Tag Archives: Russia

Video of the Week: From Russia With Love – Poll Regarding Crimean Self-Determination

I’ve been wanting to write new articles about issues including shale gas, bitcoin and the foreign exchange rigging scandal. However, events in Ukraine keep making the headlines around the world and thus I’m inclined to cover them.

In my latest post, I had discussed how the Ukranian government had fallen and how Viktor Yanukovych was nowhere to be found. Following those events, something unexpected occurred. On February 28th, armed gunmen wearing unmarked uniforms took over military and government installation throughout Crimea, the autonomous peninsula region of Ukraine. For those of you not familiar with Crimea’s location, this map should help clear things up.

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There are some important facts about Crimea that are necessary to know before we continue. Despite being a territory of Ukraine, Crimea is an autonomous region. It has its own parliament and its own laws to some extent. In fact, it was a part of Russia until 1954 when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev decided to kindly hand it over to Ukraine. Sevastapol, which is a city on the southwest coast of Crimea houses Russia’s Black Sea fleet and is crucial for Russia’s naval presence in the Mediterranean Sea. Finally, and most importantly, as the map below shows, majority of Crimea’s population mainly consists of Russian speakers or trace their ethnic roots to Russia. All these factors combined make Crimea a significant piece in Russian-Ukrainian relations.

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To continue, on the very same day that armed gunmen appeared all over Crimea, Yanukovych resurfaced in Russia, claiming to still be the legitimate president of Ukraine. Complications continued when on March 1st, the Russian parliament gave the military the right to invade Russia. Following the parliament’s decision, thousands of Russian troops crossed into Crimea on the pretense that they were mobilizing to defend Crimean citizens of Russian decent. Many Ukrainian military bases were surrounded and the Ukrainian reserves were put on alert. The newly formed temporary Ukrainian government and many western leaders saw Russia’s aggressive actions as a violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

Western leaders were quick to announce their discontent of Russia’s actions. US president Barack Obama sent a message to Putin by stating that “there would be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine”. Other western leaders concurred with Obama and announced that they would instill heavy economic sanctions on Russia in order to punish Putin and his government. British Prime minister decisively affirmed his determination by sending a tweet.

Proposed sanctions currently include travel bans and asset freezes on influential Russians. However, US and European leaders also announced that if Russia continues to escalate its military presence in Crimea, they could consider cancelling certain trade agreements with the Russian government. Sanctions may have not been put into place yet but investors gave Russia a slight pinch over the weekend following the start of the crisis. On Monday, March 3rd, the Russian ruble tumbled in value and the Moscow Stock Exchange (MICEX) fell by 11.2%. As the graph below shows, the MICEX neared its lowest point in a year on the 3rd of March.

 russia stocks

All these events have finally led to this week’s Video of the Week. On March 6th, Crimea’s pro-Russian government decided that they will move to become a part of the Russian Federation. To confirm their decision with their citizens , the Crimean government decided to hold a referendum on the 16th of March. This decision by the Crimean government brought further negative reactions by Western leaders. President Obama stated that the proposed referendum would violate international laws.

If the West does in fact move to place trade sanctions on Russia, this will not only severely hurt Russia, but it will also strike at the European economy as well. As I had stated in my earlier posts, Europe nations import a significant amount of natural gas from Russia. If European nations were to end energy trade deals, then they would deal a major blow to their energy supplies as well. Without natural gas from Russia, the Europeans would have to turn to other sources such as increased imports from the Middle East or an increased investment into national energy production which would take years to develop. This is one of the reasons why some European nations such as Germany are reluctant to implement trade sanctions. The map below depicts the major natural gas pipelines from Russia to Europe.

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There are two issues on which I want to express my own opinion. The first is the premises of Russia’s military intervention. Putin’s justification to intervene in Crimea is to supposedly protect Russian speakers in Crimea. This notion is extremely similar to the excuse Adolf Hitler used to invade Sudetenland (modern day Czech Republic and Slovakia) in 1938 in the lead up to the start of World War II. Back then, Hitler demanded control over the Sudetenland to protect the oppressed German minority of the region. However, as we all know, he had much bigger and much more violent plans. More importantly, the West’s concession of Sudetenland didn’t quench Hitler’s lust for conquest. With that in mind, I don’t believe that a country can claim the responsibility to protect a group of citizens in another country that have ethnic or linguistic ties to it; at least not to the extent that they see the justification to rely on force. If Russia can invade Crimea to protect Russian speakers in Ukraine, whats to stop Mexico from invading the United States in order to protect the rights of Mexicans in America or to stop Turkey from invading Northern Iraq in order to protect the local ethnic Turks. In the modern globalized world,  the age of ethnically homogeneous countries are coming to an end. National populations are becoming more and more diverse with each passing year and with North Korea forming an odd exception, national identities are rarely forged from a single ethnicity or a single language. Thus, Russia’s decision to mobilize its military in order to protect Russian speaking Crimeans seems to be an excuse taken out of the 20th century’s playbook to me.

The second, and more important issue that I want to further discuss is Crimea’s right to self-determination, which is a fancy term for a region, or a country to determine its national identity or allegiance. The Crimean government announced that it wishes to be a part of Russia. But should it have the right to decide to which country it wants to belong to? I’m a fervent supporter of democratic rights and I know that Crimea is an autonomous region. However, Crimea is also still a part of Ukraine, and if Crimea is to join Russia or become independent, then all of Ukraine should have a say in the decision. Self determination seems rightful when you look at the issue from the side of those that are seeking it. However, not many may realize that in this case, if Crimea were to break away from Ukraine without the entire country’s consent, then Ukrainians would have their rights trampled on too. What sort of rights you may ask. The right to access, the right to utilize the public resources of that area and the right to do business are a few that come to my mind. Lets use the example of Catalonia, a region within Spain that also talks now and then about becoming an independent nation. The capital of Catalonia is Barcelona. Now imagine that I’m a Spaniard living in Madrid. As a Spanish citizen, I have the right to travel, live and move in Barcelona just like I would have those rights in Valencia. As a citizen of Spain, I should also have the right to utilize the resources of that region, whether it be public resources accumulated by the government or resources I might earn by setting up my own company there. If that region breaks off from Spain without the vote of all of the country’s citizens, then my rights would be violated. I’m sure that there are many regions within countries across the world where if a vote was held just in that region for secession, then it would pass. Catalonia, Quebec, the majority Kurdish populated regions of Turkey and Crimea are just a few that come into mind. Popular culture might make us symphatise with the struggle of these small regions. However, it is important to look at the issue on a national scale. That is why I’m against regional self determination without national consent.

Nevertheless, I’m an open minded person and I’m curious on what you might have to say about this issue. I’m sure that a lot of good arguments can be made in favor of self determination, such as the fact that many of the countries that exist today are a result of a struggle for self determination. Thus, for the first time, I’m creating a poll on my blog to see what you think. Should regions such as Crimea be able to secede or join another country or should it be up to the entire nation. I’m looking forward to hearing some interesting arguments that will challenge my opinions and perhaps sway me away from my current views.

Hopefully, the crisis in Ukraine comes to a peaceful end and I can write about other subjects. Until then, I’m looking forward to your views on my poll. As always, I’ll stay up to date on all matters regarding Ukraine. Stay tuned…

“The claims by President Putin and other Russians that they had to go into Crimea and maybe further into eastern Ukraine because they had to protect the Russian minorities, that is reminiscent of claims that were made back in the 1930s when Germany under the Nazis kept talking about how they had to protect German minorities in Poland and Czechoslovakia and elsewhere throughout Europe”
-Hillary Clinton

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Where in the World is Viktor Yanukovych?

Have you ever played that old Nintendo game, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? If you haven’t, you’re missing out on a timeless game that is bound to expand your knowledge of the world.  The game revolved around chasing a criminal mastermind named Carmen Sandiego across the world based on clues about her last whereabouts. Its a game that I’d recommend everyone, especially children to still play today. In fact, I’ll be kind enough to post a link to it right here.

http://www.letsplaysnes.com/play-where-in-the-world-is-carmen-sandiego-online/?play=true

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The reason why I bring up this game is because it is very similar to the situation currently unfolding in Ukraine. On February 21st, President Viktor Yanukovych disappeared, and he is still nowhere to be found. A great deal has unfolded since my last post regarding the protests in Ukraine. So before I make more references to video games from the last century, let me go back in time and explain how we got to this situation.

