He who has the money is always the master of the other.
-- Montesquieu* --
This post seeks to answer the greatest unasked question of all times:
Why is it that after a war is over, the winners imitate the losers?
The war at issue: World War II.
Our journey begins with a question/answer:
What could the friendly, philanthropic, family-man founder in 1995 of a California internet auction house possibly have to do with the turmoil tearing apart the Ukraine almost 20 years later?
A few weeks ago an investigative Pandodaily report disclosed that Pierre Omidyar is a megabucks funder** of UA Center, a Ukrainian NGO, as well as of one of UA Center´s special projects, New Citizen. A coordinator of some 50 other NGOs, New Citizen was a major player in the street demonstrations that last month drove President Viktor Yanukovych from power. In November 2013 the pro-Russia Yanukovych had spurned closer ties with Western Europe. His refusal ignited the Ukrainian protest movement. Yanukovych is presently exiled in Russia.
Two other heavyweight bankrollers of the anti-Yanukovych UA Center: USAID and the U.S. Congress-financed National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Aid, democracy: how can anybody refuse? Well, not all political leaders are as naive or compliant as Yanukovych. President Rafael Correa of Ecuador, who garnered the U.S. Government´s wrath by kicking its military out of a base in Manta, in December 2013 refused to renew USAID in his country; he stated the agency was actively working to "destabilize" his government. As for NED, Correa said it was "shamelessly" financing opposition groups.
The U.S. Government and Pierre Omidyar: together, at last. We will return to the dynamic duo. Such burgeoning partnerships are the core the new political system erected by the Second American Revolution of 2008-9.
* * *
UA Center describes itself this way:
"The objectives of the organization is to promote civic initiatives aimed at strengthening the influence of civil society on the government; to promote projects in various sectors, aimed at the development and preservation of democratic processes in Ukraine; to develop projects concerning European and Euro-Atlantic integration of Ukraine; to create permanent discussion platform for representatives of civil society and government."
Democratic processes, civic initiatives, discussion platform: if you think UA Center is a nonpartisan, publicly-spirited organization comparable to the League of Women Voters, think again.
If UA Center is jointly owned by Omidyar and the U.S. Government, it is run by Oleh Rybachuck, deputy prime minister under President Viktor Yushchenko, pro-West leader of the famous "Orange Revolution" of 2004-5. Yushchenko was defeated in his 2010 re-election bid by none other than the ousted Yanukovych. With 5% of the vote, Yushchenko did not qualify for the runoff election in which Yanukovych defeated Yulia Tymoshenko, co-leader of the Orange Revolution, by only 887,909 votes in a turnout of 24 million. The margin: 48.9% to 45.47%. (The remaining % voted for "Against All Candidates," an option we urge for U.S. elections.)
In addition to the United States Government, somebody else stood elbow-to-elbow with UA Center in the anti-Yanukovych riots. Ukrainian "Nationalist" groups were present in force. For background on the Ukrainian far rightists, see this BBC report. Similarities with Hitler´s Stormtroopers and Mussolini´s Black Shirts are as unmistakable as they are undeniable.
Somebody is borrowing heavily from the World War II losers...
The influence of the Ukrainian far right is hotly debated, but the simple fact is that it is occupying top government posts in the post-Yanukovych government. We will show a second powerful indicator shortly.
While we´re at it... Far right? Fascists? Nationalists? Call it what you will, it still remains the same.
Forget, then, the dynamic duo mentioned above. In Ukraine we are looking at a dynamic trio: the Unholy Alliance of Washington, Pierre Omidyar and Stormtroopers -- Sturmabteilung. You don´t think the latter are members of the Alliance? Who is giving them political veto power (see below)? Who paid for their machine guns? Who is furnishing them flags, pistols, uniforms, knives, clubs? Who is buying them lunch?
In any alliance, some partners are more equal than others. As for who is the most equal of all, Montesquieu was right on the money.
* * *
Russia this month occupied militarily Crimea, the southern Ukrainian peninsula. Crimea was a gift to Ukraine from Soviet Union Premier Nikita Khrushchev in 1954. Today, 58% of its two million inhabitants are Russian. This leaves little doubt about how Crimea will vote in the Russian-sponsored plebiscite scheduled for Sunday. There are two options on the ballot: stay in Ukraine with more regional autonomy or join Russia.
The United States and Western Europe have denounced the upcoming Crimean plebiscite as illegal, illegitimate and provocative, and will not recognize the results. But in ordering the plebiscite, is Russian President Putin simply taking a page out of the British playbook?
A year ago, the UK ordered a referendum in the Malvinas/Falkland Islands. The area is controlled by England but claimed by Argentina. The referendum asked the islanders if they wanted to remain as a territory of the United Kingdom. A grand total of three people voted "No."
Argentina´s response: "This new British attempt to manipulate the Malvinas issue through a vote by the population that it implanted is forcefully rejected by Argentina..."
Where did the United States stand on the Malvinas/Falkland referendum? Here is the State Department´s June-2012 official position:
"Question: Will the United States respect the referendum results?
Answer: We will not speculate on a referendum that has not taken place. Our position remains one of neutrality. The United States recognizes de facto U.K. administration of the islands, but takes no position regarding the sovereignty claims of either party."
That makes curiouser and curiouser Washington´s position on Sunday´s referendum. Instead of a refusal to speculate on a referendum that has not taken place as well as maintaining neutrality, Washington has already condemned the Crimea referendum and is threatening Russia with sanctions. Boxcars of speculation, then, but not a drop of neutrality anywhere.
The Malvinas/Falklands versus Crimea: the play is the same; only the distribution of roles has changed. What, then, accounts for the day-and-night difference in the parts played by the U.S.?
Think "tune-up fight." We will explain below.
Regular readers of this blog know we strongly favor plebiscites.*** Voting for politicians every two years is not enough to qualify a system as democratic; citizens must also have the possibility of deciding specific issues. In the United States, to allow for referenda on a national level would require a Constitutional amendment. (For an in-depth look at this portentous issue, see our book The Big Movida: The Third American Revolution available without cost on this blog.)
I think President Putin was on the right road in proposing a referendum. But, just one more step...
The solution to the Ukrainian crisis is for Sunday´s Crimea plebiscite not to be revoked but, on the contrary, to be extended -- held nationwide across the Ukraine. Completely unlike the United States, national plebiscites on key issues, e.g., independence from the Soviet Union (1991), are part of Ukraine´s political culture.
Let´s address a decisive point. Why would any self-respecting Ukrainian outside Crimea vote to let Crimea secede?
The answer is encapsulated in the French expression, cadeau empoisonné. The frame from "Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs" (see above) explains the phenomenon in two seconds.
When Khrushchev gave Crimea to Ukraine, the USSR Politburo announced that the gift was motivated by "the economic commonalities, territorial closeness, and communication and cultural links" of the two areas. In light of recent developments, the Kremlin´s explanation was at best wrong. After Ukraine gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, what had been latent became manifest: Ukraine and Crimea are hopelessly divided historically, culturally and politically.
Westerners tend to brush off Krushchev´s gift as a whim, the product of one too many screwdrivers. The fact of the matter is he spent many years working in Ukraine as Stalin´s right-hand man and served him faithfully in the infamous 1930s purges; you can´t get more power politics than that.
I lived and studied in Moscow and talked politics every day with scholars and exKGB agents employed at the Moscow State Linguistic University. I have a different perception from that of the White House, 10 Downing Street, BBC, CNN:
Khrushchev knew Ukraine could be flakey. During World War II a sizeable number of its inhabitants collaborated with their Nazi Germany occupiers and actively fought against the U.S.S.R. One way to stop Ukraine from changing sides was to change Ukraine...
Did Khrushchev seek to divide et impera Ukraine by artificially creating an unresolvable internal cleavage? Was his gift of Crimea a cadeau empoisonné to split the country in half? Ukrainians in Kiev, Lviv and other areas outside Crimea who answer "yes" to those questions would be inclined to vote to cut the bond forged by the defunct Kremlin Politburo. Crimea would then be free to go with Russia, the rest of Ukraine with Western Europe. Both areas, separated, would become governable.
But would the Unholy Alliance permit a nationwide Ukrainian referendum on Crimea? One Alliance member will never agree to it: the fascists. Here´s why:
The centerpiece of Hitler´s Nazi ideology was Lebensraum -- "living space." The wheels of evolution-as-destiny supposedly drive the superior race to displace inferior ones in their homelands. As for the superior race´s homeland, not one inch is negotiable -- ever. You see the axiom engraved in the eyes of far-rightist Ukrainian street toughs with goof-ball haircuts: "What´s mine is mine; what´s yours is mine too." The dead hand of the departed Nazi Sturmabteilung reaches out, rises, breaks through the surface.
We noted that the power of Ukrainian fascists has been the subject of intense debate. Our nationwide referendum proposal on Crimea serves as a powerful indicator of where the truth lies:
Hypothesis: the fascists´ power in the post-Yanucovych government is insignificant; the national referendum proposal is possible.
Null Hypothesis: the fascists´ power in the government is significant; the proposal is impossible.
We will see in the coming days if a Ukraine-wide referendum on Crimea is approved, vetoed or, what is most likely, simply ignored. For what it is worth -- apparently nothing -- a national referendum is the Constitutional road**** to a legal separation.
Actually, there is no need to wait. The answer was given yesterday. On March 12, the Ukrainian Ambassador to the UK, Volodymyr Khandogie, proclaimed that Ukraine "will never accept segregation or separation of Crimea from Ukraine...We think [Crimea] is an integral part of the Ukraine..."
Most likely, you never thought of a referendum across Ukraine to resolve the crisis. That the option never occurred to you shows the correlation of forces -- the Null Hypothesis -- dominating Ukraine. Elsewhere, too.
* * *
It is impossible for wealth not to give power.
-- Montesquieu***** --
What gave birth to the Unholy Alliance? And what does the Alliance hold in store for America?
Warning: this blog´s central thesis is not found elsewhere:
"The First American Revolution, 1776-1789, transformed the political system from a monarchy not into a democracy but rather a “политей” or polity, i.e., a middle class-moderated, oligarchy/democracy hybrid inclined toward democracy. The Second American Revolution, 2008-2009, changed the polity into an oligarchy with democratic residues, accessories. That change was normal, predictable; Aristotle analyzed it 2000 years ago. The Third American Revolution will resurrect the polity but with greater power for democracy, less for the oligarchy." (The Big Movida: The Third American Revolution)
In 2008-9, the American oligarchy stepped out from behind the curtain and demanded a gift of taxpayers´ money. Under the blazing lights of TV cameras from around the world, they received it.
The biggest economic crisis since the 1929 Great Depression provided the cover story. The federal "Emergency Economic Stabilization Act" of 2008 authorized up to $700 billion for the private sector. In reality, a trillion dollars were obligated.
Bush and Obama will tell you there was no alternative, that if their billionaire friends and allies were financially ruined, Western civilization would end. Sorry, gentlemen, but there was an alternative. It´s called bankrupcy.
The incredible federal train robbery constellated a change of, not in, political systems. But what made possible that revolution in which the American polity, i.e., oligarchy/democracy hybrid, was replaced by a full-fledged oligarchy?
U.S. Government data (NOTE: see Table H-2, "all races") tell the tale:
From 1968-2012, in terms of their share of the national income, the rich became richer (from 43% to 51%), the poor poorer (4% to 3%), the middle class smaller (53% to 45%). Note that a polity cannot exist without a large and powerful middle class. In that regard, 1988, the end of the Reagan Administration, may prove to be fateful. That year, for the first time in recorded history, the American middle class received less than half of the national income. Since then, its share has continued to fall, never again reaching 50%.
The political consequences of the drop below 50% were momentous. The middle class became too weak economically to exercise its vital political function of moderating the other socio-economic classes. That was how and why what was once the envy of the world -- the American polity created by the Founding Fathers -- died.
Today, the American oligarchy reigns not only supreme but unchallenged. It has neither the desire nor the ability to stop the widening polarization of the American economy. As the catastrophic trend continues and deepens -- as more and more people lose their jobs, homes and, most important, faith -- democratic residues of the destroyed polity will no longer suffice to keep the populace docile. To stay in power, the oligarchy will have no choice but to resort to other means.
That is where Ukraine comes in. Ditto Venezuela, another nation where a government not friendly to Washington won in a close but fair election.****** Today´s street riots bordering on civil war in those two nations are neither coincidental nor gratuitous. We noted in our post of March 6, 2012 ("Death by Misadventure: The CIA in Latin America"), before today´s massive breakdowns in law and order began,
"the record shows that when it comes to electoral campaigns, the C.I.A. is a chronic loser. Saddled with B-squader, D.C. political consultants who run paint-by-the-numbers campaigns, the agency has zero contacts among people who understand elections.
However, C.I.A. opponents had better not rejoice. The record also shows that when it fails to obtain its ends via democratic peaceful means, the C.I.A. resorts to undemocratic violent ones."
Why such a zealous turn to street violence as a political tool? Why the rebirth of the Sturmabteilung? Here we arrive at an answer to the greatest unasked question of all times: Why is it that after a war is over, the winners imitate the losers?
Answer: the oligarchy feels more comfortable imitating a defeated model. And for any oligarchy, comfort -- consuelo, aisance, komfort, покой, 安慰, الراحة -- is where it´s at.
What it all comes down to: for the Unholy Alliance, Ukraine is a "learning experience" replete with NGOs, thugs, press releases, guided tours of the departed enemy´s opulent home, hidden empresarios. History will show that Ukraine (Venezuela too) was a tune-up fight for The Main Event to be held in America. When it will start, nobody knows. However, thanks to World War II, we know only too well what it will look like:
A crowd with flags, bullhorns, guns, knives, and clubs gathers at the end of your street. Afraid they will spot you, you stop peeping through the blinds. You hear shouts, gunfire, glass breaking, cheering. You look at your family; you proclaim and defame to the stars above, "Where in hell are the police?" (Answer: open the blinds). You remember your son´s .22 rifle and hollow-point bullets you gave away when he went off to college; you recall the knife in the kitchen. You stare at your beautiful 13-year-old daughter seeking refuge in her mother´s arms...how could I...not have... A strange thought pops into your head: you never prayed in your life but now you should give it a spin...maybe that religion stuff works after all, who knows?...can´t hurt, that´s for sure. You think about how, instead of screaming at her, you should have taken your wife´s nagging advice to train your dog that now will not stop barking and is giving you away. In the street, a whistle blows. You think about the basement you wanted to clean out but kept putting off; how you could have socked away food and water and toilet paper; how you should have fixed the door and replaced that damn lock with the lost key. Would-a-could-a-should-a; would-a-could-a-should-a: the words keep drumming your mind mindlessly, metallically echoing the machine-gun bursts outside. They are the refrain of the world´s oldest song. They won´t go away, exactly like the Stormtroopers headed your way.
You hear a loud crash; it´s the front gate. Somebody laughs.
*« celui qui a l’argent est toujours le maître de l’autre […]. » Charles de Montesquieu, De L’Esprit des lois, in Œuvres complètes II, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Gallimard, Paris, 1994, p. 472. (Book XIII, Chapter XIX).
**Three days after the Pando report was published, the Omidyar Network acknowledged the contributions in a press release:
"Omidyar Network (ON) has received some questions recently regarding our investment in Centre UA, located in the Ukraine. The announcement explaining our investment can be found in our 2011 press release. [NOTE to our blog readers: the 2011 explanation doesn´t explain anything, i.e., the money was given to "secure a greater voice for citizen participation in the political process and holding government to account." For Tocqueville´s discussion of how such hollow phraseology works to conceal as opposed to reveal -- "An abstract word is a box with a double bottom: one puts into it any idea one wants, and removes it without anyone noticing..." -- see our post of February 20, 2014: "Jaime Nebot: The Dead Man´s Switch."]
To date, ON's total committed investments in Centre UA totals $1.105 MM, $335,000 in 2011 and $770,000 in 2013. This investment is part of our Government Transparency initiative and was made to amplify the voices of Ukrainian citizens and promote open and accountable government.
We are proud of Centre UA’s achievements and advancements made as a result of our investment. We stand by our investment decisions and the important work of organizations that strive for greater transparency among their government and citizens."
Proud. There you have it. Same old song. In 1956, Edith Piaf sang it with more feeling, no cold calculation, and without deaths, injuries, destruction. "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien." No, I regret nothing.
***Truth in lending. As a private independent political consultant, I worked on campaigns for and against city, county and state referenda. The subjects were vast -- from allowing beer and wine licenses for restaurants to limiting elections of incumbent judges to simple yes/no recertification. In 20 years, we never lost.
****Title III of the Ukrainain Constitution: "Article 73. Alterations to the territory of Ukraine shall be resolved exclusively by the All-Ukrainian referendum."
*****« il est impossible que les richesses ne donnent du pouvoir […]. » Charles de Montesquieu, Considérations sur les causes de la grandeur des romains et leur décadence, in Œuvres complètes II, op.cit., p. 113. (Chapter VIII).
******Will El Salvador -- remember it? -- be the next epicenter of chaos? Presidential elections were held four days ago, March 9. Former leftist guerrilla Salvador Sánchez Serén won by less than 1% of the vote. Norman Quijano, the defeated far-right candidate of the Arena Party, rejected the results and is now calling for a "war footing."