HAMMERNEWS- Michael Hammerschlag

Current Political Commentary by journalist Michael Hammerschlag; Thoughts on foreign policy, Republican outrages, liberal strategies, science by 8 year correspondent in Russia/Ukraine over 22 years and longtime commentator; Website: http://HAMMERNEWS.com

Thursday, August 02, 2007


PUTIN'S CHILDREN Our primo commentary on the creepy Putin Youth organizations made IHT, leading an explosion of coverage of Nashi, et al, at their current neo-fascist summer camp with SU-27 flyovers and visits by both Presidential successors. And other reporters picked up my Putin Youth phrase, so although Saddamnesty failed to catch on (when he released the criminals before the invasion), I may have finally coined a word- 50,000 links now.

International Herald Tribune- Scan July 6 -new from Moscow The Putin Youth groups: Nashi, Young Guard, Young Russia; badger and terrorize anyone who even differs with Kremlin positions; By propagandizing the vulnerable, is the Kremlin poisoning the seed corn of young minds? On June 12th, Russian Independence Day, Red Sq. was reserved for the Party faithful Original


Having to leave and return before 6 months in one of the nonsensical Russian visa laws, we decamped for beautiful Tallin, 14th century medieval perfect walking capital of Estonia, which has long fascinated me, since my first girlfriend here, accomplished artist sweetheart Olga in St. Petersburg, was from there. “Michael, you can buy a house in Estonia for $20”, she implored, then in ‘92. My response, “I’ll give you $40, buy me one too”, was unfortunately taken as ridicule when I was serious. The joke was on me, since Estonia was the only CIS country that didn’t have hyperinflation and complete collapse, because they introduced their Kroon (crown, 11.6 EEK /$) quickly, then stabilized and defended it, with Finnish + Swedish help. I could have bought a house then for $100, that now, with prices skyrocketing due to tourism, EU, + NATO membership… would be worth $200-300K. “Ow-ow- home”, as Jenny used to say when I was hurting some part of her. It also was the most free of neo-Soviet theft, which made any long term purchase a 7% crap shoot in Russia.

Tallin is loaded with picturesque children’s toy medieval high castle towers, overlooks, walls, ramparts, and has almost no cars in the gorgeous Old Town, where we spent a week. Moreover, there are no visas, no face control vermin, and everyone loves Americans- I almost forgot what that was like. I didn’t pay for 1 museum or even club admission there. There are a host of young loud Brit drinking tourists, who are now common in the Eastern Block. One guy was talking to me in the chique all white Stereo Lounge and I couldn’t make out one word. “Do you speak Estonian?” No. Russian? No What do you speak? Cockney.

Another item of interest was the huge dustup over the Esties moving a Soviet statue and some graves in the city center (now covered with flowerbeds) that Russia(ns) went ballistic over- inc. violent Tallin riots that injured 200 and killed 1, and a provoked a host of sanctions against Estonia- no more oil- that are still in place. The Russians just held a Finno-Ugric festival- with exactly 3 such countries in the world: Finland, Hungary, and Estonia; guess which one was left out? The Russians are angry about discrimination against the 30% Russian minority, who were largely shipped in after WW2 to Russify the place after the Estonians brief 21 year moment in the sun of freedom between the Wars.

Before WW1 they were dominated by the Russians for 200 years, the Swedes for 150, the Germans, the Danes, the Lithianians/Poles, and Microsoft- in the horrendous great power wars on their territory they were almost annihilated 3 or 4 times- reduced to under 50,000 population (now 1.4 mil). They retained their cultural identity by holding a huge 2 day 40,000 youth Songfest every 4 years since 1880’s, where they all sing in Estonian simultaneously- which incredibly coincidentally took place just when I arrived. I first thought the beautiful native costumes were normal school uniforms and was very impressed, but I had a sleepless hot upper bunk. Train tickets were stiff: $100 for a 1w 450 mile train trip- 15 years ago I went 3500 miles to Irkutsk for 80 cents- I could have flown for the same price, but it was a thrill to buy 50 cent pastries when they are $6 in Mockba. My cabin mate Artur was a Vesti Russ-tonian* Tallin newspaper reporter, who had just returned from 2 week Gov. invited trip where he got to question hoards of top Russian officials. left photo+passport copyright Michael Hammerschlag 2007

There are tensions between the Russians + Estonians, who have instituted a language + history test for citizenship (8% still have Russian citizenship + 8% have a bizarre alien passport- “please allow this creature we disavow entrance into your country”- ET call home; about half the Russian-speakers have Estonian citizenship- they must chose between easy admission into the EU or Russia). The Russians bitch about discrimination in jobs or shops (“true”, says a returning prodigal Estonian restaurant-opening world travelless, “but they are guests in our home who won’t learn or speak our language”); the Estonians complain about thuggish bullying (skateboard kid, “They rob me”, and a college girl- “a guy just punched my friend in the face walking down the street”), and loud or gauche behavior… but truthfully the combination of Scandinavian precision, coolness, and civilization.. and Russian passion, energy, and eroticism makes for good people, and beautiful babes. With the various foreign occupations, deep interbreeding, and commuting Finns across the narrow Gulf, linguo-ethnic identities are an uncertain mélange. “My first language is Russian,” said a 22 year old girl who spoke 4 languages, “my father was Finnish and my mother was Russian, but I am Estonian,” she said proudly.

You get the sense that few Russians here would rather live in Russia, than the incredibly comfortable and friendly Estonia (at least in Tallin). “Russia is better for business,” said Vasily, a cool Russ-tonian who had just returned from St. Petersburg, “but this is my home.” He exulted in the native freedom of his linguistic homeland, though. We were drinking beers on a bench (nelzya here)- a moment earlier a drunk Estonian thug had insanely almost attacked me when I asked for a bottle opener (his girlfriend had restrained him). He swaggered up and demanded a cigarette- Vasily responded in perfect Estonian, “What will you give me?” The eastern parts of Estonia are predominantly Russian: Narva, Kohtla Yarve. Estonia features a startling low 4% unemployment, and first world income of $20,000/yr.

According to a guy who seemed to know, the 20 year old Russian-speaking-citizen Estonian-residing demonstrator, Dmitri Ganin, killed (stabbed) during the April 26-8 Bronze Soldier riots had been smashing windows of a bar with people inside, when the rioters started to prepare Molotov cocktails, patrons inside were armed and counterattacked. This is unsubstantiated though. In the Nashi pictures of him, he looks 14 years old (and maybe is in the picture), he may have just been the smallest or slowest in getting away. The Estonian police arrested 13 people who had supposedly beaten him, but let them all go, saying they couldn’t prove who had killed him. Over 200, including police, were injured and they arrested some 1200 in the week period. In watching maybe 40 minutes of U-tube video, one can’t see a single instance of police brutality that Russians were claiming in fevered rhetoric. Including several Duma members, they also claimed the statue was destroyed and cut up- a lie- it was moved whole to it’s new home, along with the 13 graves of 12 men and one woman. A blogger described the heaviest action.

The Estonians have bitter memories of the 48 year Soviet occupation, when perhaps 70-80,000 were killed (32,000 in just 2 deportations after the Soviets returned after Hitler and Stalin concluded their peace in our time VR-M pact); and their language and culture suppressed. When the Soviets retook Estonia in 1944 against fierce resistance from Estonian brigades (Germans had fled), the whole government and tens of thousands more were “repressed”. In the Museum of the Occupations, the Soviets are the meanies, very little space is given to the Germans (3 year occupation), who were welcomed as liberators. Because of their Aryan complexion, the Estonians suffered far less than almost anyone under the Nazi yoke. This is another grievance of Russians- that the Esties were Nazi sympathizers who had their own SS battalions, and this is true (pic), but so did many other occupied countries. There was a statue of an Estonian SS soldier erected briefly in 2004 by a neo-nazi mayor in an eastern town, but it was taken down by the government within 3 weeks. Not a word on the fate of 950 Jews in that museum, though (99% slaughtered says a Baltic Times piece).

In the directly opposite direction, watching long videos on the Soviet collapse 1986-1991 (liberation) in the Estonian history museum, you can’t help not getting choked up at the monumental inspiring wonder of the geo-political earthquake that was setting them free and their fortitude at wrenching loose - which I’d never really seen from the historical viewpoint of a near satellite (Ukraine was during). The 1989 Songfest and amazing chain of 2 million holding hands throughout the Baltics were instrumental. No people, of course, suffered more under the Soviets than the Russians themselves; which is why their silence at Vlad’s attempts to whitewash history is so disturbing.

The hysterical propaganda campaign against Estonia was appallingly effective: 95% of Westernized sophisticated Russians were convinced the Estonia police were beating innocent protesters, treating ethnic Russians like animals, and had murdered Ganin in cold blood. Just trying to explain what I had discovered to a worldly Ukrainian Moscovite who hosts foreigners and thinks Yanukovich is a thug, descended into a screaming match. Such is the power of blind patriotism, and the chilling ease with which Russians can be manipulated. They have lost the cynicism that once provided immunity from government indoctrination (now maybe 40% of all pronouncements), and are quick to accept the “evil foreigners plotting against Russia” paranoia that is crazy in a wealthy, modern, powerful country. [They mostly believe the laughable “Brits + Berezovsky killed secret agent Litvinenko” story the Kremlin was peddling.] The xenophobia crudely promulgated by the government over the last year could have long lasting malignant consequences.

Returning home on the train, I chatted with 2 obnoxious chauvinistic Estonian girl students on their way to Moscow to study Russian for a month, “Russian girls are slutty,”Å loudly in a restaurant car with 40% Russians, “don’t worry, I know when to be quiet.” “Don’t touch me,” said the other to my tiny conversational emphasis pats. I hadn’t heard that kind of crap since… oh yeah.. America. They should have a good time in Mother Russia.

*Russ-tonian= Russian speaking Estonian citizen who also speaks Estonian

+ - I did hold hands with some Russian girl at a café table, “What do you do for work?”, I asked innocently. “Sex,” she replied. “Oh… never mind.”


The latest from the Litvinenko investigation points squarely at the Russian government. According to London's The Times, the polonium-210 that killed him, is from Sarov (secret nuclear city Arzamas-16), where over 90% of the world’s supply is made. But the clincher is that this stuff is A. about the most lethal substance known to man, with a 50% fatal dose only 50 billionths (nano) of a gram, or 3 million times less than cyanide; and B. perhaps the most expensive- they claim the amount used to dispatch Litvinenko was worth $9 million dollars, significantly more than your average hit- in fact the most expensive assassination ever (scant comfort for Lit). How this squares with it being used in antistatic dust brushes is a mystery. Litvinenko had only one sip of the poisoned tea, which the barman claims he saw one of the men spray something into. A vicious alpha particle emitter used to warm spacecraft electronics and only created in nuclear reactors, it has a half life of 138 days and attacks all the body organs- destroying the liver and spleen. Had they identified it much sooner- chelating agents used to remove heavy metals- mercury, lead, and arsenic, may have saved him.

The supposed assassination plot against Berezovsky (with a strangely incompetent deported hitman with child) is the reason the Brits reacted so strongly with the 4 expulsions of Russian embassy workers. Not only was there powerful evidence of a state sponsored reckless assassination with dangerous nuclear material.. it seemed they weren't finished yet.


The collapse of the 40 year old downtown I-35 W bridge crossing the Mississippi is a shock, since that was my standard crossing East from where I lived by Lake of the Isles there manoga got nazat. 50 cars tumbled 60 ft., many into the water, killing maybe 5. Mpls is one of the most livable and decent cities in America (if you leave 3 months every winter), with sober, fun, decent, smart semi-Scandanavians. It is arctic hell, though, with the entire downtown connected by skybridges and underground passageways so one never has to venture into the bitter howling cold blowing southwest from the Arctic taiga of Canada. In 4 winters in Russia, inc Murmansk- above the Arctic Circle, and far Siberia, I’ve never seen colder temps than 1 winter in Mpls- -25F, -32C. This undoubtedly is the most salient factor, because metal at such cold temps becomes brittle- instead of flexing with the load- it cracks with barely visible hairline cracks. I remember changing a van clutch in -5 to 0 F weather and being very worried that the bolts would snap rather than unscrew. Another huge question is how much Mn used salt over the 40 years to melt ice.

From Google Maps, you can see locks just 200 ft north of the 8 lane bridge, so high variable water flow may have eroded foundations. CNN has the video from a security camera, where you can see the entire roadway portion of the 458 ft superstructureless pierless deck metal truss bridge over the river pancaking flat into the river, the access portion follows a second or 2 later. 140,000 cars a day cross the major river bridge, and it was crowded with crawling bumper to bumper traffic- even looking at the before pics, it's obvious the concrete support pillars look too small and steel connections too spindly.

Crashing into the water in a car is one of the most deadly experiences there is: in crash tests into a canal with divers standing by, even trained underwater people were almost killed by the total disorientation, sealed doors, icy water, blind panic. I used to travel often with scuba gear (till some clown on the Interstate rear ended the trunk where the charged tank was) just in case I came across such a scene- I think of the poor slobs trapped underwater, unable to open or break window. Agonizingly, the water there is only 7-8 feet deep, though the current makes free-swimming recovery hard because you are constantly blown downriver. This could have been much much worse- the shallow water, below bridge framework and horizontal collapse meant the roadway stayed above water, no superstructure came smashing down on the cars, and most cars weren't thrown off or submerged.

There are probably dozens or hundreds of structural failures waiting to happen in US bridges and bldgs are - they are more common in the rest of the world, but there are so so many such objects in America. "As of 2003, there were about 160,570 bridges deemed structurally deficient or functionally obsolete (like this one was), according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. The number represented 27.1 percent of the nation's bridges." A 2001 study conducted by the Minnesota Department of Transportation found "several fatigue problems" in the bridge's approach spans and "poor fatigue details" on the main truss. The study suggested that the design of bridge's main truss could cause a collapse if one of two support planes were to become cracked.

This is where the $3 trillion of tax breaks for the rich (and $600 billion for Iraq) Bush has issued could have come in handy.

For an altogether more creepy explaination, rent the Richard Gere movie The Mothman Prophecies, a partially true story about a 1967 West Virgina bridge collapse that killed 46.