I write about events, people, money, corruption, tech, business, geopolitics, power, Ukraine, Russia, and trends. Here’s an endorsement from a paid subscriber who explained his reasons for supporting my newsletter: “I’m a former US Army Intel Analyst, current MBA, CPA and soon to be a retiree with a passion for knowledge about the world and the interrelationships between countries, persons, thought and power.”

That sums up my mission statement since 2021. My job is to be concise, synthesize, connect dots, and entertain, wherever appropriate, in order to explain the news of the day. I read dozens of newspapers from around the world daily to find pertinent information to include in my newsletters. I’ve also been around the block, covered news around the world, and will offer unique perspectives on the news and newsmakers. I have residences in New York, Toronto, and Paris. I am a columnist with The National Post in Canada, Kyiv Post, UkraineAlert at the Atlantic Council Eurasia Center in Washington D.C., and many other periodicals. At heart, I’m a business writer and entrepreneur which is why I rely on facts and figures to inform my analyses, not press releases, propaganda, or opinions.

I have a paywall, but if you sign up as a paid subscriber you will receive in full my two newsletters each week, will have access to all my archives, and can post comments at the bottom of any newsletter. Paid subscribers can pay on a monthly or annual basis and can unsubscribe any time they wish and be refunded their unused payment. (I take off four weeks per year in total to recharge.)

Here are some samples of my most widely shared newsletters over the years:

Where is Greenpeace or Greta?

May 20, 2024

The biggest “ecocide” in history unfolds as Russia rolls out diabolical weapons and measures specifically designed to destroy Ukraine’s environment. Where are the world’s environmentalists, or climate change politicians who cloak themselves in “green causes” to win votes? Where is the outrage at the fact that Russian planes, or artillery, scatter landmines called “little petals” that have contaminated nearly one-third of Ukraine’s land and forests, equivalent in size to Austria and Hungary. It will take years and billions to de-mine the country and until that’s accomplished hundreds of thousands of people and animals will be injured or killed. “Scattered from aircraft or delivered by mortars, the ‘petals’ spin through the air, bite into the earth and explode upon contact with as little as five kilograms of weight. Hectare by hectare, Russia’s invasion turns barren the country which contains almost a quarter of the world’s chornozem, a highly fertile soil. Even after the contaminants are removed, the toxins they release will affect the fields’ fertility for years,” wrote Dr. Sasha Dovzhyk, a researcher with the Ukrainian Institute. At a recent conference in New York she added “ecocide is now a tool of war”.

PFM-1 landmine: A lethal “petal”
Petals delivered with artillery. Illustration NHK World Japan

Ukraine has become the world’s biggest minefield. But this isn’t the first environmental catastrophe that Russia has visited upon Ukrainians. In 1986, Kremlin incompetence caused a nuclear reactor to explode at Chernobyl, spreading radioactivity across the country and Europe. Now a massive steel and concrete structure, or sarcophagus, covers that reactor and is located inside a 30-kilometer exclusion zone, 90 kilometers from Kyiv. The accident, and the Kremlin coverup, contributed mightily to the dissolution of the Soviet Union by revealing its dysfunction and colonial disregard for life.

Now Putin doubles down. In March 2022, right after the February 24 invasion, his army occupied Chernobyl and took over Ukraine’s four operating nuclear complexes, including the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP), Europe’s largest. Operations are overseen by Russian military officials who permit limited oversight by the United Nations, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA). This is a disaster waiting to happen. The NEA recently wrote: “The IAEA observers at ZNPP reported that they continued to be denied timely and appropriate access to all areas important to nuclear safety and security.”

Maintenance is inadequate and there is insufficient power or water to keep reactors cool at all times. Testing and inspections are also a problem and Ukrainian power officials have been banned from the site. The staffing of the facility has gone from 11,500 workers to 4,500. Then on June 6, 2023, the Russians blew up the Nova Kakhovka dam – 80 miles away – and dangerously reduced the water levels in the reservoir that cools ZNPP’s reactors. Water is now pumped in from local wells.

The Russians have also set up a military base around the plant and are shelling nearby Ukrainian areas with impunity because shelling back would be catastrophic. The strategy is demonic: Putin now has control over the safety of all Ukrainian nuclear facilities, as well as over the integrity of the Chernobyl sarcophagus which prevents the escape of radiation. This is eco-terrorism on an unimagined level: If just ZPNN explodes or is blown up, a meltdown would cause a massive fire and explosion that would release radiation over a vast area.

video from Ukraine's Hydrometeorological Institute showing fallout effects. Daily Mirror.

As shown in the video, a radioactive cloud would spread across many countries - from Russia in the east to Poland in the west - over a 72-hour period. Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Russia would all be affected. IAEA Director General warned last year of problems:  “We are living on borrowed time when it comes to nuclear safety and security at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. Unless we take action to protect the plant, our luck will sooner or later run out, with potentially severe consequences for human health and the environment.”

And the odds of catastrophe increased after the destruction of the Nova Khakovka dam by Russia – a bombing that Moscow denies and blames Ukraine for doing. This act of ecological terrorism is the first involving a dam and unleashed water equivalent in size to America’s gigantic Great Salt Lake in Utah which is larger than the states of Delaware and Rhode Island. The flooding caused damage to humans, animals, topsoil, forests, wildlife, livestock, farming, local industries, villages, infrastructure, and drinking water. It was the “first ever” intentional dam explosion, commented Dovzhyk. “Ecocide on this scale should be a crime in the International Criminal Court and isn’t yet.”

Another environmental cataclysm unfolds at a large Donetsk coal mine where an underground nuclear test was conducted years ago by Russia and left behind massive amounts of radioactive material. Now Russian-occupied since 2022, mine maintenance has been neglected and the radioactive portion of its underground shafts have flooded which has resulted in radioactive water seeping steadily into a vast portion of Eastern Ukraine’s water table. This didn’t occur before because the water that entered the underground mine was pumped out to avoid flooding and contamination.

Putin’s ecocide is also a war against the Global South because he despoils Ukrainian food lands that feed hundreds of millions of poor people around the world. Arif Husain, chief economist at the UN World Food Program, said last fall “we tend to address the symptoms and forget the root cause, and the root cause is war. The numbers do not lie. Pre-Covid we were looking at about 135 million people in crisis or the worst type of food security situation. Today, including Ukraine’s impact, that number is 345 million. There are about 50 million people in the world who are what we call in hunger emergencies, meaning one step away from famine. That’s the magnitude, that’s the scale of the problem we’re talking about.”

Russia drops landmines and bombs on farms that help feed the world

The countryside is scarred with landmines, but also with pock marks, and are vicious aerial attacks without value other than to permanently destroy the agricultural base. “Two dozen experts who spoke with Reuters — including soil scientists, farmers, grain companies and analysts — said it would take decades to fix the damage to Europe's breadbasket due to contamination, mines and destroyed infrastructure - and that global food supplies could suffer for years to come. Shelling has also upset the delicate ecosystems of microorganisms that turn soil materials into crop nutrients such as nitrogen while tanks have compressed the earth, making it harder for roots to flourish,” reported Indian broadcast network NDTV.

Putin is barbaric and uncivilized, and his tactics are borrowed from ancient times. Thousands of years ago, Roman soldiers, after each murderous conquest, would sprinkle salt on occupied lands to ensure that nothing could ever grow there again, then steal and enslave the women and children. Today, Russia’s Evil Empire transgresses nuclear proliferation treaties too by turning nuclear reactors into potential “dirty” nuclear bombs. An occupied nuclear plant that can be blown up is a nuclear weapon.

And yet the world’s noisy and well-funded green movement stands silent as this global ecological tragedy unfolds.

That is simply unforgiveable.

Build The Bloody Wall

February 8, 2024

Why can’t the richest and most powerful country in the world guard its southern border? In 2023, more people scammed their way into the United States, 2.5 million, than live in most American cities. That’s a rate of 6,800 illegal aliens daily whose identities, criminal records, and intentions are unknown. They came from all over the world and are mostly young males from violence-prone cultures. They are released and asked to return for a hearing. Most don’t. Donald Trump’s “build that wall” and “make Mexico pay for it” pledges helped him win the 2016 election, but he didn’t fix it and neither has the current occupant in the White House. Recently, Republicans extracted serious border reforms from President Joe Biden by hitching them to an omnibus bill that included support for Israel and Ukraine’s war. Then they double-crossed Biden, at Trump’s behest, by sabotaging the bill in order to harm Biden’s re-election chances by refusing to mend the turmoil at the border. Attempts are underway to pass a standalone bill to fund Ukraine and Israel, but Trump’s troops will stop at nothing, including perpetuating the border mess, to try and capture the White House. This is war. “I love the smell of napalm in the morning,” gloated ringleader Matt Gaetz this week after he helped reforms go down in flames.

Aliens throw belongings over razor war to crawl through an opening created by their cartel smugglers

Gaetz’s politics have paid off, but President Joe Biden returned fire politically in a speech: “The border has been broken for years. But the only reason the border is not secure is because of Trump and his MAGA friends…Republicans would rather weaponize it than fix it. And opposing this bill [which includedf Ukrainian aid] is playing into Putin’s hands.” But rhetoric isn’t enough. He must deliver solutions by addressing the migration problem with whatever executive privileges and powers he has. In the defeated legislation, he agreed to enact the most restrictive migrant legislation in years and now must implement it. Reforms included adding thousands more border staff to interdict and adjudicate asylum claims; setting a firm cap on how many asylum claims daily will be processed, and shutting down the border, except to commercial trade, when the border is overwhelmed.

He also must clean the country’s streets by finding and deporting hundreds of thousands of undocumented, and dangerous, illegals. For instance, a recent report said 617,607 aliens with criminal records that were let into the country have disappeared.

Industrialized immigration: Illegals gleefully flood Mexican streets to cross America’s border, thanks to drug cartels. Associated Press
Hundreds of young men gather all along the border to sneak in. These are from China and hide from the camera. (Border police photo. 2023)

The perpetual failure by Washington to seal the border is a shocking lapse. Two Presidents, both national parties, and Congress have fiddled as “Rome burns”. America’s mainstream media has also failed by one-sidedly misrepresenting the “immigration” issue as a humanitarian situation when it’s simply a massive crime scene. Mexican cartels make billions smuggling people and drugs into the US by gaming a system that should have been scrapped years ago. And it worsens. Since Biden became President, a total of 3.3 million illegals have been released into the United States — a migration tsunami that is costing state and federal governments $150.7 billion annually. This money pays for their medical care, for the incarceration of those who break laws, and for housing and welfare. According to a recent Congressional report, this cost is larger than the total GDP of 24 American states.

Washington’s foot-dragging has been mostly due to the fact that the crisis is felt locally, in border states like Texas and Arizona that don’t control the national agenda or media. But last year, Texas and Florida officials began busing and dumping hundreds of thousands of illegals into Democratic cities such as New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles. In 2023, New York City received 145,000 “asylum seekers” and now spends $1 billion a year on housing and support – a tab that has forced cutbacks on other spending. Dislocations and street crime have increased, as has opposition.

America’s generosity is not returned in kind and dangers multiply. On January 30 a violent incident in New York City illustrated how hazardous the situation has become as well as how inept the system is to protect the public. That day, security cameras in Times Square caught five young illegals viciously beating up two policemen. They were arrested and charged with assault, but hours later were released without bail. Reports are that they the fled then swapped immigration identification numbers with other people at their refugee shelter and used those identities at a church to obtain food vouchers and free bus tickets to California.

All five were members of a pickpocket gang of Venezuelans operating for months in crowded tourist areas in the city. Some were allowed into the country despite criminal records, and had racked up offenses for months. All five were released without bail despite other pending charges. One had a dozen larceny charges outstanding involving credit card theft, and another faced assault and robbery. Others awaited trials concerning resisting arrest, larceny, and criminal possession of stolen property. After the incident, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis tweeted: “Illegals can walk across the border, beat up cops in NYC, and be released without bail. This is a national embarrassment. Deport the illegals and close the border.”

The incident received scant national media attention. The footage was shown but short-lived. Meanwhile, the country’s immigration cheerleaders – The New York Times, CNN, MSNBC, and the Washington Post – virtually ignored it or gave it short shrift. By so doing, they once again failed to inform the public about the seriousness of the “immigration” problem. Only Fox News covered it and continues to lead the nation journalistically by stationing cameras at the border and airing critics and statistics that describe Washington’s dereliction of duty.

Other forms of economic damage remain unreported. In 2023, nearly 143,000 illegal immigrants were deported – a costly correction required because they should never have been allowed in. Untold thousands work illegally for cash under the table, commit crimes, or are employed by the Mexican cartels to work off the $5,000 smuggling fees they owe to them. In the employ of cartels, their duties include robberies or pushing, smuggling, processing, or delivering illicit drugs and contraband.  

From illegal migrant to vagrancy on the streets of New York

What’s frustrating is that solutions exist. Asylum applications should only be made from outside the United States (in accordance with the UN Asylum rules). Tens of thousands of Immigration agents must be hired to track down and deport those who never showed up for their asylum hearing. An e-verify system must be required to crack down on illegal employment. And those who employ illegals should be prosecuted. Most importantly, Mexico must be ordered to block its southern border and ports of entry from illegals, and stop their transit.

Republican Presidential candidate, and former U.N. Ambassador, Nikki Haley also offered a few bold suggestions. She supports bringing in the US military. “When it comes to the cartels, we should treat them like the terrorists that they are," Haley told Fox News in a recent interview. "I would send special operations in there [Mexico] and eliminate them just like we eliminated ISIS and make sure that they know there's no place for them. If Mexico won't deal with it, I'll make sure I deal with it.”

President Biden must initiate strong measures and seal the border. A physical wall need not be necessary. A virtual one can prevent unwanted crossings by deploying satellite surveillance and laser fencing to detect illicit activity and drugs, on either side. Mexico must cooperate or face the possibility that the North American trade deal with the US and Canada will become bilateral. If Biden cracks down and closes the border to illegals, he will win the Presidency. After witnessing years of political grandstanding and incompetence, Americans now realize that the border with Mexico is the country’s most important domestic issue. As Louisiana Senator John Kennedy comically remarked before voting against tougher measures: “The border’s wide open. It’s easily fixed. Just stop people from coming in.”

Putin's 143 Million Prisoners

January 22, 2024

DIANE FRANCIS

Amidst all the attention about Donald Trump and America’s 2024 Presidential election, the faux “re-election” of Vladimir Putin rolls on. Of course, it is a sham and he will win on March 17 because Russia is a criminal organization where elections are window-dressing and speech is about as free as it is inside China’s Politburo. Even so, credible polls reveal that support for Putin’s war ebbs as the conflict drags on, killing or maiming 315,000 and imperilling another 300,000 Russians at the warfront. But politics are also about “local” issues and Russians are upset because eggs are scarce and expensive, interest rates high, and frozen pipes burst constantly leaving hundreds of thousands without heat. But Russians endure by using dark humor and sarcasm to express feelings and opinions. One anti-war joke making the rounds these days is that “Putin’s partial mobilization means that you are drafted in whole and return back with parts missing”. But this election is different because movements opposing the war appear which may be why Putin suggests, through back channels, that he will accept a ceasefire even though, publicly, he doubles down. His latest billboard campaign boasts Imperially beneath his image that “Russia’s borders do not end anywhere” and recently declared that he still wants all of Ukraine.

Billboard campaign: “Russia’s borders do not end anywhere”. Newsweek.

Surely Putin realizes that his army cannot beat a NATO-backed Ukraine. At the same time, however, he also realizes that he cannot lose power at home. So he bides his time and hopes for Western war fatigue and a Trump victory in the fall. This week, Trump won the Iowa Republican primary and repeated that he could solve the Ukraine war “very fast” – a pledge only possible if the White House threatens to stop providing military aid to Ukraine unless it negotiates a cease-fire. But Europeans rally to help Ukraine, in response to Washington’s political gridlock, and Kyiv is about to deploy this spring a few dozen F16s, donated by EU nations, that could decimate Putin’s hapless cannon fodder along the front line.

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But internal threats lurk inside Russia. Its obscene casualty rate has sparked a low-key, but effective anti-war protest from women relatives of soldiers, dubbed the “white scarves” movement. They hide their identities, gather to lay carnations at unknown soldier’s monuments, and have issued a manifesto calling Putin’s mobilization of their menfolk “legalized slavery”. Other groups have sprung up in remote regions where a disproportionate number of men from ethnic minorities have been press-ganged into the military and died. Putin avoids putting into uniform the rich, well-connected young “white” Russians who live in Moscow and St. Petersburg, as described in my June 12 newsletter “Putin’s other genocides”.

