Voices from Russia

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

LNR and DNR Published Their Proposed Amendments to the Constitution of the Ukraine

00 ukrainian constitution. 13.05.15


Today, the DNR and LNR published a list of proposed amendments to the Ukrainian Constitution. The amendments cover six main articles of the document. There is a proposed supplement to Article 17 or 18, “The Ukraine will not join any military bloc or alliance, it will be neutral, and will not take part in military action outside its territory”. It proposed to make the law on the special status of the Donbass permanent (instead of the current temporary status of three years only). It made eight amendments to Article 139, in particular, to create a separate autonomous Donbass region, with its own election commission. The DNR and LNR could form people’s militia*, with powers defined in separate legislation. Local officials would appoint and direct the militia. Local authorities would create and abolish courts, regulate their activities, and appoint and dismiss judges and procurators. Local bodies would monitor regional natural resources, oversee construction, tourism, transport, culture (including construction and protection of monuments, obelisks, and memorials), and education (mandating use of the Russian language). The Ukraine, for its part, would set aside a part of its annual budget to finance the development in the DNR and LNR, promote coöperation between regions, fix adequate sources of financing, and introduce a special economic régime. The Cabinet of Ministers of the Ukraine would have the duty to contribute to the socioeconomic and cultural development of the Donbass.

  • Militia: It’s unclear from the context whether “Militia” means “Police” in the Soviet sense or whether it means separate military units

13 May 2015

DAN Donetsk News Agency



Tuesday, 13 January 2015

We’re NOT All Charlie: A Little Self-Censorship Isn’t a Bad Thing

00 charlie hebdo cover. 13.01.15


L’affaire Charlie Hebdo has reached its dénouement, leaving a score of people dead and many controversies in its wake. Firstly, off the bat, let’s establish that we believe there should be no death penalty for expression of opinion, no matter how repellent. Lately, all too often in the news, we’ve seen losers with access to heavy weapons displaying their angst at the point of a gun with tragic consequences.

 That said, other questions present themselves in the wake of this series of tragedies. The Berkeley Daily Planet’s Eclectic Rant columnist Ralph Stone, who’s also an attorney, put it succinctly in this comment, 

“The killing of 12 people at the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo is appalling. I hope that we’d soon catch and prosecute the perpetrators. The fact that 12 people are dead over cartoons by white male cartoonists is horrible. Free speech is an important part of our society and criticism of Charlie Hebdo cartoons is also speech. However, we should kill no one over cartoons. However, the statement JE SUIS CHARLIE (I AM CHARLIE) ignores the magazine’s history of xenophobia, racism, sexism, and homophobia. I sympathise with the victims’ families and I defend Charlie Hebdo’s right to publish hateful cartoons, but I’ll be damned if I’ll be Charlie”.

Someone who blogs under the name of Winston Alpha pointed up that in 2008 Charlie Hebdopulled (read: censored) a satirical piece about former President Sarkozy’s son. Philippe Val, the editor of Charlie Hebdo then, ‘agreed that the piece was offensive and told its author to apologise’“. Winston also noted that France has a law that bans denying that the Holocaust took place, not exactly consistent with American standards of free speech. (I’d ask for permission to reprint his whole post, which is pretty good, but we have a firm requirement that writers who appear in the Planet must attach their real names to their opinions. As a card-carrying literature major, I appreciate Winston’s homage to 1984 in his choice of pseudonyms, but my grandmother always said to consider the source before reacting to something someone says. If I don’t know who he is… he says he’s young, that’s all… I don’t know how to calibrate his ideas.)

A key point in any discussion of free speech is to remember exactly what the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The usual interpretation infers that the reference to Congress includes all the federal government, but note that the First Amendment refers only to government action. In other words, it’s about what the government says we may do, not what we should do. A French-American friend said that like many, he grew up with Charlie Hebdo, and that the killings there are like assassinating Jon Stewart would be in this country. Well, not exactly. Much of what the magazine publishes seems to go farther over the imaginary line in the sand than the Daily Show ever has. Presumably, there was never any Holocaust denial, or they would’ve faced prosecution, but they seem to have gored every other sacred cow.

Winston said, “The same paper that was apparently more than content to ridicule Islam again and again, backed down and quickly censored a piece that featured a single joke about Jews”. I can’t confirm that, however. The Jewish Daily Forward, amongst others, showed some of Charlie’s cartoons lampooning Jews. Another grandmotherly favourite was, “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you”. Many nonetheless do believe that the wrong words (or cartoons) will do harm. How much self-censoring should publications do? Obviously, we must make editorial choices of all kinds all the time, but it’s not all censorship… even on the internet, there’s limited space and time.

Our neighbours at local blog Berkeleyside.com wrestled with the question of what kinds of reader comments they should publish. I admire their generosity in devoting a lot of space to largely anonymous and often remarkably ill-informed reader musings, and I shudder to think what they must read only to reject, including presumably the kind of “xenophobia, racism, sexism, and homophobia” that many criticise Charlie Hebdo for running. I’m not so generous, so, over the years, I’ve saved myself a lot of trouble by not having an open comment feed. We only publish under our Public Comments heading pieces sent by e-mail that are both signed and literate. However, this doesn’t solve every problem however… we got ourselves in a peck of trouble in 2006 by running a letter in our print paper from a literate English learner who signed his own name. Without a hint of satire, he opined that some Jewish people had brought trouble on themselves, with examples from Israel and elsewhere… that opinion offended many, understandably. Even though it was difficult for us, and, perhaps, ultimately, even caused the demise of the print Planet, I deeply appreciate the fact that for the most part words were the only weapons objectors used to attack us for this seeming transgression. I’m a charter subscriber to Justice Brandeis’s dictum that the remedy for speech you don’t like is more speech. Except for some graffiti, a few eggs thrown at our door, and one guy who proudly claimed that he’d urinated on our garage, we escaped physically unscathed. Instead, those offended by the piece employed boycott (against our advertisers, urging others to do likewise), divestment (cancelling their own ads) and sanctions (ginning up nasty letters signed by rabbis and public officials from Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates up and down the ladder), but no one came into the newsroom with a machine gun.

Lampooning religion instead of criticising it in straightforward prose is either better or worse… I’m never sure which. I’ve long since given up going to church, in fact, most of the time I’m profoundly annoyed at all three desert religions, which are indistinguishable to the rational observer at more than forty paces, yet, I’m offended when I see a bunch of mostly old white guys in San Francisco dressing up like nuns to mock them. After all, these are women who educated other women as diverse and valuable as Nancy Pelosi, Fredericka Von Stade, Barbara Lee, Dianne Feinstein, Lady Gaga… and me… why should they be a target? It feels sexist, even though the guys in question happen to be gay. “Hate crime” law, more popular all the time in France and the rest of Europe, is a slippery slope. Banning expression of unpopular, wrong, downright crazy, or even vicious ideas is like putting a tight lid on a boiling pot. Eventually, with enough heat, the lid will blow off… better to have a little vent to let out the steam, or you’re in for trouble.

It’s easier to keep an eye on what the KKK is up to if you let them march through town instead of making them hide out in the woods. Sentiments like those expressed by our 2006 op-ed writer are much more common now than they were then, and the world needs to know that such ideas are abroad. However, that doesn’t mean that we all need to imitate Charlie Hebdo by running insulting cartoons to denounce the murder of its staffers. Self-censorship has gotten a bad name, but there’s nothing wrong with using good judgement and perhaps some empathy for the feelings of those not like ourselves. I agree with the slogan mistakenly attributed to that sharp-tongued anti-Islamic (and anti-Christian and anti-Jewish) deist Voltaire by his biographer, ”I disapprove of what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it”. I hope I won’t need to do that, however. For the next few days, editorial pages will be full of navel-gazing, especially in those publications who decided not to join the stampede to publish the drawings. Me, I think I’m one of those who can say with a clear conscience, in the French I learned from the nuns, je ne suis pas Charlie Hebdo.

