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Bundy Ranch. The underlying issue. Too much federal land

bundy-blm

Officials from nine Western states met recently in Salt Lake City to discuss ways to take back control of federal lands within their borders, saying the feds mismanage it. Utah lawmakers have passed a resolution demanding the federal government cede title to federal land. This not a fringe movement. It’s going mainstream in the West, propelled by the highly visible Bundy Ranch confrontation.

“What’s happened in Nevada is really just a symptom of a much larger problem,” [Utah House Speaker Becky] Lockhart said, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

The West historically has never had much use for or trust in the federal government. Part of this is due to the huge amounts of federal land in those states, especially BLM land. People who live on the East Coast often don’t  understand, because there is virtually no BLM land where they live. So, the issues doesn’t exist for them. However, they are quite real in the West.

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Rise of corporate Democrats, beholden to business not people

Credite:  vimeo.com/laane

Credite: vimeo.com/laane

Faux progressives, pretend liberals, and corporate Democrats are increasingly taking power, especially in California. You know the type. They mouth platitudes about supporting the environment and helping the poor then consistently vote against any such measures, preferring instead to shovel in corporate money. And there is plenty of corporate, PAC, and special interest money available to them. Those who whine about how the Koch Brothers control politics through money are being deliberately evasive. Democratic politicians also have access to huge amounts of money. Both parties are compromised and corrupt. Both are primarily focused on sucking on the corporate money tit.

This is the problem:

A new breed of Democrat, one exceedingly attentive to big business while tone-deaf toward the Democratic Party’s traditional base, which includes union workers, environmentalists and public school advocates.

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Golden Retriever rescue from Taiwan. Love and second chances.com

Oscar (and his new buddy behind him)

Oscar (and his new buddy behind him)

This is Oscar. He was rescued in Taiwan by Love and Second Chances, spent 21 hours on a flight to SFO, and is now in his forever home at my friend Jim’s ranch. Too often in Taiwan, dogs are neglected, abused, and abandoned. Oscar had been chained to a post in a tiny back yard for three years. He needed medical attention when he was rescued in Taiwan. His fur was heavily matted. His back legs are weak from lack of exercise and need strengthening. That will come with time.

Jim says Oscar is super friendly, fit in immediately with his three other dogs, and when Oscar goes into their fenced backyard, he looks at the big sky and rolling hills with a mix of bewilderment and awe. He didn’t know the world was so big. And really, what else is there to say? Thank you Jim, and thank you Love and Second Chances. They bring about ten dogs a week from Taiwan.

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European media publisher fears Google power

google-borg

Many news sites are highly dependent on ad revenue from Google. Yet Google’s Borg-like control over search, video, email, and mobile, as well as advertising is making media giants nervous.

The chief executive of Axel Springer, one of Europe’s largest media publishers, has said that his company is afraid of the power that Google has accumulated, and worries that the search giant is becoming a “superstate” immune from regulation.

There are real conflict of interest questions when Google also competes against such a company.

He refers to a case where a change to Google’s algorithm led to a drop in traffic to an Axel Springer subsidiary of 70 percent: “This is a real case. And that subsidiary is a competitor of Google… I am sure it is a coincidence.”

“We are afraid of Google,” he added.

Google routinely lists its own products first in searches, even if other search results should clearly be first. And despite it’s by-now tired proclamation that it Does No Evil, Google would do serious evil if it only could.

“Google know more about every digital citizen than George Orwell dared to imagine in his wildest visions of 1984,” he says. Döpfner is particularly concerned about comments made by founder Larry Page, who said that there are lots of things the company would like to do but can’t do because they are illegal — pesky antitrust and privacy laws get in the way.

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Former CA Dem godfather Willie Brown: Leland Yee arrest a “ruckus”

Even San Franciscans can't stomach Willie Brown's evasions.

Even San Franciscans can’t stomach Willie Brown’s evasions.

Willie Brown was formerly godfather of California Democratic politics and still has considerable influence. His inadvertently comical comments about how Leland Yee really didn’t do much of anything wrong shows how compromised Democratic politics in California has become.

