Posts Tagged ‘Russia’

What about them Ruskies?

March 22, 2017

The inner workings of our democratic republic were brought into my awareness a couple of days ago as I was listening on NPR to Congressional hearings while mixing concrete for a deck stairway addition to my home.

They say that multi-tasking is not something you can effectively do. I have never believed that, so I try to do it all the time.

On that particular day, which happened to be the first day of spring, it felt good to be outside on a sunny morning in the slowly warming upper-40’s fahrenheit air, doing a constructive work in the yard while at the same time tuning into the hearing being conducted by Chairman Devin Nunes of the  House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

While trying to learn about the delicate and bullysome governance of our great nation while getting some work done, I make mental note to self: good luck with that.

So there I was  in the morning sunshine mixing concrete and it felt great in our cool early morning Blue Ridge mountain air.

And there was something about the experience that I would like to convey to you because I feel it is important that citizens make themselves aware of some of the issues that confront those men and women whose job it is to govern, and to work productively within in an immense, arcane federal bureaucracy the purpose of which is to keep our nation going.

Maybe its because I’m an old guy now, 65, that the first thing that jumps out in my mind is a deja vu of the Watergate hearings in 1973. As I was hearing our Representatives speak about Mr. Flynn, President-elect Trump, the Russians, FISA, unmasking this or that person, and possible unauthorized dissemination of classified information about a US person, etcetera etcetera blah blah blah . . .

My mind was flashing on the summer of 1973 when I was watching the Senate Judiciary Committee as they gathered info about the White House “plumbers” who broke into an office in the  Watergate hotel in Washington. During those hearings there was talk of Mr. McCord, Mr. Mitchell, and John Dean, and there was administrative finesse being displayed by Chairman Sam Ervin.

That was the last time, you see, that I listened attentively to a Congressional hearing.

Of course there is no real relationship between that Watergate fiasco 44 years ago  and whatever is going on now with this present wiretapping allegation brouhaha  as it relates to presidential politics.

But there was a connection in my mind between these two situations that are so far apart in time.

Perhaps what triggered the memory in my mind was the repetitive mentions of certain phrases being spoken by FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers. I kept hearing certain answers:

Hearings

“I can’t comment on that.” “I’m not going to comment on hypotheticals.”

. . . can’t comment on individual persons, US persons. . ., can’t answer; it would depend on. . ., not going to comment on a news article . . . , not at liberty to talk about communication within the executive branch . . ., I’m not going to answer. . . same answer . . . “same answer.”

At one point, Director Comey allowed this personal admission:

“That’s not something I can comment on. I’m trying very hard to not talk about anything that relates to a US person.”

My first thought was that these two Intelligence Directors were perhaps not as forthcoming as they should be, because, you know, their inquisitors were members of Congress who represent We the People, etc.

But then I realized that these guys are doing their jobs by not just spouting information about the US persons whom they are striving to protect.

My second thought was about how much grace the Congressional questioners were extending to these reticent public officials, by tolerating, without objection, such a continuous string of  those “I cannot answer that”  responses from Directors Comey and Rogers.

Reflecting on it now, two days later, the conundrum is best represented in this statement by Representative Terri Sewell:

“So Director Comey, I know you cannot discuss whether any investigations are ongoing with ‘U.S. persons,’ and I respect that. I think it’s important, though, that the American people understand the scope and breadth  of public, open source reporting of Mr. Flynn’s actions that led to his resignation. And while we can’t talk about . . . an investigation, I believe that we here at HIPSI, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence,  must put those facts into the public domain.”

As the hours wore on, I came to understand that there is a very delicate balance going on here, in a very complicated world.  Irresponsible exposure of information that has been gathered about US citizens would be a violation of (Director Comey’s and Director Rogers’) sworn duty. At the same time they are duty-bound to protect US citizens, they are duty-bound to investigate people, both native and foreign, respectively.

This is no simple task.

Even though I managed, in the several hours I listened to all this, to mix 1360 pounds of concrete and place it strategically it in the ground in my yard, this labor that I did was far easier, I concluded, than the task that has been appointed to Directors Comey and Rogers.

To those two public servants, I am moved to say:  Thank you, gentlemen, for your service.

I did, nevertheless, notice a pattern developing in all this Congressional enquiry that flooded my earbuds as I labored through the day.

The Directors’ hesitant refusals to answer all questions were frequently preceded and/or followed up by lengthy statements from the Representatives who were questioning them.

At first, I thought this was just the politicians grandstanding, running their mouths to convince the public of their eloquence in the grave matters of national security.

By the end of the day, however, I had figured out that the Representatives were using the public forum to inject information from their own research into the public record. This too, is important.

I see it as public education, much more important than, say, how bathroom assignments are administered in public schools.

For instance,

Rep. Andre Carson says “There’s a lot at stake here for Russia.”

I’m paraphrasing Rep. Carson’s message here.  He went on to explain . . . This is big money, lots of implications.  If they (the Russians) can legitimate their annexation of Crimea, what’s next? Are we looking at a new ‘iron curtain’? . the United States, as leader of the free world, is the only check on Russian expansion. . . At the Republican convention in July, Paul Manafort, Carter Page and Trump himself changed the Republican party platform to no longer arm Ukraine. So, the same month that Trump denied Putin’s role in Ukraine,   Trump’s team weakened the party platform  on Ukraine, and . . . this was the same month that certain individuals in the Trump orbit held secret meetings with Russian officials, some of which may have been on the topic of sanctions . . . this is no coincidence in my opinion. . .

Now  is there something to this, does it even matter, does this amount to a hill of beans in all the gigabytes of data streaming across cyberworld . . . I’m wondering? while mixing my concrete.

And here’s another sample of the Committee’s exchange:

Rep Frank Lobiando: . . .if you can describe the use of Russia’s active measures during the campaign. . .

Rogers: So we saw cyber used, we saw the use of external media, we saw the use of disinformation, we saw the use of leaking of information, much of which was not altered, . . . release of cyber-information

And yet another random snippet:

Rep. Jackie Speier:

“You know, I think it’s really important, as we sit here, that we explain this to the American people in a way that they can understand it. Why are we talking about all of this?”

Thanks for asking, Jackie. I understand a little more than I did five hours ago, but I’m just one sand grain on the shores of America.

Meanwhile, I got something done today on the old homestead.

Concret1

And I must conclude that we’ve made some progress in our relations with the Ruskies since I was a kid in the early 1960’s. Back then, the big question was whether they were going to blow us to smithereens with nuclear bombs!

It seems we’ve come a long way since then. Maybe our peace-seeking has something to do with demolishing that infamous wall over in Berlin, the one where President Kennedy said “Let them come to Berlin. Ich bin ein Berliner,” and later President Reagan said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

In this life, there is a time for tearing down, and there is a time for building, and there is a time for listening, and a time for trying to figure a few things out while while listening and while building or tearing down, as the case may be . . .

Concret2

This has been going on a long time, but now, in modern times, the stakes are higher with all them nukes in the ground somewhere.

Be careful, gentlemen.

Glass half-Full

An Ambassador On Point

February 16, 2017

President Trump went to our Capital city with an intention to drain the swamp.

Good luck with that. However, if I’m not mistaken, the swamp in that Chesapeake area was drained at about the time President Washington took office, over 200 years ago, and Congress decided to build us a Capital in that environs.

Now two weeks into the Trump administration we already see some rearrangement of the chairs from which our multi-layered  executive branch of governance will administrate.

With Gen. Michael Flynn’s resignation as National Security Advisor, all the media talking heads were abuzz  yesterday with speculation about what this early switcheroo means for the future of our  security and national defense. Trump’s  shoot-from-the-hip  leadership style seems to impose on his nascent administration a wild wild west kind of drama upon which the media talking heads thrive.

In order to gain some comprehension of what is happening on that national security front,  I, citizen, was listening on my radio yesterday to Tom Ashbrook’s  NPR talk-show On Point.

   http://www.wbur.org/onpoint

Host Tom’s introduction of his 2/15/2017 guests included a few words about William Burns, who is President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.   

That mention of the Carnegie Endowment triggered a 2015 memory in which I had been walking along Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, DC. On that summer day, I had snapped this pic:

CarnegEn

I suppose I had thought to  take this picture because the  legacy of Andrew Carnegie in our national development has, for a long time, fascinated me. His work as an immigrant industrialist turned out to be a fulcrum in our  exceptional westward continental expansion. Carnegie’s role, in later life, as a generous philanthropist is legendary.

So Ambassador William Burns’ role as President of that Carnegie foundation for peace got my attention. Furthermore,  I found Mr. Burns’ comments to be informative and well-delivered.

I daresay it was the voice of experience glinting through in his cogent analysis that lent authenticity to Ambassador Burns’ observation.  William Burns’ former role (2005-08) as Russian ambassador certainly lent to his perspective a readily identifiable authenticity on the currently hot topic of Russian influence in our internal affairs. It seemed to me his perspective is not that of your run-of-the-mill inside-the-beltway pontificator, but rather, a truly informed opinion.

Our former Ambassador to the Russian Federation said,

“New administrations typically try to do a couple of things early on. The first is reassure your allies and partners, and the second is to sober your adversaries. What we’ve seen in less than a month is almost the opposite of that, creating a fair amount of unease among allies and unnerving partners, while at the same time giving adversaries and potential adversaries the sense that there are opportunities out there.”

After hearing this, and listening to yesterday’s On Point discussion, I visited the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace website. I read there an Op-ed letter written by William Burns that the New York Times had published on Jan. 7.

In the letter, he describes Vladimir Putin as a leader who is playing rough.

He observes that Putin has sought a deferential government in Kiev while grabbing Crimea and trying to provoke a dysfunctional Ukraine.

Vladimir is flexing Russia’s military muscle in Syria to preserve Assad’s brutal government, thus emasculating the West by making us appear conciliatory. The Assad/Russian brutality forces  many war-displaced Syrians to flee toward Europe and the West. Putin’s  Assad-boosting military adventure thus spawns the infamous emigration that destabilizes those countries to which the Syrian refugees flee.   Putin  exploits this ongoing destabilization  by striving to  replace, by strong-arm intimidation, European instability with Russian power.

This scenario becomes evidence of our need to maintain our “absolute commitment to NATO.” William Burns writes, “Our network of allies is not a millstone around America’s neck, but a powerful asset that sets us apart.”

I agree with this statement. American alliances based on shared values and principles that cultivate liberty do set us apart from the  bullies of the world–the historical ones such as Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Pol Pot, Castro, Chavez etc, but also those dictators who may be lurking in the world today, waiting for an opportunity to pounce on weakened nation-states.

Ambassador Burns served in Moscow as our Ambassador during 2005-2008. He  expresses respect for the Russian people and their contributions to Western civilization. But he warns that Putin’s aggressive tactics must be countered with American firmness and vigilance. We Americans should remain confident in our enduring strengths, and unapologetic about our values.

Our values call for, I remind you, government of the people, by the people and for the people.

Not power plays by bullies.

Glass half-Full

BRICs in search of mortar

October 1, 2015

When Pat and I were raising our three kids we attended at least 12 graduations that I can remember.

The first round of matriculations came after each one completed kindergarten. Those first three ceremonies were joyous events for us young parents.

The next round was celebrated after each child finished 8th grade. With educational goals moving right along, we were again so very happy, as were the emerging adolescents.

The high school ceremonies were, of course, a biggie, in all three instances. Each young scholar’s participation signified, within those symbolic processions, certifiable progress toward educational and life goals.

The crown jewels for our young adults and for us proud parents were the three college graduations, with one at Duke and two at University of North Carolina.

What a grand preparation for our offspring in their proficiencies to go forth in technified 21st-century world!

In every one of those symbolic processions through which our young ones paraded with their classmates up to a podium where they received diplomas, very graduate had a flat item mounted on their head. Hanging from that flat item was a tassel.

The mortar board.

Each young person sauntered forth into our world of work, information and progress, with a mortar board upon their head.

What is a mortar board?

In the oldest sense of this phrase, a mortar board is a flat, hand-held board; it is used to carry a small amount of mixed “mud” (mortar). The actual mortar board, in the real world of constructing walls and buildings, has, attached to it on its underside, a hand-sized vertical handle that enables the bricklayer to carry the board and its mortar payload easily. The worker can then move from one position to the next while carrying an amount of mortar suitable for efficient work in   joining masonry blocks and/or bricks together as a constructed wall.

In the symbolic universe of education, however, a “mortar board” upon the graduate’s head signifies that the person is equipped to build structures of a different kind.

With the competencies acquired through education, the graduate can, metaphorically, build progress, prosperity, businesses profitable or non-profit,, institutions, knowledge bases, etc.

I was thinking about the mortar board this morning. I was considering its meaning as a symbol, as I have just explained to you. . . but also as an actual implement of constructive work in the real world of building houses. My thirty+ years in construction provided many occasions in which I literally carried a mortar board for hours at a time, while constructing house foundations.

Then this morning, while reading about some new developments in the world of finance and investments, I thought about mortar boards of the metaphorical meaning, which is why I write to you now. There is something interesting going on in the world now, pertaining to mortar boards.

What I read that is so fascinating is an article that I came across in an online news source, Deutsche Welle, that I had never seen before today:

http://www.dw.com/en/brics-nations-launch-new-bank-currency-pool/a-18574402

I gather from reading it that the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) are gathering resources to fund an investment bank for purposes of financing infrastructure in their countries and also in the “emerging” countries.

If this banking alliance is successful, there will be in the future at least a certain amount–if not a huge amount–of divergence from those countries’ heretofore dependence on the West’s (USA, German, British, French) banking powerhouses, not to mention their central banks and international largesse like IMF and so forth.

I mean, there it is right there in the pic on the Deutsche Welle site: Putin of Russia, Modi of India, Xi of China, Rousseff of Brazil, gathered with many other national leaders in Ufa, Russia to lay foundations for the BRICs to get new “mortar” supplies for laying their necessary infrastructures in days to come.

Watch out, WallStreet!

Watch out, City!

Your days of hegemony in world finance and dollar dominance may be numbered.

These (formerly-called) Developing nations are now in the forefront of development and they need tools for constructing their infrastructure-deficient economies.

Wall Street’s obsession with high-frequency trading and risk-averse bubbly speculation is becoming more and more irrelevant in a bold new world of expanding overseas financial needs– Markets that are populated by young people–far more young people demographically than we have here in the good ole US of A.

Millions of young people with mortar boards in their hands and on their heads, applying for money mortar to construct sturdy infrastructural walls in which their own institutions will supply credit and new opportunities to initiate and develop new wealth.

Not old Western wealth recycled.

King Dollar, step aside! The handwriting for national developments across the world is on the wall. You are being challenged by the 4 R’s: rubles, rupees, reáls, renminbi and probably eventually SDRs.

Better read what those hands are writing on their freshly-mortared walls!

 

Glass half-Full

Them Russians are so misunderstood

September 21, 2014

I don’t understand Russia. Churchill called the country a riddle inside a mystery wrapped in an enigma. Many of us Americans and Europeans who grew up during the Cold War agree with his assessment. Winston was, you know, right about a lot of things.

Russia is a complicated place; it’s probably as complex as it is big. One fact that is, however, very simple about Russia: it is very cold there, dangerously cold.

Recently, I read Helen Dunmore’s excellent novel The Siege,

http://www.amazon.com/The-Siege-Novel-Helen-Dunmore/dp/0802139582, which is a story about the gruesome ordeal suffered by the the people of St. Petersburg (aka Leningrad, Petrograd) during the winter of 1941.  Hitler had broken his pact with Stalin and then sent the army of the Third Reich to surround the city and starve its residents to death.

It was terrible time, tragically fatal for thousands of people. I would not want to wish such misery and hunger as Helen’s story describes, on anyone. To have survived such a winter as that one in Russia is beyond my comprehension. I don’t understand how the Russians who did survive did survive. I don’t even understand why human beings would  live so far up north.

As I was saying, I don’t understand Russia.

In 1917, right in the middle of a damned world war (the first one), the Russian Bolsheviks deposed the czar, instituted a revolutionary communist government and began the long, torturous process of trying to restructure, from the ground up, the government and administration of the largest country in the world.

Although their program of godless communism was fundamentally flawed because it was too idealistic, they might have made a go of it if it hadn’t been for one very cruel, heartless dictator, Josef Stalin.

Later on, in 1956, after both world wars, and after Stalin had died, Nikita Khrushchev initiated the process of thawing Russia out of its brutal gulag-ridden Stalinist icepack straightjacket. Khrushchev skittishly let it leak out in 1956 that yes, indeed, Stalin and his secret police and party goons had been inflicting terrible crimes against the people of Russia for the last twenty years or more. And Khrushchev seemed to be signaling that they should to do something to eliminate, or at least correct, the systemic horrible abuse that Russian leaders were inflicting on their own people, not to mention the Ukrainians, Poles, Latvians, Lithuanians, Czechs, Hungarians, Romanians, Moldovans, Kamchatkans and God-knows-who else, and  oh yeah, the East Germans.

Speaking of the East Germans, during that time, the 1950s and 1960s, the Russians, under their hyped-up mantle called Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, were throwing their newfound weight around there in the eastern (Soviet-occupied after WWII) part of Germny. The Soviets were trying to run the place after The Allies had divvied up the territories formerly terrorized by those contentious Third Reichers.

A few years went by and our President Kennedy visited Berlin and told the citizens there “Ich bin ein Berliner!” which meant, figuratively speaking, that all the world was watching you swarthy Ruskies since you went and built this obscene wall around Berlin (long story) and we did not like it (paraphrasing) one damned bit!

By n by, after another twenty or so years went by, US President Reagan came along, visited Berlin  and updated the saga of the Berlin Wall by publicly demanding that “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

Then after a few more years, in 1989, the wall did come down. Praise God! And also a thank you to Mr. Reagan, for his bold challenge, although we do understand it wasn’t entirely his doing that the Russians decided to take his advice. It was a great line though: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” We could use some of that spunk these days, like Mr. ISIS, tear down your . . . caliphate!

After that, the Russians did undertake the sticky business of tearing down their “evil empire.”

Now if we ever dismantle our own abusive reprobations maybe we can have some real peace and freedom. Good luck with that.

Now fast forward to 2014. We’ve got new mystery Russian, Vladimir Putin. Now there’s an enigmatic guy. You betcha. What the hell is he up to?

I certainly don’t know. (I do not understand Russia.) But I do seem to remember this: the Russians have had a naval base at Sevastopol since. . . forever? There’s no way in hell that NATO should presume to abscond it. As far as this American is concerned, they can have the place, if that’s what a majority of the Crimeans choose. As for the Russian-speakers in eastern Ukraine, whadya say we just convince all parties concerned to have another referendum about the East Ukraine situation, this time internationally supervised.

Now I want to end this thing on a positive note. Although I do not understand Russia, I do understand music. I feel it.

To fully grok this, let’s  harken back to the year 1909; that’s when the Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff wrote his amazing Piano Concerto No. 3.

I do understand how a man could create such an intricately woven musical opus. Yes, I understand it about as well as I can understand Russia. This piece of music boggles my mind.

The pianist is Olga Kern, 2001 winner of the Van Cliburn prize (among her many triumphs.) Watch her lively treatment at the Steinway while conductor James Conlon propels his skilled musicians through Rachmaninoff’s delicate blending of strings, horns,  and of course piano,  evoking lush orchestral harmonies that modulate back and forth between soft and strong on a colorful tapestry of raw, though exquisitely channeled, Russian passion.

Performed by an American orchestra! The Fort Worth orchestra. Who’d have thought a bunch of Texans could so tenderly interpret a Russian’s music! Watch the musicians’ faces. To witness their polished performance is to behold a work of visual art in progress. I think these people do understand Russia! Or at least that one particular Ruskie, Sergei Rachmaninoff.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AapjpeqmviM

If you’ve got 43 minutes to listen or watch the Rach 3, you will be amazed as I was. When you see/hear Olga pounding out the last four minutes of the piece, you will understand what the Romantic movement in music was all about. (It’s much more potent when viewed from the musicians’ perspective than what you see in the movies.)

Smoke

Fear and Posing in Crimea

March 23, 2014

Talking heads and journalistic birds,

bobbing in Black Sea swells on Crimean words,

launch up their blustery speculations now

on Putinistic confrontations, and how

the old bear’s been backed into a corner, no wiggle room, no loans,

as the world squeals sanctionistic noise  and diplomatic moans;

so the West draws its red line in the sands,

no more Ukraine for you Mister Putin; here it stands.

 

Gone is former glory of the Russian realm,

now no czar, no Lenin, nor Stalin at the helm.

We dismembered their Soviet empire back in ’89;

then thinking it some victorious Kapitalistic sign,

we assumed they’d just get it in the blinking of an eye:

the Kapitalist manifesto and the democratic pie–

how to slice it how to dice it– how, in all this Western fiat money

we’d sweeten Ukrainian bread with IMF honey.

 

Now we wonder if it be some ghostly rerun, this acquisition,

a la Sudetan land grab or nineteen thirties Rhineland nazi occupation.

But Putin says t’was nazis who yanked those Maidan’s strings,

‘though we think ’tis from the fount of democracy  hope Ukrainel springs.

Now History repeateth not itself; this is no warmed-over fascist rerun;

rather, its the old desperate Russian bear, brandishing his post-glasnost gun,

because his big Soviet one was unloaded, by Ronnie Reagan.

 

CR, with new novel soon, Smoke

Nikita Khrushchev!

March 16, 2014

On February 25, 1956, in the U.S.S.R, Premier Nikita Khrushchev made a speech that later rocked the world. As he addressed  the 20th annual congress of the Communist International party, a frigid straitjacket of ruthless Stalinist tyranny that had ruled the Soviet Union since the early 1930’s began to thaw. Khrushchev’s admission of Stalin’s paranoid crimes while terrorizing the Soviet world initiated a loosening of Russian rulership that wasn’t fully realized until 1989.

This turnaround had been a long time coming. Khrushchev’s revelation of Stalinist-era abuses exposed terrible events and purges that had happened over the last twenty years.  Rumors and unconfirmed reports of torturous cruelties had, from time to time, glinted through the iron curtains of Soviet secrecy. Confirmed communists across the world had fallen into the habit of  awkwardly denying the Party’s murderous mistreatment of its subjects.

In spite of the enormity of his exposé, the dutiful Premier was striving to keep this volatile information under wraps. The comrades to whom Khrushchev was admitting these extreme violations of Marxist-Leninist doctrine were delegates who were ruling the communist world. This speech was supposed to be an internal secret!

Thanks to the Israeli Mossad, (according to David Horowitz in his autobiography Radical Son) the explosive contents of the Khrushchev report got leaked to the world at large. A few months later, on June 4, 1956 the U.S. Dep’t of State released it. The New York Times published it. This revelation rocked the world, especially the world of those diehard communists who had been striving since 1917, in countries all across the globe, to liberate us clueless freedommongers from bourgeois degeneracy and capitalist oppressions.

As the Premier of the USSR had let his comrades in on the dirty little secrets of Stalin, he skillfully wove his presentation of the facts into an ex post facto defense of classical Marxist-Leninist doctrine. The Communist Party line was supposed to have been all about the “People,” and what the “People” could do together to deliver the world from capitalism into (in the sweet by-n-by of proletarian dictatorship) socialist utopia.

Dictatorship of the Proletariat is what Marx and Lenin had called it. Not one-man dictatorship!

But according to Comrade Nikita, Joseph Stalin had managed to wrangle the at-first disorganized, emerging Communist state machinery into–not what the great theorists had designed for it–but a murderous police state, patterned after Stalin’s own paranoia and ruthless control tactics.

Maybe the communist theoreticians should reevaluate their philosophical presuppositions about human behavior. (But that’s another can of worms.)

Nikita Khrushchev, a loyal Party man if there ever was one, had somehow managed to morph into a bold whistleblower, although he wanted to keep his little Molotov cocktail of party revisionism in-house. He wisely discerned that this historical elephant could no longer be concealed in the smoke-filled back room of the Soviet household. And so his argument against reprehensible  Stalinist legacy was presented as an exposé of “the cult of the individual.” 

As an American who was four years old at the time of Khrushchev’s secret speech in 1956, I have, just recently, come to appreciate his innovative willingness to talk about the Stalinist elephant in the salon room of world politics. My present idea of who this Nikita Khrushchev was, and what he was up to, is markedly different from my earliest youthful impression of the man, which was a fuzzy TV news image of a pudgy fellow banging his shoe on a podium at the United Nations while provocating  us yankees with the words, “We will bury you!”

Maybe Nikita was just thinking about starting a funeral home business or something. I don’t know.

This was the same Russian leader who, just two years before his world-rocking secret speech, reportedly “gave” the Crimean peninsula to the Ukrainians, whatever that means. And what’s up with that, I don’t know either but we shall soon find out, after today’s so-called “illegal” election in Crimea, eastern Ukraine.

