Posts Tagged With: Russia

NO REMEDY FOR ACTING STUPID

There was an article, a little over a year ago, about a woman in Minnesota, in her early 60s that was suffering from a heart condition. One morning she woke up and had great difficulty breathing. She managed to arrange to shortly see her cardiologist, who was able to bring her breathing difficulties under control.   But it was the beginning of July and the woman mentioned that she and her husband had been invited to a neighborhood outdoor party for the Fourth of July holiday. Under no condition, the doctor warned her sternly, was she to eat any hot dogs or other similarly fatty foods. If she did, he admonished, she would likely wind up in the hospital. So did this woman heed the doctor’s clear warning and wisely choose her food selections at the neighborhood party? Of course not. That would have been too rational. Instead, she let her weakness for consuming hot dogs gain the upper hand, and knocked down two extra large ones in the blink of an eye. And sure enough, the next day, she suffered a mild heart attack and had to be rushed to the hospital. After all, what was more important-continued living, or the few minutes of pleasurable taste attained in eating those hot dogs.

It’s too bad that medical science has not been able to develop a pill, or a therapy, for curing stupid. For example, almost 43 million adults, or near a quarter of the adult population 18 years or older, continue to smoke in this country. This, despite over 50 years of harsh warnings from the Surgeon General on down to the local councilman, about the destructively ill effects resulting from smoking. Despite the fact that over 400,000 Americans die a painful death each year as a result of smoking. Millions more develop life-long debilitating illnesses. It is also interesting to note that all these millions of smokers, at one time or another, manage to wind up in Las Vegas casinos. Because casinos are the one place in America where smoking is not only not demonized, it is, in fact, welcomed. Because casino owners know that as eager tourists start shoveling their life savings into slot machines or the craps tables, smoking is the one outlet left to help soothe the nerves of people that have just lost a bundle. They also get free drinks, as long as they’re gambling, to further calm their anguish.

This is sort of a long way around to discuss the situation in Crimea, where over 90% of the Crimean population just voted to align themselves with Russia instead the Ukraine which they are actually part of. To put themselves under Vladimir Putin’s boot, so to speak. Because life in Russia is so peachy. I discussed last time, the thug and tyrant that is Vladimir Putin, so I won’t rehash that again. Suffice to say that the Russians themselves are not quite as enthralled as the Crimeans. An interesting detail is the fact that Russia is slowly but steadily losing population. Even Putin has decried the seriousness of this problem. In the early 1990s, Russia’s population stood at 148 million people. Today, it has declined to 143 million, and continues to fall at a rate of 700,000 to 800,000 per year. It’s like watching a catastrophe unfolding in slow motion. By 2050, it’s estimated that the Russian population will be down to 110 million.

Apparently the Russians themselves don’t believe they are quite living in the Garden of Eden, as their death rate continues to outstrip their birth rate. Russia’s death rate is 15 people per 1000, each year. That’s far higher than the world average of 9 people per 1000, per year. In the U.S. it’s 8 per 1000.   In Russia, people die at an earlier age than in most countries, mainly because of rampant alcoholism. For example, the average longevity for men in Russia is 59, versus about 76 for men in this country. The primary reason for the difference is alcoholism, especially among men. As I mentioned last time, Putin’s cronies get all the capital, and the rest of the peasants, who generally experience great economic hardships, are left to drown their sorrows in Russian vodka.

Coupled with the high death rate in Russia, is an exceedingly low birth rate. Due to poor economic conditions, freezing weather, and a general lack of freedom and liberty, Russian couples are becoming less inclined to bring new off-spring into the world. The Russian fertility rate stands at only 1.3 births per woman during her lifetime. A replacement rate of 2.1 births per woman is required for the population to just stay even. In overall numbers, this amounts to about 10 births per 1000 people, versus the 20 deaths per 1000 that is currently occurring in Russia. Doesn’t look to me like there’s a lot of sustainability there.