12 January 2015

Becky O’Malley

Editor, Berkeley (CA) Daily Planet



Saturday, 10 January 2015

Not Just a Joke: Reflections on Free Speech, Violence, and Mislabelled Heroism

01 beep beep my ass


Many years ago, when discussing the issue of hate speech and how we should address it on college campuses, my friend Paul Gallegos at Evergreen State College smiled and said, “Ya know, just because speech is free, doesn’t mean that it has to be worthless”. It’s a concept and a phrasing that stuck with me for years. His deft appropriation of the double-meaning of “free” (both as liberty but also as a statement of non-existent value) was a stroke of genius, and one that has informed my understanding of these issues ever since. I’m thinking about it again in the wake of recent events in France.

Following the horrific killings of journalists at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, pundits and prolific purveyors of Tweet said much… about fanatical interpretations of Islam, about free speech, about satire’s importance, and about religious profiling and the notion of collective blame. Some of this commentary was helpful and instructive, whilst other iterations were incendiary and useless. However, through it all, and although I’m most horrified by those rightwing voices who seek to use the tragedy as a way to stoke their well-cultivated Islamophobia, I’m also troubled by what seems to be a prominent if not dominant narrative amongst many a liberal. It’s a narrative that posits the victims of this grotesque crime as high-minded truth-seekers worthy of praise and emulation, and even as heroes, perhaps, martyrs for the cause of freedom and liberty.

It strikes me that we should be able to roundly condemn the senseless and barbaric murders of journalists whilst still managing to have a rational conversation about free speech, in which empty platitudes about heroism need play no part. For instance, I believe that it’s possible to agree that free speech is an essential value, and that journalists should have the right to say what they want… even to offend others… without then proceeding to act as though every utterance (just because people have a right to it) is therefore worth defending as to its substance, and that free speech protects one from being critiqued for the things one says.

What I mean is this… I suppose that I have a right to stand in the middle of Times Square and shout racial slurs or insult peoples’ religions. For instance, I could stand on a soapbox outside the TKTS booth and say things about the Prophet Mohammed, Jesus, or Mary. I could call them all kinds of vile things, and the Constitution would protect all of it. I surely should be able to do that without fear of someone murdering me for it. In particular, this last point is so obvious as to be beyond debate, I’d hope. However, if I do this, whether in Times Square or in print, makes me an asshole, and one who deserves to have people label me as such. Not a hero… an asshole. I don’t become a hero just because some of the people I happened to insult (and was trying to insult) ended up being even bigger assholes than I was, and so dangerous and unstable that they decided to hurt me. In that case, I’m simply the unlucky victim of a bigger and more evil asshole who was unsatisfied with the pen or keyboard as a weapon and decided to use something more deadly. Nothing more… nothing less.

People seem to confuse the principle of free speech with the idea that one’s speech is protected from pushback; whilst violent pushback is always wrong… always… I’m more than a little uncomfortable with the idea that we should make heroes out of those whose job appears to have been insulting people they deemed inferior (whether because of culture or because they were just “silly superstitious” believers who deserve ridicule because Richard Dawkins or Bill Maher say so). I’m especially uncomfortable with the political canonisation we’re expected to endorse for these satirists, because historically, satire has always been about barbs aimed at those who are more powerful than oneself (the élite, royalty, the dominant social, economic, political, or religious group), and not being aimed down the ladder at those with less power. In the old days, when the King would bring in the jester or the royal fool to tell jokes and entertain the nobility, the court comic didn’t spend 20 minutes doing “can you believe how bad those peasants smell” jokes; rather, he told jokes at the expense of the nobility. The King and his royal prerogatives were the target of ridicule.

Therefore, whereas it would be legitimate satire for Muslims to satirise their own extremists in countries where Muslims hold power (and this is done, by the way, more than most of us realise), in France, satire aimed at Muslims, who’re the targets of organised attempts to restrict their rights and even their presence in the country, isn’t brave; it’s piling on. Likewise, for Jews to satirise Palestinians in Israel would be asshole behaviour, whilst satirising the nation’s Jewish religious leaders who wield such outsized influence on state politics would be the very definition of legitimate satire. In the USA, where Christians hold the bulk of political and economic power, satirising the Religious Right is quite different from satirising Muslims, who’re targets in regular hate crimes and who face communities trying to block them from having mosques in which to worship.

As an analogy, I find tedious and cringe-worthy the never-ending stream of sitcoms that revolve around a married couple where the husband is sorta stupid, child-like, and bumbling, and his wife is always rolling her eyes and making fun of him, but they love each other and it all works out in the end. Yet, however ridiculous I think this formula is… and however much as a man and husband I think it presents an absurd one-dimensional picture of those things I happen to be… it really would be different and a whole lot worse, to have those sitcoms revolve around a husband who constantly demeans or pokes fun at his ditzy wife. Ya know why? Patriarchy, that’s why. The social context within which humour takes place matters. It’s why telling jokes about rich people really is different from rhetorically ganging up on the poor with jokes about homelessness and government cheese.

In short, power dynamics really do make a difference. To satirise people who’re targets of institutionalized violence (whether for religious, racial, cultural, linguistic, sexual, or gendered reasons) isn’t brave. It’s sort of shitty, in fact. Should we protect it legally? Sure. Should we kill those who do it or punish them in any way? Of course not. However, should we hold them up as exemplars of who we want to be, all the while ignoring how the exercise of their freedom, without any sense of responsibility to the common good, actually feeds acrimony and violence on all sides? I think not. I fear that if we fail to separate the principle of free speech from those who hide behind its cloak… often, simply to justify their own dickishness… we’ll only make the chasms between all peoples greater.

8 January 2015

Tim Rice: Antiracist Essayist, Author, and Educator


Thursday, 13 March 2014

Junta Slimers want to Shitcan Provisions Mandating Free Medical Care in Ukrainian Constitution

01c Patriarchal Yolka 2011

HH with kids at his New Year’s Yolka at the State Kremlin Palace… he cosponsors it with the Profsoyuz (Trades-Union Federation) NOT with greedster crapitalist oligarch filth. He SUPPORTS a full social safety net. That’s why the Timoshenko junta’s attempt to destroy state-mandated healthcare is evil and why all decent people must oppose them for it.


Irina Spirina, Rada People’s Deputy of the KPU faction, and First Deputy Head of the Rada Health Committee, told GolosUA that the Health Committee of the Rump Rada proposed to destroy free healthcare in the Ukraine by amending the Constitution, saying, “In parallel with their grasp for political ‘reforms’, we see attempts by extremist neoliberal oligarchic factions to change the social foundation of the Ukraine by removing social guarantees from the Constitution”. At the same time, she explained that a bill came to her Rada committee amending Article 49 of the Constitution, which guarantees free medical care in the Ukraine, noting, “Today (12 March), we held a meeting of the Rada Health Committee. At the meeting, we discussed proposed changes to Article 49 of the Constitution. How could the Committee propose that? The law sets the norms for state guarantees of free medical care for citizens and their regulation. Today, the Constitution guarantees free basic medical care. The proposed amendment would allow the government to decide the volume and qualities of healthcare arbitrarily”. She added that each new government “rewrites” laws and regulations. Spirina thinks that we shouldn’t remove provision of free medical care from the Constitution. She told us that almost all the members of the Committee voted for the proposal, except for one abstention. Spirina said, “I voted against it”.

13 March 2014


KPU official website


Editor’s Note:

Can you see why the Weekly Standard and all the neocons are creaming their jeans over the junta, even more so than Democratic “humanitarian interventionists” are? This should prove to all concerned that the Republican Party’s stance on social welfare is evil and that all decent people should oppose it. The GOP and the junta agree… “Money makes the world go around… it’s more important than people are”… if you can’t see that, you’re blind (especially, in light of Paul Ryan’s recent acrid remarks).

Orthodox people… the Church condemns the junta’s stance (and that of the GOP)… if you support Justin Amash, Gus Bilirakis, or Darrell Issa, you set yourself up against the best elements in Christ’s Church. HH is FOR single-payer healthcare and a well-financed FULL social safety net… so, get your minds right and oppose all pseudo-religious poseurs, both in the USA and in the Ukraine.



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