Entries Tagged 'Belarus' ↓

#StandWithBelarus: Writing pro-democracy political prisoners for the international day of solidarity with the Belarusian opposition

Note: In 2021, I’m writing a new blog post every weekend or so. This is entry 47 of 52.

Note: Thanks to Prison Abolition & Prisoner Support (PAPS) for connecting me with a researcher who prefers to remain anonymous.

Rally in Germany in June 2021 for Belarusian pro-democracy political prisoners. At center, opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya holding up a picture of her imprisoned husband

Today, Saturday 27 November 2021, is the international day of solidarity with political prisoners of the pro-democracy opposition movement in Belarus. I picked out two to write, Sergei Tikhanovsky and Maryja Uspenskaya, whose biographies are below. I explain how you can write Belarusian prisoners too, whether by snailmail like me or via online only. Plus, I supply a refresher and updates on Belarus overall, explanations why the United States public should support the Belarusian pro-democracy activists, and some additional knowledge-drops.

Quick refresher and updates on Belarus

Regular readers of my blog know I’ve covered Belarus here before; to review that material, just click my Belarus tag.

As his uniform suggests, Lukashenko’s living in the past

For those new to the subject and for anyone else wanting a quick refresher on Belarus, here’s the situation. To the surprise of many, Europe still has one last dictator, Alexander Lukashenko, predictably called “father” by his supporters. Protected by and allied with Russia’s Putin regime, Lukashenko ascended to the presidency of the landlocked eastern European country, formerly part of the Soviet Union, in 1994. Recently, he’s kept power by stealing the country’s 2020 presidential election. Besides his embarrasingly out-of-fashion USSR-style clothes, Lukashenko controls the country’s media and industry; he also maintains the death penalty in the only European country to have it (the executed are shot in the head). Meanwhile, his riot police arrest protesters, snatch-and-grabbing innocent bystanders as well (see two-minute Human Rights Watch video). The dictatorship plots or carries out assassinations (including murdering a journalist), his forces engage in widespread torture, beatings, rape, and he particularly goes after those Belarusians who challenge his fake authority.

Pro-democracy protest in Minsk, 16 August 2020, photographed by Максим Шикунец

The country’s opposition movement is led by former English teacher Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who rightfully won the 2020 Belarusian presidential election. Detained immediately after her victory when she challenged the bogus results giving the presidency to Lukashenko, she was then apparently forced to record hostage-like videos conceding the election and calling herself a “weak woman.” Previously I wrote up my research about the NY Post publishing strangely edited footage of Belarusian opposition supporter Andrei Zeltser’s murder, footage originally created by the regime, without informing their readers the video initially came from the dictatorship. Further, as #OpGabon/#OpDeathEaters first noted nearly three years ago, and the Washington Post deigned to cover only less than two years ago, video “deepfakes” in politics is becoming a norm. Videos aside, the strong Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya made it to Lithuania, where she remains today with her two children. For Belarus, she chiefly seeks release of political prisoners and free and fair elections. She also supports term limits, human rights, and allowing Belarusians to vote on the question of getting away from union / integration with Russia.

As for updates on Belarus, consider two stories from this month. First, the refugees on the border between Poland and Belarus. In retaliation for sanctions placed on Belarus by the European Union, Lukashenko is threatening to cut off gas from Russia to the EU, energy deliveries that pipe through “his” country. To strengthen his position, Lukashenko has weaponized refugees, creating a political crisis for neighboring Poland and endangering human lives. Using the state-owned travel company Tsentrkurort, the dictatorship lured Iraqi citizens to the Belarus-Poland border by helping them obtain fast, easy Belarusian visas. They also turned people from elsewhere into refugees on the same border. They did this by organizing their travel and, according to witnesses, forcibly transporting people by truckload. The refugees are now trapped in grave danger, including risky weather conditions and beatings, since Poland is violating its obligations under international law by refusing to help them. In short, the dictatorship, with tricks and trafficking, is treating these desperate people as pawns for its European geopolitical struggles. Thankfully, some locals and other human rights defenders have been rendering direct aid to the refugees, but more help is very much needed. Second, via a million-dollar deal, an ex-warden in Lithuania—he worked in the carceral system for nearly forty years—apparently helped the Lukashenko regime dodge those same EU sanctions, meant to impair the dictatorship, by arranging for the banned export of heavy-duty trucks manufactured by the sanctioned regime-owned company BelAZ. The furious Lukashenko is trying to stop alleged leaks of sanctions breaches (perhaps including this ex-warden story), saying publicly that “bastards” are “spying” and “seeking to inform the collective West” of his human rights-violating regime evading sanctions.

Meet Sergei Tikhanovsky

The podcaster sitting behind a desk with microphones etc.
Vlogger Sergei Tikhanovsky, imprisoned husband of opposition leader Sviatlana Tikhanovsky

The first political prisoner I picked out to write is Sergei Tikhanovsky. He’s the husband of opposition leader Sviatlana Tikhanovsky and the father of her two children. A popular vlogger in his forties, Sergei Tikhanovsky in 2019 started the youtube channel “A Country for Life” to advocate for a better Belarus. The channel, still active thanks to his allies, often focuses on the stories of everyday entreprenuers, a topic of great importance in a former Soviet country. In May 2020, Sergei Tikhanovsky announced his candidacy for presidency and was arrested, supposedly for his participation in a protest against the integration of Belarus and Russia but primarily for his candidacy, leading to Amnesty International declaring him a prisoner of conscience. That’s when his wife stepped in to run for the presidency herself. Sergei Tikhanovsky remains in prison to this day. You can find additional biographical information on him here in Russian; you can translate that webpage into English using Chrome.

Embedded below, a May 2020 episode, 71 minutes long, from “A Country for Life” comparing living in the United States with living in Belarus. It’s Sergei Tikhanovsky, two months before his arrest, interviewing Kate about her impressions returning to Belarus following her 14 years in the United States.

Write:

Sergei Tikhanovsky
222163 ST-8
Zhodino Street
Sovietskaya 22a
Belarus

Meet Maryja Uspenskaya

Still from the propaganda footage apparently shows Andrei Zeltser from the back. He's in the apartment holding a shotgun. Maryja Uspenskaya apparently standing in the background.
Maryja Uspenskaya, apparently now incarcerated at a mental health center, in the background of propaganda footage purportedly showing the Belarusian KGB’s murder of Andrei Zeltser

The second political prisoner I picked out to mail is Maryja Uspenskaya. She’s the wife of Andrei Zeltser, whose murder in the Belarusian capital of Minsk at the hands of Lukashenko’s KGB I wrote about previously on my blog. I also discussed how Zeltser, an employee of the Pennsylvania-based IT firm EPAM Systems whose founder supports the Belarusian pro-democracy movement, is reportedly a US citizen, but the US media outlets which loudly questioned his citizenship immediately after his death never bothered to follow up and answer their own question; I discussed how I’ve been trying to contact the US State Department to get a definitive answer on his nationality, but in addition to the Department of State shutting down the phone number for journalists to call, and their mail server bouncing back emails, other evidence suggests, perhaps due to brain drain, the lights are slowly turning off at the State Department: increasingly, nobody’s home. That’s overstating things a little, yet still, for my US friends, renew your passports now.

For all the valid news concern over Andrei Zeltser’s murder, there’s simultaneously an unwarranted dearth of information surrounding his wife Maryja Uspenskaya (are we seeing a pattern yet?), who to all appearances is in the background of the KGB’s propaganda footage of the murder. In fact, the apartment where Zeltser was shot to death likely belongs to Maryja Uspenskaya or her brother. Her family seems to own the unit; maybe she was subleasing. That would help explain why Zeltser called the local cops as plainclothes strangers busted down his door: likely he didn’t think it was the KBG arriving, just random criminals instead. And maybe the KGB wasn’t even after Andrei Zeltser. Perhaps they were primarily after Maryja Uspenskaya’s brother or Maryja Uspenskaya herself. After all, the couple had been going door to door to collect signatures required for, I believe, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s dispute of Lukashenko’s election theft.

On October 9, the pro-opposition online media outlet Nexta (as in “next generation”) tweeted that Maryja Uspenskaya was tortured in the notorious police detention center Okrestina, known for severe abuse of pro-democracy protesters. “I admit it,” Lukashenkt told the BBC this month. “People were beaten in the Okrestina detention centre.” Nexta went on to say Maryaj Uspenskaya’s “outerwear was seized and the heating in cell was turned off in -1 degree outside.Maria doesn’t have any basic things with her — change of clothes and toothbrush.”