Give the guy a break. When all is said and done, his alleged crimes come down to taking campaign contributions in return for issuing proclamations, using campaign funds to set up a meeting and taking campaign funds for writing a letter.

No, actually Willie, these offenses are called “crimes.” Most would call them corruption and certainly not a “ruckus”.

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Benghazi mystery explained? Report links CIA covert op with Turkey, Syria

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Answer offered by Seymour Hersh about Benghazi gets little public attention

“Benghazi” is one of those kneejerk labels that rightwing folks slap on a story they don’t actually understand but have determined the “right” answer to anyway. It’s a hot button, not an argument, like the “IRS scandal,” which the right is finally beginning to admit it got wrong because it ignored the law as written. “Fast and Furious” is another of some two dozen, mostly less-well-known rightwing thought substitutes that aren’t supported by persuasive evidence (meanwhile, the scripted herd of Obama-haters pretty much remains silent about real Obama administration scandals, like civilian murder by drone or massive global surveillance, the sorts of things that throwthe left into denial).

The latest explanation of “Benghazi” comes from a non-partisan reporter, so that’s a start, and it provides a credible framework for most of the anomalies associated with Benghazi. Even better, official spokes-people universally either refused to comment  on the story, or denied it flatly. So there’s hope.

“Benghazi” as a political story began with the Obama administration’s strangely dishonest early responses to the killing of fourAmericans in Libya on September 11, 2012. The story got legs when Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney immediately falsified what the administration was saying, and was followed by just about every Republican who’s talked about it since perpetuating one lie or another. Nobody has seemed interested in the truth, which especially makes sense from a Republican perspective, since “Benghazi” provided a handy rhetorical cudgel with which to pound the table and the president in order to appear “tough.” But why has the Obama administration remained so opaque, tossing out one red herring after another for Republicans to gleefully chase, but still not offering a persuasive narative?

Even when Fox News commentator Charles Krauthammer recently told Republicans to give up on Benghazi – “the public is now tired of it” – he was still clinging to the party line that there was a real scandal to be found somewhere, even though neither he nor anyone elseseemed to know what it could be even though they were sure it was “worse than Watergate.”

If some truth about Benghazi is available, does anyone want to know? 

So far, every report – from Congress and the executive branch and most media – has come t5o conclusions with serious critiques that fall short of scandal. Despite a variety of shortcomings and contradictions in the administration’s responses since September 2012, none of the investigations has produced a credible, fact-based explanation for the administration’s obviously misleading response at the time or its apparent stonewalling since. This changed on April 6, 2014, when the London Review of Books published “The Red Line and the Rat Line,” a long article by Seymour Hersh, focusing on evidence that the sarin nerve gas used in Damascus in August 2013 was likely afalse flag gassing by rebel forces made to look like it was done by the Syrian government, in order to fool the United States into attacking Syria.

Hersh’s analysis of how Turkish and Syrian agents almost managed to dupe the United States into going to war based on a lie (they’d seen that work before, right?), is the focus of his article, in which Benghazi is only a tangential element. The “Libyan spring” began in Benghazi and anyone who wanted to know could easily learn that the region was hot with jihadists among anti-government rebels.

By early 2012, Libyan President Muammar al-Gaddfi had been overthrown and killed. The U.S. had established a foothold in the Libyan turmoil. The U.S. also had access to Gaddafi’s significant weapons cache, which was largely unneeded in a Libya already awash in arms. But those weapons had other uses, one of which was to support the rebels in Syria trying to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.Reportedly, Turkey was already operating the Benghazi airport, primarily to fly humanitarian aid to Syria, but also to smuggle arms to the rebels. Since the U.S. and Turkey both wanted Assad gone, the CIA helped set up a more extensive, covert supply line to those rebels. As Hersh reports:

“The full extent of US co-operation with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in assisting the rebel opposition in Syria has yet to come to light. The Obama administration has never publicly admitted to its role in creating what the CIA calls a ‘rat line’, a back channel highway into Syria. The rat line, authorised in early 2012, was used to funnel weapons and ammunition from Libya via southern Turkey and across the Syrian border to the opposition. Many of those in Syria who ultimately received the weapons were jihadists, some of them affiliated with al-Qaida. (The DNI [Director of National Intelligence] spokesperson said: ‘The idea that the United States was providing weapons from Libya to anyone is false.’)”  

