Twas the day before New Year’s and despite wracking my mind, no upbeat year’s end message can I find.   However, I do have a  web site I want to share with you, The Fiscal Times brought to my attention by a reader who sent me a link while saying:   “It is this crap that drives me crazy, and adds further evidence that there really isn’t any difference between the parties after the rhetoric dies.”

He is referring to the 1600 page budget bill Congress passed before heading home for the holidays, which included many late-addition “surprises” hardly anyone noticed before the bill was passed.  The article linked here points out five of them that are head shakers for honest folk whether on the left or right.

The article isn’t long, so rather than me summarize the points I’d rather add a couple of points of my own.  First, despite the outrageous way this bill was passed, I am glad they passed it.  The alternative was to go into next year without a budget and a Republican controlled Congress, including libertarians who seem quite willing to continue to treat the “full faith and credit of the United States” as if it were a pin ball game.

They are so focused upon smaller government they seem not to have noticed the Chinese economy just surpassed ours in size this year and that China has taken various steps to develop currency exchanges that do not hinge upon the American dollar.  Nothing the Chinese would like more than for us to offer further evidence to the world that we have an increasingly unworkable order.

So, I’m glad that budget was passed despite it’s ugly underbelly.

Here is my other point.   While I have run across The Fiscal Times before, I never took a good look at it.  Since I liked that article I began exploring other pieces on the The Fiscal Times web site and found them interesting and not obviously partisan like so many other sites.  In their Statement of Purpose, they claim to be non-partisan, and so far I believe them.

If you do check it out, let me know what you think by replying using the comment link at the end of  all that stuff below.  If you like the site, think of it as a late Christmas (holiday) present.

If not, you can think of me as the Grinch.

Is it Up to Sony to Uphold our Principle of Free Speech?

I don’t think so.

I am going to finish that thought before I come to my senses.  Whatever my posts seem like to you, I weigh and measure a lot while writing them, which is one reason they have become fewer and farther between, as there is so much crisis-type stuff going on politically at home and abroad that the thought of sorting it out paralyses me.

So this time I won’t.  My Christmas present to myself today is to just say something off the cuff about the hubbub in Hollywood and Washington in reaction to Sony pictures cancelling the showing of the Interview, that comedy about the imagined assassination of what’s his name, that pug emperor of North Korea.

You certainly have heard of the cyber attack on Sony which has revealed all sorts of embarrassing information, seemingly in revenge for the movie being made.   And there have been threats of violence if the movie is shown. One way or another the evil source of all this appears to be North Korea.  Kim Jung Fun, or whatever, apparently has taken affront at fantasies of his demise.

Sony is being trashed for succumbing to actions and threats, for giving into this censorship of fear, but for those who see this as affront to the first amendment, I suggest you buy the movie from Sony (about 50 million should do it) and you distribute it to whoever is willing to take it.    Hey, if lots of people want to make a stand on our freedom to show a likely silly comedy (I don’t love Seth Rogan).   Go do it.  It’s a free country.

My thinking is that we live in world gone more wacky each day and to see everything in terms of traditional thinking that says this forced censorship and must be opposed like Patrick Henry with “give me liberty or give me death” is to me a collective jerk of the liberal knee.

Releasing the movie  or not, the damage has already been done when it comes to future movies.   Those who make movies are for the most part in the business of making money and this hack job and threat will likely be enough to make the monied backers think twice about any movie that might prompt a strong to murderous reaction by those who lack the ability to laugh at themselves.

The industry self-censors as a matter of course, as a matter of money, and this incident will be factored in decisions of future films not to make.

For example, don’t expect a remake of the Charlie Chaplin film, “The Great Dictator,” to be reshaped to fit Vladimir Putin.

Russian Economy Collapsing? Merry Christmas Vladimir

In case you haven’t noticed, over the last couple of days Russia’s economy is shaking.   That perked up my day when I learned of it Monday, but I have more sober thoughts since then.

I admit to a feeling of glee when reading that Russia’s Central Bank hiked its interest rates from roughly 10 to 17 per cent, this in the attempt to stabilize the value of the ruble vis-a-vis the American dollar.  The ruble had dropped 50% since January and was dropping more.  That is a radical step to take and, as someone pointed out, its effect lasted about 10 minutes.