It seems a little odd to me that any popular referendum anywhere in the world could be condemned as illegitimate by an American President and his Secretary of State. I would think that we Americans, the vanguard of the free world, would be all about elections and referenda. Where’s Jimmy Carter when you need him?

CR, with new novel, Smoke, soon to be published

Kasparov: Freeze Russian assets

March 12, 2014

Listen to this: http://onpoint.wbur.org/2014/03/12/kasparaov-putin-russia-oligarchs-ukraine

Garry Kasparov, Russian grandmaster of chess, says freezing the assets of Russian oligarchs will work against the dictator-wannabe, Vladimir Putin.  The result of such sanctions would be: those men who wield power in Russia’s economy will, with their own wealth at stake, depose or dissuade Putin. They will effectively press the dictator-wannabe into backing off from his  belligerent military occupation of Crimea, Ukraine.

In one of the most informative radio discussions I have ever heard, Kasparov presented his case today to On Point host Tom Ashbrook.

His proposal raises the questionn: do those wealth-wielding Russian oligarchs have the power to compel Putin to do anything, or is it the other way around? Does Vladimir control the captains of Russian business, or do they control him? According to Professor Stephen Walt, this radio program’s other panelist, it is the other way around: Putin calls the shots, not the titans of Russian business.

Host Tom Ashbrook said they were talking about the U.S. using “banks, not tanks” to compel Vlad the Crimealer to back off. This scenario makes sense to me, a curious American citizen who is hoping this confrontations does not escalate to a world war.

Kasparov compared this present situation to what happened between Hitler and the Allies in the 1930s. He contends that German leaders might have been able to stop Hitler from his catastrophic kamph that ultimately ended in World War II, if the Allies had shown strong support for German resistance early on in 1935-1939. The West’s failure to oppose Hitler’s bellicose military occupation of Rhineland, Austria and Sudetanland Czechslovakia is what enabled the furious fuhrer’s diabolical plunge into full-scale war.

Stephen Walt said the comparison to 1930s Hitlerian sabre-rattling was inappropriate. He may be right, but this disagreement got my attention, because I have been researching the pre-war 1930s for my soon-to-be-published novel, Smoke.

Kasparov says that the West’s failure to oppose Hitler early on caused the madman to lose his “sense of danger.” The sense of danger is what what would have (will prevent) prevented the tyrant from becoming a full-blown blitzkrieging maniac. If the present Allies, by some weak tolerance of this Crimean power-move, motivate Putin to cast aside his “sense of danger” in favor of military bluster, there could be, in this listener’s opinion,  hell to pay, as eventually happened in the Europe of 1940. I hope this dispute does not degenerate to such extremes.

Glass Chimera

Chechen up on my Caucasian identity Crisis

April 20, 2013

Ever since we implemented civil rights legislation many and many a year ago, I have had to check a little race box on any kind of application or information form that I’m submitting to some .gov, .org, or even .com entity that wants to know about who I am, and why I am applying for their this/that/orthe/other.  The little box typically asks me to identify my race. A person of my pale pigmentation is expected to check the box  called Caucasian.

And I’m like, whaddup widdat?

What have I to do with thee, oh mountains of Caucasus?

If I chech the Causasian ethnicity, does that identify me as some wild-eyed cave-dweller from the far side of those mountains that the tectonic earth had long ago so carelessly slung up between Black Sea and Prince Caspian?

Surely not! I beg to differ.

On the other hand, if I am being so contentious about such a small box-chechin’ matter, maybe I am a little bit of a Chech.

That is to say: a rebel.

Them doggone Chechens!–can’t do a thing with ’em, as they say in Moscow.

I suppose that in Russia, when the good citizens of that country fill out forms, they are likewise expected to chech little ethnicity boxes, so the bureaucrats in the Kremlin or wherever can know what little categories to place the people in, very much like here in the land of the free and home of the brave, aka Washington SMSA.

Now when I say Chech, I’m not talking about Czechs. Them Czechs are great, especially like, Vaclev Havel. But I must also point out that they too, have a history of not taking any sh-t from the Russians, just like those upstart startups in Boston wouldn’t tolerate any taxation without representation from wiggy ole King George III, back in the day, the revolutionary day, when the Patriots decided to have  a Tea Party.