Libyans attacked both the consulate and the CIA safe house in 2012

CIA director David Petraeus apparently ran the rat line operation (his spokesperson denies there was such an operation) at the same time the FBI was investigating his extra-marital operations. (The CIA secretly coordinated its activities with Britain’s MI6.) Coincidentally or not, Turkish media reported an unscheduled meeting in Ankara between Petraeus and “his Turkish counterpart onSept. 2 in Istanbul during which the spy chiefs discussed the Syrian crisis and the Arab republic’s possible transition process,” without providing further detail other than noting that this was the CIA director’s second visit to Ankara in six months. The Turkish report noted that a month earlier, U.S. and Turkish delegations met to discuss how “to coordinate ongoing efforts to extend humanitarian aid to Syrians and to produce a common road map to shape a possible post-Baathist era. The meetings also raised the issue of the need for a smooth transition in Syria to avoid chaos in the country in the event that President Bashar al-Assad’s government collapses.”

Equally circumstantial, and despite earlier security warnings, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, had come to Benghazi for a dinner meeting with the Turkish Consul General Ali Sait Akin on September 11, 2014, , reportedly for a discussion of furtheringweapons transfers. The attacks started later, after 10 p.m., leaving the ambassador and three other Americans dead. Soon after that, the CIA role in the rat line operation was severed, but the operation continued with the shell companies that had been established (staffed with American mercenaries), and with British, Turkish, Saudi, and Qatari backing. Whether another covert American agency replaced the CIA is uncertain.

Running for re-election in 2012, President Obama is unlikely to have wanted to disclose an ongoing covert operation, especially one which was politically dangerous, since it was arming Syrian rebels of all stripes, including jihadists, who were supported by Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. Worse for the Obama administration, the operation was arguably illegal, and at best controversial. According to Hersh:

“The operation had not been disclosed at the time it was set up to the congressional intelligence committees and the congressional leadership, as required by law since the 1970s. The involvement of MI6 enabled the CIA to evade the law by classifying the mission as a liaison operation…. for years there has been a recognised exception in the law that permits the CIA not to report liaison activity to Congress, which would otherwise be owed a finding. (All proposed CIA covert operations must be described in a written document, known as a ‘finding’, submitted to the senior leadership of Congress for approval.)”

What’s better than watching Republicans chase imaginary wild hares?

Even today, disclosure is limited by official secrecy. Much of Hersh’s information comes from a “highly classified annex” to the January 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee report on Benghazi. Distribution of the annex was limited to eight ranking Congresspersons and the staff who wrote it. Hersh says he has not seen the annex but has talked to one or more people who have. According to them, the only purpose of the Benghazi consulate was to provide cover for the nearby CIA station and its gun running operation.

Given all that, what better tactic could the Obama campaign find in 2012 than letting Republicans make up and chase down imaginary conspiracy theories, only to come up empty time and again?  Yes, the Obama administration ended up looking suspicious: incompetent, disingenuous, or dishonest. But that’s a political hit that seems far easier to take than what might have resulted from telling the truth in all its detail.

The CIA/gun-running aspect of Benghazi has been part of the story pretty much from the start, reinforced by the September 14 London Times report of the arrival in a Turkish port of a 400 ton arms shipment on a Libyan ship, “The Victory” with a captain from Benghazi. The story was picked up by Business Insider, which proceeded to run with it – in the wrong direction if you assume that the most important question was whether Ambassador Stevens knew there were Libyan arms going to Syria. At the same time, Paula Broadwell, by then known as the CIA director’s mistress, publicly suggested that the attack on the CIA annex in Benghazi was meant to free Libyan prisoners there, a story plant that has the feel of a deliberate wild goose chase (which of course the CIA “adamantly denied”). By May 2013, Business Insider was again focusing on the Libyan weapons freighter and quoting Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul, on the same day that he announced he was “considering” a run for the presidency in 2016, telling CNN:

“I’ve actually always suspected that, although I have no evidence, that maybe we were facilitating arms leaving Libya going through Turkey into Syria…. I never have quite understood the cover-up — if it was intentional or incompetence — but something went on. I mean, they had talking points that they were trying to make it out to be a movie when everybody seemed to be on the ground telling them it had nothing to do with a movie…. Were they trying to obscure that there was an arms operation going on at the CIA annex? I’m not sure exactly what was going on, but I think questions ought to be asked and answered.”

Perhaps the clearest, and most vitriolic, expression of the Benghazi gun-running plot came from rising rightwing celebrity blogger Katie Kieffer of Minnesota, whose April 29, 2013, post began: “Liberals don’t want honest Americans like you to have guns. Liberals just want to arm foreign rebels in crapshoot attempts to ‘end global violence.’ But liberals feign ignorance when the rebels they arm end up being criminals who kill innocent Americans like the late U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens.” In other words, the new rightwingBenghazi meme came down to this: Obama gave weapons to some jihadists– some jihadists killed Americans in Benghazi  ­– therefore Obama is a murderer – and, no, we don’t have any evidence for that.

“Benghazi” outbursts continue, but most media ignore Hersh’s claims

A year later, as some 70 demonstrators prepared to protest Hillary Clinton’s satellite appearance at a San Diego healthcare event, the current rightwing version of Benghazi goes like this:

“Is it not inconceivable to you that a Muslim terror attack, on the 11th anniversary of 9/11, that resulted in the death of four Americans, would not only go uninvestigated but also unpunished as well? That is exactly what the Obama White House is doing. President Obama and then-Secretary Of State Hillary Clinton allowed a Muslim terror attack against the US Consulate in Libya to occur unchallenged, while they watched it in real-time on White House satellite feedsThen Obama started firing staff to perpetuate the coverup.”

The assertion that they “allowed a Muslim terror attack” derives from an anonymous claim that unnamed sources gave unspecified warnings that the consulate was in danger. The “satellite feeds” refer an anonymous report that two drones, one replacing the first, observed the attacks and had the capability to send signals the White House could receive. The “staff firing” reference is about thePetraeus resignation after his extra-marital affair became public.

Hersh’s story has had little or no coverage in mainstream media, which were pretty much of one mind that the sarin attacks of 2013 were the work of the Assad regime, because they bought the official story that no one else had the capability to do that. Hersh’s article castscredible doubt on that assumption of certainty, and provides a more plausible motivation than whatever self-destructive impulse was assigned to Assad.  Much of the Twitter backlash against Hersh is merely ad hominem sputtering and their debunkings of Hersh’s debunking of the official version of events were inconclusive, as Interventions Watch wrote: “The article has caused much consternation among those people in the corporate media and the NGO community who are 100% certain that the Assad regime was responsible for the attacks.”

So now there are new Benghazi questions coming from new directions:

 

• Is it possible that the Benghazi attack was orchestrated by the Islamist president of Turkey for the sake of freer rein in helping Syrian Islamist rebels?

• How much credence should be given to the YouTube recording of Turkish officials discussing a false flag operation designed to provoke a war between Turkey and Syria? (Turkish officials have not denied the authenticity of the recording, but they claim it was manipulated and have shut down the YouTube site in Turkey.)

• Have the arms shipments from Libya to Syrian rebels included any chemical weapons? Or biological weapons?

• What did the White House know,   and when did the White House know it?

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.

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Nonviolent, unarmed resistance at Bundy Ranch backed off BLM

Crazed, heavily-armed Bundy Ranch protesters. Oh, wait...

Crazed, heavily-armed Bundy Ranch protesters. Oh, wait…

At a crucial point at Bundy Ranch, unarmed protesters on horseback rode down to confront heavily-armed BLM, who then pulled back their forces. That’s right, the protesters were not carrying guns. Among those opposing BLM were mother-daughter Utah farmers Symbria and Sara Patterson, “pillars of the local food community in Cedar City Utah.” They don’t even own guns. And were at Bundy Ranch because they are tired of intrusive government regulation, like having to comply with meaningless federal “organic” food regulations when their own standards are much stricter or having bleach dumped on their food because it was transported across a state border. (BTW, I used to live in Cedar City, know the Pattersons, and can vouch for their reliability.)

BLM, by all accounts, treated the cattle horribly.

Sara chimes in. She milks the family cow, as well as several goats, and says she was appalled at how the cattle were treated by the BLM. “The conditions in the corrals were disgusting,” she says. “There was no water. There were dozens of dogie calves separated from their mothers. The cows were all full of milk because they had been separated from the calves. Two cows had died, and two more had been crippled and had to be killed.”

Unarmed nonviolent protest worked at Bundy Ranch.

Symbria believes that violence is doomed to fail. The government has air power, surveillance, and lots of technology. “This isn’t like it was in the American Revolution,” she says. “They could slaughter us.”

She instead uses the examples of the horsemen who confronted the BLM.

“I asked them if they didn’t have guns,” she tells me. “One man said, ‘Oh, we have guns, we just chose not to bring them.’”

That, she says, is why the protest succeeded.

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Search the Dark Web easily with Grams

'Heroin' search om Grams

‘Heroin’ search om Grams

Need heroin, cocaine, gun, stolen credit card numbers, porn or fake IDS? The Dark Web awaits you, and is now searchable by Grams.

Grams is accessible only by using the Tor browser. The url is grams7enufi7jmdl.onion. This allows you to search for whatever you want in the internet version of the Wild West. Payment is by cryptocurrency only.

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San Francisco evictions generally near tech company bus stops

shuttle-stops

Landlords in San Francisco can evict tenants simply because they want to renovate or sell the property. The vast bulk of San Francisco evictions happen within 4 blocks of a tech company bus stop, says the Anti Eviction Mapping Project. Rents are soaring as a result. Most additional new housing in SF is luxury and immediately gets bought for cash by speculators wanting to keep prices high.

Protests are now targeting Google employees like Jack Halperin, who is also a SF landlord, demanding he rescind eviction notices, as well as against noxious double-decker private Google buses which use public bus stops, clog traffic, and mess things up for everyone else.

TechCrunch hs a long, thoughtful article about the lack of affordable housing in SF.

Today, the tech industry is apparently on track to destroy one of the world’s most valuable cultural treasures, San Francisco, by pushing out the diverse people who have helped create it. At least that’s the story you’ve read in hundreds of articles lately.

It doesn’t have to be this way. But everyone who lives in the Bay Area today needs to accept responsibility for making changes where they live so that everyone who wants to be here, can.

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Ukraine: Is anyone playing this “crisis” straight?

be-afraid

Whether it’s a real crisis doesn’t matter as long as you’re afraid

Just when the U.S. Defense Secretary was in Japan giving indications that the Ukraine “crisis” was over as far as the U.S. was concerned, Ukrainians of all sorts, other Washington officials, and even the Japanese government all pitch in to keep the “crisis” alive, at least as a threat meme.

How much of a Ukraine crisis is it, really, when pro-Russians Ukrainians seize Ukrainian government buildings, calling for Russians protection/intervention – and the Russians don’t come?  They don’t even threaten to come. That’s been true for several days as this is written. Maybe it won’t be true as you read it, since writing about Ukraine these days is like leaving a message in the sand without knowing where the tide line is on the beach.

All the same, the opportunity, the pretext, the moment for Russian intervention arrived April 6 in eastern Ukraine (in the three oblasts of Kharkiv, Luhansk, and especially Donetsk). Russia, already presumed to have the means and the motive, did not seize the opportunity to invade any part of Ukraine. Quite the contrary, the Russians, and the Germans, and the European Union were all calling for calm, dialogue, and de-escalation. While others fulminated fantasy threats, German Chancellor Angela Merkel put the Russian takeover of Crimea in perspective with the succinctness of sanity, saying she considered it a “singular event.” The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton called for “de-escalation and the avoidance of further destabilization.”

Along with many American officials, the acting government of Ukraine has been inflating the Russian “threat” for weeks, stoking fear that the Ukraine mainland was poised to go the way of Crimea. That’s the Ukrainian propaganda line that’s still waiting for – or possibly seeking to provoke – confirmation on the ground. This fear-mongering is based on two assumptions: (1) that Russia has annexed Crimea (true) and (2) that Russian troops along the Ukrainian border (hard to nail down, more about that later) are planning to invade eastern Ukraine (counterintuitive from a rational perspective, but impossible to prove until it happens, or doesn’t). In any event, it’s a useful distraction for the Kiev government, which can’t even run its parliament without breaking into fistfights.

The killer quote so far, crystallizing American madness in the midst of a situation we spent twenty years preparing, comes from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, testifying to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 8:

“… quite simply, what we see from Russia is an illegal and illegitimate effort to destabilize a sovereign state and create a contrived crisis with paid operatives across an international boundary.”

Looking in the mirror, Kerry apparently sees someone else as he utters an apt and precise description of the western role in Ukraine, destabilizing a sovereign state during the months of the Maidan that culminated in a pro-western coup d’etat, resulting in the illegal and illegitimate (but possibly better) Kiev government now in power. American paid operatives, both overt and, presumably covert, prominently included Asst. Secretary of State Victoria (“fuck the EU”) Nuland, who reports to Kerry. Nuland’s stated choice for the next Ukrainian prime minister was Arseniy Yatsenyuk, whom the coup leaders chose as the next and current Ukrainian prime minister.

Remembering that one side’s de-stabilization can become another side’s stabilization, it’s foolish to question whether or not the Russians are engaged in events in Ukraine. The more useful question would be who doesn’t have a hand in stirring the pot?  Summing up the official spin on events, the New York Times of April 8 began its Ukraine story, under the headline “Ukrainian Troops Move to Reassert Control in East,” with this paragraph:

“Ukrainian Interior Ministry troops expelled pro-Russian demonstrators from a regional administration building in the eastern city of Kharkiv early on Tuesday, arresting about 70 protesters as the provisional government in Kiev moved to exert control over unrest that the United States and its Western allies fear might lead to a Russian military invasion.” 

Nicely done, implying in one long sentence that: even though Ukraine’s troops are in charge of a challenge that comes from “pro-Russian demonstrators” (who are Ukrainian civilians as far as is known), nevertheless everyone should be afraid of “a Russian military invasion” which seems no more likely than a Russian tourist invasion. The best touch is the reference to Kiev’s “provisional” government, which has no legitimacy, having come to power in a process that began with demonstrations that mirror the one so quickly quelled in Kharkiv.

No doubt someone somewhere is arguing that this comparison proves that Ukrainians had more free speech under President Yanukovych that they have under the government that overthrew him and, in its first legislative act, banned Russian as an official language (later rescinded).

Later the same day, the original lede disappeared from the Times website, when the Times re-packaged the official message this way: “As the government in Kiev moved to reassert control over pro-Russian protesters across eastern Ukraine, the United States and NATO issued stern warnings to Moscow about further intervention in the country’s affairs, amid continuing fears of an eventual Russian incursion.” Now the Kiev government, no longer “provisional,” remains in control of its pro-Russian citizens, but the U.S. and NATO are bombast-throwing against the diminished threat of an “eventual” mere “incursion.” This might seem like an indication of some easing of tensions except that, in the print edition of the April 8 Times, the same reporters had earlier written that “there was no imminent threat to peace.”

Who wants trouble, and where do they want it?  

The American Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, arrived in Japan on April 5 at the same time that American officials were sending signals that the Ukraine “crisis” caused by the Russian takeover of Crimea was over. Even though the 1994 Budapest Memorandum signed by President Clinton purported to guarantee Ukraine’s territorial integrity, the U.S. response has been that there is no military solution (in other words: Crimea is not worth going to war over). The Budapest Memorandum did not mean what it said, American officials explained, because its commitments were “nonbinding.” The memorandum is not a formal treaty.

