September 1, 2022

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 PM


How Russia's strange cultural mindset led to Vladimir Putin's great miscalculation (Alex Berezow, 9/01/22, Big Think)

My grandparents are both gone now, so for insights into the Russian mindset, I turn not only to the news but to the country's classic literature. Full of gloom and a seeming resignation to fate, the characters cope and make sense of their impoverished, miserable lives with vodka, bitter cynicism, and dark humor. Consider this exchange between Father Ferapont and a monk from The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. It concerns whether the Holy Spirit appears as a dove and speaks to Father Ferapont:

"The Holy Spirit can appear as other birds -- sometimes as a swallow, sometimes a goldfinch and sometimes as a blue-tit."

"How do you know him from an ordinary tit?"

"He speaks."

"How does he speak, in what language?"

"Human language."

"And what does he tell you?"

"Why, today he told me that a fool would visit me and would ask me unseemly questions."

To be sure, this sort of snarky humor is not unique to Russia. Scandinavian humor is notoriously dark. Besides, much of the time, Russians' biting humor is a coping mechanism for living under an oppressive government that has casually violated human rights for centuries and habitually lies to the public. Indeed, an old Soviet joke, which has taken on renewed significance, says, "The future is certain; it is only the past that is unpredictable" -- a reference to the government's long tradition of rewriting history to support the regime and its political ambitions. 

Smarter faster: the Big Think newsletter
Subscribe for counterintuitive, surprising, and impactful stories delivered to your inbox every Thursday
Fields marked with an * are required
The Russian mindset, therefore, is one filled with cynicism and distrust, which importantly, extends all the way to the top. While the Russian public is cynical and distrustful of its leaders, high-ranking officials in the Kremlin, including Vladimir Putin, are cynical and distrustful of the outside world. 

As a result, there is a pervasive narrative, fueled by the media and long embraced by the country's elite, that Russia is and deserves to be a glorious country, but it is being held back by the nefarious West. In her book Putin's World, Angela Stent explains that Russians simultaneously have a superiority complex and an inferiority complex regarding their role in the world. The former is rooted in the country's truly impressive history and culture, while the latter is rooted in the centuries-long belief that the West is determined to undermine Russia. Poet and diplomat Fyodor Tyutchev once wrote, "There is not a single interest, not a single trend in the West, which does not conspire against Russia." That was in 1864. In terms of worldview, little has changed since then -- and, ultimately, it is what underlies the war in Ukraine. [...]

So, what caused the second, larger invasion that began in February 2022? Unlike the ouster of Yanukovych in the Maidan Revolution eight years earlier, there wasn't any single precipitating event. Instead, Putin seems to have been reacting to Ukraine's ever-closer drift toward the West, particularly NATO. What's ironic is that Ukraine's chances of joining the EU, let alone NATO, were far smaller before the invasion began. Putin's invasion accelerated the very scenario that he long feared.

In an interview with Big Think, geopolitical analyst Ian Bremmer referred to Putin's decision as the "single biggest geopolitical mistake made by any leader on the global stage since the Wall came down in 1989." Bremmer adds, "The misjudgment was massive. The failure was immense and immediate. And the consequences for Putin and for Russia will be permanent."

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


The 4 major criminal probes into Donald Trump, explained: Keeping track of all the criminal investigations of Trump isn't easy, so we did it for you. (Ian Millhiser, Aug 31, 2022, Vox)

The FBI searched Mar-a-Lago, Trump's Florida residence because, as federal prosecutors said in a fiery court filing Tuesday, they believed not only did the former president possess "dozens" of boxes "likely to contain classified information" but also that "efforts were likely taken to obstruct the government's investigation." In that search, the FBI said it did remove over 100 classified documents, some of which reportedly contained information about nuclear weapons. That's all part of just one investigation into possible violations of the Espionage Act, the improper handling of federal records, and obstruction of a federal investigation.

Meanwhile, a second federal investigation is looking into the January 6 attack on the Capitol and broader efforts to overturn the 2020 election, an issue that obviously could implicate the man who spent most of the 2020 lame-duck period trying to erase his loss to President Joe Biden.

In Georgia, a number of Trump allies are being subpoenaed as part of a state criminal investigation into interference with the 2020 election in their state specifically. Trump consigliere Rudy Giuliani is a target of the investigation. Trump could also be implicated, and even criminally charged, before this Georgia investigation concludes. In a post-election call with Georgia's Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Trump told the state's top election official that he wants "to find 11,780 votes." Biden defeated Trump in Georgia by 11,779 votes.

Then there are two separate New York investigations into the Trump Organization and Trump's web of surrounding businesses, which are investigating allegations that Trump misrepresented his companies' finances in order to obtain bank loans or to reduce taxes.

New York Attorney General Letitia James's investigation into these allegations is primarily civil (as in, non-criminal), but a parallel investigation by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg already led to two indictments -- both the Trump Organization and its CFO Allen Weisselberg were indicted in July 2021.

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


Russian Army Running Out of Reserves to Replenish Its Forces in Ukraine (MICHAEL WASIURA,  9/1/22, Newsweek)

As Ukrainian forces continue to use Western-supplied weaponry to execute precision strikes on Russian military targets, the Russian response remains largely limited to the rhetorical realm. Military experts tell Newsweek that the reason behind the Kremlin's seeming restraint is simple: the Russian military is no longer able to deploy significant numbers of additional conventional forces to Ukraine in the short term.

"In the short-to-medium run, Russia isn't capable of generating much more effective conventional force than it has already deployed," said George Barros, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War.