Other European countries who also have low birth rates, (not as low as Russia’s birth rate, however) are experiencing a considerable influx of immigrants, which helps them maintain a sustainable population rate. However, the amount of immigrant migration to Russia is virtually nil, primarily because of the poor economic outlook. In fact, the emigration out of Russia, especially for the best and brightest who seek better economic opportunity in other European countries, often exceeds immigration into Russia. The Russian economy is built around one product, which is energy. It does have considerable deposits of oil, gas and coal. But due to the crony capitalism inherent in operating the Russian energy system, there is great waste, fraud and mis-management which results in low productivity. In any event, it’s difficult to achieve a high functioning economy with just one product. Oh, and there’s vodka manufacturing, also.

So congratulations to all those that voted in Crimea to cast their lot with the Russian bear. You’re joining a system that most people with brains are running away from. But as I said at the beginning, science has yet to develop a remedy for stupid. That’s the one freedom that no one can take away-the freedom to act with stupidity.

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THE UKRAINE DEBACLE

Hillary Clinton was right-0n target when she described Vladimir Putin and his Russian forces take-over of the Crimean sector of the Ukraine as being virtually identical to Hitler’s takeover of Chechoslovakia. In 1938, Hitler marched his Nazi troops into northern Chechoslovakia on the pretext that he was merely protecting the rights of the large German population that inhabited that region. This led to the infamous Munich conference between Hitler and England’s Neville Chamberlain as well as the Prime Minister of France. Hitler promised no further military incursions if his act of aggression was allowed to stand. Chamberlain agreed, and returned home to wildly cheering crowds when he proclaimed that that he had “achieved peace in our time.” At Chechoslovakia’s expense, of course. The French PM knew this was all a charade but was powerless to reverse the course that was unfolding. It was only a few months later that Hitler tore up the Munich accord by taking over the rest of Chechoslovakia, and then invading Poland, as World War II was on for real. The British finally came to their senses and replaced Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement, with the toughness and realism of a Winston Churchill.

So it is with Putin’s military takeover of Crimea. After all, he only did it to protect the rights of the large Russian populace currently living in Crimea. The first thing to know is that Putin is an old KGB mid-level thug who rose to power with the fall of the old Soviet empire. The KGB was Moscow’s equivalent of the Nazi Gestapo, and had used virtually identical Gestapo methods as standard operating procedure. Since knocking off his opponents and achieving ultimate power, Putin runs the Russian government Mafia-style. If anyone of significance crosses him, they’re either deposited in Siberian prison camps for the duration, or just simply eliminated. Putin’s economic system relies heavily on crony capitalism-his cronies receive all the capital, and the rest of the peasants are left with their vodka to blot out their unhappy lives. As I’ve said, it’s a Mafia-style government with Putin being the godfather, or the boss of bosses. It’s a primary reason that Russia is chief among all nations in the world, in actually losing population, due to a significantly declining  birth rate, that doesn’t keep pace with its death rate.

The thing is, however, that Putin is also a highly ambitious man, and is not satisfied with just ruling Russia. He has big dreams of re-assembling the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or USSR, and bringing it all under his command. In 2008, his troops invaded and took over half the state of adjoining Georgia, while President George W. Bush, and the rest of the world stood by and did nothing. He maintains an iron-grip on Chechnya, which is a Moslem country fighting for years for its independence from Russia. The Chechnians have resorted to unleashing horrific terrorist acts against the Russian people; but this has not dissuaded Putin from granting Chechnya its freedom.  The Ukraine, however, is the biggest prize in Putin’s ambitions, and the takeover of Crimea is just the beginning.

Just as Hitler got to preside over the 1936 summer Olympics in Berlin, shortly before the out break of WWII, Putin took center-stage over the 2014  just-ended winter Olympics in Russia, shortly before invading Crimea. Amazing how consistently history keeps repeating itself. Both men presented themselves as models of rationality who enjoyed world class sporting events as much as the next guy. Their sinister goals remained well-hidden during the Olympic festivities. But the wolf in sheep’s clothing eventually bares its fangs. And when it does people die.