Russian draftees die in droves due to improper training and equipment. Once inducted, they disappear, leaving relatives in the dark as to their whereabouts or condition. Many deaths are unreported and reports surface that conscripts have been shot as deserters for retreating or for refusing to obey dangerous orders. Army morale is low and many escape and hide. A recent investigation alleged that a group of draftees, who complained to officers, were purposely sent to their deaths in battle. “Our problems have been constantly ignored, but we won’t let our men be forgotten,” said Maria Andreyeva, the wife of a mobilized soldier and one of the few members of the movement willing to go public.

White scarf protester with her toddler places a carnation at the Unknown Soldier’s memorial on January 16 on behalf on of missing loved ones., Moscow Times

The “white scarves” leaders tread carefully and, thus far, have not been subjected to the arrests and abuse that most anti-Putin activists incur. There has been some intimidation, and bans against certain protests, but violent repression is taboo. This is why the movement – online and off – continues and grows. Russian political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin believes this relatives’ movement is “a serious symptom of growing problems” in the country. And it is why authorities cautiously handle the situation because “the consequences [of action] could be unpredictable.”

These women spread concern. A Russian investigative website reported recently that a letter signed by 100 family members of soldiers stationed in Ukraine demanded an end to Putin’s “meat assaults” against Ukraine’s military. Another reporter wrote that an entire platoon just deserted in Crimea and is being hunted. True or false, underground stories spread like COVID across Russia and the quiet protest by women has even garnered the attention of the esteemed Institute for the Study of War (ISW) in Washington. It recently commented that the “angry relatives” are Putin’s biggest concern. "Putin's presidential campaign will reportedly not focus on the war in Ukraine, and the Kremlin likely considers the relatives of mobilized personnel to be a social group that may pose one of the greatest threats to his campaign.”

Then there are the eggs and price of groceries. Police recently arrested a member of the Uzbek diaspora for “inciting hatred” with an online meme that spoofed both the country's economic inflation and the military mobilization. He faces a jail sentence for this post and caption in Russian: “Screw you and your eggs! Bring back the roosters from the front.”

Don’t laugh.

Last month, Putin publicly apologized for the soaring cost of eggs. But discontent grows, according to recent polls conducted by non-governmental, independent organizations. Support for Putin’s war hits rock bottom, according to Euronews. In October, Russian pollster, the Chronicle, said support for the invasion had halved in two years. It added that 40 percent of Russians favor the withdrawal of troops from Ukraine without war aims being achieved and that only 33 percent were against exiting from the war, down from 47 percent one year ago. Another poll found that 80 percent of Russians are worried about their financial well-being, a figure that’s 30 percent higher than recorded in May. Such anxiety is worrisome in any election, rigged or otherwise, but in combination with Putin’s quagmire in Ukraine is now reportedly unsettling Putin’s “siloviki” or the intelligence and security inner circle.

Journalists say oligarch “clans” openly feud and discredit one another to shift blame as well as to secure more power for themselves after the election and war. Putin has always encouraged infighting to retain power. This tactic was demonstrated last year when a raucous rivalry between his military brass and the late oligarch and mercenary Yevgeny Prigozhin surfaced. The clash resulted in a violent but quick mutiny by Prigozhin; a climb down then a love-in with Putin, and finally his assassination weeks later.

The reality is that the election is a foregone conclusion and Russia’s 143 million people are prisoners in a gigantic gulag with 10 timezones. Heroic political foe Alexey Navalny still survives and says that Russia will “collapse and crumble”. But his recent tweet illustrates his personal plight in captivity after being recently transferred during the election to a jail near the Arctic Circle.

All Russians are Putin’s prisoners, some worse than others

Putin keeps Navalny alive, and lets him communicate to the outside world, because he serves a purpose. Navalny’s increasingly gaunt appearances convey the message: Putin’s power is intractable and the consequences of anyone who opposes him are dire. Navalny recently resurfaced at a court hearing at his new hideous prison, and deployed the same dark humor and sarcasm that all Russians use to cope. He entered the court smiling and told the judge that he wanted the court to know that he missed the guards from his last prison, which caused the judge to laugh. Then he described his new conditions. “At this temperature, you can walk for more than half an hour, but only if you have time to grow a new nose, ears, and fingers.” Then he joked, tragically, that he hoped to figure out what court would accept a lawsuit from him so that he could change the weather.

30

Political Genocide

January 18, 2024

Why does South Africa accuse Israel of genocide at the International Court of Justice and ignore genocides committed by Russia, Iran, and China? Moscow currently wages war to obliterate Ukrainians, their culture, and country. Iran perpetrates a decades-long “death to Israel” crusade and terrorist campaign to destroy the Jewish state. China abuses and decimates Muslim Uyghurs, a Turkic ethnic group in its Xinjiang Province bordering Kazakhstan in Central Asia. The actions of all three meet the definition of genocide which is the “intent to destroy, whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”. And yet, South Africa accuses Israel of genocide even though it’s a victim. On October 7, Israel was viciously attacked by Iranian-supported Hamas. Its army retaliated by attacking Hamas which was burrowed in residential areas inside Gaza. Israel’s military warned civilians to evacuate by dropping leaflets, by phone calls, and online, then designated safe relocations. Unfortunately, thousands of civilians died. While tragic, the fact is that the Israel army attacked Hamas, not Gazans. This was defense, not genocide. “It is a legal absurdity to suggest that a country that is defending itself from genocide is thereby guilty of genocide,” commented retired Canadian Supreme Court Judge Rosalie Abella.

Jerusalem Day in Iran in 2022

South Africa’s allegations should have been directed at the underlying culprits of the war – the genocidal regimes in Russia and Iran. Both have stoked strife for years throughout the Middle East, and both were behind the massacre of Israelis on October 7 — which also happens to be Vladimir Putin’s birthday. The killers were members of Hamas, financed by Iran and trained by Russian mercenaries. Days after the atrocity, their leaders were praised in Tehran and some flew to Moscow to be feted. Despite such glaring evidence, South Africa decided to blame the victim, not the perpetrators, because it belongs to BRICS, the anti-West organization launched by Russia and China that includes Iran and other nations in the so-called Global South.

The case is unjust. If Israel is guilty of genocide for defending itself against Hamas, then Ukraine is also guilty for defending itself against Moscow and causing 315,000 casualties. After the Oct. 7 massacre it was necessary to dismantle and destroy Hamas operatives, rocket sites, and hundreds of miles of tunnels beneath Gazan cities. Guerrillas were everywhere in Gaza, using residents as human shields, and this required Israel to evacuate civilians to reach the terrorists.

Unfortunately, reckless and radical politicians in Israel provided a hateful “sound track” of genocidal threats toward Gazans, statements which have found their way into Court documents. For instance, President Isaac Herzog erroneously stated that all Gazans were "responsible" for Hamas's surprise attack. Israel’s Defence Minister Yoav Gallant initially ordered a full siege on the Gaza Strip, where almost half the population are children. “There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel. Everything is closed. We are fighting human animals and we act accordingly." At the trial, these remarks were entered as evidence of genocide, but Israel’s defense lawyers argued their words were irrelevant because these persons did not make military decisions.

The case was heard on January 11 and 12. A ruling by judges will take weeks more. The West lined up behind Israel. America rejected charges as “unfounded”, the UK called them “unjustified”, and Germany (perpetrator of the largest genocide in recent history) said it “explicitly rejects” them. In Court, Israel described South Africa’s accusations as "grossly distorted" and asked the Court to dismiss the case and to reject South Africa’s request that it be forced to halt its anti-Hamas operation.

But the facts are that many Israelis are upset with their government’s aggressive prosecution of the war. The newspaper Haaretz excoriated Netanyahu and some cabinet members for their intemperate remarks, then noted these provided fodder for the Court case. On January 12, after the Court convened, its editorial read: “It was an uncalled for, a sad and bad day for Israel at the International Court of Justice in the Hague on Friday. On the one hand, Israel made a compelling case against the obscene accusation of `genocide’ for its military response in the Gaza Strip following the October 7 massacre. On the other, it might not have been standing there in the first place had it not been for its half-wit politicians… A collection of misfits masquerading as the government casually spewed out moronic one-liners: Nuke Gaza, burn Gaza, flatten Gaza, erase Gaza, cleanse Gaza, eliminate Gaza, displace Gazans – all of which found their way into the South African application that the world court heard on Thursday.”

Israel heritage minister Amichai Eliyahu suggested an atom bomb be dropped on Gaza. He was suspended after a public outcry. The Times of Israel

Haaretz columnist Noa Landau wrote that Israelis now have “a big problem: 23,708 problems, to be exact. That is the number of Palestinians killed in Gaza, according to United Nations data, many of them civilians, including women and children. Another 60,005 have been injured and around 1.9 million people, who constitute about 85 percent of the Strip's population, have been displaced from their homes. Unfortunately, both the plaintiffs and the defendants fall into the rhetorical trap of focusing on words and videos posted on social media instead of the question of whether Israel is doing enough to minimize harm to innocent civilians on the way to reaching its goals. The takeaway should be that `revenge’ on innocents is not a plan of action and that atrocities committed by the enemy do not grant a license for any reaction.”

The culprit is Iran, and its hateful nexus which includes Hamas, Hezbollah, Houthis, and Russia. For years, Tehran has called for Israel to be “wiped off the map”. Iran and Russia helped destroy Lebanon and Syria, and have financed bombing attacks and assassinations for decades against innocent Israeli citizens. Iranian parades routinely include “death to Israel” banners; its military practices by firing missiles at Star of David targets, and its media broadcasts anti-Israeli and anti-American hate speech or slogans constantly. Genocide is “embedded” in the Iranian psyche and government, like a warped constitution. In 1979, its “religious” leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared “we believe the solution to Palestine is in destroying the Israeli regime”.

So why isn’t Iran hauled, continuously if necessary, before the Court for this perpetual and genocidal Jihad? And why hasn’t South Africa or other nation-states dragged Russia into Court for genocide after President Vladimir Putin launched his 2022 war to eliminate Ukraine? Instead, pursuing justice was left up to Ukraine itself which took the matter to the Court two days after the 2022 invasion, following Russia’s hideous slaughter, rape, and torture of hundreds civilians in Bucha outside Kyiv. Within short order, judges ordered Russia to suspend military operations against Ukraine, but the order was ignored.

Finally, on March 17, 2023, the Court issued warrants for Putin’s arrest involving the mass abduction of thousands of Ukrainian children which is clearly a war crime. Russia ignores that too because it does not acknowledge the Court’s jurisdiction, but at least the warrants have restricted Putin from travelling to many countries. Ironically, he was inhibited this summer from attending the BRICS confab held in South Africa, which recognizes the Court. He did not go because South Africa advised Putin not to come because he would be arrested and shipped to The Hague for trial.

Putin’s hostages. Thousands of kidnapped Ukrainian children in orphanages. AP
China’s shame: A Uyghur concentration camp in Xinjiang. Radio Free Asia. 2017

China has also been let off the hook concerning its genocide against Uyghurs. Last year, 51 UN members issued a declaration condemning this as a crime against humanity and called on Beijing to end its human rights abuses. But such declarations are toothless and no genocide case has been submitted to the Court. At the very least, all three of these nation-state perpetrators should be denied UN votes in the General Assembly or Security Council. They should be designated as State Sponsors of Terrorism and Genocide, which would result in severe and permanent sanctions, defense export bans, and severe financial restrictions.

Regrettably, they remain un-indicted and strut around the world Scot-free, attending international gatherings. Meanwhile, their political collaborators game the International Court of Justice, United Nations, and other institutions so they can continue to harass and malign Israel, Ukraine, the Uyghurs, and future targets. That’s the real injustice here.

30

It’s World War III

November 6, 2023

The Israel-Gaza and Ukraine-Russia conflicts are the result of a world war started in 1999 by Vladimir Putin to recreate the Soviet Union’s empire. Russia’s war machine operates in the shadows and is behind most of the world’s strife. It is not a goose-stepping monolith, but a hidden Hydra with thousands of tentacles that reach worldwide and have grown for decades. Putin prefers to wage hybrid warfare and deploys mercenaries, rogue nations, and non-state players such as terrorists or political extremists to foment unrest and revolts. He weaponizes food and fuel and sabotages economies, elections, reputations, and industries. Russian operatives corrupt nations; torture, poison, or bribe individuals; kidnap children; take hostages, and launch cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns on an industrial scale. Such tactics have culminated in the two major wars underway in Europe and the Middle East, and, despite ample evidence of Russia’s involvement, there is no global consensus that this is World War III and must be stopped. Instead, leaders haggle over next moves and whether to fund Ukraine as opposed to Israel, as though the same Evil wasn’t behind all conflicts. Only a global alliance will stop Russia’s war.

Russia’s Social Media Hate Ecosystem
Iran-Russia grip on the Middle East. South European Council on Foreign Relations

If you examine the current geopolitical problems through the prism of a world war orchestrated by another ruthless leader, there is no room for appeasement, neutrality, avoidance, nor for dreams that negotiations, ceasefires, or peace talks will stop the mayhem. Only eradication of Russia’s network, in all its guises, will win the peace. Russia’s nation-state allies are Iran and North Korea, but Moscow has also financed and trained thousands of non-state actors that are embedded everywhere to cause trouble. Hamas and Hezbollah are well-known terrorist guerrilla armies on the payroll of Russia and Iran, but so is a roster of anti-West countries, political parties, terrorist sleeper cells, movements, and leaders. Finally, there is Russia’s huge conventional army as well as the Wagner Group mercenaries that have played an over-sized role in destabilizing Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Venezuela. All must be defeated.

Instead, the world currently focuses on the killing fields of Israel and Ukraine, but should view them as tragedies that have happened because of the world’s strategic blindness to the existence of this insidious global war. The current Israeli situation, for instance, illustrates at least two mistakes: The failure by Israel and others to recognize and stop Putin’s behind-the-scenes maneuvres; and the reliance on conventional armed forces to provide security against elusive, hybrid warfare. The result was that on October 7 (Putin’s birthday) Hamas slaughtered 1,400 people despite Israel’s large military and Putin’s “friendship” with Benjamin Netanyahu. Then, in retaliation, Israel counter-attacked by conducting massive bombing raids and a ground invasion of Gaza to destroy Hamas as if it were a static nation-state and not a cunning mobile insurgency that had already “left town”.

By the time the tanks arrived, Hamas was gone or hiding behind Palestinian civilians as shields. Israel’s ferocious retaliation demolished half of Gaza, killed thousands of civilians, but eliminated only a few dozen terrorists. This outcome handed Russia and its global tentacles an opportunity to weaponize the air waves by amplifying the plight of Palestinian civilians at the hands of Israel. This has roiled world opinion and resulted in criticism of Israel even among its allies. Theoretically, if the world had realized what Putin was up to, an allied hybrid war capability might have detected and prevented the attack or, having failed to do so, could have conducted a surgical counterattack with fewer civilian casualties. But now the West and Israel have been undermined, American politicians divided, Arab and Muslim allies alienated, and the possibility of a two-state solution postponed indefinitely.

Russia’s Paths to Global Influence through Information, Military, Economic, Diplomatic channels. 2022.

Not surprisingly, Vladimir Putin granted a rare interview days later with Qatar-owned Al Jazeera where he expressed concern about the “catastrophic increase” in the number of civilians killed in Israel and the Gaza Strip. “The Russian leader also took aim at Washington’s policy in the Middle East which he said had failed by not taking the needs of Palestinians into account,” read the website.

The failure to take a global approach to Russia’s predations allows one ally to be pitted against another or to make a grave strategic error that damages all. Clearly, a unified alliance must create a hybrid war counter-offensive that can identify, track, anticipate, infiltrate, and destroy Russia, Iran and their malevolent non-state actors before they attack. The failure to muster a global force against Russia allows Putin to gain ground, geographically or politically, by dividing and conquering foes, isolating targets, and generating instability across the world.

Ukraine is another example of what happens when the civilized world fails to unite against Russia. In 2008, Putin invaded Georgia, then Ukraine in 2014 without much fuss by America, Europe, or others. The Obama regime opted to do a reset with Russia, a nonsensical strategy given the sociopathy of the Putin regime. That miscalculation, along with appeasements, led to the invasion of Ukraine on February 2022. But if the West had understood that Putin was salami-slicing the West on a quest to dominate Eastern Europe once more, other strategies would have been undertaken. For starters, Europe would have realized it could never become fully dependent on Russian oil and natural gas; NATO would have expanded into Scandinavia, Georgia, and Ukraine years ago, and the West would have invested billions in protecting the collective security, not forced to play catch up for the past 20 months.

Fresh from these two major triumphs, Russia will continue its “hybrid warfare” globally. It will fund any anti-American, anti-European Union, anti-Israel, or anti-NATO group, media, political party, and leader. Such efforts have already borne fruit. Putin’s tentacles have backed anti-European Union populists such as Marine LePen in France, Victor Orban in Hungary, Slovakian or Serbian politicians, Britain’s “Brexit” movement, white supremacists in America, and anti-Europe celebrities like Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and Tucker Carlson in America — whether they know it or not.

Russia has also weaponized migration into Europe and America to destabilize both politically and socially. As many as 20 million refugees have landed in Europe following Russian military interventions in Syria and Ukraine. Neither jurisdiction has secured its borders or properly screened entrants. (Read my “Global Refugee Mess” published on October 2.) If one agrees with my assertion that World War III is already underway, it’s hardly a stretch to speculate that included, among the tens of thousands of Venezuelan and Central American men who enter the United States, are spies, criminals, drug mules, or terrorists. In addition, thousands more arrive from further afield, including Russia. And Europe is in worse shape because it lacks a continental navy and is inundated with refugee claimants, most recently arriving by boat from the Middle East, or countries in Africa where Russian influence is powerful.

New York City, 140,000 unscreened migrants in weeks dumped into the city and sleeping on streets until housing is provided

China has stayed on the sidelines in this global war despite boasts by Putin about being “no limits friends”. Russia would love nothing better than to convince China to open a third theater in its world war by invading Taiwan. But this is a Kremlin distraction combined with wishful thinking. Since Ukraine’s invasion, China has distanced itself from Russia, and refused to provide military aid. Military conquest is not China’s style. Its foreign policy has been mercantilist, via its Belt and Road Initiative. Besides that, Beijing moves toward détente with the United States and Europe out of self-interest to shore up its exports and economy in future. And it too fears Russia, as it should. Russia, not China, initiated and backed the only post-war invasions in Asia -- Korea and Vietnam. Both conflicts embroiled the United States for years as its alliance of conventional troops fought to stalemates against guerrilla armies.

Today Russia remains a global scourge and is winning its world war. This is why an alliance must stop and dismantle its deadly war machine.

Israel’s Hidden War Redux

I’M REPUBLISHING THIS ADDITIONAL NEWSLETTER, FROM JUNE 3, 2021, WHICH EXPLAINS THE DANGEROUS DIVIDE WITHIN ISRAELI SOCIETY THAT HAS NOW LED TO THE CURRENT WAR.

IT DESCRIBES THE UNFATHOMABLE DIVIDE IN THE COUNTRY WHICH THREATENS ITS ECONOMIC FUTURE AND MAY EVENTUALLY RESULT IN CIVIL WAR BETWEEN SECULAR ISRAELIS, WHO ARE PUTTING THEIR LIVES ON THE LINE IN ITS ARMED FORCES, AGAINST RELIGIOUS ISRAELIS WHO REMAIN EXEMPT FROM MILITARY SERVICE AS WELL AS FROM PAYING TAXES. THE DIVIDE IS ALSO EDUCATIONAL — HIGHER, WELL-ROUNDED EDUCATION FOR SECULAR ISRAELIS VERSUS NARROW, SCRIPTURAL TEACHINGS FOR RELIGIOUS ISRAELIS.

THE NETANYAHU GOVERNMENT, CONTROLLED BY RADICAL RELIGIOUS ZEALOTS, TOOK OVER AND FAILED TO PROTECT ISRAELIS ALONG ITS BORDER WITH GAZA WHO WERE MASSACRED ON OCTOBER 7 BY ISLAMIC TERRORISTS. IT HAS ALSO ENCOURAGED RELIGIOUS SETTLERS IN THE WEST BANK TO ILLEGALLY ANNEX PALESTINIAN LANDS.

HERE IS A TWO-YEAR-OLD NEWSLETTER THAT EXPLAINS THE ROOTS OF THE TERRIBLE WAR, AND SHOCKING REPRISALS BY NETANYAHU’S REGIME:

June 3, 2021 — The latest Israel-Palestinian crisis flared for a handful of days as bombs rained down on both sides, causing the predictable diplomatic flurry and another cease-fire deal that won’t last. Nothing will change for two reasons: Fortress Israel is impregnable, and the Palestinians in the occupied territories cannot get their act together because of their dysfunctional and corrupt leaders. So the cycle will repeat, and pundits will bleat, about a two-state solution and other options that are unattainable.

But Israel’s real existential challenge is within. It’s about an irreconcilable clash between worldviews: Israelis (Jewish and Arab citizens) who want Israel to remain a vibrant economic and technological powerhouse and liberal democracy; and ultra-orthodox Jews, or Haredim, who believe Israel should be a theocracy for the devout. The hidden war is due to demographics and the fact that the Haredim population explodes and in less than two generations will represent half of Israel’s population.

This challenge is behind the creation this week of a broadly-based coalition of eight political parties — right, left, centrist, and the United Arab List parties — which aims to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his radical policies. It’s important, however, to note that this is an awkward alliance that only agrees on one issue, his removal. Governance going forward will be tricky, to say the least, and the coalition intends to be led for two years by Naftali Bennet as Prime Minister, a hard-line religious-nationalist, then by centrist leader Yair Lapid, favored by secular Israelis.

The coalition is a metaphor for Israel’s deep divisions. Arab Israelis represent 20 percent of the population (and 25 percent of its children), the ultra-orthodox or Haredim represent 14 percent (and 20 percent of the country’s children), and the remaining majority consists of secular and religious Jews. The Haredim have been awarded major privileges by Netanhayu over the years while the Arab minority has been neglected in state budgets and housing and land policies. Further, in 2018, an incendiary Nation-State Law passed that enshrined the right of national self-determination as being “unique to the Jewish people,” rather than to all Israeli citizens.

While a blow, Arabs in Israel enjoy higher living standards and more freedoms than their counterparts anywhere else and are becoming democratically engaged. Arab parties are in the new coalition, and Arabs also becoming more successful. For instance, today half of Israel’s pharmacists and one-fifth of all its physicians are of Arab background.

Haaretz. The percentage continues to increase annually

Israel’s biggest “threat”, politically and economically, is the exponential population growth — and political clout — of the Haredim, or ultra-orthodox Jews. (“Haredim” is defined in the Oxford dictionary as “a member of any of various Orthodox Jewish sects characterized by strict adherence to the traditional form of Jewish law and rejection of modern secular culture, many of whom do not recognize the modern state of Israel as a spiritual authority.”) They are not a threat because of their religion, but because their worldview differs from other Israelis who believe in liberal democracy.

Demographically, the Haredim will take over Israel’s population in two generations because of exploding birthrates. Their political clout is already dominant and Netanyahu has taken the country radically to the “right” in favor of special privileges for the Haredim. This demographic alarum has been raised often by Professor Dan Ben-David, an economist at Tel Aviv University’s Department of Public Policy who heads the Shoresh Institution for Socioeconomic Research. The Haredim, he says, constitutionally enjoy enormous privileges while, at the same time, disdain modern life and gainful employment, therefore living off all Israeli taxpayers.

This trajectory will result in unresolvable internal conflicts which have begun to bubble over into the population at large. For the first time inside Israel, serious inter-communal violence broke out during the latest crisis with Hamas in Israel’s “mixed communities” as far-right Jewish militias attacked Arabs, who retaliated, according to news accounts.

“The most shocking developments occurred on the streets of Israel, as rival Jewish and Arab mobs attacked cars, shops, and people in several towns and cities,” wrote The New York Times. “In Bat Yam, a seaside suburb south of Tel Aviv … dozens of Jewish extremists took turns beating and kicking a man presumed to be Arab, even as his body lay motionless on the ground. Another occurred in Acre, a northern coastal town, where an Arab mob beat a Jewish man with sticks and rocks, also leaving him in a critical condition.”

This is happening at a time when Arabs have integrated more with their Jewish neighbors in recent years, wrote The New York Times. “But at the same time, the Israeli Jewish leadership has grown more right-wing and nakedly racist.”

When the Haredim won certain inalienable rights in 2018, etched into the country’s Basic Laws, they obtained special status, wrote Ben-David. This includes exclusive control over the education of their children and support for their growing “community of learners” (Torah students) who are not only exempt from military service but may refrain from paid work too, and must be supported by taxpayers. The result is that employment rates among Haredi men are low.

These low employment rates among Haredim men are partly a choice (to pursue religious studies) but are also the result of poor educational outcomes. Yeshivas don’t teach core subjects and Ben-David adds that many Arab children attend schools that are under-funded and sub-standard. “One-quarter of Israel’s schoolchildren are Arab-Israeli and perform poorly in core subjects – in math, science and reading – even below that of other Muslim countries, and most of the Haredim (ultra-orthodox) children, which comprises one-fifth (20 percent) of the total, and is growing exponentially, don’t study these subjects in their religious schools,” wrote Ben-David in an article for The Times of Israel in 2019.

Not surprisingly, Israeli students as a whole underperform the rest of the developed world in terms of test results.

This means that Israel will lose its status as a “start-up nation” unless educational and other reforms are enacted because already nearly half of Israel’s children will be unprepared to assume the reins of a high-tech nation, argues Ben-David. “How is it even possible that government after government refuses to grant an exponentially increasing number of Haredi children the basic right to a core curriculum – a right that is stipulated by the law in every developed country, except Israel.”

This dramatic demographic shift results in conundrums: How can Israel’s pluralistic and meritocratic society continue to grant special status and financially support an increasing number of unproductive persons, based on religion? How can the country tolerate poor educational outcomes, and welfare dependency, and still deliver economic prosperity? “Not only is Israel’s labor productivity among the lowest in the developed world, but the gap between the leading G7 countries (the U.S., Canada, U.K., Germany, France, Italy, and Japan) and Israel has increased over three-fold over the past forty years,” he wrote.

The Times of Israel

The proportion of Haredi men with an academic degree has remained very low and unchanged over the past decade and a half, however, a slight increase has occurred among Haredi women.

The Times of Israel

Will this growing divide result in more inter-communal clashes, such as those that just occurred during the latest conflict? Fortunately, these were sporadic and relatively short-lived because, it’s important to note that calm was restored, thanks to centrist politicians representing both Arab Israelis and secular Jews. “The vast majority of the people of Israel -- Jews and Arabs -- are far better than this,” said Yair Lapid. Likewise, Ayman Odeh, a young Israeli-born, multilingual lawyer of Arab descent who describes himself as secular and heads the Joint Arab List representing four Arab parties, publicly called for restraint and urged followers to participate only in organized demonstrations.

Odeh is a respected power broker who recites Martin Luther King and concentrates on establishing peaceful co-existence among all Israelis. He was born in Israel and describes himself as an Arab Israeli, not a Palestinian. And in a leadership debate in 2015, he made his mark when he was attacked by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, a right-wing leader of Israel’s Our Home party, who sneered at him: “Why did you come to this studio, why not to Gaza, or Ramallah? Why are you even here? You are not wanted here; you are a Palestinian citizen.”

Odeh was unruffled and replied: “I am very welcome in my homeland,” he said in Hebrew, then referred to the fact that Lieberman migrated from the Soviet Union. “I am part of nature, the surroundings, the landscape.”

Hopefully, the new coalition can begin to address the country’s need to level the playing field, institute comprehensive, systemic education reform that will turn Israel’s schools – including in the Haredi sector – into the world’s best, and improve healthcare, infrastructure, and policing in all poor neighborhoods.

In The Times of Israel piece, Ben-David concludes with a demographic warning: “It should be clear that the complexity of the challenges that Israel faces extends far beyond the issue of Haredim. Pervasive poverty and income inequality also exist among non-Haredi Jews, not to mention Arab-Israelis. Not everything begins and ends with education. But if a population group this large continues to exercise considerable influence on the direction and amplitude of flows from the government faucet in a manner that only further enhances their exponential growth, while concurrently depriving their children [and others] of the vital tools necessary for integration into a competitive global economy and a modern society, Israel will cease to exist.”

Putin's Pope

August 17, 2023

On the morning of June 2, 1979 church bells pealed across Poland as Pope John Paul II stepped from his plane onto the soil of his native country then knelt to kiss its ground. His dramatic gesture of devotion and his crusade against human rights abuses helped demolish the Soviet Union. Polish insurgents were allowed to meet, organize, and pass messages in Catholic churches as their Pope spoke out eloquently against Soviet wrongdoing everywhere. In 2003, he was nominated for the Nobel Prize and declined out of humility. In 2014, he was canonized. By contrast, the current incumbent, Pope Francis, has never directly condemned Vladimir Putin or Russia by name in the 18 months since their horrific war began against the Ukrainian people. Worse, the Pope’s first quoted reaction echoed Kremlin talking points when he suggested that the war was a consequence of “NATO barging at Russia’s gate” and the “international arms industry”. This Pope’s failure to publicly condemn Putin and Russia, and his moral equivocation when pressed, is unforgivable and reminiscent of the Papacy’s tacit acceptance of Hitler and his Second World War.

“Without the pope, there would have been no Solidarity movement; without Solidarity, there would have been no Gorbachev; without Gorbachev, there would have been no 1989. The Pope was crucial at every stage,” — British historian Timothy Garton Ash

Pope Francis is creating another “historic mess” because he aims to “show that he is neither on one side or the other,” commented Giovanni Maria Vian, a former editor of the Vatican’s newspaper. The Papal silence is perplexing, given that Catholicism is the largest religion in Europe and that 10 percent of Ukrainians are members of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church which recognizes the Holy See. Other religious Ukrainians belong to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine which broke away from its Russian counterpart in 2019, but their worldwide spiritual leader, Patriarch Bartholomew, immediately labelled Russia’s invasion as “unholy and demonic”. And this March, he also directly accused the Russian branch of the Orthodox church and the Kremlin of cooperating “in the crime of aggression and shared the responsibility for the resulting crimes, like the shocking abduction of the Ukrainian children.”

Perhaps Pope Francis refuses to name the predators because one of them is a friend — Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill who also happens to be a former KGB agent and confidante of Putin’s. A few years ago, Forbes Magazine estimated that Kirill’s personal net worth was $4 billion, but this remains unverified. However, he wears $30,000 watches and owns a private jet, a palatial estate, a yacht, and valuable real estate in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Suspicions are that his fortune was accumulated by skimming profits made by his Church in the mid-1990s after it was granted a monopoly to import cigarettes duty-free.

After the February 2022 invasion, Kirill did not condemn it as the worldwide Orthodox Patriarch did, but issued a directive to Russian soldiers that “your task is to wipe the Ukrainian nation off the face of the Earth”. Despite such a shocking pronouncement, Pope Francis told newspapers in Italy a few weeks later that he spent 40 minutes on a zoom call with his friend Kirill and warned him against becoming “Putin’s altar boy”, wrote The Washington Post. He warned him? Surely, the Pope knew that Kirill was a Putin insider and collaborator and had publicly promoted genocide.

Archbishop Kirill and President Putin

One year later, on 30 April 2023, Pope Francis announced that the Vatican was embarking on a secret "peace mission" to try to end the war. In May, President Zelensky flew to meet the Pope to discuss the mission, but left in disgust and tweeted: “I asked [the Pope] to condemn [Russia’s] crimes in Ukraine. Because there can be no equality between the victim and the aggressor. I also talked about our Peace Formula as the only effective algorithm for achieving a just peace. I proposed joining its implementation.”

The next day Zelensky’s advisor Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted a withering condemnation of the Vatican’s inaction, failure to call out the culprits, and use of the Kremlin’s damaging narrative. “The Vatican is primarily about morality. When you call an aggressor by their name. When you harshly and directly condemn mass crimes. When you openly side with a country that is being killed and destroyed without provocation. When you personally defend those who are unconditional victims of Russian aggression. When you call evil, which is Russia, by its name. Only then does Holy Justice emerge.”

One month later Pope Francis personally announced that his peace mission was over because there was no apparent end in sight to the war after his envoy held three days of talks in Moscow. But a Vatican statement followed which revealed that the Pope’s consultations were doomed (or cynical) from the start because they were between the Pope’s envoy and one of President Vladimir Putin's closest foreign policy advisors as well as the odious Patriarch Kirill.

The International Affairs Institute of Italy analyzed why the Pope failed to mediate a deal. It blamed the Pope’s NATO-bashing narrative which aligned him with the Kremlin and portrayed Ukraine’s struggle for freedom and democracy and justice as simply a proxy war between colonial powers. “It denies agency to the Ukrainian people, undermining their ability to be active participants in the conflict and possible negotiations. Instead, it presents Ukraine, and its population of over 40 million, as a mere pawn in the hands of the so-called `great powers’,” it concluded.

Russia’s victims

So is this Pope tone deaf or co-opted? Is it because he’s not European, but from the Global South where Europe remains resented? Or is it because he’s a Jesuit, an order of priests devoted to education who are often theological “eggheads” that indulge in parsing and dissembling moral issues even when answers are simple and obvious. Such casuistry, or unsound reasoning in relation to moral questions, certainly afflicts this Pope. When asked by an Italian newspaper whether it was right to send weapons so Ukraine could defend itself, he said “I don’t know.” When pushed to castigate Putin and Russia, he responded “I am simply against reducing complexity to the distinction between good guys and bad guys, without reasoning about roots and interests, which are very complex” then added Russia’s war in Ukraine was “perhaps somehow either provoked or not prevented.” 

Whatever the underlying causes, his behaviour is inexcusable. The facts are simple: Ukraine was invaded by Russia, its people are being killed, the country is being destroyed, his friend Kirill has called for genocide, and every perpetrator must be condemned and punished. This is not morally debatable.

It’s surprising that, despite the Pope’s dereliction of duty, some members of his flock haven’t lost faith. In August, many young Ukrainians attended the Apostolic Visit by the Pope in Portugal on World Youth Day hoping he would take up their cause. “The Pope said nothing”, remarked Rev. Roman Demush reported The New York Times. He leads the youth ministry office for the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. “The war should make us scream, and it silences. He said he was impotent in front of this evil. It’s not enough just to listen — he has to do something. We want the Pope to be clear, in an understandable way, that Russia is a terrorist state.”

Canada's Mediocracy

June 5, 2023

In January, most Canadians were embarrassed after their federal government announced that four Leopard tanks would be given to Ukraine as it fights for its very existence, as well as Europe’s. Four more came a month later, but these were measly gifts, considering that Canada is wealthy, home to the second largest Ukrainian diaspora in the world, and America has given disproportionately more to Kyiv. It’s also fair to assume that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has not phoned President Joe Biden or NATO or Ukraine offering help along the way, or suggesting that Canada will ship substantially more energy to help reduce energy inflation and replace Russian fossil fuels. Trudeau has been in power since 2015 and yet to meet NATO military spending commitments. He also has worrisome connections with China, has impeded Canadian economic growth with his anti-resource policies, and neglected his country’s military. Canada has the longest coastline in the world and a navy smaller than Sri Lanka’s without a presence in a vast Arctic region that it shares with a militarized Russia.

Trudeau has governed for nearly eight years with little more than one-third of the popular vote by forming a coalition with socialist leader Jagmeet Singh, another privileged, professional politician who never met a payroll. Only two in five Canadians approve of their performance, but the electorate is fragmented. Trudeau’s cabinet totals 35 members and none have domain expertise in the positions they hold. Before winning, most were political operatives or environmental radicals, and, collectively, they lack management, finance, business, military, engineering, geopolitical, resource, or economic skills. The result is that Trudeau’s government this year will spend C$17.7 billion, or two-thirds of what it spends on defense, hiring consultants to tell them what to do because they are clueless.

“Canada doesn’t have the Air Force and Navy to protect its borders anymore,” commented American terrorism and cyber warfare expert Clint Watts last year in an interview. This year, Chinese surveillance balloons over Canada had to be shot down by American jet fighters. Canada’s stinginess and foot-dragging on defence poses a threat not only to itself, but to North America and the Western alliance. Trudeau has never met NATO’s 2-per-cent of GDP commitment to defense spending he promised to fulfil in 2015, and told NATO officials he never will, according to the Washington Post.

Canada’s intelligence capability is also considered substandard and penetrable by members of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance. In 2019, Canada’s master spy was arrested and charges still remain secret. In 2020, the director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, David Vigneault, warned publicly that “the greatest strategic threat to Canada’s national security comes from hostile activities by foreign states” and that China presented “a direct threat to our national security and sovereignty”.

Trudeau adheres to Greenpeace directives rather than to international pledges. This has security implications. That environmental organization’s non-sensical anti-nuclear policy (even though nuclear generates zero emissions) was fully embraced by Germany, which made the country dependent on Russia energy as it closed nuclear plants. This gave Putin leverage over Europe and emboldened him to invade Ukraine.

Even so, Trudeau remains a devotee: His Environmental Minister is a former Greenpeace executive, as was his closest friend and former chief advisor. This environmental zealotry has, as occurred in Germany, impaired Canada’s energy sector, stunted development of its world-class resource endowment, and indirectly impeded the free world’s battle against Russia. Washington had to press Canada to increase oil exports after the war, which it did marginally, and now pressures Canada to remove anti-mining constraints because it is the only Western nation with an abundance of undeveloped cobalt, graphite, lithium, and nickel (plus copper and rare earths) that are essential in the future.

In Trudeau’s Canada, these would remain in the ground as would oil, natural gas, and uranium. He has been impervious to offers by allies willing to pay billions for resource development. In August, Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz met with Trudeau and offered to pay the cost of building pipelines, ports, and LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) facilities on Canada’s east coast for export to Europe. Trudeau’s response was that there has “never been a strong business case” for Canadian LNG exports, and yet, days later, Scholz signed a massive LNG deal with Australia. In January, Trudeau gave Japan’s leader the same “no business case” story after Tokyo offered to build multiple LNG plants on Canada’s west coast. And in March, Spain’s energy giant Repsol SA withdrew from a planned LNG project in New Brunswick because Canadian federal government obstacles made its LNG project unviable. “Trudeau’s stewardship is a disaster. Like a dream world,” commented New Brunswick’s Premier Blaine Higgs, an engineer and energy expert.

Western Canada is the fourth largest producer of oil in the world — 5.43 million barrels of oil a day and lots of natural gas — and exports most of this to the United States. But it could produce and export much more energy if foreign environmental groups hadn’t spent billions on litigation and lobbying to stymie and strand its oil and gas reserves. In 2017, a pipeline to bring Canadian oil and gas from Western Canada to Eastern Canada’s coast was proposed and killed by Quebec, environmentalists, and Trudeau. If allowed, it would have brought Canadian oil to its eastern regions, where OPEC oil is now imported, and facilitated the creation of an LNG hub in Eastern Canada. The result of cancelling the inter-continental pipeline was that 18 LNG projects were nixed and the only LNG project underway is in British Columbia where it has been delayed and dogged by excessive political, legal, and regulatory interventions.

Energy East: Nation-busting blockage by Quebec and Trudeau

By contrast, the United States has revolutionized its natural gas industry in response to the Russian war as well as to global demand for cleaner energy. There are more than 140 LNG processing plants and ports in America with more on the drawing boards. America is now the world’s biggest LNG exporter. If Canada’s east-west pipeline hadn’t been sabotaged by Trudeau, environmentalists, and Quebec, the two countries would have replaced all Russian gas exports in Europe by now and helped many developing countries, and Eastern Canada, replace dirty coal-burning power plants with cleaner gas-fired ones.

Trudeau’s slavish adherence to Greenpeace is damaging enough, but his coziness with China has become a national issue in recent weeks. Press reports, based on intelligence leaks, claimed that Beijing meddled in Canada’s 2021 election to help Trudeau’s party. A full-blown public inquiry was demanded but, in response, Trudeau appointed a family friend, David Johnston, to determine whether a public inquiry was warranted. A China booster himself, Johnston predictably stated that a public inquiry was unnecessary and impossible because this would require disclosure of documents in breach of secrecy laws. He then went further and said that he looked at classified documents, found no wrongdoing, but couldn’t say why because he’d signed the Secrecy Oath. It was high-handed and disrespectful.

Naturally, Parliament’s opposition parties demanded Johnston’s resignation, but he refused. Some demanded an in camera judicial inquiry, but have been stonewalled. And Trudeau refuses to comment and or respond to requests that laws be put in place that would require foreign operatives to register and that would prevent election meddling, as Australia and others have done.

This political snafu is only a glimpse into the fact that Trudeau and his Liberals are infested with, and driven by, a business, investment, political, and personal network that is heavily invested and aligned with China. For example, two years ago Beijing kidnapped two innocent Canadian businessmen and canceled billions of dollars worth of trade contracts to force Canada to release a Huawei executive arrested under an extradition warrant by the United States. Trudeau did not retaliate and instead appointed as Ambassador to China another friend, Dominic Barton, who was too close to Chinese officials after serving as Chairman of McKinsey & Company and opening dozens of offices across China. Eventually, the Canadians were released but only after America negotiated a prisoner exchange.

The list of Liberal China lackeys is long. Trudeau’s closest friend and cabinet minister, Francois-Philippe Champagne, bought two apartments in London UK with mortgages from the Bank of China valued at C$1.8-million. He never disclosed this, as required, but confirmed the transactions after they were leaked and never resigned. Trudeau’s Family Foundation has received large sums from Chinese donors. And Trudeau’s mentor, former Prime Minister Jean Chretien, has family connections to Power Corporation of Montreal which has billions in assets in China and close ties to its political and business elites.

Statistica. Canada is one of the laggards

Domestically, Trudeau’s Canada loses ground economically. An OECD report in October 2021 predicted that Canada will be the worst performing advanced economy with the worst economic growth from 2030 to 2060. “In other words, Canada will be dead last not only for the next decade, but also for the three decades after that,” concluded the OECD.

Fortunately, Canada remains a pleasant country to live in with sensible gun controls and a good universal healthcare system that predates Trudeau’s tenure. But it’s now a chronic underachiever. Canada suffers from “state capture” by an anti-business Liberal and socialist elite and by foreign countries and non-state players. The country is fragmented, regionally and linguistically, which has led to this weak, anti-business coalition government that stonewalls Canadian voters and doesn’t pull its weight internationally. This is, more than a handful of tanks or an inadequate navy, the greatest embarrassment of all.

Russia's Sopranos

June 26, 2023

The bizarre events in Russia over the weekend provide a glimpse into the reality that the country is not a nation, but an empire with warring factions that is run by a mafia. Vladimir Putin has reigned as the “Boss” for 23 years and remained in place by enriching Russia’s thugs, bridling them, and playing one off against another. Under his rule, they have built palaces, stolen the national wealth, become warlords, amassed staggering portfolios, and lived like Czars. But on February 24, 2022, Putin decided to escalate the grift by invading Ukraine to steal more of its resources. Now this war is failing, as is Russia’s economy and Putin’s grip on power. And on June 23, Putin’s inability to control a wartime feud between warlord Yevgeny Prigozhin and Russia’s military brass turned into a full-blown armed mutiny. Prigozhin pulled his mercenaries from the frontline in Ukraine and led a “march for justice” against Putin’s military inside Russia. Putin labeled Prigozhin a “traitor” on national television, ordered his arrest, then instructed his puppet in Belarus, Aleksandr Lukashenko, to make an offer to Prigozhin that he couldn’t refuse: Stand down, charges would be scrapped, and move to Minsk. The crisis ended quickly, but Putin, the Russian Federation, and the war in Ukraine, will never again be the same.

Putin and the gangsters. David Gothard. WSJ

Prigozhin grew up in St. Petersburg, where Putin did, and went to jail as a young man for fraud and theft. He has since become a billionaire oligarch as a result of his connections to Putin and business smarts. More recently, he has become a household word in Russia because of the success of his personal army, the Wagner Group mercenaries, as well as his diatribes on social media against Russia’s generals. He has accused them of poor strategies, corruption, and of using Russian soldiers as cannon fodder. His gutsy stances have made him a populist hero even though he is also a member of the elite. But Prigozhin is different. He’s gone “native” and dons fatigues, is on the frontlines with his mercenaries in the Ukrainian war zone, and excoriates Putin’s generals for drafting young Russians from poor families and regions then sending them to their deaths by the thousands without training or proper equipment.

“The children of the elite smear themselves with creams, showing it on the internet; ordinary people’s children come in zinc, torn to pieces,” said Prigozhin, a reference to metallic coffins. “Those killed in action had tens of thousands of relatives, and society always demands justice and, if there is no justice, then revolutionary sentiments arise.”

Prigozhin warns of revolution but is not a revolutionary. He became a successful chef, then caterer and started a mercenary army that has operated for years surreptitiously around the world on Putin’s behalf. For instance, Wagner helped Putin occupy Crimea and Donbas in 2014, it fought in Syria and various African countries for Moscow for years, and has been involved in the 2022 invasion, fighting alongside Russian regulars in Ukraine. But last year he began to aggressively criticize Russia’s Minister of Defense, Sergei Shoigu, and Chief of General Staff, Gen. Valery Gerasimov and Putin never intervened. This was because he was doing Putin’s dirty work again and blaming the generals for military failures. But Shoigu and Gerasimov struck back by sabotaging the Wagner Group on the battlefield. Prigozhin claimed they withheld ammunition and provided only sub-standard equipment. Then, last month, he alleged that the two actually shelled Wagner troops.

Prigozhin and Shoigu

By June, Prigozhin’s success in the battlefield and growing social media presence across Russia and abroad was becoming a threat, so Putin sided with his generals. He ordered Wagner fighters to sign contracts with the Ministry of Defense by July 1. This represented a de facto expropriation which is why Prigozhin pulled his troops from the front line in Ukraine on June 23 and marched them into Russia. That night, Putin condemned Prigozhin on state television and ordered Lukashenko to deliver the deal. Putin has not surfaced since June 24, and unconfirmed reports are that he fled Moscow.

A coup or armed conflict was avoided, but damage was done. Putin’s climb-down and capitulation to a man he had just called a “traitor” destroyed his tough-guy image. It’s obvious that he is not the “Boss”, but merely a figurehead who sits atop a rotten system of squabbling and greedy oligarchs. Prigozhin’s stunt also unveiled Russia’s vulnerability. He was able to march two-thirds of the way toward Moscow in a few hours without resistance. His troops also reportedly shot down six Russian helicopters and an IL-22 airborne command-center plane, killing 13 airmen, along the way, without consequences.

Prigozhin backed down and agreed to self-exile, but he’s not going to disappear, except physically. The generals he demanded that Putin fire still remain in power so he will continue to broadcast his criticisms from afar and plot a comeback, either from a dacha somewhere around the world or on a yacht. He will rebuild Wagner and may attract allies inside and outside Russia who want to overthrow Putin and his generals. He may aspire to be President but that is unlikely. He would be thoroughly unsuitable as President, but, unless assassinated, his ongoing crusade will be a catalyst for change inside Russia and serve the interests of Ukraine and the West. Prigozhin has already undermined Russia’s leadership, damaged frontline morale, stirred up the public, and shredded Putin’s concocted narrative that the invasion was necessary because Ukraine and NATO were a threat to Russia’s existence.

There’s little likelihood that a grassroots movement against Moscow will sprout around Prigozhin because it is a reign of terror and because he’s another thug whose forces have killed many Ukrainians and others. But his popularity was rising in polls before his armed mutiny because his rants resonated with civil society, mostly younger people. He also attracted international recognition with his condemnation of the war itself in the days leading up to the confrontation: “The war wasn’t needed to return Russian citizens to our bosom, nor to demilitarize or denazify Ukraine,” he said. “The war was needed so that a bunch of animals could simply exult in glory.”

Russia’s cannon fodder: An estimated 200,000 casualties in 16 months, mostly ethnic minorities

The weekend’s events may not have brought about regime change, but Prigozhin has already dealt Putin, and Russia as currently constituted, a fatal blow. As the war continues to backfire, Ukraine and its alliance will push harder and so will separatist movements inside Russia who want autonomy or secession. Putin’s weakness is now apparent, and his tenure uncertain, which will also convince neighboring nations and Russian allies to recalibrate their relationship or forge new ones. Most significantly, Putin’s cave-in and cowardice concerning Prigozhin also means that his many “red lines” in this war are meaningless which is why many have been crossed and more should be ignored in future.

It is ironic that Prigozhin has opened a Pandora’s Box about corruption and injustice in a country run by criminals like himself. His lightning attack also raises fears internationally as to how secure Russia’s nuclear arsenal is from seizure by disgruntled factions such as Wagner or others. Experts say the events haven’t altered the security status of Russia’s nuclear weapons, and the West carefully monitors their movement and storage facilities.

But the country is run by gangsters who have upended the world order. Only “100 beneficiaries and several thousand accomplices” own everything, said Mikhail Kodorovsky, an oligarch jailed by Putin in 2005 on trumped-up charges. “Most of these people began their careers in the criminal underworld of St. Petersburg. Despite having now taken control of the Presidency, the group retains every aspect of the criminal ilk from which they came.” 

Putin’s Russia is a criminal organization that must be overthrown. And finally, one of its own has told the world, and Russian people, why it must disappear.

Putin's Nuclear Gambit

June 19, 2023

Vladimir Putin’s annual St. Petersburg International Economic Forum was as much of a flop as is Russia’s “special military operation” or its economy. The gathering was boycotted by major political and business leaders, and participants were told to bring cash because foreign bank cards no longer work in Russia. The foreign press was banned but this did not stop Putin from ranting for 90 minutes about how well his war and economy were doing and hinting again that Russia might “theoretically” use nuclear weapons. And last week Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that Putin intends to blow up Ukraine’s largest nuclear plant to thwart Kyiv’s counteroffensive. When asked to respond to this possibility, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said “we’ll continue to monitor the situation very closely and we don’t see any indications that Russia is preparing the use of nuclear weapons”. But he missed the mark. An occupied nuclear plant that is blown up becomes a nuclear weapon.

The radioactive cloud would cover huge swathes of Europe
A video from Ukraine's Hydrometeorological Institute showing fallout effects. Daily Mirror

The fallout caused by such a bombing would be massive. As shown in the video, a radioactive cloud would spread across many countries - from Russia in the east to Poland in the west - over a 72-hour period. Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Russia would all be affected.

Obviously, cool heads must prevail in the West and nuclear threats have been made by Putin and others throughout the war. But the stakes are too high to simply monitor the situation “closely” or to ignore that a nuclear power plant is a bomb waiting to be detonated. Besides that, a similar warning was issued in October 2022 by Zelensky that Russia intended to blow up a dam to flood a vast part of southern Ukraine. He urged the West to warn Russia against doing so, but nothing was said, and last week the dam was destroyed, poisoning the country’s most important watershed and flooding an area the size of Bahrain. That is why Zelensky’s warning about this nuclear plant must be heeded and international security measures taken immediately to protect the plant and other. Also of concern is that Russia has moved some tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus this week in contravention of the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty signed by Moscow and all nuclear powers.

“I absolutely believe that moving weapons to Belarus demands an unequivocal response from NATO,” said Polish President Andrzej Duda last week before meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. It was eventually deemed “dangerous and irresponsible” by a NATO spokesman.

Ukraine’s many nuclear plants including defunct Chernobyl

Placing nukes in Belarus drew a response from Chinese officials who renewed calls for de-escalation and reminded Russia that its leaders, and China’s, had reaffirmed their opposition to nuclear war at their March summit in Moscow as well as in 2022. “In January last year, the leaders of the five nuclear-weapon states issued a joint statement noting that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought, and stressed that war between nuclear-weapon states should be avoided and strategic risks reduced," Mao Ning, China's foreign ministry spokesperson, said last week.

And, when asked, President Joe Biden called the transfer “totally irresponsible”.

Russia has occupied the plant for months and last summer allowed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to monitor its operational safety remotely. But in April, its Director General warned of problems:  “We are living on borrowed time when it comes to nuclear safety and security at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. Unless we take action to protect the plant, our luck will sooner or later run out, with potentially severe consequences for human health and the environment.”

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, 80 kilometers from the dam

In April, the esteemed Scientists for Global Responsibility described potential hazards. “The worst possible scenario is a nuclear strike on a reactor. A direct strike by even the smallest nuclear warhead, for example, a 10 kilo-tonne (kT) ‘tactical’ nuclear warhead – smaller than that dropped on Hiroshima in World War II – would breach the core containment and spread the highly radioactive materials inside. A 10kT nuclear blast and fireball would create a 1km radius zone of major destruction, a crater 25m deep, and would carry radioactive materials into a cloud of 8km altitude and 3km across depositing them underneath and downwind as fallout. The reactor waste products contain long-lasting radioactive isotopes such as caesium and strontium which are readily absorbed into the body or into crops contaminating farmland. This would create a major radiation problem tens to hundreds of times’ worse and much longer-lasting than the nuclear weapon alone.”

The possibility of such a diabolical attack by Russia is not far-fetched, given how Russia has been purposely laying waste to Ukraine. It has planted landmines across an area the size of Switzerland, has displaced at least 11 million people, and destroyed apartment buildings, infrastructure, schools, hospitals, and housing. Last week, Russia blew up the country’s largest dam which will cause decades of environmental damage. But that calamity didn’t stop the counteroffensive, as Russia had hoped, which is why Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that a “desperate” Putin intends to blow up the nuclear power plant downriver. “They constantly need destabilization here, and they want the world to put pressure on Ukraine to stop this conflict,” he said.

Widespread flooding following the explosion of the dam

Ukraine’s security chief Oleksiy Danilov believes that Putin has launched “a fundamentally new stage of Russian aggression” and that since he “had the hydroelectric power plant blown up on his demand, he's ready to do anything.” The rhetoric coming out of Moscow also ratchets up. On June 14, Russia’s propaganda vehicle RT published a screed by a former Putin advisor named Sergey Karaganov who wrote: “By using its nuclear weapons, Russia could save humanity from a global catastrophe. A tough but necessary decision would likely force the West to back off, enabling an earlier end to the Ukraine crisis and preventing it from expanding to other states”.  

Interestingly, Putin advisor, Alexander Dugin (whose daughter died in a car bombing intended to kill him) condemned Karaganov’s suggestion as “irresponsible”. He told journalists at Putin’s Economic Forum "I believe that we are far from having exhausted all the possibilities of victory without the use of nuclear weapons."

Others, such as former Russian diplomat Boris Bondarev, who resigned after last year’s invasion, believe that Putin’s nuclear threats are a bluff. "Today [Putin is] bluffing and we know that he has bluffed about nuclear threats. Ukrainians recovered some parts of their territory, and there was no nuclear retaliation," Bondarev told Newsweek. "If you're afraid of Putin using nukes, then you already lose the war against him and he wins."

The difference is that Putin has already turned a hydroelectric dam into a weapon of mass destruction. He has just crossed a nuclear red line by putting nukes in Belarus in contravention of the non-proliferation treaty. And now he holds Europe hostage by occupying Ukraine’s gigantic nuclear plant which is one missile strike away from becoming the world’s first “dirty bomb”. In response, the West must escalate its support for Ukraine militarily, diplomatically, and economically. Ukraine needs an air force and long-range weaponry. International watchdogs must occupy these plants. And strong pressure must be placed on China and India by their trading partners to issue bold, public condemnations against Putin’s nuclear gambit. Nukes in Belarus and Russia’s occupation of any nuclear plant are unacceptable.

Ukraine's Korea Solution

April 24, 2023

As Ukraine prepares its counter-offensive, the ground beneath the war shifted last week in a positive way. On April 20, a glimpse into a possible solution to the war was delivered in a speech by US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. She offered détente with China in order to address the world’s problems together. The next day, on April 21, the Ukraine Defense Contact Group met in Germany and revealed that 230 tanks and 1,500 armored vehicles were headed to Ukraine and that many had been already delivered. The scale of this armored deployment shocked Wagner Group head Evgeny Prigozhin who posted on Telegram that an armed force that size, with 100,000 Ukrainian troops and air defense systems, was bad news for Russia and a “concern” because it indicated “serious opposition”. He and others have criticized Russia’s military as well as Putin’s “maximalist” goals, and an uncharacteristic public dispute has broken out within Russia’s elite. Stopping or toppling Putin may be distant, but China could play a major role in bringing about peace and Yellen offered major incentives for doing so.

Russian oligarch and warlord Evgeny Prigozhin, Ukraine counter offensive buildup is “bad news” for Russia

On April 20, Yellen’s statesman-like address emphasized that “the world is big enough for both of us” — a phrase that echoed Xi Jinping’s message last year at his summit with Biden. Further, America does not want to “decouple” its economy from China’s. “A full separation of our economies would be disastrous for both countries. It would be destabilizing for the rest of the world,” she said, adding that both should compete fairly and both have a responsibility to work together “on areas of shared challenges for the two nations and the world.”

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Her speech contained an unspoken quid pro quo which is that if China helps terminate Russia’s war against Ukraine, protectionist measures against its economy will be lifted and trade will once more grow. Beijing is Moscow’s most important ally, but is “neutral” and has not endorsed Putin’s war nor provided military assistance. It has also offered to play a peacekeeping role. But Russia expert Stephen Kotkin suggested, in a recent speech in Toronto, that “Xi won’t give up Russia unless it gets something and that’s tech transfers. China gives peace to Europe and gets technology transfers again.”

Bluntly put: Russia for semiconductor chips and other technologies, now denied. Such commercial realpolitik, and a joint diplomatic effort by the two economic superpowers, could potentially end the conflict. “The solution to the war is the US and China getting together to impose an armistice on each side,” said Kotkin, who is a Stalin biographer and professor at Stanford University.

Naturally, the West must continue to stand behind Ukraine and its looming counter-offensive which will determine where and when the time is right to attempt to halt the war. Kyiv’s objective is to expel all Russian troops from its pre-2014 borders, and, psychologically and politically, Moscow’s elites are already starting to feel defeated and alienated. Support for Putin’s “special military operation” erodes even among fanatics like Prigozhin who fear Ukraine’s “tank coalition” counter-offensive.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s opening gambit speech April 20 at Johns Hopkins University

A two-pronged strategy is underway. The priority is the battlefield and support to Kyiv, but equally important is Yellen’s behind-the-scenes opening gambit offering to bury the hatchet with China and join forces to bring about permanent peace through diplomacy. Germany and others have chimed in with the same request that Beijing become involved. Interestingly, Yellen’s speech was lightly covered by the Western press, but was significant and, more importantly, well-received by the Chinese press.

On April 22, the editorial in Beijing’s Global Times noted that “before US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen laid out the US economic priorities on China, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce said China and US commerce officials met in Beijing last week during which the two sides exchanged views on bilateral economic ties. The re-engagement of US and Chinese officials in certain areas such as business and climate could serve as an opportunity for the strained bilateral relations to turn into a positive direction, but Washington needs to show more sincerity for improving the ties, experts said.” 

The newspaper also quoted Wu Xinbo, director at the Center for American Studies of Fudan University, who reinforced the need for the US to cooperate with China to solve the Ukraine crisis. 

Detente is needed. China struggles and needs a truce with the United States where anti-China rhetoric has heightened. But China’s announced intention to take over Taiwan should be muted or dropped. It is a non-starter militarily and appears to be mostly a rallying cry for a dictatorship that needs to distract attention away from its problems. China has been damaged by the pandemic, lengthy Covid lockdowns, soaring debts abroad, a real estate bubble, reputational damage due to its relationship to Putin, rampant disinvestment by foreign investors, and increasing trade restraints in Europe as well as America. Demographically, China is aging, and the government crackdown on its business empires and entrepreneurs, combined with its inability to access technology, impedes enterprise and economic growth.

This is why Yellen’s olive branch is a welcome, and inspired, initiative, fully endorsed by President Biden. A G2 partnership between the two giant nations would provide a path to halting Putin’s rampage in Europe. “The best outcome is an armistice involving the US and China sooner rather than later. With an demilitarized zone, accelerated security guarantees, Ukraine could become the next South Korea,” said Kotkin.

But China’s involvement is key. “Will Putin keep his word? Never, unless Putin signs the paper in Beijing. I know Washington won’t like that but this is the only solution. If there’s only a ceasefire, Russia will invade Ukraine again. Something must stop Russia from coming back and that’s China. It’s the South Korea solution, one of the most successful countries in the world, where peace has held for 70 years.”

Stephen Kotkin, Stanford University, Investment Magazine

Yellen’s speech never directly addressed the war or a peace-for-chips quid pro quo, but this was the subtext. She emphasized that “it is important that we make progress on global issues regardless of our other disagreements. That’s what the world needs from its two largest economies.”

Jobs Apocalypse

April 17, 2023

A “bot” named Raluca Zdru from ChatGPT emailed me after my “AI and Frankenstein” newsletter appeared recently. She (or he or it) provided me with results from a public survey taken by ChatGPT’s parent company OpenAI in response to an open letter from 1,000 experts asking that AI (Artificial Intelligence) development be paused for six months for safety reasons. The survey showed that two-thirds of polled respondents agreed that AI development should be stopped for now; 69 percent saw AI as negative for society; and 42 percent said they would vote for a government that paused AI developments. The expert letter had warned of “profound risks to society” and that AI labs were “locked in an out-of-control race to develop and deploy ever more powerful digital minds that no one — not even their creators — can understand, predict or reliably control.” All this concern is well-placed. ChatGPT may not rule the world anytime soon, but a new study by Cornell University predicts that it will replace many jobs, and tasks currently performed by humans, and its results are chilling.

Future newsroom? Bluttgruppe/Corbis

On March 17, Cornell released “GPTs: (Generative Pre-trained Transformers) An Early Look at the Labor Market Impact potential of Large Language Models (LLMs)”. Cornell’s conclusion was that “around 80 percent of the U.S. workforce could have at least 10 percent of their work tasks affected by the introduction of LLMs (Large Language Models) while approximately 19 percent of workers may see at least 50 percent of their tasks impacted. We do not make predictions about the development or adoption timeline of such LLMs.”

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In simple English, ChatGPT is an LLM or a massive database of text data, involving billions of words, that can be referenced to generate human-like responses to your prompts. GPT stands for Generative Pre-Trained Transformers which are the platforms that have been “trained”, at huge expense, to comprehend and answer questions. ChatGPT can also write and perform music and its sister system, DALL-E3, can draw anything based on a natural language description. (I include two samples below).

Cornell’s study states that workers at all wage levels will be impacted, but higher-income jobs will be more at risk than lower-paying ones that involve physical labor or socialization. It added that workers involved in routine and repetitive tasks are at a higher risk but said “considering each job as a bundle of tasks, it would be rare to find any occupation for which AI tools could do nearly all of the work.”

Good to know, but lots of people will find, as time goes on, that so many of their tasks can be performed by GPTs that they will eventually find themselves out of a job. Cornell’s Table 11 lists 34 jobs that are “safe” or that have “no labeled exposed tasks” that are as yet replaceable by GPTs. Table 4 lists those that are at risk.

Those at risk:

Table 4: Cornell study

Cornell’s quantification methods of “exposure” are complicated, as are the differences between labels such as “Human” or “Model” shown on Table 4, but all is explained in the report here. Simply put, Chart 4 estimates percentages of vulnerability among certain occupations based on differing levels of “model” or “human” interaction. The percentages quantify the proportion of their jobs that are “exposed”, or replaceable by GPTs.

It’s quite mind-bending and not definitive, but you get the idea. These LLMs or GPTs are going to revolutionize so-called “knowledge” work. Of course, this is nothing new. The invention of desktop publishing (that eliminated typesetting, presses, truck deliveries, and newsrooms) or CAD CAM or computer-aided design and manufacturing software have transformed or eliminated many occupations. But the “adoption” of job-robbing skills will vary and is difficult to forecast, as the study noted. For instance, self-driving cars and trucks were slated to replace drivers five years ago and haven’t happened because of software difficulties, regulations, capital shortages, insurance issues, infrastructure obstacles, ethical concerns, politics, and other impediments.

What’s certain, however, is that GPTs will continue to evolve. They began as “primitive” versions that could translate, transcribe text from speech, generate images from captions, or spell and grammar check. But years of human feedback, and billions of dollars, have been invested to train their Large Language Models or LLMs to discern user intent, be user-friendly, and practical. Their next iteration will be to train themselves and to program and control other digital tools such as search engines and APIs (a service that delivers a user request to a system and sends the system’s response back to a user).

“At their limit, LLMs may be capable of executing any task typically performed at a computer,” concluded the study. But there are limitations. As an export noted "I would classify ChatGPT as a smart high school freshman, and I don't want a professional to be a smart high school freshman doing triage at a hospital or intake at a doctor's office or a lawyer's office.”

The arts — from music and drawing — will also be drastically altered, or eliminated. “ChatGPT can generate melodies and chord progressions for a song or even generate entire compositions. Just remember that ChatGPT is a text-based model after all, which means you will need to input some pretty specific information on things like style, instrumentation, and tempo for the bot to work,” according to an article in Music Tech. Open AI’s other “system” — the incredible DALL-E2 — can add images to any text description. Here are two examples: I asked it to create a “Van Gogh version of robots taking over a field” and here’s what it produced within seconds:

Van Gogh version of robots in field. DALL-E2

Then I asked for “writer robots” and this was produced in seconds:

DALL-E2

Yikes.

It’s daunting and disruption will be enormous which is why Cornell cautioned: “Our results examining worker exposure in the United States underscore the need for societal and policy preparedness to the potential economic disruption posed by LLMs and the complementary technologies that they spawn.”

Clearly, governments must get involved by imposing standards and safety measures for all GPTs, a requirement supported by the public survey that OpenAI itself commissioned and sent to me in an email. And they must do this now.

AI and Frankenstein

April 6, 2023

A chilling letter, signed and published by 1,000 computer scientists and technology experts on March 28, warned of “profound risks to society” posed by artificial intelligence (AI). Their admonition was issued weeks after ChatGPT shocked the world with its verbal aptitude followed by GPT-4 that frightened the experts. The thousand technologists called for a six-month pause on AI projects to allow industry to devise safety controls. They claimed artificial intelligence labs were “locked in an out-of-control race to develop and deploy ever more powerful digital minds that no one — not even their creators — can understand, predict or reliably control.” This was widely reported, but the same warning was issued in 2015 by the Future of Life Institute and ignored. This time, Eliezer Yudkowsky, who founded this field known as “general artificial intelligence”, refused to sign the letter and wrote that drastic action was needed immediately. “We need to shut it all down. The most likely result of building a superhumanly smart AI, under anything remotely like the current circumstances, is that literally everyone on Earth will die.”

