Monthly Archives: January 2015

DO CRY FOR ME, ARGENTINA

At the beginning of the 20th century, the economies of both the United States and Argentina we’re almost identical in terms of production, output and wealth of their citizenry. During the next century, the U.S., despite its many problems, would soar to become the number one economic power in the world, far ahead of number 2 which is China. The economy of Argentina, however, during this time period, went slip-sliding down to 25th place among the nations of the world. Even Columbia, a much smaller country has a more vibrant economy. How to account for such a dramatic divergence? After all, Argentina is a large nation with an abundance of natural resources and a well educated populace. Blame it on the failings of the democratic process, which I’ve written about extensively before, wherein voters made bad decisions which led to corrupt leadership, which in turn led to disastrous results. All of this came to a head last week with the murder of a high ranking government prosecutor that was made to look like a suicide. I’ll get to that in a little bit.

Argentina’s downhill momentum started to gather steam around the time of WWII. For inexplicable reasons, Argentina, as well as most South American countries, sided with the axis powers during that war, instead of with the U.S. and its allies. Perhaps it was jealousy of U.S. successes or beliefs that the U.S. was treating the rest of the Americas rather shabbily. Which it probably was. In any event, most of South America sympathized with the Nazis during WWII, and became a safe haven for Nazi war criminals to flee to after the war. Argentina was no exception, and was the country that housed Adolf Eichmann, the notorious Nazi commandant of the entire Holocaust operation. Israeli agents eventually captured Eichmann and smuggled him out of Argentina to Israel, where he was tried for crimes against humanity, found guilty, and hung. Nevertheless, bad choices in Argentina began to multiply after the war and send that country well into its downhill descent.

It started with the election of Juan Peron as president shortly after WWII ended. Peron, formerly a high ranking official in the Argentine military, began to operate his presidency by bribing the country’s elite and its peasants into supporting him. Corruption was the name of the game. He ran the country very much the way Vladimir Putin rules over Russia these days, i.e. Mafia-style, with Putin, and back then, Peron, being the boss of bosses. The god father. The generals and admirals in the Argentine military especially had to receive generous bribes in order for Juan to maintain power. A few crumbs were tossed to the mostly poverty-stricken masses in order to keep them in line. And behind Juan’s throne stood his overly ambitious wife, Eva, who thirsted for the acquisition of even greater power. Yes, the same “Evita” from Broadway musical and Hollywood movie fame who sang “don’t cry for me Argentina.” However, Eva’s dreams of succeeding her husband as president and becoming, in effect, dictator, were cut dramatically short when she developed cancer and died at an early age.

Of course, once bribery and corruption had become epidemic, the Argentine economy started to significantly falter. It got to the point that even the military couldn’t take it anymore even though they continued to receive generous handouts. Finally in the mid-1950s, Juan Peron was thrown out of office in a military coup, and fled to Spain who agreed not to toss him in the clink. But the Peronista movement continued to stay alive in Argentina, and Peron was eventually returned to the throne in the 1970s, this time with new wife Isobel. Juan died in office shortly thereafter, and Isobel took over the reins of government, and continued on with the same style of Peronista corruption. Succeeding presidents after Isobel were also mired in similar Peronista mediocrity and failure.

Now fast forward to June 1994 when 8 Iranian supported Hezbollah terrorists were allowed to infiltrate into Argentina. They made their way to Buenos Aires and proceeded to bomb a Jewish community center on a busy day. In what the New york Times called the greatest act of murder against the Jewish people since the Holocaust, 87 people were slaughtered that day with over 100 more seriously injured. Over the succeeding years, feeble attempts were made by the Argentine government to bring the perpetrators to justice; but all efforts failed abysmally. In the meantime, in a replay of the Juan and Eva Peron fiasco, the Argentine people elected another power couple to run the country, who were also devout Peronistas named Nestor and Christina Kirchner. The year was 2003 and the Argentine economy had sunk to the point where government bond holders were being stiffed when they tried to redeem their bonds. Now one might believe that if people were that stupid as to invest in Argentine bonds, they got what they deserved. Nevertheless, receiving, say, 15 or 20 cents on the dollar at bond redemption time is never a pleasant occurrence.

When Nestor was unable to run for the presidency again because of constitutional limitations, the office was merely handed over to wife Christina who remains in power to this day. Living the dream first sought after by Eva Peron. Nestor Kirchner died of a heart attack in 2010, leaving the reins of government solely in Christina’s hands. Once in power, Christina nationalized the country’s largest airline, wrested control of billions of dollars of private pension funds and put them into government coffers, and waged battle with farmers protesting huge tax increases that paralyzed agricultural exports for months. Even as the economy continued to sink. Now she has become virtual dictator so good luck with trying to remove her from office.

Meanwhile a young government prosecutor named Alberto Nisman never gave up on attempting to bring the terrorists behind the Jewish community center bombing to justice. By last week he had amassed 300 pages of evidence and testimony naming who the killers were, that he was going to present to the courts on last Monday. Except that the day before, he was found dead in his apartment of a gunshot wound to the head, with the pistol lying next to his body. The evidence was purported to show that Christina and her administration had been seriously obstructing the investigation for years, in return for price-discounted Iranian oil and an agreement that Iran would but Argentine grain. At first Kirchner claimed that the death was a suicide. This was so ludicrous that social networks like Twitter and Facebook lit up like a bonfire. Finally Christina had to walk back her statements and proclaimed that she did not believe that Alberto Nisman committed suicide. She blamed his death on unknown bad guys lurking out there somewhere.

Nisman’s evidence did make it to the courts and it does show a continual obstruction of justice by the Kirchner government. But with Christina entrenched in a virtual dictatorship, good luck with anyone being incarcerated for this deadly crime. More evidence of how the democratic process could go horribly wrong when people make really, really bad choices.

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RE-LEARNING THE LESSONS OF HISTORY

When Jesus walked the Earth over 2000 years ago, the Roman Empire was at its zenith. Ruled by its emperor Augustus Caesar, (who was ultimately responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus), the Roman Empire covered virtually all of Europe including England, North Africa (now called the Mid-East), and Western Asia. Its power and military might was considered almost invincible, as it mercilessly and brutally ruled over conquered lands. To challenge the mighty Roman army was considered a suicide mission. Rebellion against Rome in in countries they ruled was often brutally suppressed with the opposing fighters usually crucified or slaughtered outright, or captured and sold off into slavery. Women were also put on the market for slaves or as concubines and prostitutes. In essence, conquered lands were considered primary sources of free labor or sexual slavery.

Rome, as the most advanced civilization at that time, also had acquired superior technology that was unknown by  other nations on this planet. The Roman government had built an extensive system of aqueducts that brought purified water to the homes of mainly the rich and elite. Advanced plumbing systems, roads and bridges were also being put into place. The Roman Colosseum was built to provide entertainment, such as watching gladiators being torn to shreds by hungry lions, again, primarily for the amusement of the upper classes. (Parts of the Colosseum still exist today as a tourist attraction for visitors to Rome.) But even at the height of its power, cracks began to develop in the foundation of the Roman Empire. Romans started to become soft and lazy, fixated only on the indulgence of usually depraved pleasures and sensuality. An estimated 32,000 prostitutes littered the streets of Rome. Subsequent emperors to Augustus Caesar, over the centuries, such as Nero and Caligula, became infamous for spending huge amounts of resources on lavish parties, where guests drank and ate themselves into almost a coma-like state. Diseases became rampant because of all the prostitutes and beggars living on the streets. Alcoholism was at epidemic proportions. So was political corruption. New, incoming emperors had to bribe the Army for a chance at the throne. If the bribe wasn’t enough, they would be thrown out of office or just murdered outright. During the 100 years starting in 186 A.D. Rome had 37 emperors, 25 of whom were assassinated.

Economic problems also started to multiply. Business owners who had to hire workers couldn’t compete with those that were able to acquire slave labor. Inflation started to skyrocket because once Rome ran out of nations to conquer, the supply of gold into the economy began to sharply decrease. The government had to lessen the amount of gold being put into its coinage, which made the coins less valuable. Eventually, the coins had so little gold that most merchants began to use a barter system. Then there was a growing disparity between the powerful and rich elite, and the rapidly disappearing middle class. (Sound familiar.) In addition, military spending to defend the Empire’s vast borders from barbarian hordes also greatly drained government resources. Finally, the government could not provide sufficient goods for its growing population. It was no longer conquering other civilizations and using their technology as well as their people for slaves. In fact, Rome began actually losing territory it could no longer maintain with its legions.

The final nail in the coffin came from the barbarian hordes I just mentioned. They consisted primarily of the Huns, Vandals, Goths and Visigoths, that came mainly out of what is France and Germany today. They were the terrorists of that era, envious of Rome’s wealth, (compared to the miserable poverty they were forced to live in), and determined to destroy the Roman Empire. The barbarians knew they couldn’t defeat the powerful Roman army in a face-to-face battle; so, as is the case of today’s terrorists, they resorted to acts of sabotage and gratuitous murder. They would attack outlying villages in remote corners of the Empire, that Rome could no longer defend, and murder all the men and children, and carry off the women as sexual slaves. At least those women they were attracted to; the others would also be killed. Then they would sack the village and burn it to the ground. While this was happening, Romans, over the centuries had become soft and lazy, with the rich being so heavily involved in debauchery that they had lost all desire for war. There was no will left to even defend themselves from the oncoming barbarian hordes that were marching toward the gates of Rome. So the government began the practice of hiring mercenaries to wage war on these various germanic and franco tribes. The trouble with using mercenaries, however, is that they’re usually willing to offer their services to the highest bidder. Thus, it was not unusual for these mercenaries to switch sides once they got a better offer from the barbarian terrorists  they were originally sent to destroy.

Finally after centuries of economic dysfunction, political corruption, eroding social conditions,  debauchery among the rich and powerfully connected, and a plain lack of will toward self-defense, the Roman Empire collapsed before the invading barbarians hordes. Historians put the final overrun of Rome by germanic and franco tribes as occurring in 476 A.D. From then on, roads and bridges throughout the former Roman Empire were left in disrepair and fields were left untilled. Pirates and bandits made travel unsafe. Cities could not be maintained without farm products, as trade and businesses began to disappear, because the Roman Empire was no more in the West. Europe then fell into the bleak and sorrowful period known as the Dark Ages, that lasted more than a thousand years, before reformation finally began to put civilization on a path to recovery.

So how is this relevant in today’s word. Today, we have a new set of barbarians at the gates of Western civilization, known as the Islamic-Fascist Jihadists. I’ve written previously and extensively before about the bottomless pits of evil that terrorist groups such as Boko-Haram, ISIS and Al-Qaida crawl out of to commit murder and mayhem. The latest outbreak being the murder of 17 innocent people in Paris last week, supposedly because of religious offense to unflattering cartoons of the prophet Muhammed. Think about it. People are actually being slaughtered because of cartoons in a newspaper. But the key question is whether the U.S. and its allies have the will to take on these present day barbarians and destroy them while it can still be done on the cheap. Or have we become too soft and lazy, or too intoxicated by our current pleasures and indulgences to wage meaningful combat against these cutthroats. Have our political and economic systems become too corrupt to engage in a meaningful battle to protect the gates of civilized behavior. Perhaps we should hire mercenaries to do our fighting since it worked so well the last time.

Every day we fail to take meaningful action, the Jihadists become stronger and the battle becomes more costly. The token bombing raids we initiated against ISIS in Iraq and Syria have had virtually no effect as the terrorists have expanded the territory they now occupy. Present leadership in the U.S. appears to be too dysfunctional and polarized to initiate a meaningful war against Islamic fascism, while Europe appears to have the same level of corruption and malaise, or lack of willpower, about going to war, as the Romans did when faced with their terrorism threats. If Western civilization falls again to the barbarians, the Dark Ages will reappear for at least another thousand years. Will you still be playing with your I-Phones when that takes place?

 

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SOBERING UP

Well, at long last the holiday festivities are coming to an end. The champagne corks have all been popped, the midnight fireworks all exploded, the Christmas lights and ornaments are being stuffed back into cartons, the trees have been taken to the curb for trash pickup, and most Americans are soberly returning to work or school. Is there any more mournfully sobering day of the year than the Monday after all the holiday festivities are over with. New Year’s resolutions, most dealing with diet and exercise, go into play now on this Monday. Have to try to take off that excessive weight gained by eating every piece of crap put in front of us from Thanksgiving  thru New Years. To say nothing of the calories consumed by binge drinking. Unfortunately, if the experience of past years is any indication, most of these good intentions regarding the reduction of calorie intake and working out harder, will crash and burn before the end of January, or during February at the very latest. Has to do mostly with that “talking to the man in the mirror, and asking him to change his ways” thingy that Michael Jackson sung about. Not an easy task to accomplish.

In any event, as American soberly get back into the groove of their normal lives, the world remains an exceedingly dangerous place, populated by a lot of exceedingly bad people anxious to create further murder, mayhem and destruction. While the rest of us were partying and not paying attention, these people and groups have, if anything, grown stronger and more murderous. So perhaps, as part of the sobering up process, we need to start focusing on these groups, and maybe, actually, do something about them. I thought, therefore, I might mention just a few contingents and what they are up to.

Let’s start with an Islamic fundamentalist group of Jihadists operating out of Nigeria called Boko Haram, which loosely translated, means “Western education is forbidden.” They became prominent on the world stage, when, in 2014, they kidnapped 200 Nigerian school girls to great global consternation. Boko Haram attacks towns and villages with impunity, and murders many its residents. Its specialty is mass kidnappings of boys and young men that can then be brainwashed into joining their ranks and become Jihadist warriors. And of girls to become the wives/slaves of these warriors. Just this past week they abducted 40 hostages from a town in Northeast Nigeria. Unfortunately, the Nigerian government and military are too hopelessly corrupt and incompetent to effectively deal with these Jihadist cutthroats. A multi-African task force consisting of troops from Chad, Niger, and Nigeria recently did battle with, but were soundly defeated by Boko Haram. Which indicates that the Jihadists are confident and strong enough to take on even an organized military force and beat them.

So Nigeria has, of course, asked for U.S. assistance. As I’ve said, the Nigerian government is hopelessly corrupt and inept, but the U.S. has no good alternatives. A collapse of of Nigeria’s military, as bad as they are, would virtually turn the whole country over to Boko Haram. The calamity of human suffering and death, in such an event, would be on a par of what’s occurring in Syria these days. So far the U.S. has made only token commitments. In actuality, it would take U.S. boots on the ground in Nigeria to wipe out this vipers nest of Jihadists. A commitment that our present Administration would highly disfavor. After all, who wants to view Americans coming home in body bags from fighting in some jungle hellhole in Africa. So we essentially do nothing while Boko Haram grows stronger by the day.

An almost identical scenario is playing out in the Mid-East where a group of murderous cutthroats called ISIS has now taken over major portions of Iraq and Syria, and is on the march. ISIS came on the scene also in 2014, with its speciality being cutting off the heads of innocent victims they had captured. Originally an off-shoot of Al Qaida, ISIS displays the same fanatical Islamic Jihadism as Boko Haram in presenting the world with its unique brand of death, destruction and misery. In this instance, our present Administration has engaged in a daily air campaign of trying to bomb ISIS out of existence, but has experienced minimum success. It’s almost impossible to defeat a determined enemy such as ISIS with air strikes only. Once again it would take a large infusion of American ground forces to win this war, because, as in Nigeria, the Iraqi and Syrian governments are too hopelessly corrupt, inept, and pathetic to decisively engage ISIS. But, since putting American boots on the ground in the Mid-East will not happen because Americans are too fed up from previous wars such as these, ISIS will keep expanding, as thousands more die from their barbarism.

In the late 1930s, as the the Nazi war machine in Europe was growing more powerful with each passing day, as was the Japanese imperial military as it rampaged through the Pacific, Americans sat back and stated there was no need for the U.S. to get involved in all this messiness. After all, we had 2 huge oceans to protect us from all the nasty businesses of war taking place throughout much of the rest of the world. Then the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and we were sucked into 2 wars, like it or not. We were so militarily unprepared, that if Japan had followed up bombing Pearl Harbor by invading our west coast, the Roosevelt Administration believed we couldn’t defend this country, until we would possibly make a last-ditch stand at Chicago. About two-thirds of the country would have automatically been ceded to the Japanese in order to possibly defend the remaining third. And even that was likely to fail. Japan didn’t realize, until after the war was over, what a golden opportunity it had to defeat us right after Pearl Harbor, had it been more adventurous. But because the U.S. had taken an isolationist stance and didn’t get involved early on, over 60 million people died in Europe alone from Nazi fanaticism and brutality. To say nothing of the millions that were killed in the Pacific by the Imperial Japanese military.

Today, we still have the opportunity to take out, relatively cheaply, the fanatical Islamic Jihadists on the march in Africa, the Mid-East, Asia and other locations. But do we have the necessary will to initiate unpopular war-like actions. Apparently not. Such messiness, with all those American young men and women coming home in body bags. Who needs it? After all, we’re protected from all those nutcase terrorists by 2 huge bodies of water. Aren’t we?

 

 

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