In my last update on January 31st, I had discussed how President Yanukovych had taken a sick leave while anti-government protesters battled against the Ukrainian winter. The following couple of weeks remained relatively calm as EU and Russian officials were reportedly close to agreeing on a deal to financially aid Ukraine. Minor incidents of violence were reported across the nation but nothing major to effect the general situation.

However, the entire landscape changed on February 18th. When protesters in Kiev advanced on the Ukrainian parliament with the goal of changing the constitution, the police started firing back with both rubber and live ammunition. The violence escalated across the city as the police stormed the main square of Maidan in Kiev and as protesters responded with make-shift weapons. In the ensuing clashes, at least 1,100 people were injured and 26 people, including 10 policemen, were killed. This proved to be the most violent day since the protests started in November. Warning. All the jokes aside, the following pictures and videos are not for the faint of heart. However, they do present the unfortunate reality of what occurred on that day.

Policemen were among the casualties in the bloodiest day of the protests.
Policemen were among the casualties in the bloodiest day of the protests.
Protesters set up barricades around the Maidan square.
Protesters set up barricades around the Maidan square.

My heart goes out to everyone who lost loved ones on that day…

The bloody clashes continued for two more days and it seemed as if Ukraine was on the course of a civil war. Roughly 60 people are thought to have lost their lives over the period. Thankfully, Yanukovych finally turned back from his decision to end the matter with violence and on February 21st, Yanukovych and opposition leaders agreed on a truce and decided to hold early elections in the coming months. Many, including myself, assumed that that would be the end of the protests. I assumed that the opposition got what they wanted and that Yanukovych would gradually secede power. However, the story did not end there.

One of the most important outcomes of Yanukovych’s decision to attempt to end the protests with excessive force was not the protesters response but rather the response of his fellow party members. On February 21st, the army’s second in command resigned, stating that he was outraged that the government had commanded the army to put down the unrest. Then, on February 22nd, parliament released Yulia Tymoshenko, a long-time political rival of Yanukovych, who had been in jail. To finally bring us full circle to where we find ourselves today, on February 22nd, Viktor Yanukovych fled his presidential palace in Ukraine to an unknown destination and on February 23rd, Yanukovych’s Regions Party announced that they would no longer be supporting Yanukovych as he was solely responsible for the tragic events. After Yanukovych bailed and ran for the hills, protesters rushed to his fancy estate in Kiev. The premise was just what you would expect the estate of a corrupt politician with ties to oligarchs to be; overflowing with cash and luxurious  goods. My personal favorite is the golden taps in the toilet. Ladies and gentlemen,  I present to you, the Ukrainian version of Cribz.

Finally, on February 24th, Ukraine’s acting government issued an arrest warrant on Viktor Yanukovych, charging him with the deaths of civilians. This makes the whereabouts of Yanukovych even more interesting as he might  now have to evade the very police he was using not so long ago to brutally crack down on protesters gathered to oust him. Reports have stated that Yanukovych might be in Crimea, which lies on the Black Sea coastline of the country and is still one of Yanukovych’s regional powerbases. However, my experience in playing Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? tells me that he will soon be caught by the police making a dash in a dinky car.

Now, Ukraine must reform and rebuild. The country’s finances are in shambles. Support will now most likely come from the EU or the US as the Russians will not be too fond the new pro Western government that is likely to form in Ukraine. However, Ukrainians must also make sure that this revolution isn’t just a seat change between two parties that are equally corrupt but that it is rather a long lasting message to future governments. The next government of Ukraine must know that acting against the will of the people in favor of personal gains will not be tolerated. Many other countries can learn an important lesson in resilience from the Ukrainians. I commend them for their efforts and urge them to not stop working for more freedom and greater representation.

The demonstrators in Ukraine will persevere and succeed, or grow tired, cold and fade.”
-Bob Schaffer

Fiery Protests Heat Ukranian Winters

Despite covering this issue in my declaration of Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovych (had to check the spelling 4 times) as December’s Villain of the Month, I’ve wanted to write a full article on the protests in Ukraine. And my timing couldn’t have been any better than now. Over the past couple of weeks, the protests have taken a much more violent tone. Even though I briefly discussed the issue at hand in the post mentioned above, let me start over for those of you too that are still not up to date.

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Here lies Ukraine; a former Soviet satellite state that is known for its vast agricultural and mining resources, its beautiful women, and for being the country where the Chernobyl nuclear disaster occurred.Perhaps there is correlation between the amount of radiation in the air and the gorgeous women of Ukraine.I’ll do some research on that topic later. For now, the most important thing you might have noticed from this map is that if Eurasia is split into Europe and Russia, then Ukraine would be somewhere in the middle.

Ukraine’s geographical location forms the basis of the issue at hand. Now lets dive deeper. As I stated, Ukraine was a former Soviet state. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it became an independent nation. As Russia started to regain its global influence under Vladimir Putin’s leadership, Ukraine has been the cause for a geopolitical tug of war between the European Union (EU) and Russia, the two dominant forces in the region. That battle also exists in Ukrainian politics. The two main parties can be simplified as being pro-European and pro-Russian. Unsurprisingly, the pro-European party is mostly favored in the western part of the country whereas the eastern Russian speaking Ukrainians mostly support Yanukovych. Currently, the pro-Russian party, led by incumbent President Viktor Yanukovych (depicted below) is in power.

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Though Ukraine is no longer a closed socialist state, it is still far from a free democracy. The political competition between the two parties have not always been confined to the ballot box. Both sides have consistently charged each other with being involved in various forms of corruption and illegal activities. In the 2004 elections, dubbed the Orange Revolution, supporters of the pro-European party declared that votes had been tampered with and flooded the streets in protest. Even though Yanukoyvch was initially the winner, a recount declared pro-European leader Victor Yushchenko to be the next president. However, In 2011, pro-Russianers retaliated when Ukrainian courts placed Yulia Tymoshenko, another leading pro-EU figure under arrest. The alleged charges were that  she had abused her powers during her term as Prime Minister. The more likely reason was that she had declined to sign a trade agreement with Russia that would allow the flow of natural gas from Russia through Ukraine and into Eastern Europe. That pipeline is crucial to the flow of natural gas to Ukraine and the rest of Europe and is also a significant source of income for the Russian economy.

Over the years, under the rule of Yanukoyvch, Ukraine had started to strengthen its ties with the European Union. Initially the EU refused to enter into diplomatic agreements with Ukraine until the rule of law was improved. However, in the past couple of years, the Yanukoyvch government made attempts to comply with EU standards. His efforts were about to be culminated in the signing of a free trade agreement with the EU. However, on November 21,2013, a fellow by the name of Vladimir Putin stepped in and out of nowhere, Yanukovych decided to abandon talks with the EU in the last minute and made a trade agreement with Russia instead.

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Rumor has it that because Putin wanted Ukraine to remain in the Russian sphere of influence, he offered Ukraine a counter-deal where Russia would sell natural gas to Ukraine at a cheaper price and woul also commit to purchase Ukrainian government debt. Because Ukraine’s government is currently in dire need of funds to pay its already outstanding debt, Yanukovych is believed to have favored the Russian deal which would bring short term economic benefits rather than the EU deal which would take time to implement but would eventually lead to greater economic freedom and democratic rights. That’s what everyone believes. I on the other hand don’t believe that all that economic stuff  really played a part. I just think that Putin just sent Ivan Drago from Rocky 4 to threaten Yanukoyvch and that was all it took, because if this man ever came knocking on your door, you do whatever he asks.

