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'Ukraine’s Willy Wonka' Leads in Presidential Election

'Ukraine’s Willy Wonka' Leads in Presidential Election

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Petro Poroshenko, a billionaire candy company owner, leads the polls and is expected to become the next president of the Ukraine

Poroshenko (center left) with Secretary of State John Kerry and Ukrainian opposition leaders at the Munich Security Conference 2014.

As of Monday, May 25, Ukrainian businessman Petro Poroshenko has won more than 50 percent of the vote for the presidency. Although he has yet to be officially installed in office, his exit poll results indicate that there will not be a secondary election. Earlier this week, The New York Times reported the news as an "overwhelming victory."

Poroshenko, also known as “Ukraine’s Willy Wonka” is a billionaire who owns Roshen, the country’s largest candy company, along with 5 Kanal, an opposition television network.

According to The New York Times, the wealthy confectioner had a reputation as a mild-mannered centrist with ties to both pro-Russian and pro-Western governments. Russia then imposed a ban on Poroshenko’s chocolates to discourage a trade deal between the Ukraine and the European Union, costing him millions.

Poroshenko, who had only recently introduced a line of classic candy bars that “revived Soviet brands,” was soured by the ban, and began advocating strongly for integration with Europe and provided financial support for the opposition. He went on to run successfully in the recent election on a pro-European platform.

For his part, Poroshenko has pledged to “build zero tolerance to corruption,” and has promised to create an “absolutely new page of Ukrainian history.”

Karen Lo is an associate editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @appleplexy.

Poroshenko: chocolate baron to president

The new president of Ukraine is a billionaire chocolate baron with a pro-Western stance who must drag his country out of a protracted recession.

Petro Poroshenko, who was sworn in as president of Ukraine on Saturday, is a billionaire chocolate baron whose revolutionary zeal turned him into a political comet.

The pro-Western tycoon won an outright victory in a presidential election late last month with 54.7 per cent of the votes - a powerful mandate no one would have predicted just a year ago.

The emphatic victory was a much-needed boost for Poroshenko who takes the reins in the midst of the worst crisis between East and West since the end of the Cold War.

As if that challenge was not enough, he must also try to drag the country of 46 million out of a protracted economic recession.

"It is time for irreversible, positive change," he said after taking the oath of office in the Ukrainian parliament.

"To introduce change, we need first of all peace, security and unity."

The crisis with Russia has centred around Moscow's annexation of Crimea, a Ukrainian peninsula jutting into the Black Sea, as well as an uprising by pro-Russian rebels in the east of the country.

This pits Poroshenko against Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he met briefly Friday as they both attended D-Day commemorations in northern France.

"The dialogue has begun, and that's a good thing," Poroshenko told Ukrainian television afterwards.

The tall, slightly greying tycoon is one of the country's 10 richest men with a fortune estimated at around $US1.6 billion ($A1.73 billion) by Forbes magazine, which described him as Ukraine's Willy Wonka.

A shrewd politician who has flip-flopped between governments for more than a decade, Poroshenko was the only Ukrainian oligarch to openly back the pro-European protest movement that ousted president Viktor Yanukovych, under whom he served briefly as economics minister.

"Ukraine now returns to its natural European condition which so many generations have longed for," Poroshenko said in parliament on Saturday.

"The dictatorship that ruled Ukraine in recent years sought to deprive us of that vision, and the people rebelled."

Poroshenko was also the only politician to fly to Crimea in a bid to negotiate with pro-Russian troops who seized parliament after Yanukovych fell, but he was angrily chased off by demonstrators.

While ready to talk with Putin, he has insisted two issues are not negotiable - Ukraine's pro-Europe direction and the status of Crimea.

"Crimea has been, is and will remain Ukrainian," he reiterated on Saturday to thunderous applause.

Having held several cabinet portfolios and built strong links across the business community, he is seen by many as an experienced and capable pair of hands to stem an economy in freefall and unite the country.

He easily defeated his closest rival in the election, former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, whose association with Ukraine's corrupt political past led to her coming a distant second.

Unlike most of Ukraine's influence-wielding oligarchs who made a killing swallowing up state assets in the chaotic years that followed the Soviet Union's fall, Poroshenko's wealth is self-made.

He started out selling cocoa beans, buying up several confectionery plants which he later united into Eastern European candy giant Roshen that produces 450,000 tonnes of sweets a year, according to its website.

He also owns companies that make cars and buses, a shipyard and opposition television network Kanal 5, which broadcast live from Independence Square at the height of the revolution.

Poroshenko's fortune has however taken a hit from the current political crisis and the bitter standoff with Russia, a key market, which banned chocolate imports from his Roshen factory when Ukraine came close to signing of an EU association deal last year.

The married father of four was born in the small southwestern town of Bolgrad and studied economics at Kiev State University.

He entered Ukrainian politics in 1998 as a lawmaker for a grouping loyal to then-president Leonid Kuchma. He was one of the founders of Yanukovych's Regions Party in 2000.

But two years later, he changed sides after an election widely seen as rigged by Yanukovych.

Poroshenko joined forces with his close friend Viktor Yushchenko, who helped lead the 2004 pro-democracy Orange Revolution and later became president, making Poroshenko his foreign minister and chief of the central bank.

His time in office was controversial. A notorious falling out with Tymoshenko led to both of them being fired, and Poroshenko was also accused of abuse of power over the evaluation of a state metals firm, although the investigation was ultimately dropped.

In another switch, he was appointed as economics minister by Yanukovych in 2012. Later that year he was elected to parliament as an independent candidate and had hinted at running for mayor of Kiev before the current crisis.

Friday News Roundup – International

Thai army soldiers stand guard on a city street after martial law was declared on May 20, 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand. The army imposed martial law across Thailand amid a deepening political crisis that has seen six months of protests and claimed at least 28 lives. Rufus Cox/Getty Images

Violence in Eastern Ukraine escalates days ahead of a presidential election. China and Russia sign a $400 billion natural gas deal. The U.S. charges Chinese military officials with cyber espionage. Thailand’s military takes control of the government in a coup. Pakistan wages an offensive against tribal militants. The U.S. sends troops to Africa to help search for kidnapped Nigerian girls. An Egyptian court sentences former President Mubarak. And Iran arrests six young people for making a video of themselves dancing to the popular song “Happy.” A panel of journalists joins guest host Susan Page for analysis of the week’s top international news stories.


  • David Ignatius Columnist, The Washington Post, and contributor, "Post Partisan" blog on His new novel is "The Director."
  • Jennifer Griffin National security correspondent, Fox News co-author of "This Burning Land."
  • Geoff Dyer Foreign policy correspondent, Financial Times author of "The Contest of the Century: The New Era of Competition with China--and How America Can Win."



MS. SUSAN PAGE Thanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's recovering from a cold. She'll be back next week. Ukraine prepares for a critical presidential election as fighting flares in the east. Thailand's military takes over the government in a coup. And China and Russia sign a 400 billion dollar natural gas deal. Joining me for the international hour of our "Friday News Roundup," David Ignatius of The Washington Post, Jennifer Griffin of Fox News and Geoff Dyer of The Financial Times. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."


MR. GEOFF DYER Good morning.


MR. DAVID IGNATIUS Good morning.




PAGE We invite our listeners to join our conversation. You can call our toll free number. It's 1-800-433-8850. Send us an email at [email protected] or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, we have elections scheduled Sunday in Ukraine, but more violence happening there in the east. Geoffrey, bring us up to date on what's happening there.


DYER Well, there was another big incident yesterday, where there were as many as 16 Ukrainian soldiers appear to have been killed in an attack on a checkpoint that they had set up in a village in the eastern part of the country. And that seems to be an attack launched, although we don't know for sure, by Russian activists -- pro-Russian separatists, Russian activists. This, obviously, a few days before the election, at a time when it had seemed as if things were ever so slightly calming down before the election. And then another very bad incident that has raised tensions once again.


PAGE Jennifer, do we think the elections are going to go well? What's the expectation?


GRIFFIN Well, I think what's really interesting is to hear what Russian President Vladimir Putin had to say today. He said he would accept the results of the election, and just yesterday, we heard from Pentagon officials and NATO officials that they were seeing some signs, if small, that the Russian military was packing up some of its equipment on the border. There are still about 40,000 Russian troops on the Ukrainian border, but there were some trains and some flights out, suggesting some movement and pulling back.


PAGE So David, why is it significant that Vladimir Putin says he'll accept the results of this election?


IGNATIUS Well, three weeks ago, there was real fear that with Russian troops, perhaps 40,000 Russian troops amassed on the border, that they might move into eastern Ukraine, and that you could see an effort to splinter the country, physically. I think Putin decided that the risk of military intervention, rolling the tanks across an international border, was well beyond what he wanted to take. And he also got signs from the United States that, more or less, not aligned, neutral Ukraine was what the US envisioned.


IGNATIUS Finally, I think the fact that German Chancellor Merkel said, after her visit to Washington, if Russia destabilizes this election by supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine, or worse, sending troops across, Germany would consider that sufficient reason to impose serious economic sanctions. And I think Putin got the message. That really seemed to change his behavior. After that, he began making different kinds of statements.


GRIFFIN Also, I think that the Ukrainian leadership has said that it doesn't really matter if Russia's on the border. They've already caused enough trouble by putting in place certain opposition, pro-Russian, opposition leaders who are causing trouble, as you saw, at that checkpoint near Donetsk. They don't need Russia. They already know they have Russia's backing in those eastern provinces where there are separatist movements still moving forward.


PAGE So, Geoff, tell us about the candidates who are running for president of Ukraine.


DYER Well, the far and away frontrunner is Michael Petro Poroshenko, who is a very rich billionaire. He's a -- he has a very large chocolate business. That's where he's made a lot of his money. But he's also very much a leading figure of the political elite. He's been a foreign minister. He's been involved with all series of governments for the last decade. So, he's not completely tainted as much as his fortune doesn't come from some sort of sweetheart energy deals, which is where most of the oligarchs have made their money.


DYER But he's not exactly a fresh face either. He's someone who is quite associated with lots of the problems of the past, as well.


PAGE He's only 48-years-old, he's known as "The Chocolate King."



PAGE I guess because of his candy business.


DYER . some people call him Ukraine's Willy Wonka, is another one of his nicknames.


PAGE And, if he wins this election, what is that likely to mean going forward, in terms of how Ukraine positions itself, how the government handles this, what is clearly, clearly continues to be a tricky situation?


DYER Well, the first thing is just the nature of the election. I mean, he is very much the frontrunner, but it's not at all clear that he's gonna win a decisive victory this weekend. He could be forced into a runoff in three weeks time. In which case, there's another whole three weeks of this process of uncertainty and confusion as to what might happen. So, we're not maybe clear of the things, completely, this weekend. If he does get a very decisive victory, that will give a much stronger platform for the Ukrainian state to try and slowly impose more control over some of these eastern bits of the country, where these separatists have been, you know, taking police stations and taking local governments.


DYER But that's going to be a very, very difficult process. I mean, does he send in the military? Does he try and negotiate? How does he deal with the Russians? There are big question marks about him and his relationship with the Russians, as well. He has a chocolate factory in Russia. He has a shipyard in Crimea. So, he has a lot of personal skin in this game, as well. So, this can be -- even if he wins a very decisive victory, there's gonna be a lot of very difficult questions he's gonna have to answer.


GRIFFIN He's an interesting character, Petro Poroshenko, because, in fact, he lost about 500 million dollars of his wealth when the Russians closed his chocolate factory in Russia, a couple of months ago, and lost this shipyard in Sevastopol, as Geoff mentioned. He also has said he has an interesting relationship to -- in the past, to Russia, and he said that this is not a movement away from Russia, but away from the Soviet Union. And the reason he's the frontrunner, right now, is that when he met with a former Ukrainian businessman, Dmitry Firtash, who is pro-Russian and is in exile for corruption.


GRIFFIN And he may be a liaison to Russia, so he doesn't have the background that someone like Vitali Klitschko, the ex-boxing champ who was in the Maidan Square, in the midst of the fight. He pulled out of the election to allow Poroshenko to move forward, and it's possible that Putin feels more comfortable with Poroshenko.


IGNATIUS Yeah, I think we look to be heading toward a situation in which the government that's elected in Ukraine, the government that will be seated in Kiev, will be acceptable to Russia, even as it retains some western looking personalities and the history of the Maidan protests that put the government in place. And over time, that's probably the most stable situation that the west can hope for. The idea of a Ukraine that basically defied Putin, defied Russia, was a permanent challenge on Russia' border, seemed like a recipe for instability. The bargaining now will be over what kind of decentralization Ukraine will have.


IGNATIUS The government has been pushing a system that would have strong central control through governors, even as there was decentralization of local control. Russia has a very different formula that would, essentially, allow a quasi-autonomous federated units. That will be bargained out over the next months, as well.


DYER And one of the keys things, I think, to watch out for is the extent to which he's accepted by people in eastern Ukraine. There's also reports suggesting that maybe only 10 or 20 percent of the polling stations in some of the eastern provinces are gonna be open, because the Russian separatists have closed them down through intimidation. People are afraid to vote. So, even if the new government is a bit more acceptable to the Russian government, it might not be -- have a huge amount of legitimacy in some of these very contested parts of the east of the country.


PAGE On Tueday's "Diane Rehm Show," there'll be a show on the reaction to the results in Ukraine, an analysis. I bet we'll want to be listening for that. So, Vladimir Putin traveled to China this week, Jennifer, and signed this huge natural gas deal. A 30-year deal. Tell us about it, and especially why it happened at this moment.


GRIFFIN Well, it's very significant. It's worth about 400 billion dollars. They'll begin pumping in about four years time. It's a 30 year contract. One trillion cubic meters of gas. It's significant, coming on the heels of the tensions with Ukraine. Russia is looking to replace some of the gas contracts with Ukraine, as well as with western Europe. So, it is filling Putin's coffers at a time when the sanctions imposed by the west and the US over the Ukraine crisis were starting to bite, in some ways. So, it is very significant, and it comes at this, this very crucial moment, in terms of Russia's relationship to the west.


PAGE So, David, how does the United States feel about this partnership between two of our big rivals, Russia and China?


IGNATIUS Well, I think there's been some concern, certainly among foreign policy commentators, that as some people have been writing, this is the end of the Sino-Soviet split that began in the '60s, early '70s that my colleague, Charles Krauthammer on (unintelligible) editorial page, said this is the real pivot. It's Russia's pivot to China that's gonna be the decisive one, not the US pivot that President Obama has pushed. I guess my own feeling is that for China, reliability of energy supplies is crucial.


IGNATIUS That a China that's just desperate for energy is not in the US interest. That to the extent that Russia looks east, in terms of its gas supply, that is gonna open a degree of freedom for countries in Europe that have been so dependent on Russia. And Russia dependent on them as customers. So, I think some of the anxiety about this deal is probably misplaced. I mean, natural gas, like any commodity, is fungible. The more that goes to China means the more that will be available for other places.


PAGE So Geoff, who got a better deal, Russia or China?


DYER Well, one of the great questions about this deal is that the price is a secret. And the price is actually the key thing here, cause that would tell us a lot about the underlying politics. If Russia's paying a low price for this gas, which is what most analysts seem to think, that would show that Vladimir Putin was really desperate to get a deal here, to show the world that while the west is trying to isolate him, that he has very big, powerful important friends, that he's not isolated. But if actually China paid quite a lot of money for this gas than people expect, then that would tell you something quite interesting about China, as well.


DYER It would suggest that China is maybe a bit more willing to play up this kind of idea of anti-western partnership with Russia, against the US and against the West, than maybe we heretofore suspected. So, the price is the key thing, but we don't know it yet.


GRIFFIN I think what's interesting is what Vladimir Putin said about the deal. He said, our Chinese friends are difficult, hard negotiators, suggesting that he did -- they knew, the Chinese knew that they had Putin over a barrel. He also said, and this is very interesting, this is the biggest contract in the history of the gas sector of the former USSR. So, invoking USSR, at this time, Putin clearly still has this sort of notion of rebuilding the former Soviet Union.


DYER I think, if you look at what Russia's been doing the last few years, they've been doing two things. It has been getting closer to China, which is part of a sort of anti-western play. But it's also been getting closer to some of China's rivals in Asia. Vietnam and Japan, and potentially India, as well. It doesn't want to be China's junior partner. That's the long-term game for Russia.


PAGE We're gonna take a short break. When we come back, we'll go to the phones. Our phone lines are open. You can call us at 1-800-433-8850 or send us an email at [email protected] Stay with us.


PAGE Welcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. And with me in the studio, Geoff Dyer, foreign policy correspondent for the Financial Times. He's the author of "The Contest of the Century: The New Era of Competition With China -- and How American Can Win." And Jennifer Griffin, she's national security correspondent with Fox News. She's the co-author of the book "This Burning Land." And David Ignatius, a columnist at the Washington Post. He's the author of a forthcoming novel "The Director."


PAGE You know if you go to "The Diane Rehm Show" website you can see a link to a video on YouTube called the Happy song. Let's listen to just a bit of what that is.