Japan and the U.S. have a formal security treaty, which Defense Secretary Hagel emphasized publicly and privately. But Japanese officials were using the American response on Crimea to try to leverage a stronger American commitment to an even less important bit of contested real estate in the East China Sea – the uninhabited islands called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. Both countries claim the islands, whose status is legally ambiguous. The Chinese discovered a large natural gas field near the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in 2006, which China and Japan have developed jointly since 2008.

Increasing Japanese militarism was expressed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in January, when he told the World Economic Forum that the world should stand up to China or risk a regional war with global economic consequences. Feeding that fear in February, U.S. intelligence officer Capt. James Farrell claimed that Chinese training exercises included practice for “a short sharp war to destroy Japanese forces in the East China Sea.” The U.S. ambassador to China, Gary Locke, responding indirectly at the time, asking that “both sides lower the temperature and focus on diplomacy,” while adding that the U.S. had no position on the dispute over the uninhabited Senkaku/Diaoyu islands.

Adding to the context leading up to Hagel’s visit, the North Koreans launched some 30 short-range ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan. Japan promised to shoot down any more North Korean missiles seen as a threat to Japan. And South Korea, which also has a military security treaty with the U.S., tested a new, long-range ballistic missile that could reach almost any point in North Korea, firing it into the Yellow Sea.

Manipulating the perception of increasing tensions, the Japanese sought to maneuver the U.S. in committing itself to a military response to any attack on the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands that Japan administers. Hagel reaffirmed the American commitment to protect Japan’s security, without specifically including the disputed islands, reiterating the official U.S. position that it has no position.

For all their diplomatic ambiguity, Hagel’s assurances annoyed the Chinese without satisfying the Japanese. Hagel travelled on to China, where he became the first foreigner to get a tour of China’s newest aircraft carrier, a former Soviet vessel that the Chinese spent a decade refurbishing after buying it from Ukraine.

What none of the public officials (and little if any of the media coverage) said about the Sendaku/Diaoyu islands is that the islands are arguably located in both countries’ excusive economic zones and also within their 200-mile territorial limits (the East China Sea is about 360 miles wide) as controlled by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which both countries have signed. The dispute has been pending before the UN’s State Oceanic Administration since December 2012, when China submitted its claim. The ocean area in dispute is about one-and-a-half times the size of Crimea.

Speaking at the NATO Transformation Seminar in Paris on April 8, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen defined the Ukraine situation through the now familiar meme of Russian troops massed on the border of Ukraine, a description of reality that is as unchallenged as it is unproven, even though it has settled into acceptance as conventional wisdom: 

“We are meeting at a defining moment for the security architecture we have built together over the last decades. Events in Eastern Ukraine are of great concern. I urge Russia to step back. Any further move into Eastern Ukraine would represent a serious escalation, rather than the de-escalation that we all seek. 

“We call on Russia to pull back the tens of thousands of troops it has massed on Ukraine’s borders, engage in a genuine dialogue with the Ukrainian authorities, and respect its international commitments.” 

The first problem with the troop meme is that Ukraine’s border with Russia is more than 1,200 miles long. No one is asserting that there are massed Russian troops stretching 1,200 miles from Belarus to the Black Sea, and clearly that’s not what’s real [if there were 40,000 troops along the entire 1,200 mile border, that would mean there were 33 troops per mile, which is pretty thin massing]. It’s not clear what’s real, and hasn’t been since the earliest assertions of Russian troops massing.

Before the Maidan began in Kiev in the fall of 2013, the Russians were allowed by treaty to have 25,000 troops in Ukraine, all in bases in Crimea. Once Russia controlled Crimea, early reports of Russian troops in Ukraine often confused this reality with other things that may or may not have been real, such as the March 7 report that the Pentagon estimated the presence of “20,000 Russian troops in Ukraine.” If true, the Russians would seem to have been under-massed by about 5,000 troops.  Whatever else was true during the Crimea takeover, there were no pictures of massive Russian troop movements. Video of Russian tanks moving to Crimea on trains were, if real, showing those tanks moving unmolested through southern Ukraine, the only rail route from Russia to Crimea.