The mess in the Ukraine began when its democratically elected leader decided to switch sides. Preparations had been made for the Ukraine to join the European Union, which would enable it to reap all the trade, economic, and other financial benefits that membership in the EU had to offer. The whole world expected that to occur, including the leadership in this country. But Putin could never allow that to happen. At the last minute, Putin persuaded the Ukrainian leader to renounce EU membership and, instead, come in under Russia’s umbrella. The Ukrainian people were up in arms and massive demonstrations started taking place. The government’s answer was to slaughter protesters by the hundreds as the streets literally ran with blood. Even more massive protests took place, and the Ukrainian government was finally overthrown, with its leader fleeing for his life to Russia. An interim government has been established, with a pro-western agenda. It was at this point that Putin decided on a military take-over of the Crimean portion of the Ukraine, which is now solidly inside the Russian orbit.

While President Obama and other western allies have generally denounced Russia’s military aggression, there’s not a lot options available to us. There was a time in recent history when the North Atlantic Treaty Organization had the military muscle to counter such Russian operations, but it no longer does. Today NATO is just a shadow of its former self. England, France and Germany have cut their military resources to the bone; leaving the U.S. to pretty much do all the heavy lifting. It’s one of the reasons why we sustain $700 billion dollars a year in Defense expenditures. But there is virtually no appetite in this country for further military adventurism for any reason. After being sapped by a decade’s-long war in Iraq, and a still on-going 13 year-old war in Afghanistan, the one thing almost all Americans agree on is, no more military involvements.

There has been talk of imposing economic or financial sanctions against Russia, but major problems exist with those courses of action too. Russia supplies western Europe and the Ukraine with almost all of its energy resources. Gas and oil flow through Russian pipelines to virtually every European country. If we imposed economic sanctions against Russia, Putin could just as easily shut down all Russian energy deliveries to the rest of Europe. It’s known as being caught between a rock and a hard place. So consider that Crimea is now permanently within Moscow’s sphere of influence. The real question is, however, whether or not Putin will be satisfied with just ownership of Crimea, or does he have all of the Ukraine within his sight. Stay tuned for further developments.

 

 

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THE SYRIA FIASCO

Fiasco is probably too-mild a word to describe the mess we’ve gotten into over the handling of the on-going tragedy occurring in Syria. So if any of you have more descriptive terminology, I’m open to suggestions. In any event, I thought it would be helpful in understanding the horror that is current-day Syria if we studied the four major players involved.

First, of course, at the top of the list, is Syria’s brutal dictator Bashar Assad. The Syrian civil war has now been going on for nearly 3 years, but Assad is determined to stay in power, even if has to kill every last person opposing his regime. So far, he’s slaughtered close to 120,000 of his fellow countrymen, and there seems to be no abatement in the on-going butchery.  As we all know, Assad recently decided to use some his vast arsenal of chemical weapons, and in the process, murdered 1400 of the Syrian opposition, which included an estimated 400 children. He has now taken his rightful place in the human hall-of-shame butchers over the past 100 years. These, of course, include Mussolini , Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and more recently, Saddam Hussein. Initially, the Syrian opposition appeared to to be getting the upper-hand in their rebellion against the Assad regime. But then, both Russia and Iran stepped in with heavy infusions of military hardware, which enabled Assad to turn the tide in his favor. Twisted minds think alike, as I wrote about in my recent posting on the bottomless pit of evil. Since the dictatorships in both Russia and Iran of the same mindset as Assad, why not help out a fellow tyrant in need.

Which brings to the second figure in this on-going debacle- Vladimir Putin, the Godfather of Russia. For those of you unfamiliar with the Godfather’s background, Putin used to be a mid-level thug in the old Soviet KGB, (Russia’s version  of the Nazi Gestapo.) After the fall of the Soviet’s communist empire, Putin, with deft skillfulness, managed to rise to the top of Russia’s new regime. He currently runs the Russian government with Mafia-style brutality. He’s considered the Godfather, or the boss-of-bosses, if you will, when it comes to governance. Anyone seriously opposing his regime will either wind up in an old Soviet gulag in Siberia for many years, or at the bottom of the sea wearing a cement overcoat. But Putin is no fool. So when he saw that the U.S. might use military force to punish Assad for the use of poison gas on his people, he stepped in with a proposal to protect his client state and partner in evil. Playing the U.S. like a fiddle, he suckered us into agreeing to hold off on the military option if Assad would agree to turn over his arsenal of chemical weaponry to an “international organization,” whoever that might be. Supposedly, these chemical weapons would then be destroyed.  This is such a bad idea, I hardly know where to begin.

