THE MUGGLEBEE FILES : The 3D Chess of US-Russia relations


Assad (L) : a convenient villain ? Putin (R) : a Trumpian hero ? Seems like it

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The recent strike on Syrian targets has raised many questions. The answers to these and other questions are tough, because they require a broad perspective, beyond the simple reported use of chemical weapons on innocent people. The Geneva violation aside, global interests involved may point to a more diabolical play unfolding that is hidden behind the atrocities of the Assad Regime. A play that involves both Russia and the US.

The election of Trump is thought to have been influenced by Russia and led many to believe he has been compromised in the process. Trump’s refusal to say a single bad word about Putin or Russia, ever, has perplexed everyone — until recently he did finally say something: right before the launch of this bizarrely-timed missile attack on another purported chemical weapons factory north of Damascus. Again, Assad is blamed by the US…but Russia denies. This is the play, it seems; one party accuses (in this case the US accuses Assad) while another denies the act even took place (Russia, of course).

Before the play, Trump actually called out Russia and Iran. He told them clearly to “get ready”. Ready for what? The explosion of a chemical factory?

Trump touted his “genius” of never announcing what he’s gonna do before he does it, but this time he did the exact thing he claims he wouldn’t do. Psychologically, that’s a well-known trick- when someone says “I’m not gonna do this” and then they do it, weak-minded people reflexively believe there must be some other brilliant meaning to what he did, other than the simple explanation, which is : he’s just doing what he said he wouldn’t.

Trump is under increasing pressure from the Special Counsel over corruption. His “personal attorney” Michael Cohen was raided, and suddenly… this strike appears.

As soon as Trump announced the US was leaving Syria, Assad purportedly used chemical weapons (again) and quickly the determination was made to strike. Not at Assad himself, mind you, but his chemical weapons. Why not get him AND his weapons, you might ask? Well, to do that would leave a vacuum of power. But to leave him in power, and supported by Russia, only ensures he will do the same, again…and most-likely when Russia needs the US military to do another strike. And perhaps that’s the play.

I encourage anyone interested in this to do an experiment: pull up a map of Europe and the Middle East.  Assess the region. Look at the countries involved. Now consider all their interests. Then imagine its your job to figure it all out — an impossible puzzle inside a nightmare. Regarding Syria and its monster leader, his continuing existence offers a consistent narrative allowing strategic military intervention every time he “attacks his own people”.

This move could very well be a tactic designed to influence the American people. Influence them how? By getting them to support military strikes by their US president, carried out by the US military, on the US tax-payer dime. But if the US is seeking to leave Syria, as Trump stated, how does this benefit the US? The answer is it doesn’t. It benefits whoever is still there with a vested interest in the Syrian landscape. That would be Russia.

Let’s look at how it benefits Russia. It controls the Assad regime and occupies much of Syria militarily. Assad helps Putin fights ISIS, but Russia helps Assad fight the rebel factions seeking to overturn him. (Russia isn’t the only vested interest there, either. That is a key fact not to be overlooked.)

Saudi Arabia and Israel help the US fight ISIS, Iran seeks nuclear power and is opposed by the US and Israel while Russia supports them. The US/Israel/Saudi coalition keeps Russia, Iran, and China from commandeering the Middle East. Many do not even know of China’s presence in Syria. Yet China gets cheap oil from Iraq, now that Exxon has been pushed out and ISIS came to be.

The next Sunday, UN Ambassador Nicky Haley announced sanctions on Russian businesses that do any business with Assad, in conjunction with the strikes. Sounds like something Russia might not like, right? They wouldn’t, if in fact Trump hadn’t turned around and undid the sanctions as soon as Haley announced them. What? Yeah. This makes something remarkably clear: the US president is easing the way for Russia, not punishing them. The unanswered question is why.

But how did the strikes benefit Russia? It’s hard to know specifically, but perhaps helping Russia hedge toward its stated goal to control of Syrian oil and gas markets. Syria’s market is big, the most important strategic region in the Middle East now, but it requires massive reconstruction investment.  It was reported months ago Russia wants to corner the entire gas and oil market in Syria, which is not something the US can allow. Yet, the US President seems to be allowing it- he hasn’t implemented new sanctions abroad and here he actually reversed them.

The infrastructure investment that Russia needs, to accomplish its goal, is roughly a $40bil deal — probably more, as we know from our money spent in Iraq. Syria is a mess. Its warring factions make any real financial and military investment, at this time, tedious and il-advised, as it is too unstable and the civil war too intractable. In a chess sense, getting the US to strike certain sectors under the inflammatory claim of chemical weapons use is odious, because it puts both the responsibility and the costs on the US instead of Russia. It is a classic misdirection move. In this way, the Syrian conflict might be being systematically shaped not toward a US agenda, but a Russian one, instead.