PAGE So this is a happy song clearly, and the reason it's in the news is there is a video that shows a half dozen young adults from Iran dancing to it. David, what happened to them?


IGNATIUS Well, they were arrested in a moment that shows you how intolerant and really how nervous the Iranian regime is. I mean, if you can get arrested for dancing to Pharrell Williams on a rooftop, boy, that's a repressive society. And I think it's an embarrassing moment for Iran. I was in Tehran in December. The hunger of Iranians to have normal life, to be able to listen to pop music, they're going by the thousands to Kurdistan, a place that Iranians used to hold in contempt, to see pop music acts, just to get out and have fun.


IGNATIUS So here's this moment where the authorities are in effect saying, happiness is illegal. And it makes them look bad that there's a tweet that is attributed to president Hassan Rouhani. We don't know that it's true but it's a wonderful little message he's supposed to have tweeted. Happiness is our people's right. We shouldn't be too hard on behaviors caused by joy. Whether he actually tweeted that or not, that's what people in Iran think.


PAGE But the Tehran police chief called it an obscene video clip that offended the public morals and was released in cyber space. Jennifer, do you think the kids who made this video meant it as a statement? Do you think they realized that they were putting themselves in some peril?


GRIFFIN I think everything is a statement in Iran these days. Remember the Ayatollah Khomeini said there's no fun in Islam. What is most interesting about this incident is how quickly it was reversed. These young people were -- who were dancing without headscarves on and in western garb and men and women together, they were arrested within six hours. And the Tehran's police chief bragged about it.


GRIFFIN Then after the alleged Hassan Rouhani tweet, they were released. The director is still in custody but the question is, it really illustrates this tension between those that want to sort of loosen the restrictions -- and also, Rouhani had just given a speech about the internet and giving young people access to the World Wide Web. Right now Facebook and Twitter are banned in Iran.


PAGE You know, interesting though, the power of social media even in places where the government is -- wants to prevent them from becoming powerful.


DYER Absolutely. And a lot of analysts are suggesting this is really part of the ongoing power struggle in Iran since the election of Hassan Rouhani. He is likely not promising a more liberal Iran, but something more relaxed, slightly more, you know, laid back Iran. And a lot of people say this arrest was part of the hardliners attempt to show the Iranians that Rouhani is impotent, that he can't make these changes, that we're still in control.


DYER And that's really sort of the underlying context. And that's why a lot of people follow this tweet from Iran and Israel are not -- most people around believe it because they see this arrest as an attack on him.


PAGE Now we think that the report says the six dancers have been released, but they could still stand trial. Is that right, Jennifer?


GRIFFIN They're still facing charges. And I think the real question in all of this is whether the spiritual leader Ali Khamenei, is he happy with this action by them, by the police chief, by the release? And that is still the great unknown.


PAGE Here's an email from Dan. He writes us from Sacramento. He writes, "Iran, the Grinch who stole happy. I wonder if those in power in Iran realize how such a petty move makes them look on the world stage. I think the world would rather see them threaten nuclear war than to arrest a group of people dancing to the Happy song."


IGNATIUS Well, I think your correspondent's view from California is right. Again, what you sense in Tehran is the desire of Iranians pretty much across the political spectrum, to be connected to the world. Iran's really tired of being isolated. The Iranians feel, this is our moment. This is a very dynamic society. They say we could be as prosperous -- more prosperous than Turkey. And they want to break out of this cordon.


IGNATIUS And so I think moments like this where they're trying to be part of international social networks and the authorities try to squeeze that are potentially very dangerous for the authorities. Because this goes right to the heart of what bothers Iranians most. And I think is the reason that Rouhani got elected in the first place.


PAGE Let's go to Houston and talk to Ryan. He's our first caller. Ryan, hi, you're on the air.


RYAN Hi. Thanks for taking my call this hour. I guess, you know, in relation to the Iran thing, basically the emailer basically got it right on the head, you know. Iran's basically trying to make fun illegal. And, you know, that never really works out for anybody. It's just going to make people even more rebellious, I think, in that respect. And more people are going to, you know, do things that they enjoy doing. And Iran's just going to have to deal with it.


RYAN But my comment was actually in regard to the discussion on Putin and China earlier and how Putin's trying to kind of rebuild the old Soviet Union. I think that Putin might be starting to get a little senile because, you know he's basically acting as if the Cold War never ended, or he's trying to kind of spark it again. I don't know. Kind of what are your thoughts on that?


PAGE Ryan, thanks so much for your call. Geoff, are we seeing the start of a new Cold War?


DYER I don't think we should really see it in these terms. The way to think about it, these are two very big important countries that have a consorted interest in the U.S. not being the dominant power in the world. That's the one thing they really have in common. And so when events line up in that direction they will be together.


DYER They're also two big, you know, great powers in their own right and they're rivals in lots of ways as well. They're competing for influence in Central Asia for instance. The Russians are very paranoid about Chinese incursions in Eastern Siberia. So there's lots of ways as much as they are big powerful countries that are rivals as well. We shouldn't necessarily see them as this sort of ideological axis that are working together all the time.


GRIFFIN But look at the headaches that both Russia and China caused the U.S. at the United Nations Security Council this week when the U.S. tried to get passed, along with their French allies, a move in Syria to refer the crimes that have been committed on the ground there by the Assad regime to the International Criminal Court. Russia and China stood together and blocked that. And there was nothing the U.S. and the French could do about it.


IGNATIUS I guess my only addition to this is that China today is a strong dynamic economy led by a leader who's, I think, the strongest leader in the world today in terms of decisive actions. Xi Jinping has decided that he's going to address the problem of corruption in the communist party aggressively. He's gone after the former head of public security, he's gone after the state oil company. He's really been tough in going after this problem.


IGNATIUS Putin sits on a corrupt empire. Russia's population declines every year. The fundamentals of the Russian economy are so weak. So when I look at the two, we have one fading country so desperate to recover the status, the trappings of super power glory. And we have another country that is rising and, you know, that keeps addressing problems and solving them. And so I think in that sense there's a real imbalance between Xi Jinping, a strong leader and Vladimir Putin, a tough leader playing a weak hand.


PAGE Our phone lines are open. You can give us a call. 1-800-433-8850 is our toll free number. But while we're talking about China, really an extraordinary news conference this week by attorney general Eric Holder when he announced that five Chinese military officials were being indicted on 31 counts of cyber espionage. Geoff, have we ever seen something like this before?


DYER This is absolutely the first time that they've gone after -- the U.S. government has tried to prosecute officials of a firm government for cyber espionage. They have prosecuted lots of people who have been caught in the act, if you like, stealing intellectual property from companies. But they've never actually gone after people who are doing it remotely through the internet.


DYER This is something the U.S. had been planning for quite a long time. You know, the Justice Department's talking about this 18 months ago. There was a very big concerted campaign the first half of last year by the Obama Administration to put pressure on China over cyber hacking. And then along came Edward Snowden and the political pressure just evaporated overnight.


PAGE Well, the political pressure evaporated and the allegations of hypocrisy on the part of the United States began in a serious way. Jennifer, why? Why does that happen because of the Snowden disclosures.


GRIFFIN Well, let's remember, when Edward Snowden first revealed what he did about the NSA, it was when the Chinese leader had just landed in California. And there were accusations at the time by some of the -- those who oversee intelligence that was there some connection between Snowden and the Chinese because the timing was somewhat suspect. I think.


PAGE And now with the benefit of some passage of time do we think there was a connection?


GRIFFIN I don't think anybody's been able to prove any connection, though it was suspicious that Edward Snowden went to Hong Kong as his -- you know, that was where he made his revelations.


PAGE Before we leave this point, David, this is a charge that's sometimes made about Edward Snowden. Do we have an understanding of it now that some time has passed?


IGNATIUS When I -- it's a really important allegation that Snowden was used directly by Chinese intelligence and by Russian intelligence before he sought refuge in Moscow. It's been made publically several times by Mike Rogers the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. And I keep asking people in the government if there's any hard evidence to support it and they keep telling me no, there isn't.


IGNATIUS I think this is in the area of mystery surrounding the Snowden case that are unresolved, but I think it'd be a stretch today for us to say that there was any specific link in terms of the timing of Snowden's revelations and the visit of (word?) to California. It certainly was embarrassing. It did take the air out of what was then a real U.S. effort to raise cyber espionage. That campaign disappeared until this week's indictments.


PAGE So Jennifer, you were telling -- apologies for interrupting you. Go ahead.


GRIFFIN No, not at all. I think what was interesting is the Chinese reaction. On Monday they called in the Ambassador Max Baucus into the foreign ministry. And they really laid out all sorts of accusations of how the U.S. itself through the NSA and through the Pentagon had been cyber hacking and creating these backdoors into Trojan horses, into Chinese internet system.


GRIFFIN But I think what's really important is look at the timing of when Eric Holder made this announcement on a Monday. It came just days after China's chief of staff of the military, top army leader, was in the Pentagon. They rolled out the red carpet. He was the guest of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey. And they had a joint press conference in which, you know, it seemed as though there was this real warming towards China.


GRIFFIN And then suddenly two days later all of the efforts at any sort of cyber cooperation were somewhat undone. And I think this is really emblematic of the administration not knowing how to pivot to Asia, what the relationship to China is. Is China a friend or a foe? And they, in the process, are sending very mixed signals to the Chinese.


PAGE So Geoff, when we talk about cyber espionage, what kinds of things are the Chinese accused of doing?


DYER What the U.S. government's trying to argue is that China is doing something very different from what other governments do. The U.S. would say that it's entirely legitimate to do espionage to the internet and other means for reasons of national security to find out about defense issues and political issues. What they accused the Chinese of doing is of stealing trade secrets from private American companies and then passing them to their own companies to give those companies an advantage in commerce.


DYER The problem with this indictment is that they're making a very, very fine distinction. A lot of the charges they make in this indictment are actually about Chinese companies spying on U.S. companies because of trade litigation. What the Snowden documents have shown us is the U.S. does spy on other countries in trade negotiations.


DYER To make the distinction between trade negotiations being a legitimate target and trade litigation as being somewhat off limits, that's a very, very narrow distinction that's going to be hard for the U.S. to make.


PAGE I'm Susan Page of USA Today and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." You can send us an email at [email protected] So a big announcement by the Justice Department, 31 count indictments. So Jennifer, should we expect a big trial?


GRIFFIN Well, I don't think that the Chinese are going to extradite these five Chinese leaders, which their handles are somewhat laughable. They call themselves -- one of them is known as Ugly Gorilla online, KandyGoo, Jack Sun. These are hackers who were based in a specific 12-story building in Shanghai known as unit 61398. It is a building that NSA -- the U.S. intelligent services have basically traced a lot of this hacking back to.


GRIFFIN It's important to remember that China is responsible for almost all of the 300 malware programs that are known to exist in the world. And what this indictment on Monday by the Justice Department does is it points out that there were five U.S. companies, U.S. Steel, Alcoa and others that were targeted by the Chinese, and at a loss of more than $100 billion a year in trade secrets lost.


PAGE Let's talk to Lee. He's calling us from Miami, Fla. Lee, thanks for holding on.


LEE Well, thank you very much. I just wanted to comment on and just get a general sense that I think it's interesting, you know, that the United States is willing to try to prosecute people who are living in China and, you know, accused of committing crimes against the United States when the United States, as we all know, does commit the very same kinds of acts against China. And the very fact that the Chinese government is unwilling to, I guess, expose these embarrassing acts by the United States.


LEE It's very telling. Why is the United States so willing to put all of our laundry out there when we're -- our own government is unwilling to actually take responsibility for its own actions? So all of this about China and Russia trying to act against the United States or even trying to act in some sort of malicious intent. It's silly. Everyone's acting in their own best interests, except for the United States, who seems to be acting in the interest of its oligarchs. Thank you.


PAGE All right. Lee, thanks very much for your call. David Ignatius, what do you think?


IGNATIUS Well, certainly that's the argument the Chinese are making. A Chinese official was quoted as saying, this is like a thief crying, stop thief, that it's fundamentally hypocritical because of aggressive U.S. espionage efforts. I think the distinction that the U.S. is trying to draw on this indictment -- and it certainly is colorful filled with these, you know, the crazy names, as it is like out of a spy thriller, if I can say that.


IGNATIUS But they're trying to draw the distinction between stealing intellectual property, stealing the property of U.S. Steel, of General Electric, of other U.S. companies, things that have enormous commercial value. American companies feel that, you know, their most precious assets are just being ripped off week by week. The distinction between that and the other things that countries do -- China is certainly not the only country that steals economic secrets.


IGNATIUS Countries in Europe are notorious for doing that. It's alleged that Israel does that. So this is not a unique case but there's no violator that is thought to be, by analyst not just in the U.S. but all over, as egregious as the Chinese. And this indictment lays down a marker. We're never going to get these five PLA soldiers to trial anywhere but it lays down a marker and says, the U.S. is going to take this more seriously.


IGNATIUS To the caller's point, you know, a lot of things that the U.S. has been doing really makes the world angry and the world is expressing that. And it's obvious U.S. behavior will be different going forward. Will Chinese behavior be different? That's the question this raises.


GRIFFIN Well, I think it's interesting that a year ago when we first learned about unit 61398, this 12-story building in Shanghai, that when that was publically revealed here in the U.S., for five months the hackers in that building went quiet. So this is a shot across the bow by the U.S. government to the Chinese saying, we know what you're doing.


PAGE We're going to take another short break. When we come back, we'll talk about that coup in Thailand and more. Stay with us.


PAGE Welcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. And we're joined this hour by Jennifer Griffin, national security correspondent with Fox News, Geoff Dyer, foreign policy correspondent for the Financial Times, and David Ignatius, columnist at The Washington Post. Well, the Thai military has taken over the government, Jennifer. Why has this happened now?


GRIFFIN Well, first thing you must remember is that Thailand has a coup addiction. This is the 19th attempted coup, the 12th successful coup by the military since 1932. So this happens very frequently. What is happening right now is that essentially the sister of a leader that is in exile, the former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the sister had been in power. And their party essentially represented the rural countryside. And the smaller minority party that represents the sort of middle-class interests and the military and the paid -- basically, they have had years of tension between the two.


GRIFFIN And so Yingluck Shinawatra was removed by the military, that's the sister. And it just, right now, it's unclear how they are going to get back to any sort of democracy. And in the background is the Thai king, who's 86 years old, is very ill. And that is a source of some of the instability right now.


PAGE So, Geoff, Thailand, of course, a U.S. ally, does this situation raise concerns here in the United States?


DYER I mean it does inasmuch as, you know, this is a military coup. It's officially a military coup, so the U.S. has to suspend all sorts of cooperation and aid that it gives to Thailand. But more broadly, this is a -- as Jennifer mentioned -- this is a power -- this particular power struggle has been raging for most of the last decade between this, like the Thai establishment -- the military, the business political elite in Bangkok -- and the family of Thaksin Shinawatra, who was the leader in the early 2000s. He was a very, very popular, but very divisive figure. Now he was booted out by the military in 2006.


DYER The country had then been -- a series of elections were won by people who were proxies of him, including his sister. And this is this fight that's been playing out for a number of years. But it is becoming very, very dangerous, because in the past the king, who is an enormously important, powerful figure in the country, had at least provided some kind of stabilizing influence. He was able to rough off some of the sharp edges of some of these political contests. He's ailing.


DYER And there's a real debate about the succession, who will take over for him. The prince who's supposed to take over is a very unpopular figure. He has a daughter as well who's much more popular, but isn't supposed to take over. So this dynastic succession is mixing with this long-running political dispute. And that's taking Thailand into very, very -- very, very dangerous, uncharted territory.


PAGE Well, in the past, of course, after these coups, as Jennifer mentioned, there's been a return to kind of the regular order. Do we think that will happen in pretty short order in this case, David?


IGNATIUS I haven't heard predictions about how quickly this period of martial law will end. I do think that an ingredient for Thai stability -- and this is one of the great economic success stories in the world -- has been the monarchy. As we remember from the movie, "The King and I," Thais do revere their king. When I was an international newspaper editor for the International Herald Tribune, I discovered you do not criticize the King of Thailand. It's, I mean -- so the king is ailing.


IGNATIUS The military is seen as kind of acting as a proxy for royalists, the establishment, the traditional elite, which has been nervous for a decade about the kind of populism that Shinawatra represents. I guess the final ingredient is that throughout Southeast Asia you see movement as countries react to what they fear is an increasingly assertive China. And I have -- I wonder in the back of my mind whether that's a factor in the military's decision to move and try to consolidate power and, you know, in their mind, get a stronger Thai foundation -- like Vietnam, which is very nervous about Chinese activity, like the Philippines, like other Southeast Asian countries.


IGNATIUS I think the Thais are looking to reach and it's undergoing change. And that goes to a central question for us, what's the U.S. role? Are we going to reach out to the Thais, a traditional ally, help them? Or are we going to keep our distance because of the coup?


GRIFFIN One of the criticisms of the Chinese army chief when he was visiting the Pentagon was that the U.S. has raised expectations in Asia by talking about this pivot to Asia. And that it has empowered smaller countries like Vietnam and even Japan, who -- in their territorial disputes with China. And it is curious, what will the U.S. reaction to Thailand be? Who will they side with? Will -- and -- but certainly the Chinese feel that this undefined pivot to Asia is causing trouble in Asia.


PAGE Let's go to Chelan, Wash., in Washington State and talk to Cezanne. Cezanne, hi. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show.

Cg! for president

In a recent poll conducted with the White House Project, we asked 1,000 young women (98.4 percent) and men (1.6 percent) questions about a woman's role in the upcoming presidential election.

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&bull Just over 90 percent trust in a woman's ability to lead the country.

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&bull About 62 percent do not think women are too emotional to be leaders. Rather, they feel that being more emotional makes women more compassionate.

&bull If a woman is on the presidential ballot, 69 percent will be more likely to vote on Election Day.

You also worried that:

&bull There will be pressure on the first woman president to prove that a woman can do the job (98 percent).

&bull Voters will care more about a female president's personal life and dating history than they do about a male president's (56 percent), and appearance will play a more important role for female candidates than for male candidates (50 percent).

To participate in our follow-up poll and make sure your opinion is counted in next year, click here.

Petro Poroshenko: From chocolate Baron to Ukraine President

Kiev: Petro Poroshenko, who will be sworn in as president of Ukraine on Saturday, is a billionaire chocolate baron whose revolutionary zeal turned him into a political comet.

The pro-Western tycoon won an outright victory in a presidential election late last month with 54.7 percent of the votes -- a powerful mandate no one would have predicted just a year ago.

He needs the mandate, as he assumes the reins of his country at a dramatic point in history when it finds itself at the centre of the worst crisis between East and West in Europe since the end of the Cold War.

The crisis has centred around Russia's annexation of the Crimea, a Ukrainian peninsula jutting into the Black Sea, as well as an uprising by pro-Russian rebels in the east of the country.

- 'The dialogue has begun' -
This pits Poroshenko against Russian President Vladimir Putin, but Friday on the eve of the inauguration ceremony, the two met briefly as they both attended D-Day commemorations in northern France.

"The dialogue has begun, and that's a good thing," Poroshenko told Ukrainian television afterwards.

He said that a Russian envoy would travel to Ukraine on Sunday, adding there was a "good chance" of success.

Success is indeed needed if he is to bring about the profound change he had promised for the country that he will now lead.

"Soon we will end the war. Soon we will stamp out corruption. Soon we will begin European integration and establish democracy," he said last month.

Opimistic? Perhaps. But he is a man can make tings happen, as his career proves, whether in business or in politics.

- Ukraine's Willy Wonka -
The tall, slightly greying tycoon is one of the country's 10 richest men with a fortune estimated at around $1.6 billion (1.2 billion euros) by Forbes magazine, which described him as Ukraine's Willy Wonka.

A shrewd politician who has flip-flopped between governments for more than a decade, Poroshenko was the only Ukrainian oligarch to openly back the pro-European protest movement that ousted president Viktor Yanukovych, under whom he served briefly as economics minister.

He was also the only politician to fly to Crimea in a bid to negotiate with pro-Russian troops who seized parliament after Yanukovych fell, but he was angrily chased off by demonstrators.

While ready to talk with Putin, he has insisted two issues are not negotiable -- Ukraine's pro-Europe direction and Crimea, which he insisted "is and will remain Ukrainian".

- Capable pair of hands

Having held several cabinet portfolios and built strong links across the business community, he is seen by many as an experienced and capable pair of hands to stem an economy in freefall and unite the country.

Analysts say he is more palatable to the electorate than his nearest rival in last month's election, Ukraine's "iron lady" Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister who was jailed for abuse of power by the ousted regime, and other less experienced politicians.

Unlike most of Ukraine's influence-wielding oligarchs who made a killing swallowing up state assets in the chaotic years that followed the Soviet Union's fall, Poroshenko's wealth is self-made.

He started out selling cocoa beans, buying up several confectionary plants which he later united into Eastern European candy giant Roshen, which produces 450,000 tonnes of sweets a year, according to its website.

He also owns companies that make cars and buses, a shipyard and opposition television network Kanal 5 which broadcast live from Independence Square at the height of the revolution which left some 100 people dead.

Poroshenko's fortune has however taken a hit from the current political crisis and the bitter standoff with Russia, a key market.

One of the first difficulties came last year. As Ukraine neared the signing of an EU pact fervently supported by Poroshenko, Russia banned chocolate imports from his Roshen factory.

The married father of four was born in the small southwestern town of Bolgrad and studied economics at Kiev State University.

He entered the turbulent world of Ukrainian politics in 1998 as a lawmaker for a grouping loyal to then-president Leonid Kuchma. In 2000, the oligarch was one of the founders of Yanukovych's Regions Party.

But in 2002, he changed sides and joined forces with his close friend Viktor Yushchenko, who later became a hero of the 2004 pro-democracy Orange Revolution and president of Ukraine.

Poroshenko played a major role in the revolution which erupted when Yanukovych won the presidency in a poll widely viewed as rigged.

Under Yushchenko, Poroshenko was foreign minister and president of the central bank.

He had a famous falling out with Tymoshenko, which resulted in both of them being fired by Yushchenko. He was accused of abuse of power over the evaluation of a state metals firm, but the investigation was dropped.

And in another switch, he was appointed as economics minister by Yanukovych in 2012. Later that year he was elected to parliament as an independent candidate and had hinted at running for mayor of Kiev before the current crisis.

Can the ‘Chocolate King’ save Ukraine?

WASHINGTON—He amassed one of the world’s great fortunes selling one of the few things Ukrainians all agree on — chocolate.

But now, candy mogul Petro Poroshenko, 48, appears destined for a new and decidedly bittersweet future as the overwhelming favourite to become crisis-racked Ukraine’s next president.

A succession of public opinion polls places this billionaire of many confections as the faraway front-runner in the country’s crucial May 25 vote to replace ousted and now fugitive president Viktor Yanukovych.

Poroshenko’s lead was underscored Tuesday by a Razumkov Centre survey showing it growing bigger still, with a third of Ukrainians now ready to give him their vote, compared to barely 10 per cent for his next nearest rival, former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

If that lead holds — and more importantly, if Ukraine itself can hold together and conduct a successful election despite a deepening pro-Russian separatist insurgency tearing at its eastern provinces — Poroshenko will become Ukraine’s next great hope.

The day he wins, Poroshenko has pledged, he will divest himself of his chocolate, selling off the ubiquitous Roshen candy conglomerate. Those holdings, together with other manufacturing and media properties, make him the world’s 1,313th richest man, worth an estimated $1.3 billion, according to Forbes.

But the politics of Poroshenko, sometimes called Ukraine’s Willy Wonka, remain mercurial, given a history of playing alternating roles in both pro-western and pro-Russian governments since he was first elected to Parliament in 1998.

A co-founder and former ally of the pro-Russian Party of Regions, Poroshenko later fled to join the opposition, backing the 2005 Orange Revolution and eventually serving as foreign minister under former president Viktor Yushchenko.

And when the political needle swung back, vaulting hardliner Yanukovych to power in 2010, Poroshenko swung too, serving briefly as economics minister. When the protests against Yanukovych’s increasingly authoritarian rule erupted last winter in Kyiv, Poroshenko broke rank again, becoming the first Ukrainian business leader to side openly with the masses in the Maidan.

For some western leaders, the courtship has already begun. Poroshenko is scheduled to meet Wednesday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in an apparent acknowledgment both of his rapid political ascent and of the sheer urgency of the Ukraine crisis.

When it began, Poroshenko’s election platform emphasized good governance, a central demand driving the Ukrainian protests. As he told the New York Times in March, “I have experience in how to build up a new investment climate. I know how to build zero tolerance to corruption. I know how to build a court system. I know how to create a positive, absolutely new page of Ukrainian history.”

But as pro-Russian violence intensifies, Poroshenko has since shifted to a hardline message of Ukrainian unity against territorial encroachment from the east. In the wake of Friday’s spree of violence in his native Odesa that left at least 40 dead, Poroshenko accused pro-Russian provocateurs of plotting to maximize casualties, writing on Facebook, “I tell everyone who wants to destroy our independence and freedom — get out!”


Poroshenko’s latest shift appears not to have gone unnoticed in Moscow. Last month, Russian authorities sent dozens of armed police and plainclothes officials into a Roshen chocolate factory in the southern city of Lipetsk, padlocking the facility over a trademark dispute and throwing 2,000 people out of work.

Russian officials denied geopolitics played any role in the sanction against Roshen. Ukraine threatened reprisals, including the potential confiscation of Russian assets.

Through it all, Poroshenko has steadily gathered up support in Kyiv, including the backing of populist boxer-turned-politician Vitali Klitschko, who ended his own quest for the presidency to back the chocolate baron.

But with fewer than three weeks to go, the deeper worry remains how elections will unfold in the context of worsening violence. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking Tuesday as envoys to the 47-nation Council of Europe met in Vienna, cautioned that it would be “quite unusual” to hold a presidential election while the Ukrainian government was deploying its army against some of its own people.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague, meanwhile, flatly accused Russia of working to undermine the process, saying, “Russia seems intent on a course of preventing and disrupting those elections. That is wrong and I think where will be a very strong message from the great majority of countries here today that Ukrainian elections must be allowed to go ahead.”

Earlier Tuesday, French President François Hollande warned of the stakes of failure to hold the election May 25. “Otherwise there will be chaos and civil war,” Hollande told French channel BFMTV. “Vladimir Putin wishes today that this election does not take place.”

Copyright © Shutterstock. All Rights Reserved

Can the Ukrainian presidential candidate strike a balance between Russia and the EU?

With the shooting of Kharkiv Mayor Gennady Kernes and a fresh round of sanctions enforced on Russian officials, instability and violence continues to plague Ukraine’s future economic and security prospects. In the hope of true change, all eyes have turned to billionaire presidential candidate Petro Poroshenko to save the day. Currently leading in the polls with 48%, the “Chocolate King” — a nickname he obtained from his confectionary empire, Roshen — along with his reformist pro-Western stance, appears best placed to win the May 25 presidential election.

Poroshenko has certainly proven himself committed to change in Ukraine, with many going as far as to label him “the CEO of the revolution.” But before we hail him as the leader of the new Ukraine, we need to ask ourselves: Who is Poroshenko and is he fit to lead crisis-ridden Ukraine out of Russia’s grip?

A Self-Made Man

Born near Odessa, in Southwest Ukraine, Poroshenko started his career as one of the country’s very first business consultants after completing his degree in economics. When the hectic 1990s came around, Poroshenko was able to get his hands on several state-owned confectionary companies, which he then transformed into his very own chocolate empire, dubbing him Ukraine’s Willy Wonka. Apart from his lucrative chocolate empire, he owns the Ukrainian Channel 5 opposition media station, several car plants and a shipyard, amassing a total net worth of $1.3 billion, making him the seventh richest man in Ukraine.

Besides his many business dealings and oligarch status, Poroshenko is no newbie to the political sphere. Having held multiple governmental positions, he has always appeared unable to associate with just one political party, which, according to journalist Andriy Skumin, is the norm for members of the modern Ukrainian “party in power,” where “ideology is secondary power always comes first.”

Power Over Ideology ?

When first elected to public office in 1998 as a representative to the Verkhovna Rada, the Ukrainian parliament, Poroshenko joined the Social Democratic Party. Soon after, in 2000, he formed his own “Party of Solidarity of Ukraine.” This romance was short-lived as he went on to cofound the Party of Regions — yes, the party of ousted President Viktor Yanukovych.

In 2002, Poroshenko ditched the Party of Regions, this time for the “Our Ukraine” party of Viktor Yushchenko. After the latter became president, Poroshenko served as the head of the National Security and Defense Council, and then as foreign minister in Yulia Tymoshenko’s government from 2009 to 2010.

Poroshenko is far from naïve, and he would be wise to tread carefully around the grizzly bear, knowing that a strained relationship with the Kremlin will likely lead to a sour situation not just for his business, but also many others with close ties to Russia.

Despite his strong criticisms of Yanukovych, Poroshenko accepted his offer to serve as trade and economic development minister in 2012. His constantly shifting support gives weight to the theory that in post-Soviet Ukrainian politics, ideology and platform appear to matter a lot less than power. Poroshenko is currently not affiliated with any political movement, and his former Orange Revolution partner, Tymoshenko of the Fatherland Party, is now his bitter enemy and rival candidate.

The Ultimate Triad

One of the central elements of Poroshenko’s campaign has been a promise to lead Ukraine down the path of modernization, undergo painful but necessary reforms (including an end to state gas subsidies), and finally guide the country to economic stability. Well aware that International Monetary Fund (IMF) reforms and conditionality will be largely unpopular with the population, he has promised that Ukraine’s rich will be the ones footing most of the bill, not the poor. Whether these promises become a reality if he is elected remains to be seen, considering his close ties with controversial oligarchs such as Dmytro Firtash — a gas middleman involved in a fair share of dodgy dealings.

This brings us to his next main issue: the grave problem of Ukraine’s endemic corruption. The Maidan protests were sparked largely as a result of Ukrainian citizens’ anger with the greedy and corrupt elite, blamed for failing to provide the country with prosperity and jobs. Given his status as one of Ukraine’s wealthiest men, Poroshenko certainly appears to be in a good position to keep the oligarchs in check and tackle corruption. At the same time, it remains to be seen how he will balance this agenda with the protection of his own business interests, both in Russia and Europe.

Despite advocating a pro-West stance and the need to sign the original European Union (EU) association agreement thrown in the bin by Yanukovych, Poroshenko has been hesitant to fully distance himself from the Kremlin, openly declaring that “without dialogue with Russia, it will be impossible to create security.” Poroshenko also has an interest in ensuring that Ukrainian goods will continue to enjoy a place on the Russian market. It seems implausible that the Chocolate King, even with all his financial stability, will be able to avoid paying lip service to Russian President Vladimir Putin. After all, 40% of his business takes place in Russia and last year’s ban on his chocolate goods, most likely politically motivated, has dealt quite a blow to his business.

Poroshenko is far from naïve, and he would be wise to tread carefully around the grizzly bear, knowing that a strained relationship with the Kremlin will likely lead to a sour situation not just for his business, but also many others with close ties to Russia. A wrong move on his part might end up hurting the Ukrainian economy rather than repairing it.

Copyright © Shutterstock. All Rights Reserved

Walk the Walk, Don’t Talk the Talk

While it is true that the Chocolate King has positioned himself at the forefront of Ukraine’s battle with corruption, his own close relationship with billionaire gas tycoon Firtash certainly raises serious questions about his commitment to the cause. Firtash made his billions as a natural gas trader through his joint venture RosUrkEnergo (RUE) with Gazprom, which has also been closely linked to FBI-wanted mobster Semion Mogilevich. Firtash himself has failed to deny his links with organized crime, claiming that without it he could not have built his empire.

Firtash, who is said to be worth anywhere between $500 million to $10 billion, has been the subject of a more recent scandal and “victim” to the crackdown on Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs. A known Yanukovych supporter, Firtash fled to Vienna after the former president’s ouster, where he is currently facing extradition to the United States on charges of corruption. Despite trying to distance himself from Firtash and his kind in order to ensure that his anticorruption campaign remains legitimate, it did not take long for news to surface that both Vitali Klitschko and Poroshenko paid a visit to Firtash in Vienna, sparking rumors that Poroshenko may be trying to save the latter from extradition.

This upward chain of questionable links surrounding Poroshenko’s relationship with Firtash hardly bodes well for his reformist reputation.

Ukraine’s Chocolate King certainly has a strong support base in the country and his campaign has won over the many Ukrainian citizens who are fed up with the old elite regime. In a show of unity, Klitschko, the heavyweight boxing champion, withdrew his candidacy to throw his full support behind Poroshenko. But current support does not imply Poroshenko can or will pursue the agenda he is so strongly advocating for, and chances are his oligarchic ties, business interests and Moscow calculations will hamper his ability to lead as a reformer.

What is certain is that Ukraine needs to find a middle ground between Russia and the EU, before it gets torn apart from the outside and from within. Will Poroshenko manage to guarantee the country’s solidarity and its strategic positioning in Europe? After all, it’s much more simple to talk the talk than it is to walk the walk.

*[This article was originally published by Foreign Policy Journal .]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

'Ukraine’s Willy Wonka' Leads in Presidential Election - Recipes

Get out the popcorn, sit back, and enjoy our picks for the funniest food movies of all time. Be forewarned, you may be laughing too hard to eat for the next few days. Can&rsquot handle the hysterical laughing? Click here to explore other genres.

Click here to tell us about your favorite films or food scenes.

British Comedies

A Feast at Midnight

A British comedy about a social outcast who forms a secret society for cooking and feasting at midnight at his school. &mdashMelissa Hom,

A Private Function

This film won a &ldquoBest Stimulator of Hunger&rdquo award at the 1997 Cinema and Food Retrospective Festival in Italy. Set in 1947 after the WWII in Britain while meat was still rationed, this satire depicts the devastation of a community when an illegally raised pig meant to honor the princess, is stolen.&mdashMelissa Hom,

Life is Sweet

Wendy, Andy, and their twin daughters Natalie and Nicola, your typical, strangely endearing family, live out their family conflict and love on the screen. A bit of waitressing, cooking, procrastination, bulimia, unemployment, perkiness, and unhappiness are all mixed in, proving that perhaps the most eclectic families make for the sweetest ones.&mdashMelissa Hom,

Tom Jones

Winner of four Academy Awards including best picture, director, screenplay, and music, this 1963 adaptation of Henry Fielding&rsquos classic novel is a rousing, bawdy comedy about a young man&rsquos ribald adventures in 18th-century England. Albert Finney is splendidly hilarious in the title role of a charming womanizer who was discovered as an abandoned infant in the bed of Squire Allworthy, a wealthy landowner who named the child Tom Jones and raised him as his own. As a young man, Tom yearns for the comely daughter (Susannah York) of a neighboring squire, but his amorous adventures (including an extended food orgy that becomes the film&rsquos funniest scene) lead him to London and to a duel with a jealous husband. He&rsquos sentenced to hang, but fate intervenes. A hit around the world, the film was expertly written by noted playwright John Osborne, and director Tony Richardson uses a variety of old-style movie techniques to heighten the lusty, good-natured fun. Don&rsquot miss this one!&mdashJeff Shannon, from

Dark Humor & Cult Comedies

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

Movies with &ldquowacky&rdquo titles are almost never any good, and Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! was intentionally made to be an instant golden turkey. Despite that, and the grade-Z production values, this is a regularly funny film. You need to be a fan of the kind of low-budget horror movie it&rsquos spoofing, and you need to be very forgiving of the technical ineptness and frequent clunkers, but it works. The story? Well, tomatoes attack, basically. Jack Riley and the San Diego Chicken are in it, and that genuinely alarming helicopter crash you see in an early scene was a real accident. Seen now, the whole ratty affair brings back agreeable memories of the circa-1978 college-movie/midnight-cinema era, when seeing this film was virtually unavoidable. The sequel, The Return of the Killer Tomatoes! (with a young George Clooney), is actually an even funnier film. Director John De Bello would continue to squeeze the Tomatoes franchise for years to come.&rdquo&mdashRobert Horton, from

Auntie Lee&rsquos Meat Pies

A woman sends her four seductive nieces to bring home boys to turn into ground meat.&mdashMelissa Hom,

Eating Raoul

You&rsquod think a black comedy about murder, tackiness, and sexual perversion would quickly become dated, but Eating Raoul (1982) feels surprisingly fresh and delightful. When Mary Bland (Mary Woronov) gets assaulted by one of the repulsive swingers from the neighboring apartment, her husband Paul (Paul Bartel) rescues her with a swift blow from a frying pan&mdashonly to discover a substantial wad of cash in the swinger&rsquos wallet. A lure-and-kill scheme follows, which nicely fills their nest egg until a slippery thief named Raoul (Robert Beltran of Star Trek: Voyager, making his film debut) stumbles onto the truth and insists on getting a share. When Raoul starts demanding a share of Mary as well, Paul has to take drastic steps. The key to Eating Raoul isn&rsquot the sensational content, but the blithe, matter-of-fact attitude Bartel and Woronov take to it their sly underplaying makes the movie sparkle with wicked wit.&mdashBret Fetzer

Fast Food

Auggie (Clark Brandon) and his pals are living it up as perpetual college students. When the dean decides the only way to stop their antics is to graduate them, they come up with one final scheme a risky bank loan to turn a friend&rsquos garage into stiff competition for Wrangler Bob&rsquos fast food chain. When it looks like Bob will win after all, they develop a very special sauce that keeps the crowds coming back because it has the effect of being an aphrodisiac. Bob doesn&rsquot like to lose, so he sends Dixie Love (Traci Lords) to infiltrate the restaurant and find out their secret. The ensuing FDA investigation culminates into a steamy case of disorder in the court!&mdashfrom

Return Of The Killer Tomatoes!

You&rsquore not going to believe this, but Return of the Killer Tomatoes is a genuinely funny movie. Ten years after John DeBello made the frowzy, low-budget Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, he brought the fleshy fruit back for a murderous encore. Like the first film, it works as a parody of horror-movie conventions (and it repeatedly makes fun of itself, Mad-magazine style), but this time the budget is higher. There&rsquos a great, ongoing send-up of product placement, plus a juicy role for the oft-underutilized John Astin, as the evil genius this kind of movie needs. Just to keep everything moving, another exploitation film keeps cutting in: Big-Breasted Girls Go to the Beach and Take Their Tops Off. It ain&rsquot high art, but this movie knows its audience. A young George Clooney plays one of the heroes.&mdashRobert Horton, from

The Cook

A long-lost two-reel comedy starring and directed by Roscoe &ldquoFatty&rdquo Arbuckle and costarring Buster Keaton, The Cook (1918) has been reclaimed from nitrate materials found in Norway and Denmark in 1998-99. A few seconds&rsquo worth of footage remains lost, but the minor burps in continuity can&rsquot dim the two comic geniuses&rsquo balletic precision and freewheeling inventiveness. Keaton, new to the flickers, is more devil-may-care than in his own films, but the careening dynamism perfected in two decades of vaudeville knockabout is fully in play. Arbuckle&rsquos trademark fat is 95 percent muscle, and his no-sweat juggling rivals W.C. Fields&rsquo&mdashthough the image viewers will carry to their graves is his kitchen-pan jeu d&rsquoesprit as Cleopatra, clutching a link-sausage asp to &ldquoher&rdquo bosom. All this&mdashplus a ladder-climbing dog named Luke&mdashmakes for a comedic tour de force. Milestone has filled out the package with another Arbuckle rediscovery, A Reckless Romeo (1917), and Harold Lloyd&rsquos characteristically zippy Number Please! (1920)&mdashall three shot on glorious amusement-pier locations.&mdashRichard T. Jameson

The Last Supper

Painted in mile-wide strokes of black satirical comedy, The Last Supper turns intolerance into a parlor trick, then repeats it ad nauseam in case we missed the joke. Still, redundancy can be fun when applied to the premeditated murder of right-wing extremists by self-righteous left-wing zealots director Stacy Title is an equal-opportunity offender, never taking sides. The grisly high jinks commence when a truck-driving, child-molesting, Hitler-loving ex-Marine (Bill Paxton, acing the role) is accidentally killed while dining with a clutch of snobby liberal grad students, played with uniform excellence by Cameron Diaz (showing early promise), Ron Eldard, Courtney B. Vance, Annabeth Gish, and coproducer Jonathan Penner. Having acquired a taste for blood, the wine-poisoning liberals stage &ldquolast suppers&rdquo with hand-picked targets (Charles Durning, Mark Harmon, Jason Alexander, and ultimately Ron Perlman), eventually attracting a suspicious sheriff (fine work by SNL alumnus Nora Dunn). It&rsquos got all the subtlety of a pile-driver, but The Last Supper craftily defends free speech by exposing its most vicious violations.&mdashJeff Shannon, from

Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?

The culinary community in Europe races to solve a chain of mysterious homicides in which the murderer kills a chef using the same methods and preparation as the chef&rsquos signature dish.&mdashMelissa Hom,

Dramatic Comedies

Alice&rsquos Restaurant

You can get anything you want there, or so went Arlo Guthrie&rsquos song, a lengthy monologue about a Thanksgiving dinner and how its aftermath kept Guthrie out of the Vietnam-era draft. Arthur Penn&rsquos movie version, which stars Guthrie, James Broderick, and Pat Quinn, has a shambling, good-natured feel, much like Guthrie&rsquos epic tall tale. But as it follows Guthrie&rsquos adventures (he gets arrested for improper disposal of Thanksgiving garbage and the arrest renders him unfit for military service, in the draft board&rsquos eyes), it also examines the freewheeling nature of relationships in that period&mdashand the toll that freedom took on those relationships. Guthrie is a natural performer, particularly funny during the draft board sequence but the heart of the film is Quinn and Broderick&rsquos troubled marriage.&mdashMarshall Fine, from


Barry Levinson&rsquos debut film as a writer-director nearly got lost in the shuffle before New York critics rescued it from oblivion. Set in his native Baltimore in 1959, it focuses on a group of pals coping with life post high school. Each of them has problems with women, it seems, whether it&rsquos Steve Guttenberg (as a guy about to get married who forces his fiancée to pass a test about the Baltimore Colts), Mickey Rourke (as the womanizing hairdresser with a gambling problem), or Daniel Stern (as the married one who makes his wife miserable with his carefully cataloged record collection). The only time these guys seem like they have it together is when they gather at the diner to sling the bull. The cast includes Ellen Barkin, Timothy Daly, Paul Reiser, and Kevin Bacon&mdasheach in a breakthrough role.&mdashMarshall Fine, from

Eat A Bowl Of Tea

Director Wayne Wang is in his appealingly low-key groove with this wry comedy-drama, a precursor to his later success with The Joy Luck Club. It&rsquos set in the aftermath of World War II, when the restrictive U.S. immigration laws had finally been relaxed. WWII vet Russell Wong is a young Chinese-American hepcat, strong-armed by his dad (the wonderfully gnarled character actor Victor Wong) into an arranged marriage with a Chinese girl (Cora Miao). The trip to China, and the atmosphere of New York&rsquos Chinatown, are neatly mounted. The film&rsquos central joke, and metaphor, is the bridegroom&rsquos impotence after marriage he&rsquos cowed by the expectations of his traditional culture, which don&rsquot necessarily match his own ideas. In its quiet way, Eat a Bowl of Tea examines the larger issues of ethnic identity while poking affectionate fun at its floundering characters&mdasha distinctly modern attitude for a 1940s story.&mdashRobert Horton, from

Julie & Julia

In 2000 Julie Powell, a junior bureaucrat in New York City, decides to cook all the recipes in Mastering The Art Of French Cooking, in one year, and to blog about it. The blog develops a following and becomes a book. The book becomes a film starring Meryl Streep (Julia Childs) and Amy Smart (Julie Powell), intercutting episodes of the former&rsquos life with the latter&rsquos. As attractive and charming as Julie Powell is portrayed by the gifted Adams, one can&rsquot help but long for Julia Part II&mdashmore of Meryl Streep as Julia and Stanley Tucci as her husband and biggest fan, Paul Childs.&mdashKaren Hochman,


Two student friends in first century Rome under Nero&rsquos reign divide themselves over a common love interest&mdashonly to cause a divide in the earth with an earthquake. Their finger-licking hedonistic travels lead them to adventure and encounters with the demi-divine.&mdashMelissa Hom,


With Sideways, Paul Giamatti (American Splendor, Storytelling) has become an unlikely but engaging romantic lead. Struggling novelist and wine connoisseur Miles (Giamatti) takes his best friend Jack (Thomas Haden Church, Wings) on a wine-tasting tour of California vineyards for a kind of extended bachelor party. Almost immediately, Jack&rsquos insatiable need to sow some wild oats before his marriage leads them into double-dates with a rambunctious wine pourer (Sandra Oh, Under the Tuscan Sun) and a recently divorced waitress (Virginia Madsen, The Hot Spot)&mdashand Miles discovers a little hope that he hasn&rsquot let himself feel in a long time. Sideways is a modest but finely tuned film with gentle compassion, it explores the failures, struggles, and lowered expectations of mid-life. Giamatti makes regret and self-loathing sympathetic, almost sweet. From the director of Election and About Schmidt.&mdashBret Fetzer, from

The Deli

A &ldquofeel good&rdquo New York slice-of-life with an ensemble cast of favorites, The Deli, tells the engaging tale of Johnny Amico (Dumb & Dumber&rsquos Mike Starr), a lovable but incorrigibly bad gambler who has a tough time paying the bills at his Italian-American delicatessen.

With one week to make good on his debts, Johnny rides a comic roller coaster as he desperately tries to save The Deli while battling a crazy bunch of bookies, gangsters and neighborhood nut jobs.&rdquo&mdashfrom

The Road to Wellville

This wrong-headed adaptation of the very funny (and scatological) novel by T. Coraghessan Boyle was written and directed by Alan Parker, who doesn&rsquot seem to have much of a clue. It&rsquos not a botch, just a movie that hammers its efforts at humor too hard. The focus is split between three story lines: the life of cereal tycoon John Kellogg (Anthony Hopkins with buck teeth), who has created a health spa for the wealthy that focuses on regular cleansing of the digestive tract (as well as applications of electricity) the troubles of an unhappy young couple (Matthew Broderick and Bridget Fonda), who come to the spa hoping to cure their marital ills (Broderick gets the worst of the deal) and the efforts of a young hustler (John Cusack), who is trying to break into the breakfast-cereal business but gets taken by an even bigger hustler (Michael Lerner). There are subplots about Kellogg&rsquos children but they add little. For all the doo-doo and enema jokes, the joys of this movie are distinctly scattered.&mdashMarshall Fine, from

Family Comedies

Charlie And The Chocolate Factory

Mixed reviews and creepy comparisons to Michael Jackson notwithstanding, Tim Burton&rsquos splendidly imaginative adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory would almost surely meet with Roald Dahl&rsquos approval. The celebrated author of darkly offbeat children&rsquos books vehemently disapproved of 1971&rsquos Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (hence the change in title), so it&rsquos only fitting that Burton and his frequent star/collaborator, Johnny Depp, should have another go, infusing the enigmatic candyman&rsquos tale with their own unique brand of imaginative oddity. Depp&rsquos pale, androgynous Wonka led some to suspect a partial riff on that most controversial of eternal children, Michael Jackson, but Burton&rsquos film is too expansively magnificent to be so narrowly defined. While preserving Dahl&rsquos morality tale on the hazards of indulgent excess, Burton&rsquos riotous explosion of color provides a wondrous setting for the lessons learned by Charlie Bucket (played by Freddie Highmore, Depp&rsquos delightful costar in Finding Neverland), as he and other, less admirable children enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime tour of Wonka&rsquos confectionary wonderland. Elaborate visual effects make this an eye-candy overdose (including digitally multiplied Oompa-Loompas, all played by diminutive actor Deep Roy), and the film&rsquos underlying weirdness is exaggerated by Depp&rsquos admirably risky but ultimately off-putting performance. Of course, none of this stops Burton&rsquos Charlie from being the must-own family DVD of 2005&rsquos holiday season, perhaps even for those who staunchly defend Gene Wilder&rsquos portrayal of Wonka from 34 years earlier.&mdashJeff Shannon, from

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

This remastered, pan-and-scan 30th-anniversary edition of that kiddie-car caper is flawed but solid family fare. It retains a quaint charm while some of the songs&mdashincluding the title tune&mdashare quite hummable. A huge plus is Dick Van Dyke, who is extremely appealing as an eccentric inventor around the turn of the century. With nimble fingers and a unique way of looking at the world, he invents for his children a magic car that floats and flies. Or does he? The special effects are tame by today&rsquos standards, and the film is about 20 minutes too long&mdashbut its enthusiasm charms. The script was cowritten by Roald Dahl and based on the novel by Ian Fleming, best known for his James Bond adventures.&mdashRochelle O&rsquoGorman, from

Christmas In Connecticut

Christmas in Connecticut is a holiday film that plays 365 days of the year. Barbara Stanwyck gives a brilliant, sardonic performance as Elizabeth Lane, a columnist for Smart Housekeeping magazine, whose enticing descriptions of the exquisite meals she prepares for her husband and baby on their bucolic Connecticut farm earns her fame as &ldquoAmerica&rsquos Best Cook.&rdquo A writer, she is a cook, she is not.&mdashSusan Benson, from

Good Burger

Based on a cable-channel Nickelodeon project, Good Burger teams Kel Mitchell and Kenan Thompson as a contemporary Abbott and Costello team, working a fast-food stand while competing with a major chain outlet right across the street. It&rsquos sight gags and physical humor galore, and while the film is aimed at kids there&rsquos no reason adults can&rsquot enjoy if caught in the right mood.&mdashTom Keogh, from


This charming 2007 hit from Pixar hit focuses on Rémy, a French rat with a cultivated palate who yearns to be a chef. The gifted rat sneaks into a Paris restaurant and works his wonders, hiding all the while from the less-gifted humans in the kitchen. One day, Paris&rsquos make-it-or-break-it food critic, a curmudgeon of a man, tries Rémy&rsquos cuisine, and his built-in frown becomes upturned. The animation is terrific, and Remy is as adorable a hero as animation has produced.