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


Trump legal filing appears to contradict former president's defense for having documents (Jerry Dunleavy, September 01, 2022, Washington Examiner)

Former President Donald Trump appeared to contradict one of his key defenses for having top secret documents at his Mar-a-Lago home in a new filing from his legal team.

The confusion was created in the Trump team's filing in response to the DOJ's efforts to shoot down the former president's attempt to convince a federal judge to appoint a special master to review independently what the FBI had seized. In the filing, Trump's team agreed that any special master who is picked would need a top security clearance to review the records.

However, that appeared to go against Trump's defense that he declassified everything before leaving office. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:06 PM


Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


The Great Resignation forced U.S. companies to order a record number of robots (TRISTAN BOVE, August 30, 2022, Fortune)

The U.S. robotics industry is booming, partly thanks to the nation's record labor shortage.

Despite recession warnings and fears of an inevitable economic collapse, America in 2022 is full of jobs, it's just that nobody wants to take them.

In 2021, the U.S. added 3.8 million jobs, an "unprecedented" number according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

But since then, labor participation has declined sharply, with around 3.4 million fewer workers participating in the job market than immediately before the pandemic, according to the chamber.

Companies of all shapes and sizes have struggled to cope with the mounting labor shortage, and have seemingly tried everything to remedy it, from reducing operating hours to offering employees previously unheard-of perks.

Now new data suggests that American companies are leaning more on something else to combat the lack of human workers: robots.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


How Gorbachev tried to save the USSR (MAXIMILIAN HESS, 1 September 2022, UnHerd)

Gorbachev shaped generations of European foreign policy towards Russia, most notably that of Angela Merkel, whose defining experience was witnessing Soviet troops standing down as the Berlin Wall crumbled. But his actions were guided not by benevolence but by the misguided belief it would enable the Soviet Union to focus on protecting its internal cohesion.

Gorbachev did not idly stand by as the Soviet Union collapsed. In most former Soviet territories, his legacy is shaped by the violence that proliferated at the end of his rule, particularly in the Baltics and the Caucasus. He fought to retain the Soviet Union, cracking down on pro-independence protests.

Gorbachev may have been a genuine reformer, but he was also a card-carrying communist. His reforms and the internationalism represented by his withdrawal from the Cold War battlefield were an attempt to restore the Soviet state to the Leninist mission he believed Stalin and his ilk had corrupted. In response to unrest in the ethnic republics, Gorbachev sought to refashion the USSR as a new 'Union of Sovereign States,' keeping Leninist internationalism at the core of his planned cure for USSR's ills, even as rivals such as Boris Yeltsin abandoned the Communist Party. Gorbachev only allowed the Soviet Union to breathe its last when he lost his faith.

The Failed Dream of Mikhail Gorbachev (Casey Michel, August 31, 2022, New Republic)

Gorbachev, of course, failed--thanks in large part to his own myopic efforts to steer the Soviet Union to a newer, brighter future. There was his blinkered anti-alcohol campaign, which starved the Soviet economy of much-needed revenue. There was his noteworthy political aloofness, which alienated potential allies and provided further fodder for his domestic opponents. (Gorbachev's naivete about basic politics earned him the nickname "The Martian.") And there was the fact that, despite the promise of perestroika and glasnost, Gorbachev always seemed hesitant to follow through on many of his pledges. He was a man in a blindfold, groping his way toward some unknown destination, increasingly frustrated that he kept getting lost and that fewer and fewer people were following him.

As events began spiraling beyond his control--as pushback in places like East Germany and the Baltics and the Caucasus began eroding the Kremlin's influence faster and faster--Gorbachev flailed, tacking right, and then left, and then right again. He was praised in the West for his international maneuvers: for pulling Soviet troops from both Afghanistan and Eastern Europe, and for talking about potentially ridding the world of nuclear weapons once and for all. "Gorbymania" was a real phenomenon, especially once the Cold War ended.

But domestically, Gorbachev showed a different side. An autocrat like his predecessors, Gorbachev couldn't handle the fact that Soviet citizens weren't coming along with his project--and that, in fact, some were outright opposed to his rule altogether.

Which is why, in 1986, Soviet forces under Gorbachev began massacring protesters in Kazakhstan. And then they did the same against anti-Soviet protesters in Georgia. And then again in Azerbaijan. And then again in Lithuania. And then again in Latvia. The dissolution of the Soviet Union under Gorbachev may have avoided some of the worst-case scenarios. But it was never the peaceful venture that some in the West still regard it. Gorbachev's victims were almost always those populations colonized by the Soviet Union, firmly opposed to Moscow's rule and trying to finally break free.

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 AM


Trump's legal jab left him open to Justice Department strike (Alan Feuer and Glenn Thrush, 8/31/22,  New York Times)

Former president Donald Trump may have thought that he was playing offense when he asked a federal judge last week for an independent review of documents seized from his residence in Florida -- a move that, at best, could delay but not derail an investigation into his handling of the records.

But on Tuesday night, the Justice Department used a routine court filing in the matter to initiate a blistering counteroffensive that disclosed new evidence that Trump and his legal team may have interfered with the inquiry.

In the filing, in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, department officials revealed more details about the classified materials that Trump had taken from the White House, including a remarkable photograph of several of them arrayed on the floor of Mar-a-Lago, his home and private club in Florida. In what read at times like a road map for a potential prosecution down the road, the filing also laid out evidence that Trump and his lawyers may have obstructed justice.

It was as if Trump, seeming not to fully grasp the potential hazards of his modest legal move, cracked open a door, allowing the Justice Department to push past him and seize the initiative.