Chess is about making moves that are several steps ahead of your opponent, using positioning and distraction to eventually capture the opponent’s king. In this 3D chess game, let’s look at the other pieces in the region and perhaps gain a broader view of what’s actually happened and is in the process of happening.

ISIS arose in Iraq and funds itself through oil. When we exited Iraq, ISIS overran the region and eventually began moving into Syria. The Syrian landscape is a key strategic region because it links the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf in terms of oil shipping routes. The Med Sea links oil to Europe in the north and the US in the west; the Persian Gulf leads up the South China Sea to China moving north-east. The global routes for oil, looked at broadly, describe the play on the chess board that is Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Because Russia is in the energy biz, almost exclusively, it makes sense their designs surround every avenue it can. It was John McCain who said “Russia is just a gas station.”

Russia supplies Europe and China, Britain, France, Turkey, and North Korea with the vast sources discovered in Siberia…the only barriers to its becoming a serious world supplier are US and UN sanctions. Russia’s efforts to reclaim Ukraine follow this purpose ; its presence in Syria too.

US sanctions have limited much of Russia’s oil export but not stopped it. Exxon has invested a billion dollars in Siberia refinery infrastructure thus far unable to pump due to sanctions restrictions. BP faces a similar problem. Russia’s state run oil, Rosneft, on the other hand, is doing very well. Exxon and BP are two of the biggest companies on the planet, but if Russia succeeds in its strategic plans, Rosneft may end up the biggest and reduce the power of the aforementioned giants. Since war is mostly about oil, Russia may be engaged in a secret war for global dominance of the oil and gas market. This is occurring as many developed nations are moving toward more renewable sources.

Evidence this may be the case can be found in the ways Russia is treating both Exxon and BP lately — a shocking change from 50-50 deals to something much more one-sided. Emboldened Russia is flexing on many countries which in the past it could not, and one reason it may feel emboldened is because the US president does not seem inclined to oppose them in any way, whatsoever.

Countries must hedge their energy demands against the politics of surrounding supply routes and the countries that supply them, in order not to be dependent on any one supplier. In a chess sense, they have to watch the whole board. Turkey is Syria and Iraq’s neighbor, so it hedges the oil that comes from below and the oil above (Russia). Because of this, Turkey must ally with the West (US) while at the same time the East (Russia), and assist in the Middle East in managing Iraq, Iran, and Syria, not to mention Saudi Arabia and other Arab states. The fact that Russia is in Syria, and poised to take that market, means Russia may be angling to control the Middle East corridor to the Mediterranean and the eastern corridor (South China Sea), this cornering not just the Syrian market but the entire geo-political market. That’s 3D chess.

The politics of the Middle East nations are complicated, and in some ways insurmountable: ISIS is partially opposed in Syria by Kurd factions, which are also in Northern Iraq as well as in Turkey. The Kurds in Turkey, however, are active separatists — they want their own piece of Turkey; in Syria and Iraq, they fight the Islamic State. (ISIS, it seems, is everybody’s enemy but has no actual country. It’s identity exists somewhere in the Ottoman Empire and the dustbin of history. The Caliphate’s existence creates a difficult position for Turkey- how do they support Kurds in Syria against the Caliphate but oppose them, their own citizens, in Turkey? Not easily.)

Moving north into Europe, the UK, France, and Germany have ethnic problems from the warring Syria; refugees fleeing Syria go north, because the US president has made their ability to flee to the US impossible, which puts incredible pressure on Europe. Part of that pressure created the Brexit. At the same time, these nations have energy needs and must meet them by working with the oil-producing nations that supply them…which includes Russia. For example, Germany has a major gas line going under the Baltic linking them to Russia; tensions could threaten that. This makes them increasingly hesitant to feud with Russia. (Yet, the recent poisoning of a Russian ex-spy turned British citizen on British soil sparked Theresa May to condemn Russia’s disregard of the UK homeland. The substance was Novichok, a chemical poison created by Russia. What message was that meant to convey? A bold one, it seems.)

At the same time, Trump announced the US would pull out of Syria. What followed, though, was the surprise announcement of another chemical attack by Assad in Syria, which demanded the US and its allies respond. May was immediately on board, as was France, despite the suddenness which seemed to disallow Parliament’s approval. This once again highlighted another complexity: the US opposes the Assad regime but it also opposes ISIS. So the US decided it needed to leave Assad alone because he opposes ISIS. This strategy was countered by Russia, however, by Russia showing up to oppose ISIS but with a twist- they embrace Assad. This move is important because it locks up US control of Assad by giving the regime a powerful ally. One that can protect them like a queen. The problem that Russia supports the Assad regime puts the US in a tough spot. The US needs Russia and Assad to help defeat ISIS, but what seems to be emerging from this…is Russia and Assad are taking control of Syria and leaving the US out. The US president’s actions lately and previously prove this is literally the case.