It’s been estimated that Assad has now dispersed his poison gas inventory to over 50 locations, or more. To assume that an international force will be able to round up the entire lot of Syrian chemical weapons is ridiculous. Plus the fact that you don’t get rid of chemical weapons by just flushing them down the toilet or kitchen sink. The destruction of chemical weaponry is a very careful, rigid, taxing and time consuming endeavor. Strict safeguards have to be in place to prevent any possible mistake that could result in unimaginable devastation for miles around the destruction site. It would take years and years to destroy Assad’s chemical stockpile, under the best of conditions. Nevertheless, the Obama administration latched on to Putin’s delusional proposal, like a drowning swimmer grabbing for a life raft. Which brings to the third major player in this fiasco.

President Obama’s stated foreign policy thrust has been, in his words, “leading from behind.” I won’t get into all the gory details, but this position has led to a crippling weakness in foreign affairs, especially among the most evil and vilest leaders currently occupying the world stage. Obama drew a red line in the sand the first time Assad used chemical warfare on his people. But nobody was fearful or intimidated that Obama would actually do something. So, as I’ve said, Assad went ahead and blatantly gassed another 1400 of his populace. Obama then felt he had to undertake some kind of military retaliation, mostly because of that whole red line in the sand thingy. But his heart was not really into using military force, so he dumped the whole matter on Congresses lap, even though, as Commander-In-Chief, he had full authority to act on his own. Now asking our polarized and dysfunctional Congress to approve a sane and rational course of action, is like asking a starving lion to protect the lambs grazing in the adjoining field. Ain’t never going to happen. In Obama’s defense, it should be fairly noted that, a few days before in England, supposedly our closest ally, the British House of Commons voted down Prime Minister David Cameron’s proposal to join the U.S. in military action against Syria. Obama could see the handwriting on the wall.

Which brings us to the fourth culprit in this tragedy, the American public. Polls show that the public is overwhelming against any sort of military involvement in Syria. Fed up with never-ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, (who wouldn’t be) the U.S. public has retreated to a position of isolationism. Which, of course, worked out so well for us up until the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and our ensuing involvement in WWII, for which we were totally unprepared. But because of public opposition, looney-tunes tea party Republicans have teamed up with left wing-Democrats, in an unholy alliance, opposing any possible military venture. Besides they point out, Al-Quida terrorists have become embedded with the Syrian rebels,  so its best left for the evil forces on both sides to go on killing each other.

If there’s one lesson I’ve learned over a lifetime, it’s that a policy of isolationism has dreadful consequences in the end. In this case, if Assad prevails, the real winners will be Russia and Iran. Yes, the same Iran that is rushing forward to develop nuclear weapons. And to dominate the oil-rich middle-east. Anyone out there happy about the prospect of the fanatical jihadist mullahs of Iran dictating world events.  You know, at one point in this planet’s history, the Roman Empire was the most powerful force on Earth. But the Huns and Vandals and other barbarians of that era kept chipping away at Rome’s defenses. Mostly through the use of terrorist tactics of that era. which was primarily to raid outlying villages and kill everyone in sight. Then plunder, and burn these villages to the ground. Eventually, Romans of that day became tired of all this constant warfare, and became isolationist, and then withdrew inside the confines of Rome itself. This only emboldened the barbarians, who were then able to break through the gates of Rome, and proceed to destroy the very existence of the Roman Empire. That was the beginning of what is referred to as “the dark ages.” It might be useful for people in this country to re-learn the lessons of history.

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