Just heard today that Apple is refusing to be paid in rubles along with all of Finland, I believe.  And I imagine that trend continues as I type.  A more detailed account of the events can be found in this Theworldpost piece from Monday.   And there is plenty more out there to Google.

Why gleeful?   Well, I like my beliefs to be validated and have believed Russia’s fragile economy would undermine Putin’s opportunistic foreign policy, while at the same time I did not believe he was another Hitler, only that he was the proudest of Russians humiliated by the weak state Russia had been in after the break up of the Soviet Union.

Now in a much stronger Russia, Putin has welcomed opportunities to push back at the West.  He has never wanted to conquer all of Ukraine, but just to keep it in turmoil, unstable and not a prized Western trophy, and not another Russian humiliation.

I was hoping the sanctions would do the trick, but it turns out the foremost cause has been the drop of oil prices from a high in the summer of $107 a barrel to $50-something now.   Russia’s main source of income comes from its energy sales, and now much of that income is lost.

The contribution of the Obama-led economic sanctions is hard to parse, though not surprisingly Democrats think they helped quite a bit while Republicans think their effect has been negligible.

Whatever,  the good news is Putin should have enough to worry about in keeping his hold on power over the next few months, enough worry that I read he now seems more pliable when it comes to working out some sort of political solution in eastern Ukraine, where Russian supported rebels and government forces continue to battle.

I would like to end this piece on that upbeat note, but feel the need to dampen that enthusiasm because who knows what instability and excesses might arise from an increasingly squashed Russian economy.

Putin just won the Man of the Year award in Russia for the 15th straight year and, though his popularity has slipped a bit of late, it has dropped only a few points to around 80%.  EIGHTY PER CENT!  American presidents tend to reach those upper limits at one point or another, but not for long.

The Russian hunger for revived national pride still seems to outweigh their economic values and, with Putin controlled media continually developing the narrative, this budding economic collapse will be portrayed more and more like a result of Western manipulation of oil markets as well as sanctions, both aimed at destroying Russia.

What will happen, who will Russians blame and how will Putin react?

I am reading a biography of Putin and am struck by a number of points made, like his describing himself as a thug when growing up and his childhood dream to become a KGB agent, while most other Russian boys dreamed of becoming an astronaut.  He often got into fights, and he seems to have suffered from the little-man-syndrome, the need to show he was the toughest guy around to compensate for his small stature.

One childhood friend states:  “If anyone ever insulted him in any way, Volodya (Vladimir) would immediately jump on the guy, scratch him, bite him, rip his hair out by the clump – do anything at all never to allow anyone to humiliate him in any way.” (1)

A little tough guy who refuses to be humiliated and I would add identifies so closely with mother Russia that he takes all slights to the nation personally.   It seems those are traits the Russians love, but how long will they love him if the predicted deep 2015 recession comes to pass.

And how will he react to it all?


(1)  Quoted from:  The Man Without a Face:  The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin, written by Masha Gessen, a Russian-American journalist who lived in Moscow when this book was published in 2012.   Gessen contends that Putin’s rise was largely a freakish accident, a guy who was in the right places at the right times and one so nondescript (“no face”) that it allowed others to envision him to be just what they wanted.

FERGUSON, MISSOURI: Through the Eyes of Charles Barkley

I have gotten a kick out of former NBA basketball star Charles Barkley for many years, as he can be depended upon to say what he really thinks about controversial issues.   Of course, I don’t always agree with him, but I think he always adds something interesting to the conversation.  Most refreshing is he doesn’t tip toe around the hypersensitive issue of race in this country.    He dives right in.

Recently he has weighed in on the shooting in Ferguson of the unarmed teenager Michael Brown, saying that:  “The true story came out from the grand jury testimony,” adding that he was made aware of “key forensic evidence, and several black witnesses that supported Officer Darren Wilson’s story…”

That comes from Yahoo news, but I have read elsewhere that Barkley has said he wants to read the transcript of the grand jury to develop a final opinion.   As also quoted in that Yahoo piece, