Posts Tagged ‘Russia’

Prague

June 21, 2017

A decade and a half ago, I took a few post-baccalaureate courses at our local university, Appalachian State. I had some educational strategies in mind. Those plans didn’t really pan out. Nevertheless, what I learned at that time sharpened some research skills that had been dormant in me since I had become a worker bee many years prior, in 1977.

In one education course that I took, we learned about a strategy called Compare and Contrast.

In the  years since that phase of life I have found Compare and Contrast to be a helpful idea when describing any two things.

In this case, I apply the method to two periods of time that are described in a book that I am presently reading. Under A Cruel Star, A life in Prague 1941-1968 was written by Heda Margolius Kovaly, and published in 1986 by Plunkett Lake Press of Cambridge MA.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Under_a_Cruel_Star

HedaPrag

The book is biographical; its focus is on one period in Heda’s life in post-war Prague, after we Allies had run the Nazis back into their holes.

Heda Margolius Kovaly was so fortunate to be a survivor–an escapee, no less– of the Nazi concentration camps;  Her book of which I write, Under a Cruel Star, begins with a harrowing account of her ordeal in sneaking out of the concentration camp at a time when the war was not yet over  then laying low as she slinked through Poland into the Czech lands and at last managed to sneak into  into her home city of Prague.

When she got to the city, Heda found the whole place bound up with Nazi paranoia. Which is to say: the Nazis were paranoid of losing what they thought they had conquered. At the same time, the locals–the Czechs and Slovaks–were still paranoid because that’s all they had known for the last six years.

After a while, the the Russians came in and “liberated” the place. Thank God.

But they had big plans for eastern Europe–Communist plans.

In the late 1940’s, the Soviets moved all their control-freak gear and Party personnel into the eastern European nations, including Czechoslovakia, Heda’s home country. In Soviet-controlled Prague, Czechoslovakia, the bossy Russians and their local Czech lackeys slowly and insidiously came to  dominate every aspect of life, with an intent to show the world how Communism, as prescribed by Marx, Lenin, Stalin et al, could be be accomplished.

Long story short, they made a big frickin’ mess of it.

Heda Margolius Kovaly and her husband were right there in the middle of all of it in the early days of Czech communism. Rudolf, her husband was appointed to an important job, a real plum of a job, as a project chief in the Ministry of Foreign Trade.

In her personal story, Heda gives an account of how Russian hegemony became more and more secretive, abusive, and cruel after the Communist coup in ’48. People were desperate for some kind of rebuilding of life, and they paid dearly for their willingness to accept the Soviet prescription for a better life. But it did not work out that way. 

The flaws in Communist ideology drove Czech life into a real dead end. Instead of life getting better for all the good comrades, life in Prague got worse and worse under the enforced Soviet regime. Heda  raises the question of how. How could the Czechs and others in eastern Europe have been so gullible and vulnerable to the force-fed communism?

The main reason these people had been rendered so vulnerable to Russian control and abuse is this: they had been extremely traumatized and debilitated by the incredibly oppressive, cruel Nazi occupation from which they had been liberated. Furthermore, on that side of Europe, the Russians were the liberators; they ran Hitler’s armies back into their holes. In that first  year of occupation, 1945, they were heroes.

After the war and all that life-shattering chain of events, the people of eastern Europe were worn out, broke, busted and disgusted. For the Russians, these people were easy pickin’s, with their hands stretched out, desperately seeking help and some resources to rebuild their cities and infrastructures.

And looking for somebody to tell them what to do, since they were still in a kind of wartime shell-shock.

But Russians came in with an agenda. It’s called communism. And the Ruskies did not have a lot of trouble getting these desperate people cranked up on a little Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist indoctrination. Power pounces on  a void.

Tank

Why were the people of eastern Europe so vulnerable to Soviet hegemony?

Part of Heda’s postwar explanation goes this way:

“Usually, the reasoning went something like this: if for purposes of building a new society, it is necessary to give up my freedom for a time, to subsume something I cherish to a cause in which I strongly believe, that is a sacrifice I am willing to make. In any case, we are a lost generation. We all might have died uselessly in the camps. Since we did survive, we want to dedicate what is left of our lives to the future.

“This streak of martyrdom was stronger that was generally understood. People felt chosen by destiny to sacrifice themselves, a feeling that was reinforced by a strong sense of guilt that characterized many who had survived the camps. Why was I alive and not my father, my mother, my friend? I owed them something. They had died in place of me. For their sake I had to build a world in which this could never happen again.

“This was where the misconception lay: in the idea that communism was the one system under which it could never happen again. Of course we knew about the communism of the thirties in the Soviet Union, but that was an era of cruelty that had ended long ago, the kind of crisis out of which all great change is born. Who today would condemn democracy for the Terror of the Jacobins after the French Revolution?

“The most eagerly embraced belief of the time was that no national or racial oppression could exist under communism . . .”

A couple of pages later, Heda arrives at this assessment:

“It was an insidious process and as old as the world. Had it not been for the war and the overwhelming need for change, we would have seen through it easily.”

Now here is where the Compare and Contrast (that I mentioned earlier) comes in.

That naive willingness to accept the communist game plan was in 1945, immediately after the trauma and desperation of the war.