When the US attacks Assad’s chemical weapons, but not Assad himself, even as it openly states Assad must go…the contradiction makes it possible that chemical weapons are an ongoing excuse to employ US force. There is no other explanation for the continued use of such weapons in defiance of the UN and US redlines. The ability to read between the contradiction is the essence of this chess match- and is beginning to reveal an invisible partnership occurring. A partnership not between the US and Russia, but Russia and the US president.

This partnership is drawing US armed force into the region for specific targetings that Russia benefits from. It is entirely possible the US president is being directed as such, in a visceral way. The use of chemical weapons is easy to sell the American people on- women and children suffering horrible effects of chemical weapons use, outlawed by Geneva. Doing Russia’s bidding is not an easy sell. But if the US president calls out Russia (and Iran)…that might work. This distances the Russian president, when in actuality he may be very close. This is chess, remember.

Such use of weapons should literally draw the condemnation of the world, and it does…but what it doesn’t draw is actual consequences. This means it’s a play, one someone knows they can get away with. Assad remains unpunished, possibly fortified, and free to do it again. Now, every time Assad “uses chemical weapons”…the US must take some action. So far, its been the same action, every time, just different locations and targets that never include the leader responsible.  That should tell us something loud and clear.

Syria’s Assad is a Rook protected, it appears, by Russia’s King. Russia’s Bishops and Knights surround him. And the US president is a pawn that will do anything to be King’d, it seems. He will race to the other side, leaving his most key pieces vulnerable, because Putin is promising he will help him become King’d. What he doesn’t seem to get is America doesn’t have a King, and never will. He thinks he’s got this by check, when it may actually be check-mate…for Russia.

— Christopher Mugglebee / The Mugglebee Files

Christopher Mugglebee is an actor, boxing trainer, and a martial arts expert. He now writes about politics and world affairs.


AVR Briefing

^ do you support this ? Not so sure. Read our argument why not.

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On my 21st birthday I registered to vote. The City Clerk personally swore me in, because he and my Dad were friends, and our city was small enough that that personal connection could be honored. Why did I register ? I did it because my Dad insisted. I guess that i also felt a bit of pride, that I was now an adult and confident to do my duty.

That was a long time ago. Much has changed since. Electeds in many states, who call themselves Republicans but in fact violate the Republican party’s founding missions, have engaged in all sorts of skull-duggery. to “depress” the vote. They have taken voters off the list for small administrative quirks; required people to show certain kinds of state ID’s that they may not have, or may not be able to travel long distances to acquire; refused to restore voting rights to convicts who have done their time; moved polling places so that unfavored vo9ters have a hard time getting to them. And many more such moves to deny citizens their most basic civil right, the right to vote.

Misdeeds of this sort disgust most of us, and should. Registering to vote should be straight-0forward and unburdened with detours. Polling places should be centrally located within a precinct. Ballots should be easy to use and probably paper, so that they can’t be hacked by malfeasors or foreign governments. Moves to intimidate voters as they arrive to vote, such as those perpetrated by a right wing group known as “True the Vote,” must be dealt with severely. I think most of us agree with all of these assertions.

What, then, ought we to decide about a new proposal, whose purpose is to assure that every eligible person is registered as a voter ? I refer to ‘automatic voter registration.” It goes thus in Massachusetts : when a person comes to the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) to obtain or renew a license or register a vehicle, he or she can register then and there: but she has to ask. Under Automatic Voter Registration, the person signing in at the RMV window is registered by signing in; she may OPT OUT of registering, but otherwise is registered.

My own view is that registration that requires no act at all by the registrant weakens the vote. I strongly believe that a person must make a positive, conscious decision to register, just as she must make a deliberate decision to go and vote. I see our system as participatory: but it is participatory by effort. Though obstacles should never block a person’s decision to participate, the presence of decision seems to me vital. We can allow voting by mail, or even voting online, and either of these reforms — used by many states already — requires the voter to do stuff — to take action. It certainly isn’t heavy lifting, nothing that the legendary John Henry would have to die with his hammer in hand for, but actions they are. Automatic  voter registration is the absence of action. The person does nothing; it is done To him. To me, that is not participation. It is not a deliberate resolve to get involved. And involvement is what a healthy democracy requires.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere





Are you fed up with hearing about the trouble our nation’s economy is in ? I sure am. Well: if so, the solution is simple: consumers, whose buying represents two-thirds of the entire  economy, just don’t have enough money to support their part of it all. This especially holds true in the big cities, into which almost everything economic is now concentrating : good jobs, lots of them; shopping, night clubs, restaurants; residence, transportation, innovation. In the big cites, everything is booming — except wages, other than for the lucky.

In Boston today, $ 3,000 to $ 4,500 a month rents, for tiny apartments, has become almost the norm. Few are the neighborhoods in which a house can be bought for less than $ 600,000; close to Downtown, the price is more likely to be $ 899,000 or even $ 1,000,000 and up. No one earning less than $ 100, 000 a year can afford these rents; few who earn less than $ 150,000 can afford to buy.

As with real estate, so with everything else. A decent meal now costs at least $ 20 if you add a tip; $ 27 to $ 30 if you add wine or beer. You can’t get to a Downtown restaurant, in any case, without shelling out $ 20 to $ 25 for parking. Nightclub entertainment costs $ 30 to $ 60. Clothing purchases in Downtown malls or single stores will run you $ 100 to $ 2500, more often the higher end than not. Food isn’t cheap: at least $ 700 a month for two. Then there’s utilities : $ 99 (plus taxes) for a cell phone line, $ 172 for any cable TV other than basic $ 200 for electric service, $ 125 for gas heat. Food, home furnishings, haircuts, the MBTA — add these, as well as home repair. Cars ? Some do without, but if you have a car, there’s the monthly finance charge, an insurance bill at least $ 200 a month, and parking, if you can find it.

Assuming you earn enough to pay all of these — the above bills add up to about $ 6200 a month after taxes; add taxes and the paycheck total looks like close to $ 10,000 a month — how are you going to buy anything else ? Granted that your city life funds restaurants, car dealers, car financers, utility companies, night club employees, clothing retailers and manufacturers, is that all there is ? Who will buy house repairs, summer camp for the kids, boats, vacation trips, furniture ? Who will pay for child care ? Doctor and dentist bills ? The kids’ education ? And savings : who will have money to save ? After all, the median family income in Boston is about $ 62,000 a year. Yet the expenses I have listed require double that.

Then there’s those who earn less than the median. The state’s minimum age right now stands at $ 11/hour. A current proposal would raise that to $ 15/hour by 2022. At $ 15/hour, a worker without overtime earns $ 600 a week, $ 31,200 a year. Two minimum wage workers living together barely manage the median income. That sounds OK, but at $ 62,000 a year — $ 5166 a month — said family can afford a rent no higher than $ 1800 a month, which means living in Boston’s barest neighborhoods, in which City services are skimped and few people have stay at home time to care for kids. $ 5166 a month also means a barebones life :

—> taxes, 1200 a month; rent, 1800; cell phones for two, $ 189; cable TV, $ 172; utilities, $ 300; clothing, $ 300; food, $ 700; transportation (MBTA), $ 80. That leaves about $ 400 a month with which to fund repairs, kids’ sports, emergencies, maybe a weekend vacation. It does not allow a car, or health care co-pays, or Christmas, any entertainment at all. Or savings. I also did not allow for purchase of a laptop or for wi-fi hot spots.

Most of all, the $ 15/hour minimum wage doesn’t offer those who earn it much opportunity to buy in the discretionary economy. You go to any mall and marvel at the plenteous goods on offer, not to mention services: but who can buy them very often ? Our economy isn’t fulfilling its potential if all that it supplies to the vast majority of consumers is basic needs. Discretionary spending allows innovative goods and services to prosper. It allows creators’ skills to advance. It allows for savings, investment, development. Our economy needs to find a way to put more money — MUCH more money — into the paychecks of most workers. And not just our money economy. People who earn more — who can enjoy the discretionary economy — feel better about themselves and thus enjoy better health, longer lives, participation in the community, a bit of the tastes of freedom.

One can, it is true, move away from the big cities into small cities with a much cheaper economy. Fall River is a perfect Massachusetts example. Rents there are less than half of the Boston price; buying a house costs almost two-thirds less. Yet there is no way even for a Fall River to buy goods and services in the wider economy. These cost the same wherever they are on offer. If you pay $ 900 rent, as is typical for Fall River, or buy a house for $ 125,000, you definitely can afford to earn less. But you’ll still have to pay the same price for cell phones, cars, utilities, food, clothes, and vacation as you would pay in Boston. And if you choose Fall River’s much cheaper housing costs, while maintaining a Boston job at a Boston paycheck, you have a 55 mile commute in the morning and back at night, which means a car and gasoline and car insurance, not to mention three hours every day wasted on the road.

There has to be a way to up the median Boston income to $ 90,000, and to raise the minimum wage to $ 21/hour, without having landlords, restaurants, and real estate speculators jack up the market accordingly. If City life is not to drive out those who earn modest salaries, we have to achieve this. Extend the earned income tax credit ? Perhaps that. Somehow we must allow the vast majority of residents to afford the innovation economy.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere