Tuesday Reads: Russia, Crimea, MH 370, and a Couple of Flim Flam MenPosted: March 18, 2014
The Obama administration hit 11 Russian and Ukrainian officials with sanctions today as punishment for Russia’s support of Crimea’s referendum. Among them: aides to President Vladimir Putin, a top government official, senior lawmakers, Crimean officials, the ousted president of Ukraine, and a Ukrainian politician and businessman allegedly tied to violence against protesters in Kiev.
One of the officials, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, quickly “laughed off President Obama’s sanction against him…, asking “Comrade @BarackObama” if “some prankster” came up with the list.
HuffPo quoted other Russian officials who were not impressed with Obama’s actions:
…the dire tone coming out of the White House was not shared by many who stand to lose the most from the sanctions. In Moscow, sanctioned Russian officials mocked the U.S. announcement, while in Washington, U.S. lobbyists who represent foreign clients said they were relieved that the sanctions amounted to little more than a slap on the wrist. Even the Moscow stock markets, which had been dragged down by the uncertainty in Crimea, responded positively to the news, posting some of the first gains they’ve had in weeks….
Andrei Klishas, a Russian lawmaker who was targeted, said that the U.S. rebuke was “no tragedy” for him and that he was happy to be in the company of the other sanctioned Russians. Yelena Mizulina, a member of Russia’s parliament best known for authoring the country’s controversial anti-gay propaganda legislation, said she owned no U.S. “real estate” and was “surprised” to be included, given that her role in the Crimean vote was “very modest.”
One particularly juicy response came from adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin and spinmeister Vladislav Surkov, known as the “grey cardinal” of the Kremlin. “I see the decision by the administration in Washington as an acknowledgment of my service to Russia. It’s a big honor for me. I don’t have accounts abroad,” he told the Russian newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets. “The only things that interest me in the U.S. are Tupac Shakur, Allen Ginsberg, and Jackson Pollock. I don’t need a visa to access their work. I lose nothing.”
Meanwhile Putin moved ahead with the official annexation of Crimea. From the LA Times:
Russia has signed a treaty to incorporate Crimea into its territory following a referendum in which residents of Ukraine’s region overwhelmingly backed the move.
President Vladimir Putin signed the document Tuesday with Crimea’s prime minister and parliament speaker following a televised address to the nation, in which he vigorously defended Crimea’s vote as a restoration of historical justice.
Still, according to Bloomberg, Russia’s economy is approaching a crisis: Russia Sounds Alarm on Economy as West Starts With Sanctions.
“The situation in the economy bears clear signs of a crisis,” Deputy Economy Minister Sergei Belyakov said in Moscow yesterday. The cabinet needs to refrain from raising the fiscal burden on companies, which would be the “wrong approach,” he said. “Taking money from companies and asking them afterward to modernize production is illogical and strange.”
Even before the worst standoff against the West since the Cold War, Russia’s economy was facing the weakest growth since a 2009 recession as consumer demand failed to make up for sagging investment. President Vladimir Putin supported a request from Crimea to join Russia, signing an order to approve an accord on the breakaway region’s accession before a meeting today with lawmakers.
The Ukrainian crisis is putting a strain on Russia’s $2 trillion economy, which grew 1.3 percent in 2013 after expanding 3.4 percent the previous year. Last year’s growth was “insufficient” and the current outlook and government forecasts “can’t satisfy us,” Putin said March 12. The Economy Ministry projects growth will average 2.5 percent a year through 2030.
In Poland, Vice President Biden said there will be more sanctions against Russia.
Biden spoke Tuesday after meeting in Warsaw with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk. He says the U.S. joins Poland and the international community in condemning the continuing assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty. He says it’s a blatant violation of international law.
Biden says virtually the entire world rejects the referendum in Crimea that cleared the way for Russia to annex the peninsula in Ukraine.
I came across this video on Twitter yesterday, and I thought it was relevant to Putin’s takeover of Crimea: Watch as 1000 years of European borders change.
Last night in the comments JJ posted a NYT article with some new information about MH 370’s flight path. I’m posting it again here. Lost Jet’s Path Seen as Altered via Computer.
Instead of manually operating the plane’s controls, whoever altered Flight 370’s path typed seven or eight keystrokes into a computer on a knee-high pedestal between the captain and the first officer, according to officials. The Flight Management System, as the computer is known, directs the plane from point to point specified in the flight plan submitted before a flight. It is not clear whether the plane’s path was reprogrammed before or after it took off.
The fact that the turn away from Beijing was programmed into the computer has reinforced the belief of investigators — first voiced by Malaysian officials — that the plane was deliberately diverted and that foul play was involved. It has also increased their focus on the plane’s captain and first officer.
Malaysian officials also changed their minds about when the plane’s communications devices were shut down.
Malaysian authorities on Monday reversed themselves on the sequence of events they believe took place on the plane in the crucial minutes before ground controllers lost contact with it early on March 8. They said it was the plane’s first officer — the co-pilot — who was the last person in the cockpit to speak to ground control. And they withdrew their assertion that another automated system on the plane, the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, or Acars, had already been disabled when the co-pilot spoke.
Flight 370’s Flight Management System reported its status to the Acars, which in turn transmitted information back to a maintenance base, according to an American official. This shows that the reprogramming happened before the Acars stopped working. The Acars ceased to function about the same time that oral radio contact was lost and the airplane’s transponder also stopped, fueling suspicions that foul play was involved in the plane’s disappearance.
Investigators are scrutinizing radar tapes from when the plane first departed Kuala Lumpur because they believe the tapes will show that after the plane first changed its course, it passed through several pre-established “waypoints,” which are like virtual mile markers in the sky. That would suggest the plane was under control of a knowledgeable pilot because passing through those points without using the computer would have been unlikely.
This information leads experts to conclude that whoever diverted Flt. 370 was a highly skilled pilot. So where could the missing plane have gone?
According to Slate, there are 634 runways where a skilled pilot could have landed it.
As speculation grows that there may be a slim chance Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 landed somewhere after it suddenly disappeared from radars, WNYC published a map to illustrate all the possible runways that could have been used. The WNYC Data News team used information from X-Plane that provides runway coordinates from around the world to determine all the possible spots that could be available for the plane to land within 2,200 nautical miles, considering a Boeing 777 would need a runway of at least 5,000 feet. There are a total of 634 runways that fit the criteria, spread out across 26 countries. But of course the number of places the plane could have landed is much larger as it assumes the plane used a formal runway in the first place. Slate’s Jeff Wise spoke to a pilot who flies 777-200s who said the plane could be landed on a highway. “A runway wouldn’t even necessarily have to be paved,” wrote Wise, “hard-packed dirt would likely be good enough.”
Check out a map of the locations at the link.
You’ve probably heard that Fred Phelps, former pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church in on his deathbed. From The Independent:
He spent much of his life making unwelcome appearances at other people’s funerals, with placards bearing the infamous slogan, “God Hates Fags”. Yet now, as Fred Phelps Sr approaches his own death, even members of his close family have been barred – by other family members who have stayed loyal to him –from saying goodbye. According to a Facebook post by his estranged son Nathan Phelps, the 84-year-old founder of the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), was excommunicated last summer by the group he himself founded almost 60 years ago, and is now “on the edge of death” at a hospice in Topeka, Kansas.
Nathan Phelps, the sixth of the pastor’s 13 children, fled his abusive father and the WBC in 1980. Now 55 and an avowed atheist, he lives in Canada, where he campaigns on behalf of LGBT rights. Of his father’s excommunication and imminent demise, he wrote: “I’m not sure how I feel about this. Terribly ironic that his devotion to his god ends this way. Destroyed by the monster he made. I feel sad for all the hurt he’s caused so many. I feel sad for those who will lose the grandfather and father they loved. And I’m bitterly angry that my family is blocking the family members who left from seeing him.”
Fred Phelps Sr, an ordained minister, established the WBC in Topeka in 1955, but only in the past two decades has the church become infamous for its practice of picketing the funerals of gay people, public figures and – since 9/11 – the US servicemen and women killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. Phelps and his bitterly homophobic followers purport to believe that the deaths of US military personnel represent God’s punishment for homosexuality.
The Westboro Baptist Church was known for picketing the funerals of gay people and soldiers (Getty)The fringe Calvinist group – whose lesser-known slogans include “Fags Die, God Laughs” and “Thank God for Maimed Soldiers” – has achieved disproportionate notoriety, given that it has always consisted of fewer than 100 adherents, most members of the extended Phelps family.
Ironically, Phelps was excommunicated because he “called for kinder treatment of fellow church members.” At The Boston Globe, Chris Caesar collected reactions to the news about Phelps’ health.
I was surprised and gratified yesterday to learn that another flim flam man, Kevin Trudeau, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for taking advantage of unfortunate people who fell for his his fraudulent weight loss infomercials. For years, it was hard to click around the TV channels without being exposed to this smooth-talking con man selling his “cures” for obesity, illness, and poverty. From AP’s The Big Story:
Best-selling author Kevin Trudeau, whose name became synonymous with late-night TV pitches, was sentenced to 10 years in prison Monday for bilking consumers through ubiquitous infomercials for his book, “The Weight Loss Cure ‘They’ Don’t Want You to Know About.”
As he imposed the sentence prosecutors had requested, U.S. District Judge Ronald Guzman portrayed the 50-year-old Trudeau as a habitual fraudster going back to his early adulthood. So brazen was Trudeau, the judge said, he once even used his own mother’s Social Security number in a scheme.
“Since his 20s, he has steadfastly attempted to cheat others for his own gain,” Guzman said, adding that Trudeau is “deceitful to the very core.”
Trudeau, whose trademark dyed black hair turned partially gray as he awaited sentencing in jail, showed little emotion as the stiff sentence was handed down at the hearing in Chicago.
Addressing the judge earlier in a 10-minute statement, Trudeau apologized and said he’s become a changed man. He said he’s meditated, prayed and read self-help books while locked up at Chicago’s Metropolitan Correctional Center.
“I have truly had a significant reawakening,” said Trudeau, who was dressed in orange jail clothes. “If I ever do an infomercial again … I promise: No embellishments, no puffery, no lies.”
Sure Kevin. . . Here’s an example of Trudeau’s work: