The Personhood of Ukraine


One of the most fascinating, and underreported, aspects of the entire swatch of Ukrainian protests over the past four weeks centers on the notion of Ukrainian identity. About whether Ukrainians can count as a “people,” or as a “nation,” or even, for some, as a “state.” About whether those people squatting on EuroMaidan or stirring in Lviv or standing in solitary solidarity in Donetsk can be considered a separate ethnographic entity from their formed Soviet master[1] in Moscow. We’ve seen a bit on the etymology of (The) Ukraine – how the word meant “edge” or “periphery,” implying where the center then is. But we haven’t seen much examination of the competing claims of ownership and nationhood. And while this is neither the space nor the time for the theoretical examination of nationalities within former Soviet states – Richard Suny’s work is the best shortcut for that – the recent claims and counterclaims surrounding the words might be worth a moment of time.

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Passing Into Financial History

A few weeks ago, I had a chance to run some numbers on federal debt-growth rates under Obama. (Got picked up over at The Washington Post, which I appreciated.) It seemed like the mouthbreathing on runaway debt – all that hyperbole on Obama’s purported spend-now-ask-later! policies – had reached a tipping point, and I wanted to see where, historically, the nation’s debt-growth rate actually stood.

The findings should sufficiently calm the claim that debt’s “exploded” under the current president. (There are a few 19th-century presidents that warrant a closer lookin’-at, though.) But a few of the commenters noted that, instead of looking at the rate of the real increase, a better marker of judging an administration’s financial sense would be to examine the debt-to-GDP ratio. That ratio, as one noted, “gives a sense of how well an economy is equipped to finance its debt.”

Not a terrible idea. As soon as I got crunching, though, a few issues immediately cropped. GDP, of course, is one of the fickler fiscal stats out there. (All that boom of Web 2.0, with relatively little to show for it, etc.) Doubly unfortunate is the fact that the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), tasked with calculating the quarterly GDP numbers, began tabulating GDP only in 1929.

As such, the findings below should be taken with a grain of salt. GDP lets a wealth of funds through unaccounted; pre-1929 GDP numbers, tabbed by a pair of economics professors at the University of Illinois-Chicago, remain unofficial. But they’ll have to do. And when the numbers we have are laid out, we see that while Obama looked entirely normal under the growth-rate rubric, his administration, per these debt-to-GDP numbers, has just passed into the annals of financial history.

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Young Voters

There’s a clip of Russell Brand going around admonishing Young Voters not to vote. Ignore that sentiment. David Foster Wallace tackled this one already:

"If you are demographically a Young Voter, it is again worth a moment of your valuable time to consider the implications of [not voting]. If you are bored and disgusted by politics and don’t bother to vote, you are in effect voting for the entrenched Establishments of the two major parties, who are not dumb and are keenly aware that it’s in their interests to keep you disgusted and bored and cynical and to give you every possible psychological reason to stay at home doing one-hitters and watching MTV Spring Break on Primary Day. By all means stay home if you want, but don’t bullshit yourself that you’re not voting. In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard’s vote."


Analyzing America’s Debt Growth

Spinning off of the original Washington Post, ah, post, I took a longer look in The Descrier about the recent growth rate of US debt. If the “chart junk” doesn’t suffice, here are some of the findings:

In 1971, for instance, the US posted a 22.04-percent growth over the previous four years, meaning that US debt growth grew 22.04 percent from 1967-1971. Not a bad clip. Lower than what we see today, at least. But it’s nowhere near the 86.10 percent we saw in 1986 – smack in the middle of the Reagan years. Indeed, in ’83, ’84, ’85, ’86, ’87, ’88 – all those four-year averages in which Reagan was the sole presence in the White House – we saw a higher rate of debt growth than anything we’ve seen under the White House’s current tenant. Under Obama, the debt’s grown slightly more than 50 percent. Under Reagan’s first four years, the debt nearly doubled.

Detailing Kazakhstan’s Media Muzzling

Just over a year after a public prosecutor first indicted Vladimir Kozlov, the sullied, jailed Kazakh opposition figure, Human Rights Foundation has published one of the most thorough incriminations yet seen of the Kazakhstan government’s handling of the post-Zhanaozen media crackdown. Any criticism, any detailing of the Zhanaozen massacre, seemingly resulted in forced muzzling. There’s a reason Kazakhstan comes in at 160th (out of 179) in the World Press Freedom Index, after all.

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War is not a polite recreation, but the vilest thing in life, and we ought to understand that and not play at war. We ought to accept it sternly and solemnly as a fearful necessity. It all comes to this: have done with lying, and if it’s war, then it’s war and not a game, or else warfare is simply the favorite pastime of the idle and frivolous.
Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
I'm currently a Master's student in Columbia University's Harriman Institute, focusing on Russia, Eurasia, and East Europe. I used to be a reporter and polling analyst with the Houston Press and Talking Points Memo, as well as the northernmost male Peace Corps Volunteer in the world. (It's very cold in northern Kazakhstan.)

My writing has appeared in The Atlantic, TPM, Slate, Roads & Kingdoms, Sports Illustrated, and Registan, among others. I also taught a course on Batman during my final year at Rice, though that tends not to come up in interviews.

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