Soul Food

Soul Food is the kind of movie that seems to have been blessed throughout its low-budget production, and it&rsquos got a quality of warmth and charm that fits perfectly with its authentic drama about a large African-American family in Chicago. Twenty-eight-year-old writer-director George Tillman Jr. drew autobiographical inspiration from his upbringing in Milwaukee, and on a well-spent $6.5 million budget he succeeded where similar films (including Waiting to Exhale and How Stella Got Her Groove Back) fell short: He depicts his many characters with such depth and sympathy that, by the time they have weathered several family crises, we&rsquove come to care and feel for them and the powerful ties that bind them together. Tillman&rsquos touch can be overly nostalgic, melodramatic, and cloyingly sentimental, but never so much that the movie loses its firm grip on reality. As a universal portrait of family life, Soul Food ranks among the very best films of its kind&mdashbelievable, funny, emotional, and always approaching its characters (well-played by a uniformly excellent cast) with a generous spirit of forgiveness and understanding. As satisfying as one of Big Mama&rsquos delicious dinners, Soul Food is the kind of movie that keeps you coming back for more.&mdashJeff Shannon, from

Tortilla Soup

The tantalizing genre of food films&mdashstretching from Babette&rsquos Feast to Big Night and beyond&mdashhas a delicious new addition, Tortilla Soup. The food-preparation scenes will make your mouth water. Fortunately, the rest of the movie holds up as well. Hector Elizondo plays Martin, a widowed chef who is losing both his sense of taste and control over his three daughters: Leticia (the always superb Elizabeth Peña), a religious schoolteacher Carmen (Jacqueline Obradors), a successful but unhappy businesswoman still carrying on an affair with her ex-boyfriend and Maribel (Tamara Mello), a rebellious teen falling in love with a young Brazilian. When a pushy, nosy, but very sexy widow named Hortensia (Raquel Welch) comes along, the troublesome subcurrents in the family start to surface. Elizondo&rsquos understated gravitas anchors the story, while the three sisters have sex, eat amazing-looking food, and break plates in the kitchen.&mdashBret Fetzer, from

What&rsquos Cooking?

At first glance, What&rsquos Cooking? looks like it was dreamed up by some politically correct screenwriting committee: a series of overlapping stories that intercut among four families (one Hispanic, one Vietnamese, one African American, one Jewish) all preparing for Thanksgiving dinner. But what could be toothless and smarmy is made gripping and genuinely affecting by a mixture of observant writing, fluid direction, and a truly superb ensemble of actors, including Mercedes Ruehl, Alfre Woodard, Joan Chen, Julianna Margulies, Kyra Sedgewick, Dennis Haysbert, and a host of less well known but just as capable others. The script is a marvel of orchestration: small annoyances blossom into fierce conflicts, secrets are deftly revealed, and sanctimoniousness is subtly punctured. The acute but sympathetic portrait of family stress and tension is layered with quiet observations about race and class, as well as the capacity for tolerance and forgiveness. It&rsquos recently become a cliché to have characters express themselves through food (examples include Soul Food, Big Night, and Eat Drink Man Woman), but What&rsquos Cooking? turns food into a witty exploration of culture as everyone prepares their turkeys in entertainingly different ways&mdashthis is not a movie to watch on an empty stomach. Warm without false sentiment, What&rsquos Cooking? is deeply enjoyable.&mdashBret Fetzer, from

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Having proven itself as a favorite film of children around the world, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is every bit as entertaining now as it was when originally released in 1971. There's a timeless appeal to Roald Dahl&rsquos classic children&rsquos novel, which was playfully preserved in this charming musical, from the colorful carnival-like splendor of its production design to the infectious melody of the &ldquoOompah-Loompah&rdquo songs that punctuate the story. Who can forget those diminutive Oompah-Loompah workers who recite rhyming parental warnings (&ldquoOompah-Loompah, doopity do. &rdquo) whenever some mischievous child has disobeyed Willy Wonka&lsquos orders to remain orderly? Oh, but we&rsquore getting ahead of ourselves. it&rsquos really the story of the impoverished Charlie Bucket, who, along with four other kids and their parental guests, wins a coveted golden ticket to enter the fantastic realm of Wonka&rsquos mysterious confectionery. After the other kids have proven themselves to be irresponsible brats, it&rsquos Charlie who impresses Wonka and wins a reward beyond his wildest dreams. But before that, the tour of Wonka&rsquos factory provides a dazzling parade of delights, and with Gene Wilder giving a brilliant performance as the eccentric candyman, Wonka gains an edge of menace and madness that nicely counterbalances the movie's sentimental sweetness. It&rsquos that willingness to risk a darker tone&mdashto show that even a wonderland like Wonka&rsquos can be a weird and dangerous place if you&rsquore a bad kid&mdashthat makes this an enduring family classic.&mdashJeff Shannon, from

Foreign Comedies

A Chef in Love

A French chef falls in love with Georgia (the country, not the state) and its cultural dishes during the rise of the Soviets.&mdashMelissa Hom,

Au Petit Marguery

A group of friends and regulars gather for dinner at the last night of a closing restaurant and reminisce.&mdashMelissa Hom,

Click here to purchase the VHS tape (French without subtitles).

Bella Marta (Mostly Martha)

Mostly Martha is a rich addition to the recent banquet of movies about food. Martha (Martina Gedeck), the domineering chef at a fancy restaurant, has her rigid routine broken when her sister dies in a car wreck, leaving behind her 9-year-old daughter Lina (Maxime Foerste). Martha takes the girl in, but has no gift for maternal expression she offers Lina food, but Lina refuses to eat. Meanwhile, her control over her kitchen is threatened when her boss hires a buoyant Italian named Mario (Sergio Castellitto) to assist, and Martha finds herself flailing in an effort to reestablish control of her life. While Mostly Martha may not hold many surprises, the writing, direction, and particularly the acting are as sumptuous and sensual as the cooking and eating. The relationship between Martha and Lina is portrayed with all its awkwardness and complications intact the result is wonderfully affecting.&mdashBret Fetzer, from

Chicken And Duck Talk (Gai Tung Aap Gong)

Also known as Chicken and Duck Speak, Chicken and Fast Food, or Ji Tong Ya Jiang (Mandarin title). This Cantonese film is a classic comedy about what happens when Danny Chicken, an American-fast food chicken joint, opens across the street from a Hong Kong duck shop.&mdashMelissa Hom,

Cousin, Cousine

One of the first, and most successful, French export comedies, Cousin Cousine garnered a Best Actress Oscar nomination for Marie-Christine Barrault, an international audience for director Jean- Charles Tacchella, and a substantial, surprising haul at American box offices in late 1975 and early 1976. Retrospectively, it&rsquos not difficult to understand why: Barrault and costar Victor Lanoux prove themselves to be adept, protean comic actors, and Tacchella&rsquos breezy pacing makes the witty, gag-laden script crackle with frenetic verve. Barrault and Lanoux play cousins (by marriage only it isn&rsquot quite that French) drawn together when their respective partners are caught philandering. Their initial friendship quickly blossoms into something altogether more scandalous. The narrative, framed by weddings, funerals, and other family get-togethers, feels surprisingly modern in its choice of milieu indeed, recent comedies such as Four Weddings and a Funeral and My Best Friend&rsquos Wedding owe a substantial debt to the whimsical tone of Cousin Cousine. More Hollywood than Cannes, it&rsquos perhaps unsurprising that Tacchella&rsquos comedy was recently remade into Cousins (1989), an intermittently amusing Ted Danson vehicle with occasional resemblances to its vastly superior predecessor.&mdashMiles Bethany, from

Cuisine Americaine

French-born, UCLA-trained screenwriter Jean-Yves Pitoun made his directorial debut with this French comedy in which self-taught cook Lorenzo, aka Loren (Jason Lee) is discharged from the U.S. Navy after hitting a superior who accused him of serving &ldquosissy food&rdquo to the Admiral&rsquos guests. Back in Brooklyn, Loren works at his Italian-Irish family&rsquos pizza parlor and then heads for France to study with his idol, chef Louis Boyer (Eddy Mitchell). After the death of his wife, Boyer raised his daughter Gabrielle (Irene Jacob), now a successful restaurant architect engaged to physician Vincent (Thibault de Montalembert). Gabrielle and Loren compare recipes and finally choose romance from their menu, while Boyer begins to cave in from the stress of tax problems, restaurant critics, and police seeking illegal foreign workers.&mdashFrom


A post-apocalyptic future becomes the setting for pitch black humor in this visually intricate French comedy. The action takes place within a single apartment complex, which is owned by the same man that operates the downstairs butcher shop. It&rsquos a particularly popular place to live, thanks to the butcher&rsquos uncanny ability to find excellent cuts of meat despite the horrible living conditions outside. The newest building superintendent, a former circus clown, thinks he has found an ideal living situation. All that changes, however, when he discovers the true source of the butcher&rsquos meat, and that he may be the next main course. This dark tale is played out in a brilliantly designed, glorious surreal alternate world reminiscent of the works of director Terry Gilliam, who co-presented the film&rsquos American release. Like Gilliam, co-directors Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro hail from an animation background, and have a fondness for extravagant visuals, absurdist plot twists, and a sense of humor that combines sharp satire with broad slapstick and gross-out imagery. This mixture may displease the weak of stomach, but those attuned to the film&rsquos sensibility will be delighted by the obvious technical virtuosity and wicked sense of humor.&mdashFrom

Eat Drink Man Woman

This is not a movie to see on an empty stomach. Writer-director Ang Lee&rsquos 1994 Oscar nominee tells a family story about a chef and his three daughters through the meals the chef prepares and serves his family. This touching, dryly funny story of a family coping with personal lives and the way those lives intersect with the family relationships captures a shift in generations in Taipei. The father, a famous chef who has lost his taste buds, still cooks, though he draws no pleasure from eating. His daughters, meanwhile, deal with both the disappointments and surprises of daily living and the way their adult lives compare to the expectations the widowed father had for them. A subtle, amusing and mouth-watering comedy of impeccable manners.&mdashMarshall Fine, from

A humble and remote Chinese noodle street vendor cares for her disabled husband and son. When a neighbor buys a television, Ermo&rsquos drive for consumerism awakens and she refuses to be outdone. As she heads toward the city to make more money, but ends up selling&mdashand losing&mdashmore than she expected, all for a television set.&mdashMelissa Hom,

Fallen Angels

Fallen Angels was originally planned as one section of director Wong Kar-Wai&rsquos best-known film, Chungking Express, but eventually it grew into its own distinct and delirious shape. In many ways, Fallen Angels may be the better film, a dark, frantic fun-house ride through Hong Kong&rsquos nighttime world. Part of the film is a love story between two people who have barely met: a young, ultra-hip hit man (Leon Lai) and the dreamy operative (Michele Reis) who plans his jobs. Much of the movie is given over to a very strange subplot about a manic mute (Takeshi Kaneshiro) who goes on bizarre nocturnal prowls through a closed food market&mdashlike almost everything else in Wong&rsquos films, this is antic, stylish, and oddly touching, all at the same time. It must be said that, also like Wong&rsquos other films, Fallen Angels is fragmented and oblique to the point of occasional incomprehensibility&hellipbut then suddenly something wild or wonderful happens, such as the moment when the killer leaves the scene of a spectacular shooting and is promptly waylaid by a cheerful old school chum on a public bus. These coups&mdashwhether lyrical, violent, or simply &ldquohow on earth did they get that shot?&rdquo&mdashare tossed off by Wong and cinematographer Christopher Doyle with all the cool of the hired killer, as though the movie were a cigarette dangling from a pair of oh-so-casual lips. This is exactly why so many otherwise calm critics fell all over themselves in hailing Wong Kar-Wai as one of the most exciting filmmakers of his generation.&mdashRobert Horton, from

Jamón, Jamón

Class, sex, and food are the obsessions of this Spanish comedy drama, an international hit from writer and director J.J. Bigas Luna that plays like a cross between the lusty Like Water for Chocolate (1992) and the early work of Pedro Almodovar. In a small town in Spain&rsquos arid Monegros region, young underwear factory executive Jose Luis (Jordi Molla) falls in love with the beautiful Silvia (Penelope Cruz), a worker on the shop floor. When Silvia becomes pregnant, Jose Luis wants to marry her, but his mother Conchita (Stefania Sandrelli), the factory owner, is appalled by the thought of her son marrying a working-class girl, especially one who is the daughter of a prostitute, Carmen (Anna Galiena). So Conchita hatches a scheme to woo Silvia away from her son by hiring handsome model Raul (Javier Bardem) to seduce the girl. A ham factory employee with aspirations to become a bullfighter, Raul&rsquos charms work their magic on both Silvia and Conchita, much to the dismay of Jose Luis, who seeks comfort in the arms of his sometime lover, Carmen. Jamon Jamon (1992) was the winner of a Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival.&mdashFrom

L&rsquoAile Ou La Cuisse

In this comedy, Louis de Funes is a top restaurant critic, the head of an important French culinary guide. At the beginning of the film, he and his son (Coluche) are at odds, as the son prefers working as a circus clown to studying the fine arts of gastronomy. The two join forces, however, to thwart the greedy owner of a chain of inferior restaurants, who plans to take over the finest restaurants in France and substitute his formulaic fodder for real cooking. Another lure bringing the son into the picture is a lovely secretary working for the guide.&mdashFrom

La Cuisine Au Beurre (Cooking With Butter)

In this comedy, a French prisoner of war (WWII) returns home to his wife and café after a decade to find her with another man &ndash a chef who cooks with butter, while he cooks with oil. Which man, and which fat, will win her heart?&mdashMelissa Hom,

La Grand Bouffe

&ldquoBouffe&rdquo means &ldquocomic opera&rdquo and bouffer is French slang meaning &ldquoto eat.&rdquo A dramatic comedy about friends who plan to commit suicide through excessive food, alcohol, and of course sex. Four successful, middle-aged men Marcello, a pilot Michel, a television executive Ugo, a chef and, Philippe, a judge go to Philippe&rsquos villa to eat themselves to death. After the first night, Marcello insists that women should join them. Three prostitutes make it through a day or two Andrea, a local school teacher, stays to the end. The villa, the food, and a Bugati roadster are essential props as is the star, Marcello Mastroianni.&mdashMelissa Hom,

Meals On Wheels

A truly international production, Meals on Wheels teams up Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, and Yuen Biao in a comedic-action-crime caper that includes what some consider one of the greatest fight scenes ever filmed. Directed by Hung, the movie takes place in Spain, marking the first Jackie Chan vehicle set in a non-Asian location. Chan and Biao play two lunch-truck restaurateurs who are trying to make a living selling egg rolls and hamburgers in the busy squares of Barcelona. Hung is a novice private investigator searching for a beautiful pickpocket named Sylvia (Lola Ferner) whose thieving teams her up with Chan and Yuen. Sylvia is kidnapped after she discovers she is actually a wealthy heiress, and that&rsquos when Chan, Yuen, and Hung join forces to free her and kick some bad guys&rsquo butts. Wheels on Meals is lighthearted fun with stunts and action scenes (including skateboarding tricks and a scene in which Chan and Yuen face off against a motorbike gang) that simply reaffirm the stars&rsquo physical and comic talents. The celebrated fight scene is a matchup between Chan and international kickboxing champion Benny &ldquothe Jet&rdquo Urquidez. The intensity of their scenes together spurred rumors of a rivalry beyond the film. Whether or not this was true, the two paired up again four years later in Dragons Forever. As for the nonsensical title, one theory claims the film&rsquos distributor (Golden Harvest) had little success with films whose titles started with &ldquom&rdquo so they simply switched the two words around. The DVD boasts subtitles in eight different languages but does not include the &ldquoblooper&rdquo outtakes that frequently accompany Chan&rsquos films.&mdashShannon Gee, from

Spicy Love Soup

A huge hit as a refreshingly young and modern movie in Chinese cinema, the film centers on five different love relationships&mdasheach with their individual warmth and quirks, similar to Love Actually.&mdashMelissa Hom,


Tampopo means dandelion in Japanese, and the plot of the film is structured much like one. The center of the flower, the main storyline, is about two truckers who stop late one night to get some noodles, and meet a widowed young ramen shop proprietor named Tampopo. Her shop isn&rsquot so great or special, especially to two noodle connoisseurs, which these truckers definitely are. But when one of the truckers gets beaten up, and Tampopo nurses him back to health, he agrees to stay and teach her everything he knows about the art of ramen.

