Tuesday Reads: Russia, Crimea, MH 370, and a Couple of Flim Flam Men

Copley Sq news stand

Good Morning!!

Yesterday President Obama announced sanctions against Russia in response to Russian President Putin’s military incursion into Ukraine and annexation of the Crimean region. ABC News reports: 

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 soldiersThe 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:

Those are my offerings for today. What stories are you following?


41 Comments on “Tuesday Reads: Russia, Crimea, MH 370, and a Couple of Flim Flam Men”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    CNN this morning:

    Thai military radar data bolsters belief that Flight 370 changed its path

    http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/18/world/asia/malaysia-airlines-plane/

    • Beata says:

      Great article. Ryan should be ashamed of himself as an Irish-American and a Roman Catholic. Obviously he flunked “19th Century Irish History” and “Catholic Social Justice 101”. He’s a disgrace.

    • Beata says:

      Classic song about the Irish famine and immigration:

  2. bostonboomer says:
    • RalphB says:

      On racist wingnut autographing for another, who’s surprised? Cruz would like anything that gets him publicity. Want to drive him really nuts, completely ignore him.

  3. dakinikat says:

    Russian and Crimean parliaments sign treaty of accession

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/russias-putin-prepares-to-annex-crimea/2014/03/18/933183b2-654e-45ce-920e-4d18c0ffec73_story.html

    Putin is definitely a 20th century styled leader. This is really in-your-face. He just said he doesn’t have an interest in the rest of the Crimea either. This is really Hitler/Stalinesque. I guess the NATO countries and the UN are scrambling to figure out how to respond to this.

    Vice President Biden landed Tuesday morning in Warsaw, where he will confer with Polish and Estonian leaders about the situation. In the evening, he intends to fly to Lithuania for similar meetings.

    One senior Obama administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the vice president’s plans, said his trip is “first and foremost to reassure our allies that we are deeply concerned about Russia’s action in Ukraine and what the deeper implications might be.”

    Interesting to say how Biden is being deployed here.

    • RalphB says:

      This whole thing is really a hose job. I’m doubtful there is a lot we can, or should, do to try and reverse Crimea’s annexation. It really appears a majority of the people there wanted it. The real question I have is about Putin’s future objectives and how we can stop this train before it runs off the tracks.

      • dakinikat says:

        The whole situation invites appeasement which will make the neocons howl like hungry wolves.

        • RalphB says:

          It really does since we have no real viable alternatives in that region. It’s much more important to Russia than to us in the first place.

    • Beata says:

      Poland and the Baltic countries are understandably very worried about Russian aggression given their histories vis-a-vis Russia. It’s their worst nightmare: Russia on the move. Putin may try to take parts of the Baltic countries if his aim is to recreate the former USSR. Who can predict his plans? I can’t see a danger to Poland – way too risky – unless Putin wants to start WWIII. So we increase our military presence in the entire region as a way of showing strength without causing undue provocation, and we send Biden, who does have legitimate foreign policy experience. It’s better than sending Kerry. I would like to see Obama get Richard Lugar involved in this situation. Lugar’s background in Russian foreign policy is impressive.

    • Beata says:

      I see Putin blames “Western sponsors” for anti-Russian protests in Kiev. Reminds me of the “Zionists” who were said to be behind Poland’s Solidarity movement years ago. Putin’s using the old Soviet propaganda again. Crap.

      • dakinikat says:

        yeah … very 20th century

      • RalphB says:

        I think we should let’s let the USSR stay buried where it belongs, and along with it the tendency in this country to see Red in every crisis.

      • RalphB says:

        Supposedly Turkey has said that if the Crimean Tatars are endangered, they will close the Bosphorus to the Russian Black Sea Fleet. That could get interesting since they’re a NATO ally..

    • Fannie says:

      I heard that was a pre-scheduled visit.

  4. dakinikat says:

    The U.S. government tells Syria to “immediately suspend operations of its Embassy in Washington, D.C.” http://njour.nl/Ot8IWd

    • Fannie says:

      I just watched the movie Argo, with Ben Affleck, Alar Arkin, and John Goodman. I had seen it before, and seems to be a reminder of what can happen.

  5. RalphB says:

    American Conservative: Thank Goodness Romney Isn’t President

    … To the extent that he had a coherent idea for how to approach Russia differently, he thought that Russia should be provoked at every turn and that cooperation should be avoided. This approach was rightly mocked during the campaign, and one can only imagine how much more poisonous relations with Russia would be now if it had been official policy for almost five years before the crisis in Ukraine. Had Romney been carrying out his preferred policy towards Russia over the last year, relations would be considerably worse, and we would be saddled with an administration that would go out of its way to clash with Russia on every issue. …

    Daniel Larison makes a point.

  6. RalphB says:

    Finally, a theory about what happened to MH370 which makes near perfect sense to me.

    Wired: A Startlingly Simple Theory About the Missing Malaysia Airlines Jet

    • bostonboomer says:

      That doesn’t explain how or why the plane kept flying for 7 hours.

      • RalphB says:

        Magazine writers? One of the search locations is in the Indian Ocean.

        • bostonboomer says:

          What magazine writers? Jeff Wise is an aviation expert who has been on CNN the last few nights. He seems pretty intelligent to me. The guy at Wired didn’t consider all the known information in building his hypothesis.

          • RalphB says:

            So-called “experts” are crawling out of the wordwork to get on TV. CNN, in particular, has been a damn joke.

    • RalphB says:

      I have problems with all the theories so far, including this one. It seems to me the best chance of having some survivors, in the case of a catastrophic electrical fire or whatever, would have been to ditch the plane at sea. If that was any kind of success, some people may have gotten into life rafts and survived.

      That being said the climb to 45K ft and the dive back to 10K may have been a desperate attempt to put out a fire. I’m not really sure we’ll ever know but the constant theorizing isn’t helpful at all.

      • bostonboomer says:

        It may not be helpful, but it’s interesting to think about and it’s just human nature to try to understand what happened.

        • RalphB says:

          I agree it’s interesting in the same way a train wreck or a massive car crash is interesting, but I don’t think it’s particularly healthy.

          I guess we should be grateful for it though since, without it, all the cable networks would probably have been constantly beating war drums over Ukraine.

        • bostonboomer says:

          You’re probably right, although I can’t resist mysteries of any kind. Plus, I like discussing things with you–sorry….

  7. dakinikat says:

    The Esquire Politics Blog with Charles P. Pierce
    “Blow me, you monstrous, bloodthirsty fraud, you silly, stupid chickenhawk motherfker who plays army man with the children of people who are so much better than you are, and who would feed innocent civilians in lands you will never visit into your own personal meatgrinder to service your semi-annual martial erection.”

    This Just In From Our Sociopath Bureau
    http://www.esquire.com/blogs/politics/bill-kristol-war-weariness-031814

  8. dakinikat says:

    http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/03/18/pat-robertson-womans-cancer-is-her-own-fault-for-not-forgiving-abusive-father/#.UyihzClbwzA.facebook

    Pat Robertson is just beyond evil.

    Televangelist Pat Robertson told a woman on Tuesday that she had caused her own cancer by harboring ill feelings against her abusive father.

    “My father abused my mom for years,” a viewer named Barb explained to Robertson in a letter. “One day he came home and called me horrid names. Years went by; I felt so bad so, on the advice of my pastor, I went to him and apologized for anything I had ever done wrong.”

    “I was tossed out, literally, so I disowned him,” she added. “I have since had cancer twice and have not been contacted by him. How do I deal with the heartache?”

    Robertson asserted that the situation “could be the cause of that cancer.”

  9. RalphB says:

    Oh good grief…