & health care

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Look at past airliner shootings so we can learn about government lies

Summary:  Airliners are occasionally shot down (collateral damage) by modern air defense systems. Like children run over cross the street, it’s an ugly fact of modern life. These extreme (but fortunately rare) events reveal much about the behavior of governments — and about us. Governments lie; they do so because we believe them (no matter how much we pretend no to). We can learn from our past; we can do better.

“Never believe anything about the government until it has been officially denied.”
— Attributed to Bismarck.

“Since becoming a journalist I had often heard the advice to “believe nothing until it has been officially denied”.
— Claud Cockburn (Irish journalist), A Discord of Trumpets (1956)

Air Defense Artillary

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The young men running modern air defense systems can shoot down an airliner with the push of a button. No matter how well trained, and they’re often not, under pressure the complex (often confusing) flood of information on their screens lead to bad decisions.

(1)  Russia’s military shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007 on 1 September 1983, followed by the usual false stories. Only in 1992 did they release vital information about the event. They never apologized.

(2)  Ukraine’s military shot down Siberia Airlines Flight 1812 on 4 October 2001. For 9 days they denied responsibility.

The FM website is about America. We too have shot down a civilian airliner. The incident deserves attention because it can – and should — enlighten us about the nature of our government, and ourselves. It’s a standard drama of our time, repeated frequently, from which we seem unable to learn. But first let’s step back in history.

The Soviet Union shoots down a U-2

In 1960 the Soviet Union shot down Gary Powers’ U2 flight. The US denied that he was flying over their territory. They lied to fool us, since the Soviet Union’s officials knew the facts. The truth quickly emerged. US officials then made a discovery of the sort that changes the fate of nation: there were no consequences to lies, even when caught. No penalties. No laughter when they lie again; not even skepticism.

The shooting of Iran Air Flight 655

The USS Vincennes shot down Iran Air Flight 655 on 3 July 1988. The US initially denied it (see this AP story, and the transcript of the DoD Press Briefing. The next day we took responsibility, but made a wide range of claims in defense about the location of the ship and the behavior of the aircraft — all of which justified the shooting.

On 28 July DoD published its Formal Investigation, which won the Doublespeak award for 1988 for “omission, distortion, contradiction, and misdirection”, presented by the National Council of Teachers of English (“Doublespeak and Iran Air Flight 655″).

On 8 September 1988 DoD presented these lies to the House Armed Services Committee, as ritualistic a performance as Noh but without the art and music (see the transcript).

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We can learn much from the tragedy of Flight MH17 – about ourselves

Summary: Yesterday’s post showed how little we know about MH17. It provoked many emails of outrage. That shows its importance, and futility. The world has always been, and remains, a dangerous place. Yet the existence of dangers provides fuel for our elites to exaggerate dangers in order to manipulate us. Our gullibility and fearfulness has become our greatest weaknesses. It’s the ultimate “enemy within”.

“Early in life I had noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper.”

— George Orwell, “Looking Back on the Spanish War“, New Road, 1943 (exact issue unknown)

“… every war when it comes, or before it comes, is represented not as a war but as an act of self-defence against a homicidal maniac … The essential job is to get people to recognise war propaganda when they see it …”

— George Orwell, book review in New Statesman and Nation, 28 August 1937

Fear Wolf

After 3 days, even the British Leftist press was certain what happened. The evidence they cite was slight.

  1. MH17: the evidence against Russia“, The Guardian, 19 July 2014 — “In the hours after the Malaysia Airlines crash in Ukraine, evidence assembled from various sources appeared to point the blame at militants armed with Russian missiles”
  2. MH17: missile launcher was in towns near crash site, videos suggest“, The Guardian, 20 July 2014 — “Videos and photographs appear to show a mobile anti-aircraft missile launcher in neighbouring towns of Torez and Snizhne”

They were understandably ready to convict Russia, since they knew this was coming: “United States Assessment of the Downing of Flight MH17 and its Aftermath“, 19 July 2014 — Opening line:

“We assess that Flight MH17 was likely downed by a SA-11 surface-to-air missile from separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine. We base this judgment on several factors.”

A powerful opening, followed by specific confident assertions. Accepted like gospel by most journalists, geopolitical experts, and Americans. Perhaps this case was correct. Or perhaps it contains lies like those the US government has given so often before, like those listed in yesterday’s post. Our own history should have taught us to beware of premature judgements; but as usual in our generation we don’t learn from our experiences.