But that was then, and this is now. We’re all Russians now! Dosvidanya. Reminds me of some old Beatles nonsense, where Georgia’s always on my mind.

Glass Chimera

Any revolution can go one of two different ways

April 3, 2010

About a year ago the local school library gave away a bunch of old books. I toted a goodly collection of them home. Of course there was not a glamourous or impressive title in the bunch–no best sellers, and only one dog-eared classic, the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I hastily set them on a bookshelf in our home.

For a year or more, Khruschev Remembers (1970, Little, Brown &Co, and Bantam) sat humbly on my shelf without comment or protest, even though Nikita was quite a colorful guy who had a quite insistent attitude, back in his day.  He’s the one who took off his shoe and began pounding the podium with it while making a speech somewhere (was it the UN?) in which he proclaimed to America that “we will bury you.”

This Saturday afternoon, I picked the old yellowed paperback up and started reading it.

You have to remember that when someone writes an autobiography, especially if that person is an insider witness to historic events, the cover of that little ole worn-out book is certainly not , as the saying goes, any basis whatsoever for judging the book, or its contents.

Earth-shaking testimonies can lie dormant between tattered covers for years and years.  Here’s one example:

“In essence the New Economic Policy ( Lenin’s revisionist reform of the early 1920s) meant the restoration of private property and the revival of the middle class…The commercial element in our society was put firmly back on its feet. Naturally this was, to some extent, a retreat on the ideological front, but it helped us to recover from the effects of the Civil War. As soon as the NEP was instituted, the confusion and famine began to subside. The cities came back to life. Produce started to reappear in the market stalls, and prices fell.”

This policy, Lenin’s pragmatic response to dire economic circumstances soon after the Bolsheviks assumed power, was controversial among the party faithful. It was essentially an early revision of communist ideology–a reform, displaying resemblance to that  of…Deng Xiaoping?

How different might history have been if Lenin had not died in 1924, only seven years after the revolution? How different might history have been if Stalin had not supplanted Lenin’s pragmatic leadership with his own murderous regime?

In Khruschev’s many critical assessments of Stalin’s legacy, he offers this comparison with another ruthless revolutionary:

“There was unquestionably something sick about Stalin. I think there’s a similar case of this sickness in the present day (Khruschev was writing this in 1970) which should be mentioned. People of my generation remember how the glorification of Stalin grew and grew, and everyone knows where it led. I often see films about China on television, and it seems to me that Mao Tse-tung is copying Stalin’s personality cult.”

So we notice that Nikita Khruschev includes this observation: …”every one knows where it (cultification of Stalin’s leadership) led.”

Yes, most everyone knows it led to harsh, murderous imprisonment of good Russian citizens, and millions of deaths. Read Solzhenitsyn on this.

So anyway I’m reading this today about Russia; but it’s China I’ve been thinking about ever since last summer when I visited there.

A brief look at recent Chinese history reveals a similar situation in the passing of the mantle from one regime (from Mao to Deng in the late 70s) to the next. But the Chinese outcome was, thank God, quite different from the Russian.  Perhaps the Chinese had learned a lesson or two from the brutal mistakes of their Soviet predecessors.

One might almost say that it was a miracle that Deng Xiaoping, the reformist of Maoist China, was able to assume the reins of power after Mao’s death, and lead China into more reasonable directions than those that imposed barbarous punishments in Stalinist Russian.  Deng’s careful transition delivered China’s emerging Marxist society from a tyranny that had been uncannily similar, until it was interrupted, to the abuses that had been forcefully thrust upon the USSR by Stalin’s thuggish legions.

Meanwhile, here in the good ole USA, and back in the day…before Letterman, Leno and those other jokers came crackin’ along, I remember that Johnny Carson occasionally would quip:

“Leon Trotsky lives!”

In my youth, I didn’t understand the comedian’s nuance, but now that I am old, I understand.

Maybe if Trotsky or some other Lenin protege had maneuvered into power after Lenin’s death (as Deng did after Mao’s death), Russia’s history might have been decidedly less bloody.

And actually, Johnny Carson was right, loosely speaking. Trotsky does live. He lives, one might say, in China, and anywhere in the world where planned economies favor progressive reform instead of repressive violence.

That’s something to think about on a Saturday evening as we move inextricably closer to a planned economy, and possibly some hard times ahead.