Paramount Pictures

Some label Yudkowsky an alarmist or an “AI Apocalyptic”, but many agree (including myself) that the unbridled development of AI is a graver threat to humanity than the proliferation of nuclear weapons or the next pandemic. This is because cyber-based super-intelligence, by definition, will surpass humans in a generation then become unmanageable, will replace most workers, and will be used for nefarious purposes. When this happens, mankind will find itself in the same position as Dr. Frankenstein, in the classic 19th century novel, who made a monster in his own likeness and declared famously “it’s alive!”, then realized it was thoroughly uncontrollable.

ChatGPT is a wonder and can answer any question within seconds, in sentences or rhyme, by instantly tapping into data bases then formulating readable answers. It can write code, essentially producing new cyber-based super-intelligence. This “thinking machine” already tests higher than 90 percent of humans on a SAT test, higher than would-be lawyers on the LSAT, and aces the Uniform Bar exam. This “reasoning machine” can search, pattern match, and deduce, but cannot feel. In a few years, AI will upend the world by replacing anyone who writes or speaks words or code to make a living, mathematicians, artists, analysts, doctors, teachers, and engineers. Artificial intelligence will no longer be a tool. It will be the toolmaker.

Even Sam Altman – CEO of OpenAI that developed these CHATbots — admitted that he has concerns. “We’ve got to be careful here. I think people should be happy that we are a little bit scared of this. I’m particularly worried that these models could be used for large-scale disinformation. Now that they’re getting better at writing computer code, [they] could be used for offensive cyber-attacks…but it could be the greatest technology humanity has yet developed”.

But Yudkowsky goes further. He is the head of research at the Machine Intelligence Research Institute in Berkeley California and explained the dangers. “To visualize a hostile superhuman AI, don’t imagine a lifeless book-smart thinker dwelling inside the internet and sending ill-intentioned emails. Visualize an entire alien civilization, thinking at millions of times human speeds, initially confined to computers—in a world of creatures that are, from its perspective, very stupid and very slow. A sufficiently intelligent AI won’t stay confined to computers for long. In today’s world, you can email DNA strings to laboratories that will produce proteins on demand, allowing an AI initially confined to the internet to build artificial life forms or bootstrap straight to post-biological molecular manufacturing.”

Put another way, AI will be able to reproduce.

Currently, development is in the hands of the private sector, concerned with profits, not safety. OpenAI, the creator of these CHATbots, began as a non-profit research entity a few years ago, and was co-founded by Elon Musk. But there was a falling out and the research organization became a corporation that has raised billions to build its technology. Now billions more are being raised by start-ups from venture capital outfits aimed at quickly building even more powerful AI “machines”. This is why, after ChatGPT came out, Musk commented at a conference in Dubai that “one of the biggest risks to the future of civilization is AI.”

Unlike Dr. Frankenstein’s creature, these “thinking machines” are not yet self-aware, but only imitators. However, cautioned computer scientist Yudkowsky, “we do not actually know that. If you can’t be sure whether you’re creating a self-aware AI, this is alarming — not just because of the moral implications of the `self-aware’ part — but because being unsure means you have no idea what you are doing and that is dangerous and you should stop.”

To date, no one has “programmed” empathy or “values” into these software creatures, or knows how to do so, which is another reason why their development must be arrested immediately, he added. “It took more than 60 years, when artificial intelligence was first proposed and studied, to reach today’s capabilities. Solving safety of superhuman intelligence—not perfect safety, safety in the sense of `not killing literally everyone’—could very reasonably take at least half that long. And the thing about trying this with superhuman intelligence is that if you get that wrong on the first try, you do not get to learn from your mistakes, because you are dead. Humanity does not learn from the mistake and dust itself off and try again, as in other challenges we’ve overcome in our history, because we are all gone.”

In engineering terms, artificial intelligence is like a bridge that has been built to carry millions of cars for years, but its design and construction have not included guardrails or been subjected to rules, or regulatory oversight. And AI will become smarter than the humans who try to govern and regulate its operations, or who will be tasked with monitoring and policing it to insure it doesn’t go rogue. “We would need to be super-intelligent ourselves,” engineering professor Roman Yampolskiy told Popular Mechanics. “We are only able to speculate [or regulate] using our current level of intelligence.”

Put another way, it cannot be stopped in a few years.

Yudkowsky concluded: “We are not prepared. We are not on course to be prepared in any reasonable time window. There is no plan. Progress in AI capabilities is running vastly, vastly ahead of progress in AI alignment or even progress in understanding what the hell is going on inside those systems. If we actually do this, we are all going to die.”

The only solution, he wrote, is to “shut it all down” until controls are in place. Then governments and institutions must create a global AI “non-proliferation treaty”. The nuclear version took 25 years to develop, but the world doesn’t have that much time today. Back then, no one could develop a nuclear weapon in their garage, but tomorrow’s AI cataclysm is just one mad computer scientist away from happening. Yudkowsky said a multinational effort must track and limit computing power and development of large-scale systems globally by private entities, governments, or militaries. Further, the agreement must stipulate that members “be willing to destroy a rogue datacenter by airstrike.”

The world is at a crossroads, according to Max Tegmark, President of the Future of Life Institute and a physics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “It is unfortunate to frame this as an arms race. This is more of a suicide race. It doesn’t matter who is going to get there first. It just means that humanity as a whole could lose control of its own destiny.”

Putin's Ethnic Cleansing

March 18, 2023

The March 20 Moscow meeting between China’s President Xi Jinping and President Vladimir Putin was upstaged and ruined on March 17 when the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant to arrest Putin for war crimes involving tens of thousands of Ukrainians. This is a stunning development that demolishes his reputation for all time by accusing him personally of committing despicable acts involving kids, intentionally torn from their families and culture. Large-scale child abuse, based on ethnicity, constitutes genocide, and will most certainly impede any hope of a closer alliance with China. “This is significant and also embarrassing for China”, commented former U.S. Ambassador to NATO and Ukraine expert Kurt Volker, “when it is deliberately trying to position itself as neutral and an honest broker in peace talks. The preamble to China’s proposed peace plan begins with a statement about upholding respect for territorial integrity.”

Ukrainian children orphaned, kidnapped, and kept in a Russian camp

Of course, the Kremlin immediately rejected the allegations and pointed out that the warrant is unenforceable because Russia dropped its involvement with the ICC in 2014 after its judges condemned the illegal annexation of Crimea. Even so, it has reach. The accused “war criminal” may not be nabbed at one of his palaces or dachas, but he won’t be going to any of the 123 countries that are signatories to the ICC because he will be arrested, incarcerated, and extradited to The Hague to stand trial. These include 18 Eastern European countries, 25 Western European, 33 African, 19 Asia-Pacific, and 28 in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Worse, the day before ICC’s bombshell, a UN-based inquiry provided evidence of Russian war crimes. These involved the mass kidnappings, but also the atrocities against civilians in occupied regions who have been murdered, tortured, and inhumanly incarcerated. The ICC, however, uniquely singled out Putin, and his minister of “child welfare”, and stated: “There are reasonable grounds to believe that each suspect bears responsibility for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population and that of unlawful transfer of population from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation, in prejudice of Ukrainian children.” The pre-trial statement by judges added that Putin failed to “exercise control properly over civilian and military subordinates who committed the acts, or allowed for their commission, and who were under his effective authority and control.”

Putin and Russia have clearly committed genocide under the United Nations’ definition contained in Article II of the Convention: “Genocide is a crime committed with the intent to destroy a national, ethnic, or racial or religious group, in whole or in part.”

Shot down shopping for potatoes in Irpin in February 2022

Reports are the judges considered issuing secret warrants, but decided that making them public could “contribute to the prevention of the further commission of crimes”. The evidence is overwhelming. Since the first foray and massacres by Russia into Bucha and Irpin outside Kyiv, Ukraine began conducting its own investigations, with the help of 33 other nations. To date, they have documented 74,000 war crimes. In addition, another probe, by the Associated Press (AP) over many months, uncovered the reason why Putin has been indicted by the ICC.

AP reported in October that “Russian law prohibits the adoption of foreign children without consent of the home country, which Ukraine has not given. But in May, Putin signed a decree making it easier for Russia to adopt and give citizenship to Ukrainian children without parental care — and harder for Ukraine and surviving relatives to win them back. Russia also prepared a register of suitable Russian families for Ukrainian children, and paid them for each child who gets citizenship — up to $1,000 for those with disabilities. It holds summer camps for Ukrainian orphans, offers `patriotic education’ classes and even runs a hotline to pair Russian families with children from Donbas.”

AP conducted interviews with family members in Ukraine and Russia and scoured documents and media reports. “Russia’s open effort to adopt Ukrainian children and bring them up as Russian is already well underway, in one of the most explosive issues of the war,” the newswire service concluded. “Thousands of children have been found in the basements of war-torn cities like Mariupol and at orphanages in the Russian-backed separatist territories of Donbas. They include those whose parents were killed by Russian shelling as well as others in institutions or with foster families, known as `children of the state’.”

Orphaned Ukrainian boy captive in Russia. AP

AP also explained Russia’s cover-up: “Russia claims that these children don’t have parents or guardians to look after them, or that they can’t be reached. But the AP found that officials have deported Ukrainian children to Russia or Russian-held territories without consent, lied to them that they weren’t wanted by their parents, used them for propaganda, and given them Russian families and citizenship,” it wrote.

The anguish is unfathomable for the families and the nation itself. Mariupol had a population of 425,681 people in January 2022, but was obliterated by the Russians. “It is absolutely a terrible story,” said a local official Petro Andryushchenko, who claims hundreds of children were taken from that city alone. “We don’t know if our children have an official parent or (stepparents) or something else because they are forcibly disappeared by Russian troops.”

Russia has purposely targeted Ukrainian civilians, and their children, killing or dislocating 14 million

No self-respecting leader or country can support Putin or Russia. For China’s Xi, the timing of these revelations couldn’t come at a worse time and are likely to derail any plans, even covert, to ship weaponry to Russia. The unprovoked invasion of Ukraine makes a mockery of Xi’s avowed belief in territorial integrity. Further, Putin will go down in history, with Hitler and Pol Pot, as a monster who regarded his victim’s children as spoils of war. He, and his rotten regime, are barbaric on an unimaginable scale because, for the first time, their predations have been televised and photographed for all the world to see.

Negotiations with Putin are inconceivable. A cease-fire would be unconscionable because it would allow him to keep what he has stolen from Ukrainians. Peace is not possible. Only defeat or a firing squad will end Putin’s ethnic cleansing. Russia is truly the Evil Empire.

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Law, Order, and Tech

February 27, 2023

Anyone who grew up reading Sherlock Holmes or watching Perry Mason, Miami Vice, True Detective, or CSI believes that justice is the result of dogged police work, interrogation aptitude, hunches, shoe-leather policing to knock on doors to find witnesses and uncover evidence, and crime scene clues. But two of America’s most sensational multiple murder cases currently in the courts – a prominent South Carolina lawyer accused of murdering his wife and son and a PhD student accused of murdering four undergraduates in Idaho -- provide an eye-popping glimpse into the technological transformation of policing and prosecutions. What’s changed is that every day all of us leave digital fingerprints everywhere. Our devices, from cellphones to Apple watches, vehicles, surveillance cameras, and doorbells stalk us wherever we go, as a victim or perpetrator. Today, more evidence in minute detail is available than ever before and is accessible to authorities because it is stored, for all eternity, in the “cloud”.

Four students murdered in Idaho on November 13, 2022
Mother and son murdered on June 7, 2021 in South Carolina

The “Internet of Things” [IoT] has arrived. This is SiliconValley “speak” to describe the electronic architecture that links physical objects with sensors, cameras, recorders, processing ability, software, and bio- and nano- technologies. This linkage allows data to be unearthed and exchanged from cell phones, electronic devices, or systems via the Internet or social media networks. The “IoT” harvests individual information and stores it in gigantic data bases. This Brave New World of connectivity enables thieves or terrorists to pry, spy, steal funds or identities, hack programs to cause chaos, or penetrate financial, infrastructure, defense, or corporate systems. But it also enables law enforcement to more easily find and bring culprits to justice.

Everything is “smart” these days — phones, houses, trucks, watches — except the criminals who get caught if they leave behind traces of their identity such as fingerprints or DNA or are unaware their actions are recorded all the time. Once identified as potential suspects by police, their entire life – from movements to opinions to associations and threats – can be dug up by investigators who access data socked away in some server farm in a remote location under lock and key. The result — as these two murder cases illustrate — is people are being incriminated by smart phones, computers, or “smart” cars which are increasingly computers on wheels.

A cell phone, today, is essentially a mobile “crime scene” because of the trove of information and leads that it provides investigators who are hunting for wrongdoing. Whether belonging to the victim or a perpetrator or a witness, the phone is now central to police work because virtually everyone has one. Every smart phone retains a record of its owner’s or user’s movements, locations based on cellphone towers, conversations (deleted or saved), texts, emails, images, videos, social media, Siri interactions, contacts, detailed records of contacts made, and incoming and outgoing calls, along with a statement of frequency. All this information can be “mined” from phones even if they have been smashed, shot, submerged, or microwaved.

Likewise, cars are a treasure trove of personal information. There is now a new policing specialty known as digital vehicle forensics because cars contain an astonishing amount of information in their onboard computers. A recent case involved a dead man who was found in his car and investigators uncovered a voice recording of the murder suspect telling the victim’s car to play a certain song after a pre-determined time of death. Vehicles are also “telltales” like phones, but are easier for police to access because there are fewer privacy protections for cars.

What follows are details from the two most sensational multiple murder cases in America where technology has been a major player. (Note: Charges have been laid but neither of the accused men have been convicted and I have excluded their names because it’s irrelevant. What’s important in the following narratives is the role played by digital and bio forensics.)

On November 13, 2022, four college students were stabbed to death in the early hours in their rental home in Moscow, Idaho. Police found a fingerprint on the sheath of the murder weapon left behind that allowed their forensic experts to work up a DNA “profile”. A neighbor’s doorbell camera also recorded a white car that was driving in the vicinity before and after the crime. Police decided this unusual activity was suspicious and issued a bulletin to the public asking for the whereabouts of the car. A security guard at a nearby college reported that it was parked at a student residence. The owner was identified but not notified — he was a criminology student — and police scoured video camera footage through the region to track where the car had travelled in the days before and after the crime.

Police surreptitiously, but legally, obtained a search warrant that required the suspect’s cell phone provider to give police access to all his phone data. The search showed he had left his house just before the murders, had turned off his phone for two hours (within which time the murders occurred), then returned home and came back to the site the next morning. In December, the suspect and his father drove the car to their home in Pennsylvania and, after they arrived, the FBI rifled through the family garbage to get DNA samples. They hit a match: DNA analytical results showed that a man living there was 99.9 percent certain to be the father of the person who left his fingerprint and DNA on the knife sheath at the murder scene. His son was arrested the next day.

Specimens that contain DNA

The other case — the Murdaugh family murders in South Carolina – has also extensively used technology in evidence-gathering. In July 2022, the accused — husband and father of the victims and a prominent lawyer — was charged a year after the murders. Both victims were shot on the family hunting estate at night in front of dog kennels. There were no witnesses and the accused told police that he was not at the kennels in the hours leading up to their deaths. He told police he had napped in the family residence, a football field away, then visited his ailing parents miles away. Gone for a couple of hours, he said he returned home to find his wife and son lying in pools of blood and immediately called 9-11. He told police, after they arrived, that he had just returned home to find them 20 minutes before.

But cellphone data debunked his alibi and placed him at the crime scene minutes before their deaths. The evidence was contained in his son’s cell phone because he had sent a video of his father at the site, time-stamped, on Snapchat to his friends. Once disclosed, the accused abruptly changed his alibi, admitted he had lied, but continued to claim he did not kill them. While damning, this won’t convict him alone because the evidence is circumstantial and the two murder weapons have not been found. But prosecutors have been building a base to the jury that his denial of the murders is unreliable. On the stand, he admitted to stealing millions of dollars from clients and law partners, massive opioid addiction, lying to authorities over the years, and lying that he was napping and not at the kennels the night they died.

In both cases, the importance of technology sleuthing is front and center. Of course, these new tech tools also raise questions about privacy and unreasonable search that will be adjudicated by the courts or by edict. But facial recognition, police body cams, mining data bases, tens of millions of surveillance cameras, and smart devices containing clues are a reality. They have revolutionized the world of law and order profoundly and permanently. And they may even make society slightly safer.

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China's Putin Play

February 23, 2023

The last few days has been “Superpower Week” — a lengthy, televised version of geopolitical theater beginning with full-throated support for Ukraine’s struggle by European leaders at the Munich Security Conference between February 17 and 19. The next day President Joe Biden pulled off a dramatic, unannounced appearance in Kyiv pledging “unwavering support”, then, on February 21, he addressed a mass gathering in Warsaw in front of its Royal Palace. That same night, Vladimir Putin took the stage in Moscow to deliver a keynote claiming that Ukraine started the war, even though it didn’t, and that it would last for years. Interestingly, President Xi Jinping of China was missing, nowhere to be seen. Instead, he sent his top diplomat to Munich to communicate China’s desire for peace, then slipped him into Moscow after Putin’s rant to privately meet with him. No fixed date was announced for Xi to meet Putin, as promised, because China’s strategy is to sideline itself from the Kremlin.

Benar News

The NATO alliance is enormous and powerful — equivalent to 70 percent of the world’s GDP and military strength — while Russia’s only ally is an absent Xi and fellow pariah nation Iran. China distances because it realizes that Putin is not a Superpower, will run out of ammo, will be defeated, and will always remain a geopolitical outcast. But China also equivocates: It does not reject, condemn, or support Russia’s invasion; and strikes a “passive aggressive” posture which consists of abstaining from voting against Russia at the United Nations and of saying nothing.

Such mealy-mouthed behavior is uncharacteristic of hegemons like China, but it is strategic. Russia may fall apart, providing China with an opportunity to snap up Russian regions located in Asia. It is also personal. Putin did not tip off Xi about the invasion ahead of time when they met last year at the Beijing Olympic Games. As Russian troops amassed along Ukraine’s border, the two posed for selfies and declared themselves friends “without limits”. Then a few days later Putin upended modern history and the global economy by invading, raping, and pillaging his innocent neighbor. It was not only embarrassing but costly. China has billions invested in Ukraine and Europe.

Now one year later, the United States and Europe impose sanctions and punish nations providing Russia with direct military assistance. This threat has been heeded by China, as has the fact that America has forged a similar alliance in Asia, called the Quad, which would make an invasion or blockade of Taiwan impossibly difficult or dangerous. Furthermore, China’s customers in Europe demand that China stop twiddling its thumbs and help stop Putin from further murder and mayhem in Ukraine.

In response, China announced it will roll out its “peace plan” on February 24, the invasion’s anniversary when Russia is expected to saturation bomb Ukraine. According to reports, the “plan” is all but pointless because it ignores President Volodymyr Zelensky’s demands that Russian forces withdraw from Ukraine’s borders, Moscow pay reparations, and Russia submits to war-crime tribunals. Bloomberg said China’s plan is a series of aspirations, not concrete measures, such as respect for territorial integrity, security for nuclear facilities, bans on the use of biological and chemical weapons, a ceasefire, and a halt to arms deliveries to Ukraine (not Russia). It’s a complete non-starter.

But that didn’t stop Beijing’s mouthpiece, Global Times, from patting Xi on the back for his peace initiative ahead of time. It wrote: “Experts said [Xi’s top diplomat] Wang's meetings with the top leader and senior officials of Russia show that Moscow values highly its strategic ties with China and is also treating China's idea on the Ukraine issue seriously, and this is proof of China's unique influence for mediation purposes.”

Strategically speaking, China is not a neutral. It is an accomplice. Its energy imports from Russia, along with India’s, have kept the Russian regime afloat. Now Putin badgers them for armaments and this week the Americans accused China of planning to send lethal military aid to Russia. This was denied and won’t happen. If it does, the consequences will greatly damage China.

“Superpower Week” Putin meets what’s-his-name, a diplomat and not Xi Jinping

China’s support for Putin also makes no sense economically, apart from cheap energy, which is why Xi recently made a state visit to Saudi Arabia to secure supplies should Russia fall apart. Beijing “doesn’t need Putin or Russia” and isn’t one of its ten biggest trading partners, said Yale University business professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld. He has chronicled corporate departures from Russia and pointed out that three of the biggest corporate exits from Russia following the attack against Ukraine were Chinese: Sinochem, a state-owned chemical, fertilizer and oil conglomerate; Sinopec, a Chinese oil and gas enterprise; and one of its biggest financial groups, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Limited. 

Xi pays lip service to peace but subsidizes Russia with oil purchases. Europeans are angry, after they have stopped buying Putin’s energy at great cost to their economies. They expect Xi to put pressure on Putin to stop this war and if he doesn’t, China’s prospects will suffer. The world’s silent Superpower must finally wade in and end its equivocation. So-called neutrality and trading with the enemy are mutually exclusive. As Apartheid fighter Desmond Tutu wisely stated to fence-sitters years ago: “To be neutral is to back the aggressor”.

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NATO: Fight "Fire with Fire"

February 6, 2023

Vladimir Putin’s horrific invasion a year ago took the world by surprise and another attack is expected around its first anniversary. Plans are to throw 200,000 more Russian soldiers into the battle underway in Ukraine’s east in an attempt to overwhelm Ukraine, create a stalemate, whittle down its manpower, and wear down the resolve of its allies. But this Stalinist “human wave” strategy won’t work if the West abandons its “mission creep” strategy, or incremental escalation, and matches Russia’s firepower. This means hundreds more main battle tanks to break through Russian front lines, dozens of fighter jets, and thousands of long-range rockets to wreak havoc behind enemy lines. There is no more time for half measures or delays because Russia theoretically has millions more hapless young men to throw into this “meat grinder” warfare. Brutality must be matched with brutality. As Shakespeare wrote in 1623: “Govern the motion of a kingly eye; Be stirring as the time; be fire with fire; Threaten the threatener and outface the brow of bragging horror.”

Ukraine claws back but lost its momentum due to supply delays

This conflict won’t end with negotiations. Someone must win and someone must lose and only defeat will erase Putin from Ukraine. “We don’t see any signs” that Vladimir Putin is “preparing for peace,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in South Korea in early February. “We see the opposite.” Now is the time when the wealthy and powerful Western alliance behind Ukraine must stop asking Ukrainians to fight with one hand tied behind their backs. Russia uses its latest technologies: Ukraine must use the West’s latest and superior technologies. If supplies in Western arsenals run low, then America and Europe must ship their mothballed jets, guns and drones to stop Putin’s genocide, war crimes, and devastation. If not now, when?

Russia’s assets are only a fraction of what is contained in the central bank vaults and military arsenals of Ukraine’s alliance. Putin’s bluffs about red lines, and nuclear threats, should continue to be ignored. He has been weakened in the past year. His horrors have not captured much land and have alienated his allies China and India. European nations are starting to pull their weight, Washington remains resolute, and this week mighty Israel joined the alliance by attacking Iranian drone and rocket factories that supply Russia. It also contemplates sending its Iron Dome technology to close Ukraine’s skies.

Another positive development is that Russia is expected to run out of missiles in three months, due to production problems. Unfortunately, it won’t run out of soldiers anytime soon even though casualties pile up. Estimates now are that 200,000 Russian soldiers, 100,000 Ukrainian soldiers and 30,000 Ukrainian civilians have died. This is why, paradoxically, the only way to save lives is to dramatically escalate in order to obliterate as many Russian armed forces and facilities as quickly as possible.

Foot-dragging costs lives. Last month, America and NATO responded with 300 main battle tank allocations after months of pleas by Kyiv. Washington recently agreed to send a Ground Launched Small Diameter Bomb that will cause catastrophic damage at targets twice the distance now reachable by Ukraine’s current arsenal of rockets, or 94 miles. This places all of Russia’s supply lines within reach, as well as much of Crimea’s. But the West must do more. It must go all in.

Pressure to give Ukraine jets immediately must be applied to France, a laggard in terms of providing military support, and Netherlands who’s outdone most. Both are considering doing so even after the U.S. and Germany declined. Former U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper publicly came out in support of providing U.S. jets, as did The Wall Street Journal in an editorial: “President Biden is saying the U.S. won’t supply F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, but anyone following the war in the past year knows what that means: Ask again later. The Biden Team hems and haws on every new weapon request for Ukraine before it later comes around, and let’s hope the President changes again and offers more military support that helps Ukraine immediately on the battlefield and after the war ends. The Army tactical missile system, known as ATACMS, has a 185-mile range to help push the Russians out of their dug-in positions. These missiles could make a fast difference on the battlefield and give the Ukrainians a fighting chance of putting Crimea in play.”

Mariupol, with a pre-war population of 500,000 completely flattened

Underscoring the need for full-on mobilization, and to end mission creep, was a report by the Institute for the Study of War. “Western reluctance to begin supplying Ukraine with higher-end Western weapons systems, particularly tanks, long-range strike systems, and air defense systems, has limited Ukraine’s ability to initiate and continue large-scale counter-offensive operations,” it wrote.

“The way this new military assistance is announced also matters,” wrote former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul. “Rather than providing ATACMs in March, Reapers in June, and jets in September, NATO should go for a Big Bang. Plans to provide all these systems should be announced on February 24, 2023, the first anniversary of Putin’s invasion. An announcement of this size will produce an important psychological effect inside the Kremlin and Russian society, signalling that the West is committed to Ukraine’s ambition to liberate all occupied territories.”

The Institute for the Study of War also noted that more of Russia’s suppressed people may be voting against the war with their feet. “The Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs reported that it issued over 5.4 million passports in 2022, 40 percent more than in the previous year. The increase in passport applications indicates that social conditioning efforts to bring the `special military operation’ home to Russia and reinvigorate patriotic fervor are not having the desired effect. The Kremlin need not look further than passport statistics to poll domestic attitudes on the Russian population’s desire to fight Putin’s war.”

Ukraine is concerned that the invasion will turn into a lengthy stalemate. One diplomat told a newspaper “if Moscow can create the illusion that we can’t win on the battlefield, then some of our ‘friends’ in the West will start losing their enthusiasm and start pushing us to cut a deal, a bad deal, with the occupiers.” Victory is the only option, as President Volodymyr Zelensky emphasized on British television this week, when he said Putin “doesn’t want negotiations because he doesn't want peace”.

Bakhmut’s WWI warfare

Unable to gobble up Ukraine this year, Putin plays a passive-aggressive game to perpetuate a grinding “stalemate” by throwing untrained bodies at Ukrainian guns. He remains indifferent to the damage inflicted on his country’s economy or reputation or prospects or people. This is why pressure must be increased to prevent a stalemate. Ukraine has brought a knife to a gunfight but cannot continue to do so, now or ever. Its military must become the most lethal in Europe to expel Putin and to protect itself and Europe from another future incursion. Now a year into this catastrophe, it’s obvious that Putin’s end game is not triumph but simply to not lose and to destroy as much of Ukraine as he possibly can. This means the West’s end game must be to demolish his army and regime as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

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ChatGPT: Siri on Steroids

January 30, 2023

This newsletter is longer than usual because it explains what ChatGPT is all about and also includes my Q&A interview with the app itself as to what it can do, what it cannot do, and what are some red flags concerning its usage. My interview also demonstrates its remarkable ability to instantaneously summarize information in readable form, including the ability to write poetry about a topic — all within seconds of being asked to do so. But it also raises ethical and other questions surrounding this advanced form of artificial intelligence.

The media hubbub around ChatGPT, and artificial intelligence in general, requires contextualization. As a former investor in software development in Ukraine, I can attest to the fact that this is an astonishing breakthrough, but also that it won’t replace the world’s knowledge workers anytime soon. This is Siri on steroids, a “chatbot” that can comprehend human language questions but can respond with summaries containing sentences — or even in poetry. This has been accomplished by building a platform that has access to a massive data base of words and phrases, then has the operational ability to immediately stitch together a related answer or summation in sentences or paragraphs. ChatGPT is governed by a computerized process, or sets of rules called algorithms. This is also how Google can provide instant translations.

ChatGPT represents another step toward the reality that artificial intelligence will eventually become smarter than humans sometime this century. It will also displace many knowledge workers in decades to come, but for now it is a tool and enhancement for anyone curious about virtually anything as well as for journalists, researchers, teachers, students, and managers. But dangers loom, as with any new technology, and these are made apparent in the series of questions I put to ChatGPT. What follows are my screen-saved queries and its responses, which were immediate:

Then I tested it:

I asked it to give me an opinion about the Ukrainian-Russian conflict, keeping in mind that ChatGPT’s data base is only up to December 2021, before the invasion.

Finally, I asked it to write a poem and within a split second produced this:

It was gob-smacking, but the machine is only as smart, or up to date, as is the data base it relies on as well as the linguistic roadmap its human developers have uploaded. It cannot act or think on its own.

However, based on my years involved with software, Singularity University, and Silicon Valley denizens, it’s clear that ChatGPT is a major step toward reaching “Technological Singularity” — a hypothetical and unknown future point in time when artificial intelligence (or AI) becomes smarter than humans and when machines will cogitate or think. Some predict this will occur by 2029, in some primitive form, but that’s highly debatable. At the moment, however, ChatGPT, and its parent OpenAI (now bought by Microsoft for $19 billion) are leading a race against Google (with its version called LaMDA), Meta (with its Galactica) and dozens more software teams to build machines that comprehend, respond, and think.

Even at this stage, as I noted in my interview, there are red flags. Only a few weeks ago, Meta pulled Galactica after its launch because it was basing answers on racist and dangerous data. This is why on December 10, when ChatGPT was launched, its CEO Sam Altman issued this caveat: “ChatGPT is incredibly limited but good enough at some things to create a misleading impression of greatness. It’s a mistake to be relying  on it for anything important right now. It’s a preview of progress; we have lots of work to do on robustness and truthfulness.”

Technology is only as virtuous as are the humans who devise it and use it. It can be weaponized, or used to spread disinformation or hate or terrorism. It is not intrinsically accurate, legal, or moral which is why these new “generative” platforms must be held accountable. Google, for instance, accesses and stores the world’s largest information data base but depends on sources that are traceable — it doesn’t generate, summarize, extrapolate, or concoct its own information.

I think ChatGPT is an important breakthrough and will be invaluable because it can provide instant summaries or drafts or research notes for users. But its output must always be double-checked for accuracy. Even ChatGPT said so.

30

Germany's World War III

January 23, 2023

Germany, the country that ruined the 20th Century, is damaging the 21st. Berlin’s political decisions facilitated Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and now its politicians slow-walk the military assistance and sanctions needed to defeat Russia. The most recent example is Germany’s refusal to permit the acquisition by Ukraine of 300 German-made Leopard II battle tanks — unless and until America also sends M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine. Washington has declined to send the Abrams because the tank is inferior to the Leopard, costly and cumbersome. Even so, Germany insists. But this is not about tanks. It’s about guilt and optics. German politicians worry that it won’t go unnoticed that the last time German tanks moved eastward was in 1941 when Hitler’s “Barbarossa” armada invaded and swept toward Russia using 3,400 tanks that were, like the Leopard II, made by arms giant, Krauss-Maffei Wegmann who was also Nazi Germany’s prime supplier. While eyebrow-raising, these inconvenient historical facts do not justify preventing Ukraine from deploying Leopard tanks to break through Russia’s “Maginot Line” of trenches, landmines, artillery, and cement barriers in its East. In this case, as in others, Germany’s mentality and hesitation have been unhelpful and disquieting.

June 22, 1941. Hitler’s Operation Barbarossa

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has also refused to lift re-export restrictions on the 15 countries that currently own 2,000 Leopards, many of whom are willing to ship tanks to Ukraine. He worries about Russian retaliation if Germany proceeds on its own, but even after the UK pledged 14 of its big battle tanks to break the deadlock last week Scholz still refused to green light the Leopards. Pressure builds and Poland and other Leopard owners intend to defy restrictions. U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted he was “tired of the s@#$%show surrounding who is going to send tanks and when are they going to send them. To the Germans: Send tanks to Ukraine because they need them. It is in your own national interest that Putin loses in Ukraine. To the Biden Administration: Send American tanks so that others will follow our lead.”

Kyiv remains confident the Leopards will eventually arrive and has already started training operators. And on January 20, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin downplayed Germany’s tank “punt” and announced an impressive platform of smaller tanks, infantry fighting vehicles [IFVs], artillery and weaponry for Ukraine to mount its needed spring counter-offensive. “This is a very, very capable package. The U.S. package represents enough armor to liberate Ukraine or until Putin ends his war of choice.”

