RUSSIA’S MEGA-ALUMINIUM MERGER – ANOTHER FABLE FOR OLEG

MOSCOW (Mineweb.com) -According to the Aesop fable, an ass and a dog happened to be travelling the same road together, when they found a sealed document on the ground. The ass picked it up; broke the seal; and read it out, as the dog listened. The text was all about hay, barley, and straw. The dog grew bored, and told the ass to skip to the part discussing meat and bones. But the ass could find nothing like that, and said so. The dog replied: “Throw the paper away. It’s completely useless.”

The moral of the tale is that we enjoy reading or reporting only what feeds our appetite – though Aesop thought this was too obvious to spell it out himself. It is, however, a little, but unlearned lesson which Oleg Deripaska and Victor Vekselberg – the Russian equivalents of a new fable – have been performing in recent days, with the newspaper talk they have inspired of a Kremlin-approved merger between their Russian bauxite mining, alumina refining, and aluminium assets, to be paid for, or supplemented by, Swiss metals trader, Glencore.

According to the current press leaks, the shareholding of the new post-merger company would be structured to give Deripaska 64.5% of the shares; Vekselberg 21.5% plus a blocking share; and Glencore 14%. The reports claim Brian Gilbertson, the SUAL chief executive, would be appointed chairman to give respectability to the enterprise; Alexander Bulygin, Rusal’s chief executive, would run the new company as he runs Rusai. Industry analyst Rob Edwards values the combined assets of the proposed company at $6.2 billion for SUAL; $18.7 billion for Rusal; and $4 billion for the Glencore alumina properties in Ireland, Jamaica, and Sardinia, if they are to be included. Altogether, $28.9 billion. If such a consolidation materializes, it would have rated alumina production of 11 million tons per annum, and 3.8 million tons of aluminium. The latter beats Alcoa of the US, currently world aluminium leader, by a trifle under 300,000 tons.

To be fair, Vekselberg is not promoting the mega-merger at all. Rusal experts have been seen inspecting and valuing smelters belonging to Siberian Ural Aluminium (SUAL), which Vekselberg owns, and which Gilbertson manages. Gilbertson has been talking up a big deal for SUAL in the not too distant future; although he’s been doing that ever since Vekselberg engaged him to achieve just that, two years ago. Vekselberg’s spokesman, Andrei Shtorkh, is emphatic for the record that “we are not commenting on rumours at all – that means the rumours and any of their variants.” Privately, however, the Vekselberg group has not concealed its concern that the Kremlin is contemplating a buy-out of the two Russian aluminium producers, and a consolidation of their assets into a single state-controlled enterprise. Shtorkh acknowledges that this is “really a matter of concern, not only for SUAL, but for any private business, for what this process is – deprivatization.” In short, Vekselberg is playing the dog of the fable. He doesn’t see in the reported merger the value he wants for his appetite or assets. He may be hinting that the reports of the merger are intended to pre¬empt, or dissuade, the Kremlin from making its own consolidation move. In Moscow, that’s not a political game anyone wants to admit to playing – unless he is certain of winning. Apparently Vekselberg is not.

That Vekselberg has been ready to sell the privately structured SUAL has been evident for some time. A year ago, he gave up to Deripaska half of his interest in the Komi aluminium project – the major new bauxite mine in Russia’s northwest, which SUAL was having difficulty developing in the face of resistance from the state electricity and gas monopolies. Gilbertson too has been unable to deliver on his assignment – the sale of SUAL to a major international company, or an initial public offering (IPO) of SUAL shares on an international exchange. Shtorkh has conceded that if the Russian government were to conclude that aluminium is little more than a solid form of electricity -bauxite refined into alumina is then electrolyzed into aluminium – then President Vladimir Putin might be persuaded to think that state-owned gas should not power state-owned electricity plants in order to supply power to alumina refineries and aluminium smelters at prices that subsidize the profits of the private aluminium companies trading their metal abroad.

Last October, it was clear that Deripaska faced the same problem. His way out was to beat the Kremlin to the punch by launching Rusal’s shares on the London Stock Exchange. But that move has been a failure. Rusal let it be known this year that it is no longer planning an IPO. It has never explained why. According to the latest press leaks, in three years’ time Deripaska would have the option to buy Glencore out of the proposed mega-company, and then issue an IPO. An IPO postponed for that far into the future isn’t an IPO at all.

Borrowing as much as Rusal does – with debt of about $2.7 billion at present, set off against annual revenues of almost $7 billion – is relatively simple to secure for bankers in the booming aluminium market. But selling shares in an asset structure, whose owners, or former owners, claim the assets were stolen from them; and whose cashflow is subject to the possibility of multi-billion dollar Russian tax claims, is difficult. Rusal has paid off in secret settlements many of the asset and contract claims that have reached the courts of the US, the UK, Switzerland, and elsewhere. Each claim was called groundless and extortionate by Rusal, when filed. But the settlements have been paid, nonetheless. And the claimants keep coming. Not the least of these is Mikhail Chernoy, who put Deripaska in business, and who continues to claim, with pending legal action in the UK, that partial payments by Deripaska for his stake in Rusal fall short by about $3 billion.

More sensitive even than Chernoy’s claims was the ruling last month by the UK High Court that it will take jurisdiction over Rusal for trial on charges that it, its chief executive Alexander Bulygin, and Deripaska himself seized control of the Tajikistan Aluminium Plant (TadAZ) at the end of 2004 by a combination of fraud and corruption. This case is important, because it is the first time an international court of repute has asserted the right to take Deripaska and his men to trial. The pressure has forced Deripaska himself to cut short his visits to England to a bare minimum, and to claim that the Belgrave Square residence and country house he bought there are not lived in by himself. How damaging a trial would be is already indicated by the ruling of a London arbitration tribunal, which reviewed much of the same evidence, ruling last November that the Deripaska-run TadAZ had violated trading contracts with the powerful Norwegian aluminium producer, Norsk Hydro. The tribunal awarded $145 million to Hydro, while TadAZ and Rusal have sought UK court protection to keep details of the arbitration case secret. Deripaska has to bet that a UK High Court judge would come to the same conclusions about the TadAZ takeover as the arbitrators.

The High Court judgement puts all of Rusal’s bankers on notice that the metal which secures their loans could be subject to activities that a London trial would find unlawful. This is not (yet) a reason to reopen the loan contracts, let alone call in the borrowings. But the growing evidence of a pattern of corruption in Tajikistan creates fresh problems for the two international banks – the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank – which have so far been endorsing Deripaska’s reputation, as well as that of his allies in Dushanbe, the Tajik capital, headed by President Emomali Rahmonov. The Deripaska pattern is also documented in other countries, according to a recent US court filing alleging similar misdeeds in the takeover of Nigeria’s aluminium smelter.

A direct sale of Rusal to the Kremlin – I mean the Russian state – would be more straightforward to accomplish than selling an IPO to foreign investors. For one thing, there are no international regulations, no disclosure requirements, no accounting rules, no transparency required. The state buyer is also in a position to agree relatively easily to the asking price, if international trader-lenders like Glencore are willing to put up the loan money for the buy-out, secured by a lengthy offtake agreement for future aluminium deliveries. Securing multi-billion dollar loans for a deal like this has already proved swift and uncomplicated for the banks when the state-owned oil company Rosneft took over Yukos; and when Gazprom bought Roman Abramovich and the Millhouse holding out of Sibneft. You might say that so long as Putin appears to be pledging the full value of the state’s credit, and aluminium prices can be expected to remain high enough for the payback period, then Glencore and its allied banks would be only too happy to open their ATMs,

But this is not what the leaked version of the merger suggests should happen. There is no telling what the President told Deripaska when they met on August 2. The Kremlin-issued “excerpts” report only a discussion of car-building, with Putin quizzing Deripaska on the difference between promise and performance at his GAZ group. Whether Deripaska was seeking permission, or receiving instructions, on the aluminium asset consolidation won’t be clear for a while. But it will be clear soon enough, and the value of the meeting may turn out to be no better for Deripaska than the session in May which Putin had with steelmaker Alexei Mordashov. That was just before Mordashov launched his hapless bid for a “merger” with Arcelor.

Like Vekselberg, Deripaska is exposed to the conclusion of the chief Russian policymaker that everyone would be better off if their aluminium assets were consolidated under control that was invulnerable to offshore supply manipulation, paid taxes, and complied with the law. For years Deripaska’s cashflow managers, led by Gulzhan Moldazhanova, have been encumbering the Russian assets with debt, passing Rusal’s cash through to the holding company for asset purchases in other sectors; and for securing profits abroad, in part by the creation of a parallel bauxite-to-metal production chain that could not be taken over in a crunch by the Kremlin.

Deripaska produces aluminium metal in Russian smelters, but as his former spokesman, Yevgenia Harrison once admitted, most of the value (read profit) in Rusal is earned offshore. “To a very large extent,” she said, “we are processors of imported raw materials. Thus, a relatively large portion of Rusal’s value added is created outside of the Russian Federation.”

This is done through what are known in the metals trade as tolling schemes. Tolling is a chain of contracts, according to which raw materials, such as alumina, are supplied to a smelter, which electrolyzes it into metal. This is then returned to the owner of the alumina and the trading chain. In Russia, this scheme eliminates 18% internal value-added tax and other taxes payable when the alumina enters the country, and the metal leaves it. But if the scheme is owned and secretly controlled by a single Russian owner, with the objective of avoiding tax, then, according to the letter of the law, it is illegal. The perpetrator of such a scheme could thus be vulnerable to back-tax claims, penalties, and interest.

Other tax minimization schemes known to have been used by Rusal, and investigated by Russian government agencies, include the registration of trading companies handling the metal in Russia in the Chukotka region, which offered tax relief in return for local investments that were never made.

The Kremlin may not want to put Deripaska on trial for tax evasion, as it did to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, owner of the Yukos oil company. But there is no reason to believe that Kremlin approval for merging Rusal and SUAL also means carte-blanche for Deripaska to run the new company on the same cashflow basis – or for Gilbertson working for a new master to do the same. Not a single publication of the rumoured Kremlin approval reveals that Deripaska (or his man Bulygin) has been approved as the new manager. As in Aesop’s fable, it is, of course, in the ass’s interest to pick up and put out only what suits his stomach.

In the current uncertain situation for Vekselberg and Deripaska, both have a keen interest in jacking up the price of a sale; declaring grand promises of investment to the future when they will have no obligation to pay; and reducing the amount of the buy-out price they would be obliged, according to Russian business practice, to share with others. Creating one variant of the mega-company at a value of $28.9 billion – with Glencore contributing alumina assets, not financing – could be a blocking move, making a Kremlin plan for consolidation too expensive to implement, as well as too slow.

Vekselberg is at a personal disadvantage with the Kremlin, compared to Deripaska; for example, Vekselberg’s wife is not related to the Yeltsin family as is Deripaska’s. Also, so far as is known, Vekselberg’s offer to exhibit his $100 million collection of Faberge eggs throughout Russia has been less appreciated than Deripaska’s hosting of Tatiana Dyachenko, Yeltsin’s daughter, and her husband, Valentin Yurnashev, at his $100 million collection of English real estate. However, Putin’s personal relations with Deripaska have been cool, and in the two meetings the Kremlin has confirmed as taking place -the recent one just mentioned, and one a year earlier – there is no sign that Deripaska has the approval he wants, and needs.

On the other hand, Vekselberg has the more lucrative oil and gas business -that, too, subject to US court trial on charges of grand larceny and fraud – than Deripaska, whose holding company is only starting to amass energy assets, and whose ambition to own oil and gold is not much more than that. Vekselberg can thus afford to exit from SUAL more easily than Deripaska from Rusal, because Rusal is the cashcow on which Deripaska’s foreign and domestic assets depend.

Those other Russian assets are also subject to domestic opposition and Kremlin counter-attack, alleging illegal takeover tactics in the paper and pulp sector; and price-rigging in the cement sector. In the latter case, a Moscow court recently upheld a price-rigging conviction of Euro Cement, a Deripaska-owned asset which is the dominant supplier to the Russian residential construction industry. Convictions of this kind by the timorous Federal Anti-Monopoly Service (FAS) are almost unprecedented; the order for a fine of Rb267 million ($10 million) unheard of. If Deripaska had the clout his promotional media claim, the FAS would have settled for a promise to curb cement price increases. Instead, the FAS accepted a reduction in the payback from Rb1.9 billion ($71.2 million), plus the promise of EuroCement to invest Rb10 billion ($375 million).

Two months ago, Oleg Deripaska summoned the New York Times to an interview, at which he proclaimed he was a new man, who had turned over a new leaf. More than that, he told the newspaper, he was “going global”, on his way to surpassing Alcoa, and becoming the world’s largest aluminium producer. Rarely has quite so much conviction of success served as camouflage for quite so much failure and uncertainty. In the language godfather Chernoy uses, that’s chutzpa. For the one question neither Deripaska’s promotion team, nor the anonymous Kremlin approvalists cited in the press to date have answered is why Putin would agree to allowing the largest tax evasion scheme in the Russian metals business to be expanded, under the same management.

RED HAS TURNED YELLOW – THE GREEK AND CYPRIOT COMMUNISTS ARE FLYING A DIFFERENT FLAG IN THE UKRAINE WAR



By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

The Ukraine war is splitting the communist parties of Europe between those taking the US side, and those on the Russian side.

In an unusual public criticism of the Greek Communist Party (KKE) and of smaller communist parties in Europe which have endorsed the Greek criticism of Russia for waging an “imperialist” war against the Ukraine, the Russian Communist Party (KPRF) has responded this week with a 3,300-word declaration:  “The military conflict in Ukraine,” the party said, “cannot be described as an imperialist war, as our comrades would argue. It is essentially a national liberation war of the people of Donbass. From Russia’s point of view it is a struggle against an external threat to national security and against Fascism.”

By contrast, the Russian communists have not bothered to send advice, or air public criticism of the Cypriot communists and their party, the Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL). On March 2, AKEL issued a communiqué “condemn[ing] Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and calls for an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of the Russian troops from Ukrainian territories….[and] stresses that the Russian Federation’s action in recognising the Donetsk and Luhansk regions constitutes a violation of the principle of the territorial integrity of states.”

 To the KPRF in Moscow the Cypriots are below contempt; the Greeks are a fraction above it.

A Greek-Cypriot veteran of Cypriot politics and unaffiliated academic explains: “The Cypriot communists do not allow themselves to suffer for what they profess to believe. Actually, they are a misnomer. They are the American party of the left in Cyprus, just as [President Nikos] Anastasiades is the American party of the right.” As for the Greek left, Alexis Tsipras of Syriza – with 85 seats of the Greek parliament’s 300, the leading party of the opposition – the KKE (with 15 seats), and Yanis Varoufakis of MeRA25 (9 seats), the source adds: “The communists are irrelevant in Europe and in the US, except in the very narrow context of Greek party politics.”

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IF IT SMELLS ALLURING, IT’S RUSSIAN – IN WARTIME L’ORÉAL (FRANCE) AND ESTÉE LAUDER (US) MAKE A BAD SMELL



By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

The war plan of the US and the European allies is destroying the Russian market for traditional French perfumes, the profits of the French and American conglomerates which own the best-known brands, the bonuses of their managers, and the dividends of their shareholders. The odour  of these losses is too strong for artificial fresheners.

Givaudan, the Swiss-based world leader in production and supply of fragrances, oils and other beauty product ingredients, has long regarded the Russian market as potentially its largest in Europe; it is one of the fastest growing contributors to Givaudan’s profit worldwide. In the recovery from the pandemic of Givaudan’s Fragrance and Beauty division – it accounts for almost half the company’s total sales — the group reported “excellent double-digit growth in 2021, demonstrating strong consumer demand for these product categories.”    Until this year, Givaudan reveals in its latest financial report, the growth rate for Russian demand was double-digit – much faster than the  6.3% sales growth in Europe overall; faster growth than in Germany, Belgium and Spain.    

Between February 2014, when the coup in Kiev started the US war against Russia, and last December, when the Russian non-aggression treaties with the US and NATO were rejected,   Givaudan’s share price jumped three and a half times – from 1,380 Swiss francs to 4,792 francs; from a company with a market capitalisation of 12.7 billion francs ($12.7 billion) to a value of 44.2 billion francs ($44.2 billion). Since the fighting began in eastern Ukraine this year until now, Givaudan has lost 24% of that value – that’s $10 billion.  

The largest of Givaudan’s shareholders is Bill Gates. With his 14%, plus the 10% controlled by Black Rock of New York and MFS of Boston, the US has effective control over the company.

Now, according to the US war sanctions, trade with Russia and the required payment systems have been closed down, alongside the bans on the importation of the leading European perfumes. So in place of the French perfumers, instead of Givaudan, the Russian industry is reorganizing for its future growth with its own perfume brands manufactured from raw materials produced in Crimea and other regions, or supplied by India and China. Givaudan, L’Oréal (Lancome, Yves Saint Laurent), Kering (Balenciaga, Gucci), LVMH (Dior, Guerlain, Givenchy), Chanel, Estée Lauder, Clarins – they have all cut off their noses to spite the Russian face.

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THE WAR AGAINST FOOD – WHO IS TO BLAME



By Nikolai Storozhenko, introduced and translated by John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

This week President Joseph Biden stopped at an Illinois farm to say he’s going to help the  Ukraine ship 20 million tonnes of wheat and corn out of storage into export, thereby relieving  grain shortages in the international markets and lowering bread prices around the world.  Biden was trying to play a hand in which his cards have already been clipped. By Biden.  

The first Washington-Kiev war plan for eastern Ukraine has already lost about 40% of the Ukrainian wheat fields, 50% of the barley, and all of the grain export ports. Their second war plan to hold the western region defence lines with mobile armour, tanks, and artillery  now risks the loss of the corn and rapeseed crop as well as the export route for trucks to Romania and Moldova. What will be saved in western Ukraine will be unable to grow enough to feed its own people. They will be forced to import US wheat, as well as US guns and the money to pay for both.

Biden told his audience that on the Delaware farms he used to represent in the US Senate “there are more chickens than there are Americans.”  Blaming the Russians is the other card Biden has left.  

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EXILE



By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

The problem with living in exile is the meaning of the word. If you’re in exile, you mean you are forever looking backwards, in geography as well as in time. You’re not only out of place; you’re out of time — yesterday’s man.

Ovid, the Roman poet who was sent into exile from Rome by Caesar Augustus, for offences neither Augustus nor Ovid revealed, never stopped looking back to Rome. His exile, as Ovid described it, was “a barbarous coast, inured to rapine/stalked ever by bloodshed, murder, war.” In such a place or state, he said, “writing a poem you can read to no one is like dancing in the dark.”

The word itself, exsilium in Roman law, was the sentence of loss of citizenship as an alternative to loss of life, capital punishment. It meant being compelled to live outside Rome at a location decided by the emperor. The penalty took several degrees of isolation and severity. In Ovid’s case, he was ordered by Augustus to be shipped to the northeastern limit of the Roman empire,  the Black Sea town called Tomis; it is now Constanta, Romania. Ovid’s last books, Tristia (“Sorrows”) and Epistulae ex Ponto (“Black Sea Letters”), were written from this exile, which began when he was 50 years old, in 8 AD, and ended when he died in Tomis nine years year later, in 17 AD.  

In my case I’ve been driven into exile more than once. The current one is lasting the longest. This is the one from Moscow, which began with my expulsion by the Foreign Ministry on September 28, 2010.  The official sentence is Article 27(1) of the law No. 114-FZ — “necessary for the purposes of defence capability or security of the state, or public order, or protection of health of the population.” The reason, a foreign ministry official told an immigration service official when they didn’t know they were being overheard, was: “Helmer writes bad things about Russia.”

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IN THE FOG OF WAR THERE’S THE GUTERRES CERTAINTY AND THE CADIEU CERTAINTY – GORILLA RADIO SEES THROUGH THE COVER-UP



By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Antonio Guterres is the Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), who attempted last month  to arrange the escape from Russian capture of Ukrainian soldiers and NATO commanders,  knowing they had committed war crimes. He was asked to explain; he refuses.   

Trevor Cadieu is a Canadian lieutenant-general who was appointed the chief of staff and head of the Canadian Armed Forces last August; was stopped in September; retired from the Army this past April, and went to the Ukraine, where he is in hiding. From whom he is hiding – Canadians or Russians – where he is hiding, and what he will say to explain are questions Cadieu isn’t answering, yet.

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DID UN SECRETARY-GENERAL GUTERRES COMMIT A WAR CRIME AT AZOVSTAL?

By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

Antonio Guterres, the United Nations Secretary-General, is refusing this week to answer questions on the role he played in the recent attempt by US, British, Canadian and other foreign combatants to escape the bunkers under the Azovstal plant, using the human shield of civilians trying to evacuate.

In Guterres’s meeting with President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin on April 26 (lead image), Putin warned Guterres he had been “misled” in his efforts. “The simplest thing”, Putin told Guterres in the recorded part of their meeting, “for military personnel or members of the nationalist battalions is to release the civilians. It is a crime to keep civilians, if there are any there, as human shields.”  

This war crime has been recognized since 1977 by the UN in Protocol 1 of the Geneva Convention.  In US law for US soldiers and state officials, planning to employ or actually using human shields is a war crime to be prosecuted under 10 US Code Section 950t.  

Instead, Guterres ignored the Kremlin warning and the war crime law, and authorized UN officials, together with Red Cross officials,  to conceal what Guterres himself knew of the foreign military group trying to escape. Overnight from New York, Guterres has refused to say what he knew of the military escape operation, and what he had done to distinguish, or conceal the differences between the civilians and combatants in the evacuation plan over the weekend of April 30-May 1.May.