On October 22, a twitter account created two months ago and using the name Oleg But tweeted that “Andrei Zeltser’s wife was transferred from the pre-trial detention center to Novinki. Maria Uspenskaya will undergo a psychiatric examination.” Novinki means the Republican Scientific and Practical Center for Mental Health. I assume she’s currently there, but I’ve found no other source corroborating that tweet.

As far as I can discern so far, no current information on Maryja Uspenskaya’s status is available in English, which is highly worrisome.

Based on interviewing her acquaintances, Charter 97 approvingly describes Maryja Uspenskaya as a “very energetic and combative” person. Observers noticed how Andrei Zeltser was handsome and younger than she. Charter 97 also describes Uspenskaya as “positive, very cheerful. She loved her husband very much and treasured her relationship with him. She and Andrei went to psychologists: they had no problems but just wanted to build an even stronger relationship.” That’s really cool!

Write:

Maryja Uspenskaya
Nauchno-Prakticheskiy Tsentr Psikhicheskogo Zdorov’ya
Dawhinawski Trakt 152
Minsk 220053
Belarus

How to write Belarusian pro-democracy political prisoners

Mailman for Hermiston Oregon’s first snailmail route, begun May 1914

The Minsk-based Human Rights Center Viasna, formed in 1996 to aid arrested pro-democracy protesters and their families in Belarus, maintains this database of Belarusian political prisoners (but oddly, it lacks entries for Sergei Tikhanovsky and Maryja Uspenskaya). You can pick prisoners from there and/or write the two I selected.

If you want to send mail via online only, check out the Vkletochku project. According to the English version of their webpage, their volunteers will translate what you type into this form, even, if you wish, sending you by email any reply.

If you want to write via snailmail, then Human Rights Center Viasna provides this helpful article with the lovely title “Support has no boundaries: how to write letters to political prisoners if you are outside of Belarus.” It answers many frequently asked questions about snailmailing the prisoners. The prisons are more likely to accept handwritten letters, for instance, and they require letters to be written in Belarusian or Russian. The Viasna article also supplies handy templates translating prefab English letters into Belarusian and Russian.

The following three articles from various sources, all in Russian but available in English via Google Translate in Chrome, provide additional nitty-gritty tips: 1, 2, 3.

For those like me writing by snailmail from the United States, the first step, if like me you don’t speak Belarusian or Russian, is to write your letters in English, then have them translated. You can ask around for translation help; check individuals using the relevant hashtags like #StandWithBelarus and #FreeBelarus to see if any will translate for you or connect you with translators. After handwriting your translated letters into unfamiliar script on white pages, add supplies for the prisoners to snailmail you back. In theory, the United States Postal Service should be able to answer what kind of postage they will need; if not, hopefully someone else can answer this. Take the finished envelope to the USPS station, photograph your work to share online, and talk with a postal worker to have it snailmailed. The postal worker might explain various additional requirements. I’ll try this myself next Saturday. In the meantime, USPS Publication 141 has some additional information on PDF page 143, and maybe the @USPSHelp twitter account will reply to a question of mine with extra details.

Whether you send mail via online only, or by old-fashioned postal service, take a screenshot or photograph of your work, then wipe metadata, then share the images online and/or share them with me (dal@riseup.net). I’ll post my work and anyone else’s next weekend.

Why the United States public should support the Belarus opposition

Guitar pick with anarchy sign

Because it’s fun and even euphoric to interact not with stupid frenemies but courageous individuals who deserve support. Yes, it can also induce irrational shame-attacks as a result of growing up in and being surrounded by a smug population hostile to effortful activism; but, the only way out is through. With time and supportive networks, such an irrational shame-attack can be consciously disagreed with and it can pass like nothing more than a brief spooky breeze.

Also, the United States public tends to imagine that its presidential elections revolve around voting. Besides the flaws in the secretive, corporate, closed-source computerized election equipment that have been well documented for decades, consider that pressuring the authorities to support the Belarusian opposition instead of Alexander Lukashenko could powerfully improve domestic well-being in the US as well as the country’s international standing. The leaders of the red religion in the United States support Trump, who in turn supports Putin, who in turn supports Lukashenko, ironic since Lukashenko loves the USSR while top pro-democracy Belarusian opposition figures like Sergei Tikhanovsky are huge advocates for small-biz entreprenuers. The leaders of the blue religion in the United States — who, as a commenter on last weekend’s post noted, may not mind TrumPutin all that much since hate for TrumPutin takes heat off Democrats as Joe Biden continues to enjoy power — can at least be pressured to change policies if the public puts in massive effort.

Next weekend: Progress of #StandWithBelarus letter-writing and #PardonRealityWinner efforts

Speaking of effort, as stated above, next weekend I’ll post to my blog how my snailmailing the two Belarusian political prisoners went, e.g., any issues at the USPS station.

Next time I’ll post, too, about progress related to my entry last weekend on the #PardonRealityWinner campaign. Namely, my contacting the US Pardon Attorney as well as my local elected officials.

If you do the same for either campaign or both, feel free to email me (dal@riseup.net) or comment below to share your progress!

Creative Commons License

This blog post, #StandWithBelarus: Writing pro-democracy political prisoners for the international day of solidarity with the Belarusian opposition, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/11/27/writing-belarus-prisoners-international-solidarity-opposition/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

Talk by me at Univ Washington club Wednesday; news blasts: France, Belarus, and JFK / United States

Note: In 2021, I’m writing a new blog post every weekend or so. This is entry 42 of 52.

The image is a screenshot from a TV news segment. It shows John Moschitta Jr. in academic attire promoting his new ten-minute university spoof. Above, there's a caption saying: "World's fastest talking man sings bad in 20 seconds, 1987." It's a reference to the Michael Jackson song "Bad."
Motormouth John Moschitta Jr. of the spoof university that in ten minutes covers literature, biology, economics, physics, psychology … and football. (More)

This Wednesday, October 27 at 6 p.m. Pacific, I’ll give a talk in person to the University of Washington computer security club Batman’s Kitchen. Simultaneously, the event will be virtual: the Zoom meeting link is –> here. I should have the audiovideo file afterward; if so, I’ll put it on youtube and share it on my website. Total duration, including Q&A afterward, might be 90 minutes or so. Plus or minus a few.

I’m calling the presentation “Hacktivism meets journalism” and my main aim is to help those into computer security better understand how to plug into the media ecosystem. Secondarily, as hopefully helpful context, I’ll provide a brief overview of the past, present, and future of hacktivists and journalists working together, for better or worse. There was a big to-do about such things around 2009-2015, and in some ways there still is—such as, for instance, Department of Justice federal indictments! And of course this month, we’ve seen results of courageous whistleblower Frances Haugen sharing thousands of internal Facebook and Instagram documents with the Wall Street Journal and multiple news outlets referred to collectively as the Facebook Consortium.

My personal aim is to present the material without using notes (save for an outline) and to make a few other upgrades to my public speaking performance. That’s my recent CELTA lingo coming in handy! (CELTA certification courses recommend ESL teachers establish, per lesson, a main aim and a secondary aim for learners, and a personal aim for themselves.)

The image shows the cover art for a collection of Theodore Sturgeon short stories titled "And now the news..." The art shows newsprint as backdrop for a flugelhorn, a reference to the titular story about a man who stops consuming media and moves to the wilderness with his musical instrument.
Neat review here of this collection of Theodore Sturgeon short stories

News blasts: France, Belarus, and JFK / United States

And now the news…

France. A two-year-long independent investigation into rape and related crimes by the Catholic Church in France—offenses from the 1950s onward—concluded on October 5 and formally found that impune clergy and other religious functionaries abused hundreds of thousands of child and teen victims. Then the witting Church covered up the wrongdoing.

The independent commission, called CIASE, published its final report this month. It’s in French, but the English translation will be released by the end of this year; however, the final report’s summary has already been made available in English. The 32-page English summary lists 45 actions recommended for any long process of repair.