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Let’s stop the 2-minute hate on Putin & think before we reignite the Cold War

Summary: Americans cheer as our leaders restart the cold war, for reasons known only to them (just like the Iraq War). They need a casus belli, and have the ability (abetted by our gullibility) to produce one. In our eagerness for conflict, a defining characteristic of us since 9-11), it’s easy to do. This post attempts to put the current crisis into a more useful context.

Freed from desire, you can see the hidden mystery.
By having desire, you can only see what is visible.
Yet mystery and reality emerge from the same source.
This source is called darkness.
Darkness born from darkness.
The beginning of all understanding.

— Lao Tzu, the Tao Te Ching

Wreckage from MH17

MH17 wreckage perhaps proving something!

Contents

  1. Another perspective
  2. Who are the sinners?
  3. Malaysia Airlines Flight 17
  4. What we know for certain
  5. For More Information
  6. Obama’s future entry in Guinness

(1) Another perspective

“Mysteries abound where most we seek for answers.”
— Ray Bradbury, “All flesh is one: what matter scores?” (1975)

One cause of conflict, often leading to war, is people’s inability to see things from the other nation’s perspective — and so see things in terms of good guys and bad guys, with us of course as the angels.

Russia, during the last days of the USSR, left Eastern Europe with a tacit agreement that the West would not occupy it. Respecting Russia’s sphere of influence — its “near abroad“, their version of the Monroe Doctrine — might have led to a new era of global peace in the new millennium.

Instead we’ve aggressively moved into the geopolitical space left vacant by the collapse of the USSR. Russia let us run until we came up to their borders in Ukraine. Then came the 2014 Ukraine coup. We don’t know the degree of western involvement. We seldom do in such things, until years or decades later (only last year did the CIA admit its role in the 1953 Iran Coup). However, it fits the pattern of past coups run with assistance of the UK’s SIS and US CIA. Then the new friendly government is invited into NATO.

(2) Who are the sinners?

Who are the angels and devils in this? As usual in geopolitics, both sides are sinners (not every year is 1939).

The West’s leaders must have known that shifting the Ukraine into the West’s military and economic alliances would inevitably start a conflict with Russia. Perhaps like the US response to the USSR’s involvement in Cuba, which wrecked Cuba’s economy and brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. (See the terrifying transcripts of the White House Executive Committee described in The Virtual JFK).

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A warning from Germany about our new cold war: “The West on the wrong path”

Summary: The publisher of a major German newspaper wrote a bold, brave editorial about the emerging Cold War 2. He identifies the useful idiots in the media who help drive this conflict, and places this madness in a historical context. Can you imagine the publisher of a US newspaper writing something of this depth? Time will tell if this he writes as an individual, as spokesman for a fraction of Germany’s elites, or speaking for German’s leadership.

Relive the cold war

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The West on the wrong path

Gabor Steingart (publisher)

Editorial in Handelsblatt
(Germany’s leading financial newspaper)

8 August 2014

Summary: In view of the events in Ukraine, the government and many media have switched from level-headed to agitated. The spectrum of opinions has been narrowed to the width of a sniper scope. The politics of escalation does not have a realistic goal – and harms German interests.

Every war is accompanied by a kind of mental mobilization: war fever. Even smart people are not immune to controlled bouts of this fever. “This war in all its atrociousness is still a great and wonderful thing. It is an experience worth having“ rejoiced Max Weber in 1914 when the lights went out in Europe. Thomas Mann felt a “cleansing, liberation, and a tremendous amount of hope“.

… The US Congress is openly discussing arming Ukraine. The former security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski recommends arming the citizens there for house-to-house and street combat. The German Chancellor, as it is her habit, is much less clear but no less ominous: “We are ready to take severe measures.“

German journalism has switched from level-headed to agitated in a matter of weeks. The spectrum of opinions has been narrowed to the field of vision of a sniper scope. Newspapers we thought to be all about thoughts and ideas now march in lock-step with politicians in their calls for sanctions against Russia’s President Putin. Even the headlines betray an aggressive tension as is usually characteristic of hooligans when they ‘support’ their respective teams.

The Tagesspiegel: “Enough talk!“ The FAZ: “Show strength“. The Süddeutsche Zeitung: “Now or never.“ The Spiegel calls for an “End to cowardice“: “Putin’s web of lies, propaganda, and deception has been exposed. The wreckage of MH 17 is also the result of a crashed diplomacy.“ Western politics and German media agree.

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