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THE LAST DITCH IS POLAND – RUSSIA’S PHASE-3 PLAN FOR WESTERN UKRAINE



By Vlad Shlepchenko, introduced & translated by John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

The more western politicians announce pledges of fresh weapons for the Ukraine, the more Russian military analysts explain what options their official sources are considering to destroy the arms before they reach the eastern front, and to neutralize Poland’s role as the NATO  hub for resupply and reinforcement of the last-ditch holdout of western Ukraine.

“I would like to note,” Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, repeated yesterday, “that any transport of the North Atlantic Alliance that arrived on the territory of the country with weapons or material means for the needs of the Ukrainian armed forces is considered by us as a legitimate target for destruction”.  He means the Ukraine border is the red line.

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THE MATLIN PLOT, THE BROWDER PLOT AND THE NEW YORK TIMES PLOT



By Lucy Komisar,  New York*
  @bears_with

Here’s a story the New York Times has just missed.

US politicians and media pundits are promoting the targeting of “enablers” of Russian oligarchs who stash their money in offshore accounts. A Times article of March 11   highlighted Michael Matlin, CEO of Concord Management as such an “enabler.” But the newspaper missed serious corruption Matlin was involved in. Maybe that’s because Matlin cheated Russia, and also because the Matlin story exposes the William Browder/Sergei Magnitsky hoax aimed at Russia.

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YELLOW COAL, THE FUEL MADE OUT OF RACE HATRED — MAY DAY MESSAGE FROM SIGIZMUND KRZHIZHANOVSKY, 1939



By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

In 1939 a little known writer in Moscow named Sigizmund Khrzhizhanovsky published his idea that the Americans, then the Germans would convert human hatred into a new source of energy powering everything which had been dependent until then on coal, gas, and oil.

Called yellow coal, this invention originated with Professor Leker at Harvard University. It was applied, first to running municipal trams, then to army weapons, and finally to cheap electrification of everything from domestic homes and office buildings to factory production lines. In Russian leker means a quack doctor.

The Harvard professor’s idea was to concentrate the neuro-muscular energy people produce when they hate each other.  Generated as bile (yellow), accumulated and concentrated into kinetic spite in machines called myeloabsorberators, Krzhizhanovsky called this globalization process the bilification of society.

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IS CAESARISM THE PROBLEM, THE SOLUTION, A FANCY DRESS COSTUME, OR A PROPAGANDA CARTOON?



By John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

In imperial history there is nothing new in cases of dementia in rulers attracting homicidal psychopaths to replace them.  It’s as natural as honey attracts bees.

When US President Woodrow Wilson was incapacitated by a stroke on October 19, 1919, he was partially paralysed and blinded, and was no longer able to feed himself, sign his name, or speak normally; he was not demented.

While his wife and the Navy officer  who was his personal physician concealed his condition, there is no evidence that either Edith Wilson or Admiral Cary Grayson were themselves clinical cases of disability, delusion,  or derangement. They were simply liars driven by the ambition to hold on to the power of the president’s office and deceive everyone who got in their way.  

The White House is always full of people like that. The 25th Amendment to the US Constitution is meant to put a damper on their homicidal tendencies.

What is unusual, probably exceptional in the current case of President Joseph Biden, not to mention the history of the United States,  is the extent of the president’s personal incapacitation; combined with the clinical evidence of psychopathology in his Secretary of State Antony Blinken;  and the delusional condition of the rivals to replace Biden, including Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Like Rome during the first century AD, Washington is now in the ailing emperor-homicidal legionary phase.  But give it another century or two, and the madness, bloodshed, and lies of the characters of the moment won’t matter quite as much as their images on display in the museums of their successors craving legitimacy, or of successor powers celebrating their superiority.  

Exactly this has happened to the original Caesars, as a new book by Mary Beard, a Cambridge University professor of classics, explains. The biggest point of her book, she says, is “dynastic succession” – not only of the original Romans but of those modern rulers who acquired the Roman portraits in marble and later copies in paint, and the copies of those copies, with the idea of communicating “the idea of the direct transfer of power from ancient Romans to Franks and on to later German rulers.”

In the case she narrates of the most famous English owner of a series of the “Twelve Caesars”, King Charles I — instigator of the civil war of 1642-51 and the loser of both the war and his head – the display of his Caesars was intended to demonstrate the king’s self-serving “missing link” between his one-man rule and the ancient Romans who murdered their way to rule, and then apotheosized into immortal gods in what they hoped would be a natural death on a comfortable bed.

With the American and Russian successions due to take place in Washington and Moscow in two years’ time, Beard’s “Twelve Caesars, Images of Power from the Ancient World to the Modern”,  is just the ticket from now to then.

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