On January 22, a German official hinted that Poland could send its Leopards if it requests permission, but damage has been done. Once more Germany is a drag on the alliance at a crucial time. Putin cannot win on the battlefield and has decided to prolong the conflict to discourage allies: He now digs in, murders civilians, threatens nuclear attack, and throws tens of thousands of Russian conscripts into action as cannon fodder in order to freeze the war at a point in Eastern Ukraine that is not far from where he began his second occupation on February 24, 2022. Not coincidentally, on January 17, Putin pal Henry Kissinger issued a statement that recommended talks begin but fighting continue until the “pre-war line” is reached. At that point, a cease-fire can be negotiated, he suggested, along with the future ownership of the Donbas and Crimea. In return, he said he agreed that Ukraine should be allowed to join NATO. This was contemptible claptrap and read like a Kremlin wish list.

Ukraine is assembling an armored division of tanks and IFVs that will be capable of liberating all its territory including Crimea by this summer, said Ben Hodges on January 21, former Commanding General of US Army Europe. “Ukraine will continue building up an armored force – a division or more –  that is trained and prepared to serve as the breakthrough formation for the next major offensive phase of the campaign. I’d anticipate that it’ll be at least three months before they’re able to do that. It will be built around Ukrainian armor that they already have or have captured, but Western tanks, IFVs, and artillery will be key to making it lethal. I can’t be confident of the delivery of tanks to complement the IFVs that are now being delivered, but it does seem that the dam is about to finally break on Western tanks.”

Ukraine also needs long-range missiles to isolate Crimea and neutralize Russia’s ability to kill civilians. “Ukraine will never be safe or secure or able to rebuild its economy so long as Russia retains Crimea. Therefore Kyiv cannot accept any negotiated settlement which gives up Crimea, nor should the West... If we are serious about the international rules-based order then we cannot allow the Kremlin to be rewarded for its illegal actions,” added Hodges. 

The tank fiasco highlights a major impediment within the alliance as well as within the European Union which is Berlin’s proclivity to put parochial politics ahead of Europe’s or NATO’s best interests — a stance that disqualifies its standing as a leader. Germany has vetoed Ukrainian membership in NATO, hesitated to provide timely financial and military support as well as sanctions, and, worst of all, supported Russia’s Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines. That infrastructure, destroyed by Russian saboteurs recently to frighten Europe about its infrastructure vulnerability, was the center piece of Putin’s European conquest strategy. He intended to use his pipelines to control Europe’s energy, undermine its security, and bypass Ukraine’s gas delivery system to pave the way for an invasion. In essence, his first “attack” against Europe was to co-opt Germany, which he accomplished after decades of living in East Germany as a KGB agent then courting German politicians from inside the Kremlin.

Nord Stream 1 and 2 — both blown up recently by Russia to frighten Europe

It’s also concerning that Chancellor Scholz is a Social Democratic Party colleague of Gerhard Schroder, a close friend of Putin’s, who served as Chancellor until 2005 then launched the Nord Stream 2 project for Russia in 2011. Schroder is a bon vivant who has become wealthy after serving for years as a director on Putin’s biggest energy corporations. Discredited over the link, Schroder was stripped of some of his Parliamentary privileges after the invasion. But he is close to Scholz’s new German Defense Minister, Boris Pistorius, who reportedly also has a relationship with one of Schroder’s ex-wives.

It’s all very cozy at the top of German politics. Between Schroder’s stint as Chancellor, and Scholz’s, was Angela Merkel who also defended and pushed through Putin’s Nord Stream 2. While doing so, she and her government ignored fierce opposition from Brussels and Washington over the pipeline’s threat to European security, but she displayed the same high-handed behavior that is now underway concerning the tanks. The exasperated European Parliament last week demanded that Germany release the Leopards “without further delay” and its President Charles Michel said “the time is now. Ukraine needs more military equipment. I firmly support the delivery of tanks.”

Putin and his useful German Chancellors, Merkel and Schroder

America has also been guilty of heeding, and acceding to, German wishes. In spring 2021, President Joe Biden backed down from Nord Stream 2 sanctions imposed by Congress to stop the pipeline, at Merkel’s request, months before the invasion. In a powerful Foreign Affairs piece on January 20, chess champion and Putin foe Garry Kasparov, urged Biden to “deliver the knockout punch” and ignore fears propagated by Germans and others that a destabilized, defeated Russia must be avoided at all costs. “The end of Putin’s tyrannical rule will indeed radically change Russia (and the rest of the world) — but not in the way the White House thinks. Rather than destabilizing Russia and its neighbors, a Ukrainian victory would eliminate a powerful revanchist force and boost the cause of democracy worldwide.”

Russia deserves no mercy, and Ukrainians cannot, and won’t, surrender to an evil government that’s abused them for centuries and now executes a genocidal, “scorched earth” armed catastrophe. Nor should the West. Putin must be forced to completely withdraw behind Ukraine’s 1991 borders and Russia forced to pay reparations. Kasparov also urged haste: “This is a make-or-break moment for Ukraine. Biden can turn the tide in Kyiv’s favor by backing up his declarations of support with the delivery of tanks and long-range weaponry. He can also hasten the demise of Putin’s regime, opening up the possibility of a democratic future for Russia and demonstrating to the world the folly of military aggression.”

Once again in history, Germany is on thin ice. Instead of marching in lockstep with the alliance of civilized nations committed to defeating Putin, Berlin falters. It has already fallen for Putin’s dangerous pitches in the past but now retracts into timidity and self-absorption. It is a great nation with incredible talent, but must become a team player. Fooled once, shame on Moscow. Fooled twice, shame on Berlin.

Putin’s Dark Prince

January 9, 2023

The war bodes badly for Putin but he cannot remain Tsar if he loses or surrenders. His health deteriorates. Potential successors within his inner circle vie for the chance to rule a post-Putin Russia and the front-runner in this Game of Thrones is clearly Yevgeny Prigozhin, an ex-convict who made a fortune in the food business and also leads a force of 50,000 mercenaries called the Wagner Group. Unlike other contenders, he has military muscle as well as political influence and is the only oligarch getting richer, not poorer, as a result of the war. As other rich or powerful Russians flee or fall out of windows, Prigozhin remains close to Putin, visits his troops at the front, and criticizes Putin’s military establishment with impunity.

Prigozhin, Putin’s official caterer, serves him at a fancy dinner in 2010

Prigozhin is nicknamed “the chef” because of his lucrative food distribution and catering empire. But in one decade, he has built Wagner which is heavily involved in Ukraine and 27 other countries. He also set up troll farms to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election on behalf of Trump and was sanctioned by Washington. And this year, he came out of the shadows as Wagner’s boss and garnered enormous publicity by getting permission to recruit soldiers from 18 Russian penal colonies to serve for six months in Ukraine’s frontlines in return for amnesty if they survived.

The Wagner Group is brutal and recent footage, unverified, was released online in Russia showing a Wagner execution by sledgehammer of a recruited prisoner who deserted entitled “The hammer of revenge”. Of this, the New York Post wrote: “Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin – the Putin-aligned money man behind the paramilitary Wagner Group and election interference efforts in the US – opined that the title should be changed to `A dog receives a dog’s death’.”

Below is a tweeted video of Prigozhin in camouflage garb about to present a sledgehammer and axe to Wagner soldiers for their bravery in action.

Wagner facilitated the 2014 invasion of Ukraine and also operated clandestinely in Libya, Syria, and throughout Africa to advance Putin’s aims and to provide Putin with plausible deniability. For instance, Wagner’s involvement with Syria’s Bashar Al Assad helped destroy the country and force 7.4 million Syrians to flee to Europe or refugee camps in Turkey or Jordan. Rumors are that Wagner’s payment in Syria included a 25 percent share of its natural gas and oil production and that its African deals also include resource extraction rights. More recently, White House officials claim that Prigozhin’s keen interest in conquering the Ukrainian City of Bakhmut, nicknamed the “meat grinder”, is because he will obtain rights to its sizeable resource wealth.

Prigozhin is now an outspoken proponent of the war. He recently labeled as “traitors” any Russian who opposes the war at home or abroad as well as those who criticize Wagner’s deployment of hardened criminals. “Some traitors are holed up in offices, not thinking about their own people. Some of them use their own business jets to fly to those countries that seem neutral to us so far. They fly away so as not to participate in today’s problems. They are traitors too. Those who do not want PMCs [private military companies] or prisoners to fight, who talk about this topic, who do not want to do anything and who, as matter of principle, do not like this topic, send your children to the front. Either PMCs and prisoners, or your children – decide for yourself."

Prigozhin and another paramilitary power broker Razman Kadyrov

Another contender inside Russia is Dmitry Medvedev, former President, Prime Minister, and the current deputy chair of the Security Council of Russia. But he’s a playboy who likes the good life and doesn’t have his own army. Then there’s Razman Kadyrov, who heads the Chechen Republic and runs a paramilitary force operating in Ukraine. Chechnya is a tiny Muslim region with 1.5 million whose independence movement was crushed by Putin in the 1990s as brutally as is now the case with Ukraine. Kadyrov commands tens of thousands of troops who fight alongside Wagner and the Russian armed forces and squabbles with both.

Like Prigozhin, Kadyrov publicly attacks Russia’s current military leadership as well as the West. “America is not really a strong enough state for us to regard it as an enemy of Russia. We have a strong government and are a nuclear state. Even if our government was completely destroyed, our nuclear missiles would be automatically deployed. We will put the whole world on its knees,” said Kadyrov recently.

But he’s not Presidential material because he’s not Russian ethnically. Besides, a weaker Moscow will resurrect independence movements throughout the Federation including in Chechnya. Interestingly, Ukraine’s parliament in October declared that Chechnya was also a “temporarily Russian-occupied” land and the victim of “genocide of the Chechen people” by Russia. An unknown number of Chechens already fight with Ukrainians and it’s safe to assume that a weakened Moscow will result in another independence movement there which will preoccupy Kadyrov if he intends to retain power there.

Chechnya
Putin’s devastation of Chechnya in the 1990s

There are reports that another paramilitary force has been organized by one of Putin’s Generals, leading to speculation that Putin’s strategy is to encourage warring factions among rivals to remain President. Whatever the underlying cause, these developments insure a messy post-Putin Russia. “The power of Prigozhin and the strength of Kadyrov is that they have 30,000 [or more] armed soldiers who obey only them,” wrote Andrey Piontkovsky, a Russian analyst. “You can see that on the front, there are a lot of situations and clashes between these structures and the Russian armed forces.”

As Russia loses, Prigozhin is the guy to watch. The Institute for the Study of War in Washington concluded that he “holds a uniquely advantageous position within the Russian state structure and information space that allows him to expand his constituency in Russia more readily than the disgraced Russian higher military command … Prigozhin can freely promote himself and his forces while criticizing Kremlin officials or the Russian Armed Force without fear of pushback.”

Once Putin is gone, all bets are off. His successor may battle on but that’s unlikely as the country disintegrates economically. He may sue for peace but won’t last long for having done so. It may become 1917 all over again with armed factions battling for control, but most likely Russia will sink into political infighting as happened in 1990 and begin to break apart as did the Soviet Union. Whoever controls Russia’s military and nuclear arsenal will become the next Tsar but will rule over a smaller and weakened Russian Federation.

PUTIN’S ALTAR BOY

December 12, 2022

Ukraine struck military targets inside Russian territory in recent days, and in early Kyiv December 2 attacked the enemy within by announcing it will ban and sanction Ukrainian-based Orthodox churches and clergy with links to Moscow’s Orthodox Patriarch Kirill. Police raids have discovered suspicious persons, unregistered weapons, and Russian propaganda at churches and monasteries. So far, 33 priests have been arrested. This collaboration is no surprise. Kirill is a confidante of Putin’s and has publicly weaponized his Russian Orthodox Church, and placed his moral authority, behind the Kremlin’s vicious genocide. In April, he issued a directive to Russian soldiers that “your task is to wipe the Ukrainian nation off the face of the Earth”. His support for mass murder has rattled the Orthodox world of 260 million across Europe. The World Council of Churches, representing more than 580 million Christians, condemned Russia’s war as well as Kirill’s "misuse of religious language and authority to justify" it. And Pope Francis, leader of the world’s 1.35 billion Roman Catholics, compared Russia’s slaughter to Germany’s Holocaust and told Patriarch Kirill to stop being “Putin's altar boy".

Putin and his “altar boy” Kirill

Patriarch Kirill is also an exceedingly wealthy oligarch and has been sanctioned by several countries for blessing war crimes. He has been Moscow’s Patriarch since 2009 and controlled Ukrainian as well as Russian Orthodox Churches until 2019 when thousands of Ukrainian churches broke away, a move allowed by the over-arching Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew in Constantinople (Istanbul). For 300 years, Ukrainians have paid obeisance to a Moscow Patriarch, but in recent years have realized that many of their churches were “Trojan horses” aimed at enhancing Kremlin influence in their country. The schism enraged Kirill and Putin.

Patriarch Kirill, a former KGB operative like most of Putin’s cronies, has been rewarded handsomely for his services. Forbes Magazine estimated a few years ago that his net worth was $4 billion, but this remains unverified. However, he wears $30,000 watches and owns a private jet, a palatial estate, a yacht, and valuable real estate in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Suspicions are that his fortune was accumulated by skimming profits made by the church in the mid-1990s after it was granted a monopoly to import cigarettes duty-free. He’s also a celebrity with great influence, appears on television regularly, is an oil trader, and a “playboy” who plays the stock markets, races cars, downhill skis, and has a villa in Switzerland. Britain, Canada and others have sanctioned him for his war-mongering and the European Union attempted to do the same but Putin-friendly Hungary vetoed its attempt. The U.S. has not imposed sanctions on him as yet.

Patriarch Bartholomew in Istanbul openly condemned the invasion as “unholy and diabolical” and Ukraine’s new Orthodox leader, titled Metropolitan Epiphanius, compared Putin to the Antichrist and Adolf Hitler. “The spirit of the Antichrist operates in the leader of Russia, the signs of which the Scriptures reveal to us: pride, devotion to evil, ruthlessness, false religiosity. This was Hitler during World War II. This is what Putin has become today.”

Religion pays: The Patriarch’s limos, skiing, yacht, palaces

Currently, about 8,000 Orthodox parishes in Western Ukraine now adhere to a Kyiv-based Patriarch, but another 12,000, in the Eastern part of the country where fighting is widespread, remain officially attached to Kirill’s Patriarchate. However, many parishioners have taken the law into their own hands by evicting suspicious or pro-Putin priests. This has placed the Ukrainian government in an awkward position as churches or priests that haven’t distanced themselves from Moscow now demand police protection from angry Ukrainians. They also ask Kyiv to protect their constitutional right to continue their allegiance to the church of their choice. In several regions, the religious divisions are so perilous that some churches have been closed temporarily. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Dec. 2 edict extends the bans and sanctions to any religious organization with links to Moscow. “We will never allow anyone to build an empire inside the Ukrainian soul,” he said.

Putin’s politicization of religion has also spread to America where, according to a recent NPR report in Appalachia of all places, there’s been an uptick in membership at Russian Orthodox Churches by far-right Americans. “They're drawn to what they believe to be conservative views on things like LGBTQ rights, gender equality. Abortion is a really big issue for these folks, the culture wars issues, really," said an analyst. "And so they leave other faith traditions that they don't believe to be as stringent about those issues anymore. For many of them, Putin becomes this sort of king-like figure in their narratives. They see themselves as oppressed by democracy because democracy is really diversity. And they look to Putin because democracy isn't really, as we see right now, an option [in Russia].”

But Kirill is reviled by many Orthodox believers even across the Moscow-affiliated church. Hundreds of priests accuse him of preaching “heresy” and have asked global church leaders to bring him before a tribunal to decide whether he should be deposed. Said one: “Kirill committed moral crimes by blessing the war against Ukraine and fully supporting the aggressive actions of Russian troops on the Ukrainian territory. It is impossible for us to remain in any form of canonical submission to the Patriarch of Moscow.”

Kirill’s palatial estate

Clearly, Kirill’s rhetoric has stoked Putin’s “Holy war” tirades. He has called Ukraine an “inalienable part” of Russia’s “spiritual space.” He denies the legitimacy of the Patriarch in Istanbul as well as the one in Kyiv. Not surprisingly, he wants to conquer the entire faith and make Moscow the spiritual center of global Orthodoxy.

This month, Pope Francis escalated his condemnation of Russia’s war by aptly comparing his war to the Holodomor tragedy, when Stalin starved to death millions of Ukrainians in its eastern regions in 1932 and 1933 in order to, as is now the case, suppress their aspirations for independence. And Germany’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier spoke to the World Council of Churches recently and stated that the Russian Church is encouraging war crimes and no longer represents Christianity’s best values. “No Christian who still possesses his faith, his mind and feelings will be able to see the will of God in this,” he said.

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Veteran columnist writes about power, money, tech, and corruption in America and the world at dianefrancis.substack.com