Let’s fast-forward to 1952, after the Communist Party had been been running their postwar recovery show in eastern Europe for about seven years, and after Heda’s husband, Rudolf, a dedicated, very intelligent, workaholic apparatchik of the State had suddenly been arrested and imprisoned without explanation, without trial, and without any indication of where he was being held, or how long he would be detained, or when he might be released.

In her darkest days of disillusionment with the dysfunctional state of the State, in the grip of despair over the unsure fate of her imprisoned husband, Heda begins a chapter of the book by providing this description of what Czech life had become:

“Life in Prague. . . had acquired a totally negative character. People no longer aspired toward things but away from them. All they wanted was to avoid trouble. They tried not to be seen anywhere, not to talk to anyone, not to attract any attention. Their greatest satisfaction would be that nothing happened, that no one had been fired or arrested or questioned or followed by the secret police. Some fifty thousand people had so far been jailed in our small country. More were disappearing every day.”

Compare Heda’s postwar description of the the Czechs’ willingness to accept Russian hegemony– when the liberated people were compliant to help bring in the communist agenda for rebuilding the nations– Compare it to her description of how things actually turned out seven years later.

You’ll find a big difference there, a huge contrast, like the difference between day and night.

But here’s the good news. In 1989, the peoples of eastern Europe–Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Slavs and others, cast off the chains of Soviet domination, and the light of liberty began to shine again.

We need to help them strengthen the good that was gained in 1989.

Smoke

A simple act of kindness goes a long way

June 12, 2017

“Encountering human kindness such as that became the highlights of my otherwise dreary existence.”

These words were spoken by a man who had spent eleven years imprisoned in a Stalin-era Russian gulag. The act of kindness of which he speaks was something very small, but very important. In 1953, a young woman doctor who was working in the prison smuggled in a blank postcard, then passed it secretly to a prisoner, Roland Gottlieb, so that he could send a message beyond the prison walls to his wife and three daughters.

By that time in 1953, Roland’s wife, Ruth, had already spent more than eight years waiting for her husband to be released from the political prison. During those years she didn’t even know if he was alive or dead. It was a very long period of terrible anguish for her and for their  three daughters, as they lived from day to day wondering where the hell  Poppa was, or if they’d ever see him again.

Hell on earth it must have been for them, and for him.

For Poppa, who endured not only cruelties, near starvation, physical abuse and the frigid Siberian weather, the worst part was not knowing anything about his family, not knowing where they had ended up after he was taken prisoner by the Russian army in Bulgaria, not knowing if the girls even knew what had become of him, not knowing if he would live to ever see them again, not knowing anything except the day-to-day hell-on-earth of captivity in Stalin’s gulag.

Then one day a brave doctor’s willingness to risk her own career and safety made it possible for Roland to at least send a few words–a long-overdue update– about his location and condition (alive) to his loved ones.

Here’s a cover pic of Ruth, to whom the secret postcard was addressed, and to whom the card was delivered, four months after it was mailed.

LivesDiv

  https://www.amazon.com/Lives-Divided-family-apart-Russian/dp/1490404236

You can read more about this long ordeal of separation in Birgitta Gottlieb McGalliard’s autobiographical memoir, Lives Damaged. It’s a good book about the first eleven years of her life, which happened to be the same eleven years that her father was in prison, simply because he was (doing his duty as a German diplomat protecting war refugees)  in the wrong place (Sofia, Hungary) at the wrong time (when the Russian army took over the place) in 1944.

Birgitta was born a few months after her father was hauled to a Soviet prison in Siberia. She never even saw her father, never even touched him, until she was eleven years old. And when she did finally see him, and hug him, and at last get to talk to him and get to know him, she asked him some questions about the bad people he had encountered  in prison. And he spoke to her and to the family about the bad people there, some of them prisoners and some who were staffers. But then he said:

“Just as these blatnois were bad, I found equally many if not more ‘good’ Russians, like the young female doctor who took pity on me when I was in the punishment camp after the Vorkuta Revolt in 1953, where writing was strictly prohibited. She smuggled a postcard to me so that I could write home. She could have been severely punished if she hand been caught. If it hadn’t been for her kindness, you never would have received that first postcard from me.”

That “first postcard,” when it finally was delivered, was a major milestone, a turning point in the life of their family.

That major milestone was made possible by a very small, seemingly insignificant act of smuggling a postcard in and out of the prison, and yet . . .

Later, after his release in 1954, looking back on it and trying to capture an explanation of it all for his daughters, Roland Gottlieb said:

“Encountering human kindness such as that became the highlights of my otherwise dreary existence.”

Kindness stands out. Its effects go far beyond the pale.

The milk of human kindness–it goes a long way toward the healing of the nations, and the healing of people whose suffering is a consequence of the injustice and evil that men do to each other throughout history. A brave doctor’s small act of postcard benevolence, along with a few other small deeds like it, is what  enabled the prisoner to hang on to a thin thread of hope. It’s what he remembered more vividly than anything else about what happened in his eleven-year gulag nightmare: Kindness from a brave soul whose courage to act enabled him to cross a bridge from perpetual discouragement to newfound hope.

It’s no wonder that Paul, the 1st-century itinerant Christian messenger, included kindness in his lists of the “fruits” of our Creator’s Holy Spirit.

Kindness. You can beat it, but you can’t defeat it.

Smoke

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