CIASE webpage for the final report

CIASE advises that “compensation shall be paid either directly to the victim[s] or, in the event of the death of the latter, to the indirect victim[s]” (part of recommendation 31) and that reparations should not be funded by “appealing to the faithful for donations” nor by “socializing the financing” but rather “through funds recouped from the perpetrators” (part of recommendation 31). Also, the “criminal record of any person […] mandated or assigned by the Church to be in regular contact with children or vulnerable persons” needs systematic checks (part of recommendation 1). The commission suggests closely examining “[i]n what ways the paradoxical obsession of Catholic morality on issues of sexuality could be counterproductive” (part of recommendation 11). Pressure and other efforts by the public would help make these changes happen.

YAC.news put out an article on this subject on October 6 titled “Decades Of Impunity And Child Rape At French Church Exposed.” Along with the CIASE summary in English, that’s my primary source for this news blast bullet point. The YAC article stresses the need to end impunity:

To understand to tremendous impact and consequences this report has and will have on Churches all over the world, let’s simply quote the bible: Matthew 19:14, Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” As this story continues to unravel, many questions remain, how will those who represent the Church handle this? How are those who hide the truth going to deal with their crimes? One thing is sure, it is time to end impunity.

Adverse childhood events or ACEs (in psychology lingo), such as damage from pedosadists upheld by the unsafe Catholic Church in France, violate and impair the formation of self/selves within what Heather Marsh’s book The Creation of Me, Them, and Us calls a “personal membrane”—a concept somewhat similar, yet more precise, than everyday terms like “personal bubble” or “mental health.” The intensity and severe lifelong consequences of such destruction done to defenseless children probably explain why readers typically feel greater disgust at pedo predators than at, say, armed robbers threatening a grown convenience store clerk, though that too is obviously a bad deal. Adult clerks can, in theory, defend themselves and comprehend the wrongdoing that’s happening to them; kids are far less able, or even unable, on both counts.

Belarus. Reading my blog entries tagged Belarus will get you up to speed more thoroughly, but in short, to the surprise of many, Europe still has a dictator. That’s Putin-protected Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus, a landlocked eastern European country formerly of the Soviet Union. Lukashenko, portraying himself as a man of the people and predictably called “father” by his supporters, ascended to the presidency in 1994 and has cliqued up with Russia’s authoritarians for over a quarter century. He even wears long out of fashion USSR-style clothes.

According to Human Rights Watch, Belarus is the only European country with the death penalty. The executed are shot in the head; their families are not informed of the death date or burial place.

Image shows the opposition leader in front of a microphone stand, raising her fist
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya

Exiled Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya (her twitter; her website) is the opposition leader, deemed a “terrorist” by the dictatorship. That classification can be found on this recent version of the Belarusian KGB’s Excel spreadsheet where the security-for-Lukashenko agency lists people the regime deems terrorists, also known as people who terrify the regime; Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya is listed on Sheet 1, Row 730. Her husband Syarhei Tsikhanousky, a popular opposition vlogger, was arrested during protests shortly after announcing over youtube in 2020 that he planned to run for the presidency; he couldn’t follow through from behind bars, so she, in her late thirties and formerly an English teacher, announced her own intention to become president that same year.

But with a fraudulent election, Lukashenko took a sixth term as president in August 2020. The psuedo-election led to mass protests, and then mass arrests—including snatch-and-grabs of bystanders—by riot police. That’s described in a quick Human Rights Watch video, uploaded to youtube on 16 September 2020 and embedded below.

After more than a week of his silence about the fake election keeping Putin ally Lukashenko in power, Donald Trump, asked if he had a message for Moscow regarding Belarus, used his enormous White House megaphone to say weakly “doesn’t seem like it’s too much democracy there” and to call the opposition protestors “peaceful.” But Trump omitted any mention of the dictatorship’s violent crackdowns and omitted any support for Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, instead using the topic of protests as a diversion for labeling anarchists in Portland Oregon and elsewhere “very bad people.” (To understand Trump, study the dossier on him at Spooky Connections. Additional context may be found at YAC.news, namely their July 2021 article “What’s happening in Belarus?” or the five-minute video version.)

That’s background; now Belarus news from this month. On October 11, at the International Legal Conference in Nuremberg, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said in opening remarks:

today there is no rule of law in Belarus. Today Belarusians find themselves in a situation of a complete legal default. In a situation when 200 people can be arrested and prosecuted just for writing their opinion online, as happened a week ago, or when we hear stories of inhuman attitude towards political prisoners, we must do everything we can to restore the rule of law in Belarus.

Flag preferred by the Belarus opposition and hoisted in Minsk on August 17, 2021 by protesters saying “We will not forget, we will not forgive!” 

The situation Tsikhanouskaya refers to from early October was the opposition and dictatorship’s clashing responses to the September 28 showdown in which an IT specialist in the Belarus capital of Minsk, Andrei Zeltser, died at the hands of the Belarusian KGB.

Zeltser, a dissident in his early thirties and a programmer employed by Pennsylvania-based EPAM Systems—both the company’s founder and Zeltser supported the pro-democracy opposition movement in Belarus—was reportedly a US citizen, but multiple news outlets have pointed out his citizenship has yet to be confirmed by the US federal government, and the same outlets have failed to follow up with an answer to their own question (i.e., is Zeltser really a US citizen?).

That’s why I contacted the US State Department to ask last Monday. If you check that agency’s contact page for journalists, you’ll find they no longer list a number for journalists to call, as they once did under the Obama and Trump administrations. Instead it asks journalists to email PAPressDuty@state.gov. Thinking maybe the diplomats simply removed a still-functioning number from their website to decrease total call volume, I dug up the old digits and rang, dialed, pressed the buttons, or whatever it is we do with phones nowadays. The recorded voice of an extremely cheerful young woman greeted me. Ms Robot-of-State told me the same thing the current website says (not quite so bluntly): Just email PAPressDuty@state.gov already, okay? That doesn’t sound too diplomatic … Say, what happened to that Trump-era news about how the State Dept was losing staff? Just three months ago, Foreign Policy reported: “New research has found that nearly a third of the U.S. State Department’s diplomats and professional support staff are considering leaving the department and are actively looking for new jobs, pointing to a crisis of morale and management”. Seems among other factors, the U.S. brain drain is slowly turning the State Department into a quasi-ghost town. (To overstate things … but people in an declining empire, as they fawn over centuries-old civic religion relics, aren’t known historically for having up-to-date perceptions of what’s happening …)

Technical readout shows two mail servers at state.gov
You’ve got mail! Or not

After the failed phone call, I emailed the State Department, also on last Monday. All workweek, I received zero response. Why doesn’t Ms Robot-of-State like me? Then yesterday I finally got something: a useless “Undelivered Mail Returned to Sender” reply: “<PAPressDuty@state.gov>: TLSA lookup error stimson.state.gov:25.” That’s port 25 for SSL, and a related misconfiguration or other problem on the State Department’s Stimson mail server, presumably named after Republican Secretary of State Henry Lewis Stimson who contributed to the internment of Japanese-US people and explained in his diary they were imprisoned for their supposed untrustworthy “racial characteristics.” My dig command tonight shows State.gov has two mail servers, the other at christopher-ew.state.gov (whoever that one might named after), but nobody I’ve asked can tell me the history/context/implications of TLSA lookup errors in general, if any exists. Every time I ask a tech bro, they tell me what I already know, “25 means SSL,” or “there’s a problem with their system.” Yeah, these days we all have truckfuls of problems with their systems, don’t we. Perhaps I’ll ask Batman’s Kitchen on Wednesday…

Trying to confirm Zeltser’s citizenship in other ways, I searched two pay “find dirt on US people” sites, Intelius and Infotracer, for any “Andrei Zeltser” or “Andrew Zelter” in Pennsylania, but turned up nada except for a few people with the surname Zeltser in Penn’s Woods who might be family members. Due to time constraints, I’ve yet to pursue the question that way. Contacting EPAM Systems might be another fruitful avenue, for readers following along at home who may want to pitch in. Life is short and you haven’t lived until you’ve done this sort of thing at least a few times.

It's a screenshot from the Belarusian Investigative Committee
“Fatherland”? I bet you can guess if this ministry supports Lukashenko or the opposition

The citizenship or lack thereof of the dissident Andrei Zeltser is one of the lesser mysteries surrounding his murder by the Belarusian KGB; another is the dictatorship’s propaganda footage of the shooutout. As far as I can determine from what’s accessible to me, news of the IT worker’s death initially reached the United States and the UK via BBC Monitoring, a pay Beeb service for fancy-pants commercial clients like news publishers, blackmailing spy firms, and the UK government—but I repeat myself.

The very same day as the murder of Zeltser, the Belarusian dictatorship released video they claim to be footage of the firefight between the programmer and the KGB, a quick turnaround strongly suggesting pre-preparation. That timeline comes from CBS citing Reuters; CBS said on October 1 the (pro-dictatorship) Belarusian Investigative Committee released the video on September 28. Apparently there’s no separate Reuters article with the footage; just Reuters upstream in the supply chain from downstream CBS. The Rupert Murdoch-owned NY Post ran the shootout video on September 29; I believe they were the first mainstream US outlet to do so. While the NY Post article correctly couches the video as “apparently” showing the murder and correctly refers to Lukahsenko as a “dictator,” it doesn’t explain the origin of the video as his regime; instead the piece merely says the NY Post obtained it, or the stills of it at least, from Reuters. On October 17, via LinkedIn’s pay-to-play Sales Navigator features, I messaged NY Post journalist Emily Crane, whose email address I couldn’t find online, for clarification as to how the NY Post obtained the footage and its ultimate provenance, but no response. The NY Post sentences are positioned such as to make it seem “Belarus’ State Security Committee” may be the source, but the NY Post doesn’t state that explicitly. In case the point isn’t clear: without telling them so, the NY Post showed its readers video released by a dictatorial regime, within hours of their KGB’s murder.

Compared with other accounts of the murder, which indicate Zeltser phoned the emergency 102 number to request help from police, given that plainclothes strangers were yelling at him while breaking down his door, the propaganda footage omits any phone calls by the dissident and shows him shooting first, a less favorable account than what may have actually happened. Lukashenko’s regime quickly turned the showdown into a story about the alleged heroism of a poor KGB agent killed, apparently by Zeltser but maybe not, in the shootout.

Still from propaganda footage purportedly showing dissident Andrei Zeltser moments before his death at the hands of the Belarusian KGB

Where’s the dictatorship’s original, official URL for the propaganda footage, so we can compare any existent versions? To date, I haven’t been able to find it, if there is any single URL; not speaking Russian or Belarusian doesn’t help. Charter97.org, an independent Belarusian news site supporting the pro-democracy opposition whose editor-in-chief Natalya Radina was called a “prisoner of conscience” by Amnesty International while she was behind bars for coverage sympathetic to anti-Lukashenko protesters, re-published an article by Belsat TV, a Belarusian television channel formed in 2007, that raises many questions about the film and says of its genesis:

The first publication about the incident was made by the blogger Nexta at 19:37. At 20:19, an edited video of the incident was published by Zheltye Slivy Telegram channel associated with the state television and law enforcement agencies.

(Here’s Nexta’s Wikipedia entry. According to a Charter97.org article the day of the murder, the “video of the incident […] appeared on the state ONT TV channel’s telegram channel.” Regime television in Belarus includes All-National TV (ONT) and Belarus 1. The pro-regime Zheltye Slivy Telegram channel may be found here. I don’t know what the connections are between Zheltye Slivy and All-National TV.)

Due to time constraints, I’ll leave it there, but I’ll try to pick up next weekend. Why didn’t CBS or NY Post mention Nexta? What’s wrong with the propaganda footage (see here and here)? What did the neighboring tenant see? Was the Belarusian KGB after Andrei Zeltser or after someone else in the apartment unit (a question that has been raised elsewhere), and in either case, why this particular dissident or dissidents? How did the opposition and dictatorship clash in response to the KGB’s murder of Zeltser? What’s Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya asking international audiences to do about the dictatorship (it includes writing Belarusian political prisoners for November 27, the day of solidarity with them)?

United States. Just like Donald Trump did on April 26, 2018, on Friday Joe Biden signed an executive order keeping secret Assassinations Records Review Board / JFK assassination files. It’s a reminder that the stage show politicians are not the ones running our anti-society.

If you haven’t studied the JFK assassination, you’d probably be astonished at the degree to which legit researchers focused on the event agree in broad terms on whodunit and why. You’d probably also be astonished by the depth of their footnotes/bibliographies. I heartily recommend James W. Douglass’ JFK and the Unspeakable, Russ Baker’s Family of Secrets, and Anthony Summers’ Not In Your Lifetime / The Kennedy Conspiracy. Reading them closely really contributed to my immunity against falling for the billion-dollar flash of US politicians and their promises.

The cover art for JFK and the Unspeakable

Whodunit and why? The short version requires me to define deep state, an ordinary poli-sci term that existed for years and years prior to Donald Trump’s co-option of it for his own vile purposes. Any country’s deep state consists of the unelected spy/natsec people in power for decades, regardless of whoever might be the current White House occupant we’re all supposed to pretend is in charge. In this country, the impune criminal John Brennan, to whom many sublate themselves, would be a great example of a powerful deep stater, and many (not all) deep state job listings may be viewed simply by visiting usajobs.gov/search and filtering by classification level. These people are a non-homogenous bunch with their own warring factions and blackmail games.

The above-mentioned JFK assassination researchers differ on the precise details, but in short, top deep state authoritarians arranged Kennedy’s Dallas death, including with gunshots from the grassy knoll (probably Mob-connected hitmen), since he, though no perfect person, wouldn’t sufficiently get with their program, including his desires to abolish the CIA and end tax loopholes for resource corporations. Oswald was a very manipulated fall guy.

Lone Nutterism, a kooky faith peculiar to the United States, insists that at pivotal points in 20th-century US history, solitary madmen with remarkably good aim inexplicably pop up to shoot effective leaders sympathetic to poor people and peace. About a decade ago, when I was reading the above three tomes, I was tutoring a pair of Eastern European immigrants to the United States in English. They told me that when such assassinations happen in their lands, the public just assumes the so-called security services are changing from one figurehead to another. We all shared a good laugh at the United States’ exceptionally bonkers Lone Nutters.

The systemic function of Lone Nutterism is to remove such assassinations from causal matrices, to render them unanalyzable except by the flimsiest of prefab theories. It reminds me of psychiatry’s lie (see blogroll) that severe mental illness is caused by remarkably powerful fluke genes, usually portrayed as acting in isolation, inexplicably popping up and destroying the minds of those inhabiting the bodies said genes reside in. No bigger picture allowed. In both cases, history, context, and people’s very lived experiences are deleted in favor of dumbed-down but widespread delusions.

Anyway, yup, Trump in 2018, and Biden on Friday, both signed orders to continue the secrecy around JFK files. You know the old joke, right? A new idol—say, a junior senator from Illinois—finishes waving to the cheering crowd and enters the White House for day one of his new adminstration. He is sat down, shown the Zapruder film (that infamous, grainy black-and-white footage from JFK’s assassination), and asked: “Any questions?”

“Yes,” our new president says. “What’s my policy?”

Music. As an Easter Egg, here’s the opening track “Seventeen Years” off Ratatat’s self-titled album released in 2004. I love the main, descending melody’s stately rhythm.

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Talk by me at Univ Washington club Wednesday; news blasts: France, Belarus, and JFK / United States, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on the work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/10/24/talk-batmanskitchen-france-belarus-jfk/. You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

Thoughts and photos re: NE Oregon, plus Belarus and US news blasts

Note: In 2021, I’m blogging once a week, typically on weekends. This is entry 25 of 52. All the nature photos in this post were taken by me on 23 June 2021 at the Mt. Emily Recreation Area (MERA) in northeast Oregon’s Union county, on/near the Red Apple and Rock Garden trails.

Note (added early July ’21): Regarding the media noise around “critical race theory,” readers might find this hyperlink worth looking at: https://pastebin.com/Ex3AmsEz. It’s a collection of a hundred or so thought-provoking questions on the topic of race, for instance: “How many races do you think there are? What are they?

A colorful idyllic nature photo shows trees, a trail, and in the distance, tree-covered hills and blue cloudy sky

This week’s post will be a little shorter than usual due to travel. I’m even going to arrange into quick separate paragraphs my observations of northeast Oregon, where I’ve been staying for nearly a week now, mostly in the towns of La Grande and Pendleton. That’s after a few days in central Washington state, namely East Wenatchee and the Tri-Cities.

Not so good stuff about NE Oregon

Rightwing Signs of the Times) La Grande, Pendleton, and surrounding areas are predominately right-wing, with very few exceptions. Most of the exceptions are in the places you’d expect: the public libraries, the shops dedicated to bicycling, the hiking stores, and so on. In such rare blue/green oases, individuals mask up against coronavirus. Elsewhere, almost no one wears masks whatsoever. Some of the signs and bumper stickers I’ve seen have included: “Hey NFL, we don’t kneel here”; “Welfare: It’s not a career”; and “Trump 2024!” Despite such macho braggadocio, almost all the adult males in the area are visibly out of shape, dramatically so. There’s a health food store or two in Union county, and a farmers market, but generally throughout the region, most of the food offerings aren’t healthy. I guess the fast food and psychopharmaceuticals, in wide use across the country, don’t care what political words come out of someone’s mouth when they’re inflicting metabolic syndrome and other adverse effects on human bodies. Can’t do a wingnut march for Trump if you’re melting in a global warming heat wave while poisoned by corporate drugs and pseudo-food.

Radio Free Crazy) Meanwhile, stations on both the AM and FM airwaves in northeast Oregon are currently railing every single day against “critical race theory,” the right-wing boogeyman of the month. At one point, a radio show host drove himself into a rabid fury ranting against the Federal Aviation Administration recommending in a 217-page June 2021 report that the agency use genderless language (for instance, “aviator” instead of “airman”; “flight deck” instead of “cockpit”). The report argues an inclusive environment would draw more employment candidates, including women, into the industry. Although the news item is real, the examples (aviator, flight deck) that the host harped on felt really reheated from the distant past, given this 1992 George Carlin skit on a similar subject. The radio host claimed that the proposed language-changes would only attract coddled weaklings to the airline industry, thus jeopardizing passengers’ safety since during turbulence or other hazards, the coddled weaklings would not be able to fly with sufficient machoness, yadda yadda. The host also said the F.A.A./news articles were citing nonexistent or secretive research, but the 217-page report footnotes plenty of research on aviation employment trends and related topics. It’s wild that following the changes to defamation and fairness media laws in the United States over the past century, someone like the conservative radio “news” host can just say completely false things (e.g., that the research was nonexistent or secretive) and get away with it, no consequences at all, except when the public delivers them, such as via shunning.

Bumfuzzled Jesus Swords) There’s also a lot of that old-time religion in northeast Oregon. On the streetsides stand churches for every mainstream Christian denomination. Religious pastors preaching on the radio. Pastor Jeff Wickwire, who runs a church in my birth town, Fort Worth Texas, managed to follow me to northeast Oregon yesterday via the airwaves, his voice jabbing at me like a pointed finger out of my vehicle’s speakers. Wickwire was warning of protests and riots that “no one stops” and that make churchgoers “feel hunted.” The answer to the civil unrest, Wickwire explained, is to “Run to Jesus! Run to Jesus!” for “when we are confused, He is not confused,” and indeed, “when we are bumfuzzled, He is not bumfuzzled.” In an October 2018 sermon, Wickwire states that homosexuality is “against natural law, flying in the face of God’s intent for the two genders.” That makes me wonder if maybe Wickwire himself is secretly bumfuzzled… Also, I think it was Wickwire who a few days ago on his radio show (I’ve been listening to the radio here out of curiosity) discoursed at length about how the physical Bible book is a metaphorical armory, and the sayings of God within it are metaphorical swords. So when the Christian soldier is confronted by a heathen like myself, the Christian is supposed to strike with a sword by quoting a Bible passage. So that’s why when I get long messages from Christians, they’re studded with quotations followed with scriptural citations in parentheses. I just thought it was an odd tic, like maybe the Christian letter-writer just personally enjoyed or found comfort in writing out the quotations and citations, but now I know there’s a belief system behind it, the whole idea that a saying of God from the Bible is powerful enough and persuasive enough to be a sword to use in battle with unbelievers. “But I still don’t care!” (The sayings of Douglas, blog post 26 June 2021).

Prison) I have some photos and thoughts to share about Pendleton’s federal prison, the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution, but that content will have to wait for another day.

Good stuff about NE Oregon

A colorful, idyllic nature photo. Shows trees, grassy hills, and a trail cut through them. Above are blue skies.

What You See Is What You Get) Locals in northeast Oregon are really lacking in guile, which is very refreshing after spending most of my time in the past five-six years living in a major urban city (Seattle), where undertones of rent, roommates, and careers seem to haunt conversations, too often adding a “war of all against all” vibe to interactions. I’ve been asking northeastern Oregonians highly unusual, highly specific questions for my fiction research, and — with the exception of some wary military veterans in the airport bar (I assume they were following longstanding military training to regard strangers’ questions with caution) — the NE Oregon residents have been free with their answers. They sometimes say rightwinger one-liners that would drop the jaws of someone not accustomed to red states, but at least you hear their garbage upfront and direct. Unlike liberals denying their hypocrisies, the red Oregonian locals aren’t particularly duplicitous. They seem not to have any reason to expect threats. When I said I work for Seattle Public Schools, one said, “Any place would be better than there!” and then continued on with rural friendliness. That being said, after Trump’s four years, people should know better than to treat these extreme reactionaries as laughable curios. They’re people, too. And they have significant political power. See for instance this May 2021 NYT article about the Greater Idaho Movement. And I imagine they’d treat me very differently if I weren’t a white guy. Hispanics are the largest minority here, but I’ve seen extremely few of other minorities in this region known for white supremacy.

The image is of a western hemisphere map. On the left is North, Central, and South America. The caption labels all these as America. On the right is just the United States by itself. The caption says: United States, learn the difference.

News From Mother Nature) Nature in northeast Oregon is amazingly beautiful. I’ve enjoyed great views of the Grande Ronde Valley, and on Wednesday I went running on the Red Apple and Rock Garden trails in the Mount Emily Recreation Area. The whole time on those trails, I encountered no one else. You can see my photos of the area in this post, and you can see even more of my photos of the area on my tiny instagram: https://instagram.com/omgdouglaslucas. I never had an instagram account until a little over a year ago. I was applying to some ProPublica paid-job or other; the application asked me to provide the URL of my instagram account, so I created one from scratch. Probably “omg[name]” is not what ProPublica The Proper had in mind, but whatever, not getting the gig is probably for the best: I can’t imagine having to use language I strongly disagree with, like “American” instead of “USian.”

I’m Getting Sleepy) I’ve more thoughts about good stuff in this region, but they’ll have to wait for another day. Also, thankfully I’m obtaining some great research info for my fiction-writing project, so that’s nice.

A colorful photo. It's taken from atop a hill with yellow grass and rocks. Below the hill is the vast Grande Ronde valley, with different colored rectangles of agriculture. In the distance, the blue mountains, and above, blue sky plus clouds.

News blasts: Belarus and United States

Belarus. My blog post last week includes a news blast that quickly explains the situation in Belarus. I’d just like to add this week two youtube embeds that provide more information from the Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. The first is just under six minutes in length. It’s Tsikhanouskaya’s TED talk from November 2020 entitled “How to be fearless in the face of authoritarianism.” She talks about how, to lose fear of authoritarians, members of the public have to show up for each other, by supporting one another, by attending rallies, and so on. It reminds me a little of Gandhi’s autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth, the section where Gandhi describes how there’s a threshold point where the public loses fear of being jailed. Once they no longer fear jail, great things can be accomplished. I do think the jails in India during his day were not mammoth in size and scope like U.S. prisons are today, which makes a huge tactical difference. Still, the point Tsikhanouskaya made last November is somewhat similar to Gandhi’s back then. In order to lose their fear of authoritarians, people have to be very strongly connected with each other and must stand up for themselves and others. Being strongly connected with others doesn’t necessarily mean being an extrovert or cooperating directly with others. You can be connected with others via memories, re-reading old letters, having photos of loved ones, connecting with nonhuman things such as houseplants, Nature, etc. You can collaborate indirectly as in stigmergy. Now, the opposite of what Tsikhanouskaya (and Gandhi) say would be the attitude a friend JG—– expressed to me several times, when he kept asking me why I find whistleblowers worth reporting on. It was along the lines of, be smart, don’t stick your neck out, that’s the only way to go through life, else prison or other bad consequences. That attitude is also expressed by a character in Ursula K. Le Guin’s story “The Finder.” Her novella tells of a young man with special powers who, unusually, also has a strong sense of ethics. Like his father, he works as a shipbuilder, but when he learns a ship he’s tasked to build will be used by slavers, he no longer wants to be complicit and tries to figure out a way to interfere with the ship’s construction. Yet his father warns him: “You think I can turn the King’s [work] order down? You want to see me sent to row with the slaves in the galley we’re building? Use your head, boy!” I find JG—– and the fictional father’s emphasis on “reason” and “logic” strange. Anyway, the father is pointing out a tactical concern, that if either of them disobey, they’ll be caught, and in fact, the protagonist, despite scheming a clever way through the dilemma, does get caught for disobeying. So the tactical concerns do matter. But it’s interesting how little, offline, I hear people discuss ethical dilemmas beyond what to do in quarrels with friends (which are important too). I think this is because people have become comfortable with being essentially treated like zoo animals in cages, go to paid-job, sit in desk, come home, watch television, go to bed, repeat. Inside, though, they still have a spark wanting liberation; everybody does, and it just gets suppressed to varying degrees in varying ways. So while showing people, comfortable with their cages, something like this Tsikhanouskaya TED talk, they find various ways of ignoring or changing the subject. Yet they consume fiction where, for instance, the Star Trek: The Next Generation crew goes around saving the day (in some episodes, anyhow). Imagine if a message of despair, pleading for rescue, came from a planet, and listening to it, Captain Picard just shrugged and said “Who cares? I’ll be in the Holodeck pretending to be a detective, fuck them” and the Enterprise starship just flies right past the pleading planet. Audiences would revolt. And yet they accept the same of themselves and each other in real life. Fiction seems to keep the spark alive, but then too often the spark doesn’t catch fire. We don’t discuss this whole topic enough, I think, in the United States. The second video is from 9 June 2021. It’s about 110 minutes long. It’s the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s hearing on US Policy on Belarus. The first 60 minutes or so consist of the US ambassador to Belarus Julie Fisher talking with the foreign relations committee. From about 72 minutes in, to the end, it’s primarily Tsikhanouskaya talking with them, though some portions of the hearing focus on Radio Free Europe president and CEO Jamie Fly. It’s annoying to hear the US senators wax on, throughout the hearing, about protecting press freedom and civil liberties, when the US abridges those domestically and elsewhere so frequently, but simultaneously, the tankie position influenced by Russian state media that anything the US supports — in this case, free elections replacing the dictatorship in Belarus, Tsikhanouskaya’s chief goal — must be bad, is parochial brain damage resulting from not seeing a globe with 190+ countries and shifting alliances beyond a 1960s Cold War bipolar order, where any particular country can do horrible things and sometimes take good positions also, if only out of self-interest. It’s like: rightwingers on the northeastern Oregon airwaves insist the US is the uniquely best country; tankies insist it’s the uniquely worst country, and neither really engage with topics on their own merits. On June 21, joint sanctions were imposed by the European Union, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States against the Putin-protected Belarusian dictator Lukashenka. Of course, while things look increasingly optimistic for Belarus and Tsikhanouskaya now, things might go bad in the future, but hopefully not. In the Senate hearing, Tsikhanouskaya concisely says “I would like to ask to add to the record an expanded list of suggested steps on the situation in Belarus by the US and other nations. These actions would help build up the momentum to launch a transition to elections, exactly what Belarusians demand. Otherwise, Lukashenka and other dictators around the world will feel impunity to freely break international norms to crush their opponents.” Ending impunity is the important point. My quick search didn’t turn up her expanded list of suggested steps; anybody have a link for it, if it’s available? If not, it’d make a good FOIA request. Also in the hearing, Senator Chris Coons (R-DE) asks her “I’d be interested if I might, Ms. Tsikhanouskaya, in hearing from you about how you assess the extent of Russian influence in Belarus; how exactly it’s exerted; and how Russian support of the Lukashenka regime is changing Belarusian civil society at this time.” She answers: “At the moment, the Kremlin supports Lukashenka diplomatically, politically, and, you know, financially somehow. But I have to say, we want friendly relations with all the countries, including Russia, and propaganda is trying to show us that we are against Russia but this is not true. We are against dictatorship. And it depends on the Belarusians which pathway they will choose in free and fair elections.” Her reference to a pathway might refer to the Belarus-Russia union state, but I’m not sure. I wish she had said more, especially about that “you know, financially somehow” part!

United States – Current legislation to repeal the 2002 AUMF. In this news blast, I’m mostly summarizing the analysis article “Are US ‘Forever Wars’ about to end? US House pushes to repeal the 2002 war authorization” by YAC.news, as well as this Defense News article and this WaPo article. The US constitution gives the power to declare war to Congress. However, that power began eroding in 1991 with the Gulf War-era Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). In 2001, following 9/11, a second AUMF was passed — with only one federal legislator voting against, Barbara Lee (D-CA) — that moved the power to launch wars from Congress to the presidency, more or less completely. This legal magic was partly accomplished by reams of paperwork that changed going after terrorists from happening under a law enforcement paradigm to happening under a war paradigm; in other words, instead of arresting terrorists, they became military opponents. (Terrorists were occasionally military targets prior to 9/11, but usually they were considered law enforcement suspects, not military enemies.) In 2002, a third AUMF was passed revolving around the US plans to lead an invasion of Iraq because Saddam Hussein supposedly possessed weapons of mass destruction, which turned out to be a US government lie. So, three AUMFs, legally cited in the US as justification for Bush II-era electronic mass surveillance, Obama-era drone strikes, kidnappings, and torture, and Trump-era occupation of Kurdish-controlled Syrian oilfields and assassination of Iran’s top commander Qasem Soleiman. The AUMFs are the legalese-magic justification for the whole permanent war thing, where US presidents are constantly sending JSOC special forces and who knows who else (maybe these?) into whichever country, without having to explain it to Congress (who are in theory the public’s representatives; in other words, the AUMFs provide for the White House launching secret wars without having to justify them to the US public). Some of my relatives were born shortly after 9/11, so the United States has technically been at war, often secretly, in multiple countries, against the vague noun “terror,” for their entire lives. Massive Pentagon and spy agency budgets, Congressional legislators suddenly discovering their own country has a thousand-something troops in, say, Niger, and so on. All while the public is blasted with propaganda about the need to unquestioningly worship soldiers, who agree to kill strangers based on the orders of other strangers, sometimes trusting that this will all somehow defend their loved ones, proof not much provided. So it’s pretty remarkable that earlier this month, on June 17, the US House voted on a bipartisan basis to repeal the 2002 AUMF. The 2002 AUMF is no longer relevant since the Iraq war officially ended in 2011 and the Saddam Hussein regime has not existed since 2003. The Senate is supposed to take up the matter in mid-July; here are some more details about the upcoming Senate vote, with the thorny matter being getting enough votes from Republican senators, who typically do love them some war. I’m seeing divided commentary regarding how much repealing just the 2002 AUMF, with the other two staying in force, would actually change things, but for sure it’d at minimum be a good start, if only symbolically, to reigning in the expansive and secretive White House war powers and returning to Congress the authority to declare war, meaning launching a war has to once again be debated publicly. Imagine that.

The colorful photo is taken from atop a hill with yellowed grass and green bushes. On this hill, a solitary green tree stands to the left. Below is the Grande Ronde valley with the different colored rectangles of agriculture. In the distance, blue mountains; above, blue sky and white clouds.

Creative Commons License

This blog post, Thoughts and photos re: NE Oregon, plus Belarus and US news blasts, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/06/26/thoughts-photos-neoregon-belarus-us-newsblasts/ You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net.

How and why to use compounding pharmacies, plus Belarus and Ethiopia news blasts

Note: In 2021, I’m blogging once a week, typically on weekends. This is entry 24 of 52.

Note: Readers of last week’s post might enjoy seeing some of the revisions I made to it, such as the addition of subheads.

Note (added 9 July ’21): The argument in the last paragraph of this post is that psychiatrists’ dehumanization of their patients is revealed by psychiatrists not putting in effort on things like compounding pharmacies that would benefit their clients, but instead paying attention to those they do regard as valuable humans, such as their colleagues or Big Pharma representatives/ghostwriters.

Bottle of compounded quetiapine/Seroquel for custom dosage of 290 mg per night

When I lived in Texas during my teens and twenties, a decade or more ago, I’d not yet encountered a lot of high-quality information countering psychiatry. Here and there a friend might say something, or an unusual news item might flash across my radar, causing me to briefly question the psychology industry, but although these blips of knowledge did help dent my confidence in the mental health system subtly, I still remained, overall, a believer in and user of conventional psychiatric services. But there’s one very clear exception to this.

Even early in my experiences with the prevailing mental health system, I did realize the unavailability of psychopharmaceutical dosages in any increment desired was a red flag signaling that Big Pharma shouldn’t be trusted. If the pill-makers truly cared about the well-being of patients, they’d sell the psychopharmaceuticals in pretty much every dosage possible. For instance, AstraZeneca would offer quetiapine (Seroquel) at 300 milligrams, 299 mg, 298 mg, 297 mg, 296 mg, and so on, as well as at 301 milligrams, 302 mg, 303 mg, and the rest. That way prescribers and patients could select the dosages that would provide the precise antipsychotic effects supposedly needed (the distress the diagnosed experience is real and at times strange, but the chemical lobotomies, to use the term Big Pharma initially employed to introduce the pills to psychiatrists, aren’t long-term solutions). And simultaneously, the psych drug consumers could take as little of the psychopharmaceuticals as possible, in hopes of dodging or minimizing adverse effects including but not limited to weight gain, metabolic syndrome, tardive dyskinesia, fatigue/tranquilization, brain shrinkage — the list goes on and on.

On the familiar commercial market today, Big Pharma supplies the drugs only at certain dosages — in the United States, quetiapine/Seroquel can be filled in the 200-300 milligram range at a regular pharmacy only at 200 mg, 225 mg, 250 mg, 275 mg, and 300 mg — but patients deserve custom dosages of any increment, especially for the sake of tapering down or off the drugs. Helping a patient taper down or off, increasingly referred to as deprescribing, is just lately penetrating the consciousness of conventional medicine, since the pill industry planned patients to be on the drugs for life; doctors who aren’t up to speed on the topic are seriously behind. See for instance the amazing 16 March 2021 article in the peer-reviewed journal Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology by Adele Framer (aka Altostrata), founder of SurvivingAntidepressants.org, with the in-your-face title “What I have learnt from helping thousands of people taper off antidepressants and other psychotropic medications.”

Sometimes patients without compounding pharmacies attempt to break or cut their pill tablets at home, but this often doesn’t work well. For starters, a jeweler’s scale used to measure the cut tablet might not register small weights accurately or precisely. Making matters worse, if the individual at home tries to cut a tablet and screws up (little tablets can be slippery, among other reasons), they don’t get a second chance, since the monthly bottle contains only 30 pills. The psych drug consumer now has to try to pick tiny tablet shavings up off the floor where they fell and figure out how many of the crumbly shavings to swallow, along with whatever grody grime from the floor is sticking to the shavings. It isn’t convenient to weigh and cut pills yourself if you’re travelling, either. And how does anyone know if the chemical is evenly distributed across the total volume of the tablet? Breaking, say, a 25 mg tablet in half to obtain a 12.5 mg dosage won’t work if the chemical is mostly on one side of the tablet due to vagaries of the corporate manufacturing process. If the tablet is scored, that can help, but not enough for precision necessarily, and it doesn’t feel very encouraging when the regular pharmacist promises you the tablet will be scored and when you get home, it turns out it isn’t. Patients whose pills come in capsules, such that they can unscrew the capsules and count out each bead of the psychopharmaceutical to reach a custom dosage, may have better luck — I have no personal experience trying to customize capsule dosages at home, only tablets — but not all psychopharmaceuticals are available in capsule form.

Enter compounding pharmacies

Two compounded pills of quetiapine/Seroquel in my hand

Compounding pharmacies are your way to hack the problem of prefab dosages so you can obtain custom ones. Tons of USians taking pharmaceuticals have never heard of compounding pharmacies (which is why I’m writing this). To compound simply means to make a medicine by combining ingredients such that the result is tailored to the needs of a specific patient. For example, someone might need a particular medication, yet have an allergy to a dye ingredient used in the versions made at large by Big Pharma, so the patient goes to a compounding pharmacy to have pills created that are without the dye but otherwise the same. Shouldn’t all pills be tailored to the needs of each patient? Anyway, in the United States, compounded drugs are not FDA approved, but they or the compounding pharmacies are typically subject to other oversight, including state-level regulatory agencies. Compounding pharmacies work by basically doing similar weighing and cutting procedures as patients might try to do themselves at home, but the compounding pharmacists have at their disposal much better equipment and expertise to bring to bear on the task. I don’t know the history of compounding pharmacies versus the “regular” ones typically found in corporate drug stores like Walgreens, but I bet it’s fascinating.

To get started, the two things a patient mostly needs are an unconventional psychiatrist who will agree to prescribe at a compounding pharmacy (maybe they’ve already done so for other patients), and health insurance that will cooperate if the custom pills are expensive (compounded quetiapine/Seroquel is merely $40 USD per month out of pocket in Seattle). Finding such a doctor is easier said than done, but it’s definitely possible, especially nowadays with the widespread use of telemedicine. Health insurers sometimes cover compounded drugs; check their policies and fight with them if necessary.

Custom dosages are especially needed for reducing or eliminating dependence on psychopharmaceuticals. If a person diagnosed with severe manic-depression and psychosis has been on a dopamine antagonist (an “antipsychotic”) for decades, stopping cold turkey, or decreasing the dosage by 50% for two weeks and then quitting, can itself trigger psychosis — and sadly, psychiatrists will then claim it’s the “underlying disease” acting up, rather than admitting that the huge jumps in dosage via regular pharmacies, or via conventional psychiatrists, could have been at fault. In my case, in my quest to get off this crap, I recently went down from 300 mg quetiapine/Seroquel per night to a compounded 290 mg, a decrease of merely 3.3%, whereas going down to the next dosage AstraZeneca offers, 275mg, would have been a decrease of 8.33% or approaching 10%. That’s quite a difference that can have dramatic implications for whether an individual going down on such drugs remains safely functional or not. I’ll quote Framer’s article on the subject of protracted small, gradual tapers (I removed the footnotes; see the link above for the full info):

For decades, in both psychiatry and addiction medicine, there have been calls for research into tapering protocols for psychotropics so as to avoid withdrawal symptoms, with little result. We have found that very gradual dosage reduction at an individualized pace minimizes the emergence of withdrawal symptoms. Years ago, inundated by people with severe withdrawal symptoms from the “half, and half, and then off” reductions recommended by their prescribers, patient peer support groups propounded reductions of 10% per step, as suggested by many sources. Since 2011, SurvivingAntidepressants.org has advocated a conservative 10% reduction per month of the most recent dose – an exponential taper, the size of each reduction becoming progressively smaller, approximating the hyperbolic method endorsed by recent research. These gradual tapers to minimize withdrawal symptoms typically require the creation of customized dosages and take many months to several years, depending on individual tolerance for dosage reduction.

Some, like me, are in situations where even a 10% decrease might be too much too fast.

It’s astonishing how many conventional psychiatrists I’ve had to see, and maybe you’ve had to see, who never mentioned compounding pharmacies, for I certainly brought up my desire for custom dosages to them during face to face appointments. These were docs in corner offices packed with awards. Based on exposés I’ve read about the medical industry over the years, I’m guessing in medical school, doctors maybe hear about compounding pharmacies once or twice tops, and then go on to forget all about them. Too busy, I suppose: after all, the psychiatry industry invented the disease of drapetomania, which diagnosed as insane slaves in the United States South who thought they should be free; psychiatry decided homosexuality was a mental illness and then finally un-decided that by vote as recently as 1973 (that’s when 5854 psychiatrists voted to remove homosexuality from the system of diagnoses, while 3810 were in favor of keeping it in); and lately, the psychology industry has been criticized for assisting the United States military and spy agencies in committing torture. Hmm, too busy to learn about the compounding pharmacy down the street. I had to quit going to a mental health center here in Seattle (for refills of the pills I’m still physiologically dependent on) because the psychiatrists there would work only with that center’s regular pharmacy. I suppose the effort to set up prescriptions with a compounding pharmacy was just too much for these precious lightweights.