As of March 4, according to a map in the British Daily Telegraph, the standing military of Ukraine comprised little more than 150 planes and 65,000 troops. Across the border in Russia, the standing military in the western district (Moscow) included 278 planes and over 150,000 troops. The southern military district (Rostov-on-Don) had some 200 planes and 150,000 troops. In other words, before there was any “massing,” the Russians already had more than 300,000 troops stationed in regions bordering Ukraine, presumably at a variety of distances from the border.

On March 12, the British Daily Mail reported a Ukraine government claim that “80,000 Russian troops were massing on its borders.” The story included two maps, one of which showed four areas on the border where the Russians were reportedly massing 80,000 troops, 270 tanks, 180 armored vehicles, 90 helicopters, 140 planes, and so on, without any indication how they were divided up.  The second map purported to show that Russia planned to occupy all of southern Ukraine from Kharkiv to Odessa, which wasn’t fully consistent with the map showing where the troops were “massed.”

That was the government in Kiev, or the Daily Mail, crying wolf. The next day, March 13, the UK Guardian reported that “Moscow has deployed 10,000 troops along its border with Ukraine,” no massing, and clearly discounting the 25,000 or so in Crimea. Russia confirmed the 10,00 in “several border regions… in a training exercise that would last two weeks.” The New York Times the same day reported the same story based on the same source somewhat more hysterically, under the fundamentally false headline: 

Russian Troops Mass at Border With Ukraine 

The Russians continued to deny the Times’s definition of reality, which President Obama said “we have seen… massing along that border under the guise of military exercises.” Whatever the president may have seen, there was no conclusive visual evidence offered to the public. What pictures there have been to date have shown little that could be called “massing,” and were often pictures that could have been taken anywhere, any time. That includes the purported classified satellite images tweeted by U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt on April 9 that he claims show a “buildup” near Rostov-on-Don, which is some fifty miles from the Ukraine border.

By the end of March, Ukraine was claiming Russia had 100,000 troops on the border (later reduced to “still over 10,000”), while the Russians were claiming that they had allowed foreign observers to probe border regions four times and that “even Ukrainian inspectors [agreed] there were no major military activities being carried out.” Fox News said the Russians were just hiding their troops. The official U.S. estimate of massed Russian troops stabilized at around 40,000 (where it remains), while the European estimate is 30,000.  As of April 7, at the joint meeting in Vienna of the Forum for Security Cooperation and the Permanent Council, the U.S. remained officially dissatisfied with Russian responses to formal inquiries as to the precise nature and purpose of forces deployed near the Ukraine border.

The United States currently has 67,000 troops in Europe, far from Ukraine, with 40,000 in Germany, 11,000 in Italy, and 9,500 in Britain. The total in 1991, before the Soviet Union collapsed, was 285,000.

Whatever the reality of the positions of Russian troops in Russia, there’s no credible evidence they exist in threatening strength. It could be true, but even those who have looked for them reportedly can’t find them. Ukraine is inherently unstable and has long existed in a nearly continuous state of chronic crisis. But the engaged participants all have reasons to perpetuate the spectre of massed Russian troops, whether they’re there or not: the Russians for leverage and mystique; the Ukrainians for unity and support; the west for posturing.

And there’s another constituency with a clear vested interested in pushing the Russian threat toward a new Cold War: arms makers (excuse me: “defense contractors”).  As the NATO secretary general said quite plainly at the NATO Transformation Seminar, April 8:

“The reality is that Europeans have disarmed too much and for too long.  In NATO, we have agreed a defence spending guideline of 2% of Gross Domestic Product.   Too few Allies meet this guideline.  And too many have moved too far in the other direction. This is the time to stop the cuts and start reversing the trend.”  

From that perspective, there are likely some who are afraid that Russia won’t invade Ukraine, or that China won’t invade the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. 

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.

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