Following the announcement regarding the abandonment of talks with the EU, anti-Yankoyvch protesters took to the streets to display their outrage. Thousands upon thousands flooded to Kiev’s central square, Independence Square, to protest the government

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On November 30th, police responded to the protesters by using excessive force. To keep it real, like in mosts protests, there were those that responded to the police violently too. However, the police response brought on more protesters to the streets. Opposition party members joined the protests as well. Opposition party representatives Vitali Klitschko and Yuriy Lutsenko encouraged the protesters to demand their rights. Over the following weeks, protesters dug into Independence Square as the opposition party members brought forth a vote of confidence in the Ukrainian parliament. If they received a majority, the current government would have been forced to dissolve. However, they failed to gain enough votes.

Following New Years, there was a temporary decrease in tensions as the number of protesters declined. However, on January 15, the government signed a new legislation that brought extremely harsh sentences on protesting and obstructing government buildings. For example, forming convoys of more than five cars, forming stages and installing amplifiers in public grounds, and giving provisions to tents were deemed illegal. Again, this brought upon a large wave of mass protests and again the police responded violently. This time however, three people were killed in the clashes with the police. Conflict increased as protesters dug in even further in the last couple of days. The recent pictures out of Kiev appears to be somewhat apocalyptic.

ad_125391958 ad_125515647 ad_125177347Additionally, here is some live footage of the clashes.

Following the violent clashes, Yanukoyvch met with opposition leaders and offered them leading positions in the government as an act of concession.  Yanukovych offered Arseniy Yatsenyuk the Prime Minister role and Vitali Klitschko the Deputy Prime Minister role. However, today, the opposition leaders snubbed the deal saying that they perceived it as an attempt to divide the protest movement. The protests still continue and we’ll see what direction it takes and what the outcome will be. One last important topic to note is that the protests are not occurring in all regions of Ukraine. As I had earlier stated, the political divide in Ukraine is also geographic. As the map below displays, the protests are centered in the western part of the Ukraine where much of the population supports closer integration with the EU. Even though pictures and videos might make it seem as if all of Ukraine is united against the government, Yanukovych is still highly popular in the east where much of population speaks Russian and hails from Russian decent. Thus, if elections were to be held today, it isn’t absurd to think that Yanukoyvch would win again.

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As events unfold regarding the protests, I’ll make sure to cover them in my blog as they occur. Stay tuned.

“Yanukovych has changed everything in Ukrainian jails – real criminals have been released, while representatives of the middle class and politically rebellious free-minded people have filled the prisons.”
-Yulia Tymoshenko

Hero/Villain of the Month – December

I might be a few days late but it took me a while to decide who to pick as hero and villain of the month. But with some deep thinking, I’ve made my choices.

Hero of the Month: Nelson Mandela

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Even though December technically was the month that Mandela passed away, his legacy and his life’s work deserves to be respected and honored once more. Initially born into a life of poverty, Mandela made it his life’s mission to end the racist apartheid social structure in South Africa and bring equality and freedom to all. In 1964, the South African government banned the African National Congress (ANC) and sent Mandela to prison for over 20 years. After continuous international pressures to end racial segregation, the South African government released Mandela and lifted the ban on the African National Congress. The ANC won the following elections and Mandela became the nation’s first black president of South Africa in 1994. The most honorable act of Mandela’s life in my opinion was to embrace his former oppressors instead of lashing out against them as apartheid came to an end. “If you want to make peace with your enemy you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner,” he wrote in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, published four years after his release from prison in 1990. Following his presidency, Mandela dedicated his life for philanthropic work as he sough to increase the education of African children and aided the fight against AIDS and poverty. Even though we all might face different challenges in our daily lives, we can all learn a lesson of humility, courage and determination from Nelson Mandela.

Villain of the Month: Viktor Yanukovych

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Earlier last month, Ukraine was on the cusp of signing a free trade agreement with the European Union. But in the last minute, Ukraine elected to stay in the Russian sphere of influence by scrapping the deal with the EU and instead signing a deal with Russia for cheaper natural gas imports and cheap money that is desperately needed to finance Ukraine’s deficit. This sudden decision prompted a wave of protests across the nation as Ukrainians desired to become more integrated with the rest of Europe. The protesters called for the cancellation of the deal with Russia and for the resignation of Yanukovych. However, the Ukrainian president responded violently as police cracked down on the protesters with force. The opposition party in government called for a vote to force Yanukovych but could not get enough votes to accomplish their goal. For his lack of transparency, his violent response and his desire for choosing short term funding from Russia instead of the greater freedom closer ties with the EU would bring, Viktor Yanukoyvch is December’s villain of the month.

“Education is the most powerful weapon with which you can change the world”
-Nelson Mandela

Video of the Week – John Kerry Accidentally Averts War

I know that reading paragraph after paragraph of writing can get tiring at times; no matter how interesting the writing might be. Thus, starting today and every following Friday, I will post the Video of the Week. This clip will have either the most interesting or most newsworthy video from the previous week’s events. Additionally, I’ll try to briefly explain the context of video  Without further adieu, here is the Video of the Week

I was going to write a post on whether the US should engage in a military strike on Syria. However, my collection of thoughts might have become outdated thanks to the clumsiness of John Kerry. Appearing in a press conference regarding Syria, John Kerry was asked by CBS reporter Margaret Brennan, if there was “anything at this point [Assad’s] government could do…to stop an attack”. John Kerry went off script and said that Assad could turn over his entire arsenal of chemical weapons to the international community.

At first, this weak response went unnoticed. However, Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, decided to take up Kerry on his offer. Putin suggested that Russia could take the chemical weapons off Syria’s hands and the Syrian government seems to have agreed to this deal. Finally, President Obama has said that if the Syrian government complies, they will not launch a military strike on Syria. Crisis averted? Perhaps. We’ll have to wait and see what unfolds. Maybe we should take Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize and give it to Margaret Brennan.

“Why don’t you meet Osama bin Laden, invite him to Brussels or to the White House and engage him in talks, ask him what he wants and give it to him so he leaves you in peace”
-Vladimir Putin

Background on Syria – John Kerry is a Lizard

As you might know, the Obama administration is currently trying to seek approval from Congress in order to engage in a military strike on Syria. To give you the back story, the Syrian people first took to the streets during the Arab Spring of 2011 in protest of the dictatorial rule of Bashar Al-Assad. Since then, the situation in Syria has eventually avalanched into a full blown civil war. At first, Western nations were timid to intervene as Assad murdered his own people in droves. Additionally, two factors have made the situation even more complicated

1) The rebels, which were originally formed by moderate liberal citizens, have been infiltrated by radical Islamist groups.
2) Iran, China, and especially Russia are supporting the Assad regime. Since China and Russia are members of the UN National Security Council, they are vetoing any proposal to intervene in Syria.

At the beginning of the bloody conflict, President Obama had said that the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime would be a “red line” for the United States. Over the past few months, there were instances where Assad was believed to have used chemical weapons but Obama did not act. Finally though, a few weeks ago, videos surfaced that seemed to prove that the Assad regime had in fact used chemical weapons against the rebels. Obama seems to have had enough and has decided to ask Congress for the approval to engage in a limited missile strike against the Assad regime. Many have argued whether a military strike on Syria is the right option. I will discuss that in another post. For now, I only wanted to give a brief back story.

I don’t want to involve too much humor in such a tragic story, but the events over the past few days have brought forward an interesting question. Is John Kerry a lizard? John Kerry is the US Secretary of State and a few days ago he was being questioned by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee regarding striking Syria. The event was televised on CNN. As I was watching the hearing, I noticed something strange about Kerry and it seems like the crew at The Young Turks picked it up too.

What the hell is up with John Kerry’s tongue? Most people would say that its some kind of tick, but I think there’s a very good chance that John Kerry is secretly a reptilian humanoid. After the hearing, I’m sure Kerry went home and had a good time with his son Gecko.

In his book The Biggest Secret, Jon Icke, a British writer, first came up with the conspiracy theory that the world’s leaders have been extraterrestrial reptilian humanoids ever since the beginning of human history. Looking back at how many times our political leaders have betrayed, deceived, and disappointed us, I would say that it is very likely that we’ve in fact been led not by humans, but by reptiles.

“I remain just one thing, and one thing only, and that is a clown. It places me on a far higher plane than any politician”
-Charlie Chaplin