Ultimately, this isn’t about science. (Refuting what studies supposedly show about psych drugs is too much to include in this single post; check the links in the first sentence for more on the topic.) What psychiatry is really about is name-calling, pointing fingers, damning or cursing some as official less-thans. Just like many cults, as this book analyzes in great detail. Reflectors/fans of psychiatry might feel this post has disrespected doctors and their diplomas, which they probably idealize, and they probably believe those diagnosed have all this stuff (nightly tranquilizer pills, lobotomies, electroshock, etc.) coming to them anyway, just because the docs said so, and well, maybe someday a third party messiah will come along and improve the mental health system or something, but eh. I actually had a conventional psychiatrist in Seattle tell me that in the past few years: Okay, she conceded politely, the mental health system might have some troubles, but “we just have to do the best we can” until some outside factor slowly reforms things realistically and all that. Thankfully, out of the 1-in-5 or 1-in-4 USians on psych drugs, with COVID’s psych drug shortages having provided a scary reminder of what’s happening behind the scenes of the industry’s shiny happy commercials, many, many, many people are no longer asking the hierarchical white coats for permission, and are busy horizontally helping each other improve their situations.

The colorful photo shows the Columbia River with a boat in it and a bridge across it. Hills on each side with a bird soaring overhead.
Easier to feel sane out in Nature, such as here, the Columbia River, seen from Grant county in central Washington state. (Photo by me, 18 June 2021)

News blasts

Belarus. There’s still a dictator in Europe: Alexander Lukashenko (alternate spelling Alyaksandr Lukashenka), protected by the Vladmir Putin regime in Russia. Lukashenko took office in 1994 amid the chaos caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. In what would be hilarious were it not for the human rights violations under his rule, Lukashenko is really into the aesthetics of Soviet communism, wearing a decades-out-of-style uniform with a silly hat pictured in the video below (it’s a bit like George W. Bush’s fascination with official dress of station). Belarus is a presidential republic with a bicameral parliament and all powers centered on the president. Belarus keeps the Soviet-style KGB for spying on dissidents and arresting Lukashenko’s enemies. Lukashenko dictates all industry, major media, and education in Belarus. He claims to provide stability in Belarus, but he’s a chief cause of instability, and a puppet of Russia (which might sound familiar to US readers). Lukashenko jailed one of his major political rivals, banker Viktor Babaryko, and also jailed Sergei Tikhanovsky, a vlogger in his forties whose youtube channel “A Country for Life” was growing in popularity as Tikhanovsky interviewed members of the Belarusian public about the situation in their country. Tikhanovsky’s channel, started in 2019 and still active thanks to his allies, aims to show ways to a better Belarus by featuring everyday Belarusians’ stories and examples of entrepreneurs. But when in May 2020 Tikhanovsky was announcing his candidacy for president — Lukashenko has controlled that office since 1994, amid accusations of fraudulent elections — Tikhanovsky was detained supposedly for his participation in a protest against the integration of Belarus and Russia, leading to Amnesty International declaring him a prisoner of conscience. That’s when Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, previously an English teacher and human rights activist, stepped in to replace Tikhanovsky in the presidential candidacy; they’re spouses. Her platform similarly emphasized human rights, democracy, freeing political prisoners, reinstating term limits (as opposed to Lukashenko’s dictatorship), and getting away from the union treaty / integration with Russia, viewed as an infringement on Belarusian sovereignty. She received many votes in the August 2020 election; some reports says she won, but according to leaked audio recordings involving poll workers, the dictator continued electoral fraud. He remains in power today. Soon after the election, the dictator’s regime threatened Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s young children, and she was thus forced to flee the country to Lithuania. Her twitter is here (in English) and here’s her English website. Allies of the couple have also faced intense political repression. Meanwhile more general mass arrests of dissidents took place in Belarus; plus, widespread organized crime and trade economy troubles are ongoing. Yet the largest pro-democracy march in the country’s history took place on 16 August 2020, with more than 200,000 people rallying. Pro-democracy protests continue even as these activists are assaulted, raped, and tortured by police. Lukashenko plotted assassinations of political opponents living in Germany (including via explosives and poison): a 24-minute excerpt of a bugged recording of Lukashenko’s then-spymaster was published by EUobserver in January 2021 here (see also the 12-page English transcript or the 8-page Russian transcript; this DW article in English too). The bugged conversation occurred in April 2012. At one point in the conversation the Belarusian KGB discussed killing a Belarusian-born journalist, Pavel Sheremet, who was living in Russia at the time and under constant surveillance. The spymaster wanted the assassination to send a public message, explaining to officers of the KGB’s Alpha Group: “We’ll plant [a bomb] and so on and this fucking rat will be taken down in fucking pieces — legs in one direction, arms in the other direction. If everything [looks like] natural causes, it won’t get into people’s minds the same way.” Pavel Sheremet was eventually murdered in a car explosion in Kiev in July 2016. Lukashenko’s forces currently use beatings, rape, and torture to maintain power, as well as fake rallies and Putin’s protection, but Belarusians keep demanding free elections, release of all political prisoners, and the fall of the dictatorship. Embedded below is a video, just under six minutes, from YAC on 25 May 2021, titled “How Belarus Is Being Held Hostage.” It is the source for most, though not all, of the information in this Belarus news blast.

Ethiopia. In 2019, after ending two decades of war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Within a year, Ahmed nevertheless launched a brutal military attack on Tigray, the northernmost region of Ethiopia. This is a bit like former U.S. president Barack Obama receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 and within two months sending a 30,000 troop surge into Afghanistan, except domestically. Ahmed attacked Tigray after he received criticism for postponing elections (he claimed COVID-19 concerns). Many, including the corrupt and long-standing Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), said Ahmed was postponing elections to seize more power. Then Tigray held regional elections in September 2020 anyway out of defiance. Things escalated from there, including (in chronological order) the Ethiopian parliament blocking funds to the regional Tigrayan government, the TPLF attacking a federal military facility, and Ahmed sending into Tigray a heavy military force accompanied by airstrikes. The Ethiopian federal government is falsely calling it a “law enforcement operation,” but it’s a full-scale invasion. There are more historical factors and multiparty tensions underlying the Tigray War, but the preceding gives some of the absolute basics. Most importantly, the two sides described are both accused credibly of atrocities, though most of the evidence points to the Ethiopian federal forces along with their Eritrean and Amhara allies. The civilians are being trampled underneath all these fighters, with war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other atrocities taking place. These include mass killings, abductions, daily rape and gang rape of civilians as collective punishment, and other horrors. In some cases, men are being forced to rape their own family members, and in one instance a mother was forced to watch the execution of her twelve-year-old son prior to being taken to a camp where she and other women were raped. The threat of famine is currently rising due to interrupted food shipments. It has also been reported that Amhara forces are committing ethnic cleansing. Multiple countries globally have condemned Ahmed’s invasion of Tigray, the United States has declared sanctions on Ethiopia and its leadership, and human rights defenders and investigators are demanding access to the region. World governments are urged to stop doing business in the area, particularly the telecomms industry, but I’m not sure what the current status of that is, anyone know? It would be amazing to see activists in the United States transform from ignoring the brutal conflict to pressuring the unfortunately mighty telecomms toward ceasing collaboration with Ahmed. Many interesting things come from Ethiopia, such as injera bread (made of gluten-free tef, the world’s smallest grain, and very healthy too) and the music of the krar instrument, both found here in Seattle. Below is embedded the following recommended videos (the ones from YAC are largely the sources for this Ethiopia news blast): The first video, from YAC on 3 June 2021, is “Ethiopia’s Descent Into Darkness In Tigray,” at just under six minutes long, with the transcript available here. The second video, from YAC on 24 April 2021, is “The Ongoing Nightmare Of Ethiopia’s Tigray Genocide” at two minutes long. The third video, from YAC on 13 March 2021, is “World Governments Urged to Stop Doing Business With Ethiopia” at about a minute long. The fourth video, uploaded to youtube on 2 November 2017, is some Eritrean folk music, singing accompanied by the krar.

Does anyone have more information on this performer and song?

Creative Commons License

This blog post, How and why to use compounding pharmacies, plus Belarus and Ethiopia news blasts, by Douglas Lucas, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (human-readable summary of license). The license is based on a work at this URL: https://douglaslucas.com/blog/2021/06/19/how-why-compounding-pharmacies/ You can view the full license (the legal code aka the legalese) here. For learning more about Creative Commons, I suggest reading this article and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license, or want to correspond with me about this post one on one? Email me: dal@riseup.net.