As the truckers and Tampopo embark on an almost spiritual journey to create the ultimate noodle shop, picking up friends and self-knowledge along the way, the film wanders off in many directions. Interspersed throughout this main storyline are a series of small vignettes about food. We see some of the characters from these vignettes again, though most appear only once. The fact that these short films-within-a-film manage to stand on their own emphasizes the fact that this is a movie about more than just the characters in it. It is about the act of eating, and a reminder that by treating what may appear to be mundane with reverence, whether it is food or another person, a rewarding and previously unseen world is revealed.&mdashJake Lemkowitz,

The Chinese Feast

After accepting a cooking challenge at the Imperial Feast (a three-day culinary showdown), Chui Kong Sun and Au Ka Wai search for a chef who can cook for the challenge. The man they are looking for was a renowned chef but is now an alcoholic. In addition to watching sweet and sour pork and fried noodles with pork being prepared, the Iron Chef-esque challenge requires the following ingredients: bear palm, elephant trunk, and monkey brains.&rdquo&mdashMelissa Hom,

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeosie

What can be more enjoyable then a meal among friends and family? In Luis Buñuel&rsquos surrealistic comedy The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie it is this common ritual a sextet of upper-class friends repeatedly attempt, only to be obstructed by one obscure event after another. Masterfully balancing the dichotomy of class vs. debauchery Buñuel delivers a ripping critique of the upper class. It is clear from the beginning that the lives Buñuel&rsquos Bourgeoisie are living are not what they seem. Eventually, their true colors begin to shine not in actual actions but in haunting dreams. What is real and what lies in the subconscious becoming exceedingly blurry and in order to deliver his message, surrealism must take over. It is hard to pigeonhole Buñuel&rsquos classic that won him the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film 1972: An absurd odyssey? A discreet satire? Not necessarily, but definitely charming.&mdashRob Bracco, from

The God of Cookery

A conceited chef is defaced when an underhanded rival takes over his cooking empire. Fortunately, he meets a sweet and kind-hearted street vendor who has healing abilities. The two decide to reclaim their cooking status with a cook-off.&mdashMelissa Hom,

The Wedding Banquet

This 1993 international hit by Ang Lee is a funny and poignant story of a gay, Taiwanese-American man who goes to some lengths to fool his visiting family that he&rsquos actually straight. The results are far more complicated and entertaining than anyone could have guessed. The film seems all the more rich now since Lee has become a major Hollywood director: that same sensitivity and mild bemusement he brought to such stories of manners as Sense and Sensibility and The Ice Storm in recent years are in full bloom in this earlier work.&mdashTom Keogh, from

Romantic Comedies

Louise Lasser and Robert Modicka put their hearts into the story of a 60-ish couple trying to make a go of it, regardless of his friends&rsquo ridicule and her low self-esteem. Their honest acting nearly gives this failed attempt at a Woody Allen-style episode of Friends needed humanity. The problem? Lasser and Modicka are not the lead actors in this film, whose tritely punning title is about the extent of writer-director Amos Kollek&rsquos wit. Anna Thomson is the ostensible heroine in this story about the denizens of a New York City diner and their romantic travails. The 35-year-old waitress, unlucky in life and love, seems such a candidate for long-term therapy that her unconventional outlook isn't so much profoundly sympathetic as simply pathetic. Kollek also stretches credulity by allowing a sex-show performer to melt at the badgering appearances of one of her &ldquoclients,&rdquo the creepiest of the whole lot.&mdashKevin Filipski, from

Mystic Pizza

A sweet and sassy comedy about the bonds of sisterhood, Mystic Pizza offers the opportunity to see some solid young actors early in their careers. Three sisters of blue-collar Portuguese descent work in a pizzeria in the coastal town of Mystic, Connecticut. Each has her own unique romantic entanglements. One is the fast girl in town (Julia Roberts), who falls for a rich kid but wonders if she&rsquoll ever be accepted one is the lifelong local girl (Lili Taylor) in love with her fisherman boyfriend (Vincent D&rsquoOnofrio) but scared of what marriage will do to their sex lives and the youngest sister (Annabeth Gish) dreams of going to Yale but during a summer of baby-sitting has an affair with a married man. Through it all each sister depends on the others regardless of the complications. It&rsquos the alluring charm of the three disparate leads that makes Mystic Pizza the delightful experience it is.&mdashRobert Lane, from

Woman on Top

Woman on Top pretends to be your standard fish-out-of-water romantic comedy laced with touches of magic realism. When you break it down and look at its elements, however, it turns out to be different than most, which is good. Hot Spanish star Penélope Cruz (All About My Mother) plays Isabella Oliveira, a Brazilian chef who falls madly in love with, and marries, a dashing waiter (Murilo Benício). Throughout her life she&rsquos been a victim of motion sickness, and the only way she can overcome it is by being in control, whether it&rsquos driving or being on top during sex. Her husband starts to feel that as a threat to his Latin masculinity, and when he steps out on her, she catches him. She decides to leave Brazil and stop loving him, ending up in San Francisco with an old friend (Harold Perrineau Jr.), now a drag queen. There she meets a nice guy-television producer (Mark Feuerstein), who sets her up with her own cooking show. Normally in this kind of movie his character would be the perfect antidote for her heartbreak, but he ends up more seduced by the success of her cooking show than by her. When her husband shows up, she becomes trapped in a love triangle where both men are deeply flawed. Can she forgive her husband&rsquos infidelity and fall back in love with him? Forget the answer. The fact that the question is being asked separates Woman on Top from the other broad, romantic comedies that share its tone. Plus it&rsquos chock-full of seductive Brazilian music.&mdashAndy Spletzer, from

© Copyright 2005-2021 Lifestyle Direct, Inc. All rights reserved. All images are copyrighted to their respective owners.

See yesterday’s Links and Antidote du Jour here.

Russia-China sign long term natural gas deal. Valued at $400 Billion. Announced 38 Bcm at an estimated $350 mcm.

CORRECTION: Should read 38 Bcm per annum.

This earlier citing of the FT article as falling through is hilarious. You can see that the FT was hoping that Putin would be rebuffed by China’s taking advantage of the US pressure on Russia.
I’m sure the problem WAS about price. But Putin probably yielded somewhat in exchange for Chinese geopolitical support, financial support and other “external economies” to the deal. So US diplomacy has driven Eurasian countries together against “Old Europe,” while the anti-euro parties have all gained support for this Sunday’s Europarliament elections by wanting to be free of US military pressure to make Europe a satellite.
If this was the AIM of the Obama administration, then all these guys must be Russian agents. (I can’t wait for Republicans to make this breathless discovery.)

Insightful observations. Appears to me that Putin is the leader who is actually implementing a “Pivot to Asia” strategy, albeit in response to U.S. initiatives. As Michael Hudson implied, it will be interesting to see what the longer term implications of this geopolitical move are for Germany and the EU. Evidently Vivacious Vicky’s comment “Eff the EU” was heeded, although perhaps by others than those at whom her remark was directed. Also, increasingly appears effects of sanctions on Putin’s inner circle are being mooted. Further, new international payments system is reportedly being installed by Russia, China and Iran.
Wonder to what extent residual holdovers, political infighting, turf fragmentation, and management control issues in DeeCee contributed to all this.

one of the wondrous and favorite activities and actions of china and its princelings is to do photo ops

add up all the “commitments” that china is making around the globe…

and take a look at how many have come up against “difficulties” when it is actually time to write a real check.

but president raz-putin had better hope global warming aint gonna be as bad as some predict. But as serbia turns green, slowly but surely, step by step, the chinese will offer to “man” the pipeline and drilling activities, until one day, 35 to 45 years from now, serbia will have become tibetisized, with more than enough chinese in place to disrupt the historical population realities.

and then, poof, soon thereafter, it will take a few less time zones to get from one end of russia to the other.

he had better get russian men to treat their women better so that they might actually want to have children with these wondrous and obviously hard working and kind russian studs…but somehow, it would probably seem, that uncle RAZ will have a hard time convincing the women of his country that they should allow themselves to be the incubator for russian survival.

the divot to asia will be the last breath of the russian era. like the golden hordes collapse along with the fall of byzantium led to moscow becoming more than just some little principality, the moment in history that belonged to russia has passed. Its own people do not believe in its future and are not willing to take on the burden of large families to fill up the multiple time zones she wants to claim

besides, everyone is forgetting that India is in the way of China

India has claimed the whole of Kashmir up to the afghanistan border.
As a trade off, if India can convince Pakistan that she can have a portion of Afghanistan and if they cut a deal to break up afghanistan in return for allowing India to have Kashmir, if not forever, then on some 99 year stand still agreement, India will be twenty years away from sitting in Denisov at the doorstep of Russia/Serbia.

The land of Borat is sitting with Russia on one side and China on the other…and already has a solid relationship with India. A sphere of influence to help (protect) the Boratites from RAZ and his chin friends will allow India to cut a hot knife through the butter and disrupt chinas silk road dreams.

This is probably the moment when historians will say the multi-polar world was (re)born. Contrary to contemporary belief they will state it was China and not Russia who ushered in the brave new world.

Clueless morons damaging western interests because of their stupidity and pride. bear in mind most of this is motivated by butt hurt over Syria.

. . . stupidity and pride . . .?

Isn’t Syria mostly about Iran? And isn’t Saudia Arabia and Israel driving that bus? But Russia stood in the way – again . . . AGAIN!

Its not “stupidity and pride” as much as arrogance and craven self-interest.

Western interests, eastern interests, whatever. For once I would like to hear about something being done in the interest of humanity. I suppose this deal is not exactly bad for humanity if it does help to curb US imperialism by creating a multipolar world but that part remains to be seen. From environmental standpoint all it does is to ensure that more fossil fuels are burned, creating more CO2. Not so good. For the average Russian and Chinese it probably doesn’t change much of anything, as I doubt much of the profits would trickle down to the average Ivan and Ming.

I wonder how price increases are accounted for in the agreement.

like Public Citizen, 38 Degrees in the UK is also gearing up to protest the TTIP. Please sign and encourage them to do so

“Khor pulls no punches about the magnitude of the danger, calling it “as serious to human life as the climate change crisis that we are all trying to address and fighting against.” ”

Comparing a real problem to a fake one: what idiocy.

Marijuana is bad for you. So bad, you need to be jailed for even having it. Unless you want a job writing code for the FBI.

I think it’s second hand Marijuana smoking that is really bad.

“such a Jewish type of the Christian Hitler”: Hitler had his faults but being Christian was hardly one of them. Being evil and mad would be on my list, though.

Wyoming doesn’t want textbooks that mention climate change? North Carolina has outlawed it.

Both states are being influenced by money and pure corruption on that issue.

Fracking Waste Could Increase Carcinogens in NC Drinking Water
snip…”“The mistake that they made in Pennsylvania was, these things were sent to [municipal plants], as if it was just normal waste, and it’s not,” said Vikram Rao, a member of the M.E.C. and chairman of the committee that developed the wastewater rules.

But drillers will be allowed to send their wastewater to commercial plants, he said. These plants must be designed specifically to treat fracking wastewater.

But no such plants currently exist in North Carolina.”

(b/c no such plant will EVER exist…the bean counters have proven it all over our fracked nation)

“But drillers will be allowed to send their wastewater to commercial plants, he said. These plants must be designed specifically to treat fracking wastewater.”

And these plants would be paid for by whom? No doubt the taxpayers–financed by bonds and JPM in the grand tradition of Jefferson County, Alabama. In the grand tradition of privatizing the profits and socializing the costs, doncha’ know.

Just finished a new book called “Toms River” about the “benefits” of introducing toxic chemical waste into the public water supply. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t end well for the locals. Apparently cancer clusters are pretty hard to prove.

Better, I think, to handle it the way North Carolina is handling it. Make it a crime to tell anybody what’s in the water so no one has to worry about weird cancers. They’ll probably just think it’s god testing their faith.

im on the list for ‘Toms River’ withn 2 weeks…owe ya one, thanks

A few years ago, the people at the National Center for Science Education mostly concerned themselves with superstitious frauds such as Young Earth Creationism and Intelligent Design. Recently they have also had to involve themselves in cases where Climate Change is being purged from the textbooks and school curricula.

“When fertility decreases … the number of pension contributors decreases.” I see that.

“This translates into a decrease in pension benefits.” In total yes, but not per individual.

“As a response, individuals save more to smooth their consumption.” I find this puzzling. What do they mean? I can see that people with few or no children might save more for their old age since they won’t be able to expect (much) financial help from their children. Is that what they mean? It doesn’t seem to be. Can anyone suggest an answer here?

What did they mean by any of it?

Pure, unadulterated horseshit if you ask me.

Just check out the title of the site–under VOX–“Research-based policy analysis and commentary from leading economists.”

That should tell you all you need to know. They didn’t even tell us what’s up with ESTONIA. Sheesh.

The article in Macleans is a bit confused but forceful in making its point but the article needed to spend a bit more time explaining why people choose to be stupid. And let me be clear here, people do choose it–it’s not like information is not available and people don’t know where to go. I’ve had discussions with people about climate change, for example, where they read some right-wing nonsense or just keep Fox News on and then argue with me about it. I’ve kept up with the issue since that late eighties and have done my due diligence yet these casual browsers of information believe their opinion has the same weight as mine–and I’m deliberately putting this in personal terms to make a point. I know more about it than my interlocutor yet he (it’s never a she) can’t admit that. It’s like someone who may have heard something about writing code starts telling me how to write code that I used to do for a living–what is that?

The dumbing-down of America has a lot to do with a very bad public education system that discourages intellectual exploration and critical thinking. This tendency in American education turns off many students (even if they do well) who see pursuing knowledge and taking in the gems of Western Civilization as a chore not a joy. Without joy, intellectual inquiry cannot happen so most people, even those with graduate degrees, simply stop growing intellectually and tend to be attracted to lines of thought that fit their prejudices. The article mentioned above mentions deficits in science and math which are considered the height of intellectual achievements and fail to mention poetry, music, philosophy, literature and so on. We still have the idea that education is something we force-feed our children but generations of children have resisted it–shouldn’t we actually try to use the knowledge we do have about learning theory and neuro-science rather than continue to use arbitrary methods that are duct-taped methods from the 19th century? American educations steadfastly refuses to acknowledge modern science so how can they teach it?

The author of the piece also mentions the confusing demands of modern life and that’s all true. People live fragmented lives that lack cohesion–what is missing in the piece is the description of the forces that cause us to live confused lives. The people in South Carolina Mr. Gatehouse describes who are fixated on science having to bend to the Bible which is, to most of South Carolinians, the source of all truth allows these people to live with more peace and tranquility than those who don’t have a firm set of beliefs. Mind you, I’m pretty certain that most of the people don’t actually believe the Bible is literally true but “believe” it as a way of not having to think deeply about anything–it’s like a medication–you know it’s a drug but it makes you feel better so you take it.

But what causes this confusion? Of course, it is complicated, but I believe there is a chief cause to our malaise. This has been caused by the systematic and conscious effort by marketers, advertisers, PR people and political propagandists to control the mind of the American people. While education won’t use scientific ideas on human nature the mercenaries who populate the influencing class do use those techniques and others that they’ve found throh experience to control the human psyche. They have manufactured consent and they’ve created needs–they’ve altered completely morality even in South Carolina. These people, like the rest of the country, are programmed to satisfy themselves–Jesus is a commodity that makes them feel better–if he didn’t many would dump him for something else.

Intellectual development and the culture of narcissism we live in are completely incompatible because, along with joy, dialectic is essential. Holding on to your opinion because you need that opinion to keep your ego inflated is the main problem of our age and extends just as much in the liberal bi-coastal areas as in the South as I’ve mentioned with specificity in other posts.

Educational Fordism… because economic efficiency.

skippy… the numbers demand it.

im puzzled too buddy’) yesterday you suggested people are paying less attention to MSM…today your recognizing a fact…they still are. i agree many are ‘spread-out’ and also fear the high risk of venturing from the heard…too many still believe if they by ‘this’ product, their hair will look just like ‘as seen on tv’. (from the depths of wherever j. walter thompson is still laffin)
i see Curiosity being removed at too early of an age…harried parents and scripted early education. Curiosity can also be Lonely…worse than death for the heard mentality.
20 yrs ago a coworker told me i reminded him of the song ‘Who’s going to take you home’ by the Cars. i was baffled…do i really come off that needy or was he projecting? so i bit out of self enlightenment, i asked what the heck he meant (with a smile)…he said he always pictured me searching and alone. (maybe he said lonely…big difference but those brain cells are long smoked/im mean gone:-/)

i’ll join you in some optimism…the heard will shift but will it be out of fear which continues leading them straight into the storm…or will the heard shift toward the power of Curiosity?

“Thinkers aren’t limited by what they know, because they can always increase what they know. Rather they’re limited by what puzzles them, because there’s no way to become curious about something that doesn’t puzzle you.”
Quinn, My Ishmael

I don’t think our education system isn’t nearly as bad as people complain. What’s wrong are our parents, students, and culture. Too many parents think their kids are all “special” and that they’re never at fault for anything. Kids expect everything to be “fun” and handed to them on a silver platter. The “self-esteem” movement and all that crap in the 80s and 90s about never “shaming” a child has created a generation that thinks it’s wrong to be judged or feel bad about acting badly, and that if you fail them it is a personal insult and not a reflection of their effort and production.

My complaint about the educational system, at least higher ed, wherein I taught for 19 years, is that its practitioners have no guts and will not enforce standards. This is largely driven by the postmodern turn that undermined the whole idea of truth and standards, and the student evaluation system that rewards teachers who are nice and give out bucks full of great grades. One article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed laid this out when a young prof said that she was risking tenure by being a “tough” grader, so she just raised all the grades, got excellent student evals, her Chair was thrilled, and she got her tenure. When your professors refuse to have the guts to stand up for what is right, what is the chance their students will?

I agree with you about students and parents but the system has stopped being interested in education. Real education can’t happen unless it’s very rigorous. Much of the blame has to go on the left which Alan Bloom critiqued in his book The Closing of the American Mind several decades back. Though I had much to quarrel with in the book I think his plea for the importance of philosophy is particularly haunting.

The reason students re in the shape their in is not their fault–it is the fault of political correctness and the replacement of dialogue with cant–education has become yet another industry. We did not replace the more conservative academics of the days of yore with, as I mentioned, the findings of social and neuro-science.

Please forgive my atrociously written post above. I got worked up and when you get worked up, your writing takes a beating (or at least mine does).

My argument with Bloom was that he was no more interested in critical thinking than he was in social justice, and his endless whining about Nietzsche got stale fast. What Bloom wanted was to preserve in amber the consensus education he got after WWII where it was still tacitly assumed that women were inferior to men and blacks to whites, but it was no longer acceptable to be an overt anti-Semite. It was, in effect, a variation on the complaint of WASP academics after WWII about how things had been better in the 1920s when “they” hadn’t gotten their pushy, grubby, show-offy hands all over higher education.

I don’t know how much philosophy has to teach us at this point. The consensus among philosophers seems to be that language is indeterminate, that morals are relative, that knowledge is at best provisional, and that we cannot know the “real world” for certain, or even if there is a real world. This strikes me as a dead end. It entirely ignores the evidence that Evolution is real and that we and all other life forms survive or die out based on our ability to come to grips with and master some aspects of material reality. Modern philosophy was not born out of people struggling to bring in a crop or survive the trenches. It is a manifestation of a cushy, artificial lifestyle that is about to go the way of the Dodo. So I say study History, Physics, Chemistry, Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, something tangible that has a material base that you can get your hands on. I doubt Bloom would approve.

enjoying both your post…Thanks!

something i backed into earlier:

“So now you must choose… Are you a child who has not yet become world-weary? Or are you a philosopher who will vow never to become so? To children, the world and everything in it is new, something that gives rise to astonishment. It is not like that for adults. Most adults accept the world as a matter of course. This is precisely where philosophers are a notable exception. A philosopher never gets quite used to the world. To him or her, the world continues to seem a bit unreasonable – bewildering, even enigmatic. Philosophers and small children thus have an important faculty in common. The only thing we require to be good philosophers is the faculty of wonder…”
Gaarder, Sophie’s World

from the article:
“Smart money versus dumb voters is hardly a fair fight. ”

I’d say the smart money – or at least too much of the elite money – has been engaged in undermining what was once a very good US public education system. Organized money (hello ALEC) has lead the effort to dumb down the US voter, starting with public education. Because, as the article says, ” smart money vs dumb voters is hardly a fair fight.”

p.s. this bit from Perry Anderson’s LRB article on Italian politics caught my attention:

“In the hour of Berlusconi’s triumph in the spring of 2008, when he won his third and most decisive electoral victory,…. In its first months of office, one step along Thatcher/Blair lines was taken, the initial instalment of a set of changes, starting with primary schools and ending with universities, that cut expenditure on the education system by some €8 billion in the interests of economy and competition: reducing teacher numbers, imposing short-term contracts, bringing business onto boards, quantifying research assessments.”

Amazing similarity to what is being done in various US states. What a coincidence.

I see the dumbing down as one of the end permutations of behaviorism, that having had quite a run since Watson and Little Albert in 1920. Before that was humanism, richer, harder to understand, with kids actually learning Latin and Greek to find ancient wisdom. Behaviorism became ubiquitous, probably from our natural human desire for safety. Life would be safe and secure, if other people would just behave. So, the behaviorists gave us the carrot and stick, penalties and incentives, reinforcements and conditioning. The idea was to learn, not to think. Somewhere along the way, society stopped rewarding good and punishing evil, and replaced that with rewarding smarts and punishing stupidity, but that’s a story all its own. Now, behaviorism is ingrained in public policy. Consider the tax code: it has little to do with raising revenue, rather it has a million pages of incentives and penalties to try to micromanage almost everything. At the same time, spying on citizens by the NSA is also a logical result of infatuation with behaviorism. Yet humanism is emerging once again, perhaps on its way back. Behaviorism can not explain acceptance of gay marriage, for example. For that, the mind must think of dusty, old, obsolete ideas like liberty.

Interesting points, Paul. You are definitely on to something with behaviorism–despite its central notions being discredited it remains alive with the authoritarian personalities that run our major institutions.

Chomsky wrote about BFSkinner, and how behaviorism has been used by lawmakers by for social control and molding of culture with poor results, and not only because they don’t understand it, and it was with skinner’s encouragement.
Chomsky said Skinner felt it was benign, but Chomsky said it could lead to a totalitarian society, that skinner had jumped the shark, and his theories were unproven and dangerous. Here’s one of his articles, but there are more.

B.F. Skinner said the following [PDF] about the review you linked to:

I have actually never read his long review of Beyond Freedom and Dignity though I have read three answers to it none of which the New York Review would publish. I have never been able to understand why Chomsky becomes almost pathologically angry when writing about me but I do not see why I should submit myself to such verbal treatment. If I thought I could learn something which might lead to useful revisions of my position I would of course be willing to take the punishment, but Chomsky simply does not understand what I am talking about and I see no reason to listen to him.

That Chomsky did not understand what Skinner was talking about is abundantly clear, from what he wrote earlier and in the review you linked to. As just one small example

Consider Skinner’s claim that “we sample and change verbal behavior, not opinions,” as, he says, behavioral analysis reveals (p. 95). Taken literally, this means that if, under a credible threat of torture, I force someone to say, repeatedly, that the earth stands still, then I have changed his opinion. Comment is unnecessary.

No, according to Skinner, you’re changing his verbal behavior—whether you call that verbal behavior an opinion or a coerced statement depends on the circumstances under which that behavior takes place. The example illustrates Skinner’s point and Chomsky doesn’t even realize it. Comment, as he would say, is unnecessary.

Chomsky writes “There is little doubt that a theory of human malleability might be put to the service of totalitarian doctrine” but he omits that, in the book he is reviewing, Skinner writes

The great problem is to arrange effective counter control and hence to bring some important consequences to bear on the behavior of the controller.

Skinner was very much against aversive control, such as the one some totalitarian Orwellian state might use, but, more so, as that quote shows, he was against the total control by the controller, so much so that he called it “the great problem.” Sure, a science of behavior could lead to a totalitarian society—just as a science of evolution could lead to eugenics—but Skinner was utterly opposed to that.

Behaviorism can not explain acceptance of gay marriage, for example. For that, the mind must think of dusty, old, obsolete ideas like liberty.

Behaviorism would explain the acceptance of same sex marriage in almost exactly that way (although a technical account might not use the words “mind” and “ideas”).

In fact, prompted by a comment such as yours (which is indicating a certain specific behavior), people might, in essence, look at how they view marriages generally in the context of what they would describe as liberty and how they view same sex marriage in that context in doing so, they may tend to view same sex marriage the same way. Probably the context of liberty doesn’t cause them to discriminate—in the behavioral sense of acting differently towards—same sex marriage from marriages, generally. (Some other context, such as a religious one, might cause such different behavior between the two.)

A more complete behavioral account would point to (again, in more technical language), among other things: as more and more people accept same-sex marriage, they reinforce, especially through social means, acting in ways that are accepting of same sex marriage— and punish especially, again, through social means (but not exclusively), acting in ways that are not accepting in essence, it becomes easier to be in favor of same sex marriage and more difficult to be against it. People in authority (President Obama, federal judges) make favorable statements about same sex marriage those statements become part of what influences others. As more and more same sex couples get married, with no negative effects that might reinforce “being against” same sex marriage and lots of positive ones that might reinforce “being for” same sex marriage, one’s “being against” behavior becomes less likely to occur and one’s “being for” behavior becomes more likely to occur. And, as the environment that supports acceptance of same sex marriage becomes the prevailing one, those who grew up in a different, earlier environment die, which, in turn, creates an environment that supports same sex marriage even more so.

At every election, politicians promise better schools. But they only get worse. More focused on jobs, less focused on critical thinking and intellectual development.

Social Darwinism is strong in the US. Because markets!

They also refuse to define what “better” means other than test scores. In other words education is now nothing more than something on an MBA spreadsheet.

The article itself was… dumb.

It meanders quite a bit. From salacious stats derived from surveys about what people say they believe, to blaming dumbness on dissembling politicians, to making some sort of point about campaign contributions.

Still not sure what the point was. Except that some people believe some things he disagrees with.

Personally, I think we can trace this fairly directly to two factors:

– The incessant right wing deconstruction of knowledge and decades of lies, smearing and attacking the credibility of anyone and anything they disagree with (at the moment), including an extensive use of self-contradiction, internal-contradiction, truthiness, and new-speak. Complete intellectual nihilism.

– The fact that nearly everyone on power -r authority is in fact corrupt and full of horse-apples. As we have covered here at NC for years, nearly everything coming out of legislatures and corporate mouthpieces is pure unadulterated nonsense.

Is it any surprise that people turn their backs on all of it?

I for one do not believe that vaccines are nearly as safe, consequence free, or effective as advertised. And science, what little bits are independent of corporate or CDC control, as a matter of fact, is slowly beginning to catch up with this.

The public education system isn’t bad in most places. However, in case you hadn’t noticed, like healthcare (quite possibly including the VA) the USPS, and other formerly largely public sectors, they are trying to privatize it so those jobs can become bargaining chips/trade goods in their globalization shell game.

Thanks for the link on Illinois Farmers Insurance and the lawsuit against the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District. Two years ago, my Farmers insurance agent told me that Farmers thought its rates for Illinois were way too low given increasing claims for storm damage. I had to drop my water damage coverage (which I only wanted in case of a burst pipe or a backed-up washing machine) because Farmers tied the coverage to flood damage, and the annual rate went from $25 per year to something close to $500 per year.

Should be interesting to see what happens if the lawsuit goes to court. The City of Evanston (one of the defendants) spent millions of dollars about 25 years ago to totally upgrade its sewer system because of flooding, so unless Farmers can show that the engineering was substandard for the city’s needs, it may have a difficult time proving that all of the communities named have avoided addressing the storm issues. However, I read several years ago that the City of Chicago forestry department was already selecting trees for public planting based on estimates of future hardiness zone changes, rather than current hardiness zone ratings, due to the anticipated effects of global warming. So it’s possible Farmers could show that communities are aware of potential changes but not addressing all necessary public services in their planning, including services that affect insurable damages.

Sorry, but I just can’t help it.

The City of Chicago has a FORESTRY DEPARTMENT.

So which one of the Emmanuel brothers owns an arboretum? A for-profit arboretum, of course.

May be surprising to those who don’t know the city, but Chicago is mostly residential and shopping districts, not high rises. The Forestry Department is responsible for the maintenance of over 500,000 publicly owned trees–lots of public parks and parkways in Chicago. But, yes, there’s always the risk with Rahm Emmanuel that he’s trying to find a way to exact rent from public trees.

Having been born and raised on the far south side (when it was still habitable) and having escaped at the earliest opportunity, I guess I just didn’t realize. I’d imagine most of those trees grow further to the north than my old stomping grounds.

But one thing’s for sure. Unless there’s a deep-pocketed donor attached to those trees or they’re tended by privatized, non-union arborists, you’d better enjoy them while you still can. They probably won’t be around much longer.

It’s not a standalone department, it is part of streets and sanitation. So, do you hail from Beverly or Pullman?

The Farmers claim will go nowhere. The municipalities will (correctly) point out that Farmers had the same information on global warming that they did, and could have used that information to set rates but chose not to. Case over.

In Illinois, as the law currently stands, requests for rate increases must be accompanied by actuarial data in order to be approved by the Insurance Commission. I don’t know how much of that actuarial data is allowed to be prospective rather than retrospective. You may be correct that the lawsuit will go nowhere, although if Farmers had been able to interest other property insurers in joining the lawsuit, that might be a different matter.

I am sure you meant
actual air data

since there is not an insurance department in any state in the last 50 years that has not accepted the arguments presented to it by the industry printed onto the dead trees sacrificed in the name of quarterly bonuses.

Graham Phillips, a British journalist who freelances for RT, was captured and transferred to Kiev by the Ukrainian National Guard. The National Guard was established by the post-coup regime in Kiev and incorporated fighters from the far-right Pravy Sektor.

When captured, Phillips was investigating the number of people killed in Mariupol.

It should be obvious, but if there were quantum fluctuations, that is significantly more than “nothing” — it is less than what we currently have, to be sure. But this leaves open the reasonable question: why were there quantum fluctuations, rather than nothing?

Think of a number line. Zero, nothing, is very improbable compared to the infinite number of positive and negative real numbers.

Thus chaos is the most probable state of the universe though it does average to zero given enough time.

Funny thing about both Cosmology and Economics: in either field you’ll hear people say, “The math says…” or “the math proves…”, where intellectual honesty and rigor would require that they actually say, “If we assume the following model & set of definitions, then the resultant math can be interpreted to mean that…”

Regarding the definition of “Nothing”, you’re absolutely right: there’s a stealth assumption in there, telling us that “Nothing” possesses a very specific ontological status within which quantum fluctuations “can happen.” (Worth noting that Andrei Linde effectively pulls an end run around this problem of “Nothing” when he describes a sort of Universe-foam of noninteracting universes. Future research will reveal whether this is a point in his favor or merely a convenient dodge.)

Danger happens when stealth assumptions get baked so thoroughly into a theory that they’re no longer recognized as being separate from the theory itself. True in Cosmology and in Economics.

Emptiness is nothing, we say.

Then I am told that the Eastern emptiness is not the same as the Western emptiness.

Because maybe nothing was fluctuating. Whoa! (rim shot.)

As they say in Zen, nothing is better than something (when you try to empty your mind).

Mathematically, it can be stated this way:

In quantum mechanics there is no such thing as truly empty space – even space with an effective mass/energy density of 0 is alive with virtual particles flitting in and out of existence.

Even pre-QM it was clear that “the vacuum of empty space” has non-ignorable physical properties – ever since the Michelson-Morley experiment disproved the ethereal hypothesis of space, it was clear that “empty space” had the very special property that it was able to serve as a medium of electromagnetic wave propagation, and that the speed of such waves reached its maximum attainable value in “empty space”. Related to this is the fact that the dielectric constant of vacuum, or in modern terms the vacuum_permittivity, has a precisely measurable nonzero value. Maxwell’s celebrated equations – which predate QM and helped inspire Einstein, who recognized that they were the only on-the-books equations of physics which were relativistically invariant without needing any extra modifications (such as even the equations of first-generation QM do) – tie these classical effects together in a mathematically complete way.

What this means in the context is that we never observe genuine nothingness at the quantum level. Fair enough. But that should be a clear part of the article above: something can’t from nothing, something is coming (most provocatively) from the “virtual particles flitting in and out of existence.” Regress arguments that philosophers have been pressing for centuries are interested not in how something comes from something small, but rather how something could conceivably come from nothing, full stop.

Bernanke Will Make Millions as a Speaker and Dinner Guest

On Tuesday, Ben S. Bernanke spoke in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday, he was in Johannesburg. By Friday, he was in Houston. That week in March was a particularly busy one for Mr. Bernanke, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve.

During his eight years as steward of the world’s largest economy, Mr. Bernanke’s salary was about $200,000 a year. Now he makes that in just a few hours speaking to bankers, hedge fund billionaires and leaders of industry. This year alone, he is poised to make millions of dollars from speaking engagements…

On the speaking circuit, he is putting just one foot through the revolving door between Washington and Wall Street, being paid by financial firms but not employed by one…

Mr. Bernanke has agreed to speak with a Middle Eastern bank, private equity firms and trade associations, as well as at investment bank get-togethers, charging his hosts fees that range from $200,000 in the United States and $400,000 for engagements in Asia. While he has dined with hedge fund managers at small events arranged by investment and brokerage firms including JPMorgan Chase, some Wall Street firms have balked at the high fees.

“Chairman Bernanke decided after he left office, like most good civil servants, that he wanted to make a little bit of money and did the dinner circuit,” Michael E. Novogratz, a principal of Fortress Investment Group, told an audience of wealth managers at a conference in Las Vegas last week.

At his first of several dinners after retiring from the Fed in March, Mr. Bernanke spoke to a group of hedge fund managers, including Mr. Novogratz, at Le Bernardin in Midtown Manhattan. The setting was so intimate that the group took up just one of the four-star restaurant’s three private dining rooms.

under the table money goes full course…..keep believing.

Bernanke making millions going on the dinner circuit

I bet the chefs are wondering why the hell they bother cooking for everyone.

I guess they must be having the Oscar Awards for Fed Heads.

Janet is host – It’s not a roast
At NYU they toast
The performance “True Grit”
And that’s no shit!

In a related story: “Many observers noted Bernanke’s pre-speech ritual of popping in his ear buds and head bobbing to 50 Cents’ ‘Get Rich or Die Trying’… When recently invited to speak at PS 32’s kindergarten class for free, Bernanke exclaimed, ‘What. I don’t hit PS 32’s urinal for less than 10Gs.’ “

I was thinking sorta the same thing – since Ben recently told us he did it all for Main St.

Were that the perception out there, you’d think he would be backlogged till eternity with invites from PTA’s, Church ice cream socials, local small biz associations, maybe even bigger ones, all the waving workers on the street, and 4H Clubs eager for thank him for all the lemonade stands he saved.

Bernanke to ice cream social: “Rise, my people!”

Ben as a dinner speaker? Ow..ahh zzzzzzz
better have an espresso bar

‘As Rogoff notes, the key problem is the uniquely anonymous nature of cash, something which facilitates tax evasion and illegal activity all round.’ — FT Alphaville

Good old MSM, preaching the Big Gov point of view that financial privacy is a ‘problem.’ Civilized folks consider it a human right.

Which is why the first successful anonymous electronic currency will not be issued by dotgov, currently obsessed with its global FATCA rollout.

Intuit recently announced that they’re trying to integrate Bitcoin into Quick Books:

Taxes should be unavoidable such a property taxes, head taxes, excise taxes, etc. Then the government shouldn’t care about the use of anonymous currencies.

Most of the worst offenders at Credit Suisse are still employed there…no personal hazard to them to engage in unlawful behavior. Sad.

“Mice love spinning”- I can vouch from personal experience that sled dogs have been bred to LOVE pulling things. “OMG I’M PULLING SOMETHING THIS IS AAAAAWESOOOOOMME!”

Maybe but how were shepherd dogs ever bred to herd and protect sheep when they (the sheeps) is mighty tasty?

I suspect some Divine Intervention* initially though, like musical talent, it could later be passed down to descendants.

*Too much serendipity in life otherwise.

Dogs are natural authoritarians. They live in hierarchies and understand hierarchies. If the boss says don’t eat, you don’t eat. And if through all that the boss makes sure you don’t go hungry, then hey! good times!

Absolutely. Watch a bird retriever bring back a downed bird without mangling or eating it. Remarkable.

And they will, in fact, sometimes chew on the bird about if they feel neglected or want to act up.

Dogs will sublimate instinctual impulses to the will of their superiors (I’m thinking of the big, ugly, but damned smart, poodle we had when I was a kid — holding a dog biscuit on his nose until given the ‘okay’). Cats and most other critters, not so much.

Of Mice and Men, both can be trained/bred to enjoy spinning the wheel.

No One Should Ever Trust Top USA Intelligence Officials in the Obama Administration
– Firedoglake

No One Should Ever Trust ANYONE in the Obama Administration

Here is a standout article about Ukraine from The Guardian. Claims the narrative of Moscow verses Washington is simply wrong. Says the real struggle in Ukraine is against oligarchs, big money, and corruption.

And former US Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, is interviewed on National Public Radio. Quite readable, except for interjections of ‘you know’ into every second sentence.

Truisms make the best misdirection.

. . . the real struggle in [country name] is against oligarchs, big money, and corruption.

I think the Guardian piece is interesting but just another bit of propaganda for the EU/US notion that the Maidan events were a genuine uprising against corruption and never mind the man behind the curtain and that anything else is Russian propaganda–what a pile of crap! Please look more deeply at the history of Ukraine and the history of US/Western intel involvement in the maidan and color revolutions. Do you not understand the nature of the long-standing US policy in that region to destroy Russia as a regional as well as international power? This is all about the Great Game for which the well being of Ukrainians is just not that important. That is not to excuse Russia which is not necessarily a benign force in the region but it’s hard to fault them for reacting to a direct provocation by the neocon clique in Europe as well as in the US where the virus began.

If US/West is supporting Ukraine’s fight against Oligarchs, then why are Ukrainian and US leaders getting into bed with Oligarchs?

Even without this new information about Hunter Biden, the Guardian article doesn’t add up for anyone that has been paying attention. Just more BS.

“If US/West is supporting Ukraine’s fight against Oligarchs, then why are Ukrainian and US leaders getting into bed with Oligarchs?” They suddenly remembered their deeply held conviction that trickle down works?

US doesn’t care much about oligarchs, it wants a friendly government. Russia as usual cares about nothing at all except maintaining Ukraine in its sphere of influence. The whole point of the article is that it’s the Ukrainians who are fed up and want the oligarchs out.

Oligarchs=government (Timoshenko had her turn, now it appears it’s Willy Wonka’s turn). Friendly government=sphere of influence. Ergo the US needs the oligarchs to be its compradors. Comprador oligarchy is the best way to control a country, far cheaper than forcibly occupying it and far more effective in obtaining the compliance of the population. Think back to Iraq and how Junior bought security by paying off the local sheikhs. Google Sons of Iraq if you need a refresher course. It’s the exact same concept, a natural symbiosis in which both sides get what they crave by cooperating. The big losers will of course be the Ukrainian people and the US taxpayer, but we all know this is not about them, don’t we?

The big losers will of course be the Ukrainian people and the US taxpayer

Future will tell. Yanukovych didn’t learn the lesson of 2004 and paid the price. His successor better be wiser.

VA issues: Yes, it’s terrible that 40 VA patients possibly died while waiting for appointments and that separate waiting lists were kept. But the narrative that the VA system is terribly broken is kind of a sick (no pun intended) joke, too, right? Let’s have a auditor go into every freakin’ hospital in this country and see how many are dying due to bad care. Better yet, let’s have an auditor visit every low income neighborhood and see how many Americans die due to NO CARE or no Medicaid expansion or insurance policies with $6,000 deductibles or people who’ve gone bankrupt due to medical costs. We have a bloated and incredibly inefficient private healthcare system, sapping our GDP with paper pushers and rate calculators that kills people everyday!!

I have to wonder why the patients didn’t avail themselves of the ER at the VA? Yes, appointments can take a while but I’ve found that if you need to be seen sooner than a trip to the ER can get an appointment moved up. As it is in the private sector appointments aren’t instantaneous either. My daughter waited over a month to have a mole checked out by a derm doctor(and subsequently removed.)

Thanks for the link “Antibiotics Are Becoming Ineffective All Over the World, Why?” From the article:

One problem has been that the Food and Drug Administration in the United States, you know, did not introduce the kind of ban that the European Union did. But last December, they did have a major step forward by introducing a voluntary code to encourage, you know, farms not to use antibiotics, or to phase out antibiotics from animal feed.

There are problems with this approach. For starters, it’s voluntary. Sure, they’ll follow the voluntary guidelines, nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Second, this only refers to the use of antibiotics as growth enhancement agents. There’s no restriction, voluntary or otherwise, on the use of antibiotics to treat sick animals in factory farms.

Factory farms are hellish environments, with animals packed nightmarishly close to each other, and feces everywhere. There’s no way to keep them clean. So animals are constantly exposed to high levels of multiple types of pathogens. It’s impossible to run a factory farm without the routine use of antibiotics to keep the animals healthy.

Until factory farms (also known as CAFOs, Confined Animal Feeding Operations) are outlawed, the excessive use of antibiotics in agriculture will continue, and antibiotic resistant bacteria will continue to evolve. John Stuart Mill died from erysipelas. I had no idea what that was, because it has been treatable by antibiotics all my life. Well, in a few decades, erysipelas, scarlet fever, and other horrors will return with a vengeance.

Dumbing down is brainwashing people into think eating fast food is a great experience.

Or you need ‘new’ fashion every season.

Or having more or consuming more is desirable in life.

Or thinking sports is about elite athletes, and not about personal fitness.

Or thinking there is a prescription or over the counter drug for everything a change in lifestyle or diet can, in many cases, accommodate.

We have been dumbed down into think dumbing down is all about Big Science or just science, so we can have more science/technology to solves the more problems caused by science/technology.

That should be ‘…to solve more problems…’

Nothing says “dumb-down” like stupid corporate slogans:

All the news that’s fit to print.

“That’s about as easy as nailing Jell-O to the wall” :o)

At least “Be all you can be” was not nearly as inane and pandering as “Army of one”. The Army, for all of its faults, is still all about teamwork (first person shooters notwithstanding).

Here is way to reduce antibiotic use by a nontrivial degree – by taking d-mannose (a sugar) to prevent recurrent urinary tract infections that are caused by e. coli bacteria: It actually works BETTER than prophylactic antibiotics.

Our dog had three (e. coli) UTIs, one after another. She is prone to them due to a recessed vulva, and IBD (which requires intermittent prednisone). We were really worried because (just as with humans) once you get one UTI, you are MUCH more likely to keep getting them. Even if you take the prescribed antibiotics as directed, the e. coli can escape them by burrowing into tissue, leading to a recurrence when the antibiotics are stopped.

It turns out that e. coli LOVE d-mannose. It is the same sort of sugar that is found in cranberries . E. coli will rush to the d-mannose in the urine, grab onto it, and be urinated out. It is not clear whether the body ever ultimately gets rid of the burrowed-in e. coli, but taking d-mannose can prevent them from mattering. The sugar is tasty and harmless (supposedly it does not affect blood sugar levels I would triple check that claim). We use NOW brand, and our dog’s UTI has not come back.

A study done in humans: “After initial antibiotic treatment of acute cystitis, 308 women with history of recurrent UTI and no other significant comorbidities were randomly allocated to three groups. The first group (n = 103) received prophylaxis with 2 g of D-mannose powder in 200 ml of water daily for 6 months, the second (n = 103) received 50 mg Nitrofurantoin daily, and the third (n = 102) did not receive prophylaxis.
Overall 98 patients (31.8%) had recurrent UTI: 15 (14.6) in the D-mannose group, 21 (20.4) in Nitrofurantoin group, and 62 (60.8) in no prophylaxis group, with the rate significantly higher in no prophylaxis group compared to active groups (P < 0.001). . . Patients in D-mannose group had a significantly lower risk of side effects compared to patients in Nitrofurantoin group (RR 0.276, P < 0.0001)…"

WoW, taking this with me…THANKS K

My pleasure. Since about 90 percent of UTIs are caused by e. coli, this could prevent a lot of misery. And wow, the last round of antibiotics for our dog (Baytril for seven weeks) cost $600. We buy through our vet, but I could see people buying online (for themselves or pets) to save money, and getting counterfeits. At that price point things get counterfeited.

Re: Tornado hunter films black bear saving cub. Awesome job by mamma bear, but wouldn’t it have been easier to just get the cub to crawl through that pass-through on the bottom part of the concrete barrier to the right :)

Is there a shortage of workers, or is there a shortage of workers willing to work at Afghani pay. The 0.001 percent believes that anyone who earns enough that they don’t have to sell their kidneys is overpaid…..

From the NY Times on the NSA:

The N.S.A. says it observes American law around the globe, but admits that local laws are no obstacle to its operations.

So if breaking foreign laws is OK for a spy as long as you observe domestic law, why are the Chinese being charged with crimes under what is, for them, a foreign legal system? Or is ‘American’ the key word here?

The VA issue is may be caused by the WTO services agreement (GATS’) mandate to privatize almost all public services [with only the narrowest exception]( .

RE: A Mathematical Proof That The Universe Could Have Formed Spontaneously From Nothing

Spontaneously From Nothing shouldn’t seem too intellectually controversial, the Federal Reserve does this sort of thing quite regularly

Anyone care to translate the David Healy article? Between the British names and assumptions about what we already know, I found it pretty opaque. Almost as opaque as it says drug company use of clinical trials is.

Community News For The Wethersfield Edition

WETHERSFIELD — Seven individuals will be the newest inductees into the Rocky Hill Athletic Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame recognizes individuals who have made a distinctive and significant contribution to athletics in Rocky Hill. The Hall of Fame Committee has announced the following honorees, who will be members of the Class of 2017: Chris Cozza, RHHS 2005 (Football) Josh Manoian, RHHS, 2001 (Hockey) Loren Stock, RHHS 2007 (Basketball) Eric Thorsell RHHS 1999 (Baseball and Basketball) Marco Tirillo, RHHS 2000 (Wrestling) and Peter and Trish Egan, John J. McVicar Distinguished Service Award.

These individuals will be honored at the 14th Induction Ceremony to be held at the Wethersfield Country Club, 76 Country Club Road, on Sunday, Nov. 19. The event will begin at 2 p.m., with a light buffet being served. Tickets are $35 for adults and $10 for children under 10.

All proceeds from this event will continue to fund scholarships at Rocky Hill High School for deserving college bound student athletes. Details on tickets to the event, advertising in the program or any other information about the Hall of Fame can be obtained by contacting the Hall of Fame Committee by e-mail at [email protected] Visit for more information.

BERLIN — A holiday food drive at Stryker's Cafe, 841 Berlin Turnpike, will take place from 8 to 11 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 18.

The event will feature Night Life, including members of The Modeans, Jake & the Family Jewels and the Blake Street Gut Band. For more information, call 860-828-8218. For a non-perishable food donation, guests will receive a free beverage from the house.

BERLIN — The Kensington Garden Club will meet on Thursday, Nov. 16, at the Berlin Community Center, 230 Kensington Road.

There will be a business meeting at 11:30 a.m., followed by a program at 1 p.m., which is open to the public. Trish Manfredi, Floral Designer and NSG Flower Show Judge, will present "Floral Design with Holiday Fun and Flair." She will share ways to brighten fall and winter days with easy and unique flower arrangements for the holidays and in between, adding fruits, vegetables, and everyday items. She will create five designs.

WETHERSFIELD — The next meeting of NARFE will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 15, at the Solomon Welles House, 220 Hartford Road, at 1:30 p.m. Representative Lisa Perrone from Rep. John Larson's office will be the guest speaker.

Finding Your Jewish Ancestors

NEWINGTON — The Jewish Genealogical Society of Connecticut presents part one of a two-part genealogy program on Nov. 19. Topics will include getting started, Connecticut vital records, censuses, web resources, and much more to get you going on your genealogical research.

The workshop will start Sunday, Nov. 19, at 1:30 p.m. at Temple Sinai, 41 West Hartford Road. Email [email protected] for reservations. Visit for more information.

Bud And Blossom Garden Club Meetings

WETHERSFIELD — The Bud and Blossom Garden Club of Wethersfield provides its members with a forum to develop and share their creative interest in gardening and provides opportunities to serve the community through educational, environmental and beautification projects.

The club is welcoming new members. Meetings are as follows: Wednesday, March 7, 6:30 p.m., Wethersfield Community Center, room S-3 Wednesday, April 4, 6:30 p.m., Wethersfield Community Center, room S-2 and Wednesday, May 2, at 6:30 p.m., Wethersfield Community Center, room S-3.

Fife, Drum Corps Seeking New Members

WETHERSFIELD — The Col. John Chester Fife and Drum Corps is currently seeking new members. Boys and girls ages 8-18 are encouraged to stop by a rehearsal to learn more. Instruction is provided for fife, snare and bass drum as well as marching.

The Corps rehearses on Wednesday evenings from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the A. W. Hanmer Elementary School, 50 Francis St.

Dinosaur State Park's New Hours

ROCKY HILL — From Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, Dinosaur State Park, 400 West St., will be operating on a reduced schedule. The museum will be open Thursday, Friday and Saturday only. The trails will be open Tuesday through Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. There will be no public access to the park on Sunday or Monday.

Exercise The Right Choice

NEWINGTON — For the second year, the Newington Parks and Recreation Department is providing an after school program called Exercise the Right Choice. This program is geared towards helping families out on the early release days or "Teacher Tuesdays" at all four of the Newington Elementary Public Schools.

Exercise, recreation and cultural art activities are provided as well as a snack and homework help. Special entertainers such as magicians and drummers make surprise visits throughout the year. There is still room left contact 860-665-8566 for more information.

Art Group Seeks Members

BERLIN — The Berlin Art Group seeking new members, any level and any medium but oil. The group is facilitated by a professional instructor and is low cost. Call Mary at 860-223-7869 for information.

NEWINGTON — Storytime is taking place at the Lucy Robbins Welles Library, 95 Cedar St. Fall Drop-in Weekly Storytimes: Through Nov. 16, for ages nine months through six years. Visit for more information.

Children's Theatre Season 55

NEWINGTON — The Newington Children's Theatre Company's 55th season was recently announced. Act Out classes for children 8-16 leads participants through rehearsals culminating in a fully-produced one act. No audition is required to enroll. Everyone enrolled is cast in the production.

Session two: Mondays, 6 to 7:30 p.m. A 21st Century Christmas Carol, Oct. 2 to Dec. 11, with performances Dec. 15 and 16.

Session three: Mondays, 6 to 7:30 p.m., The Fairy Tale Network, Jan. 29 through April 16, with performances April 20 and 21.

For ages 8 to 18, take to the NCTC stage in one of their school-year musicals. All shows are double cast, with rehearsal one to two nights a week and some Saturdays. Every cast member receives a free show T-shirt. A Year with Frog and Toad Kids: auditions are Jan. 5 and 6, with performances March 16 to 25. Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka Jr. auditions are March 21 and 22, with performances June 1 through 10.

Not quite 8-years-old? In Performance gives kids the opportunity to learn and strengthen their musical theatre skills, while becoming more comfortable with being on stage. Throughout the class, children learn blocking, music and choreography in preparation to become part of the upcoming production. Every cast member receives a free show T-shirt. There are three sessions to choose from.

Watch the video: Willy Wonka Cast A (December 2022).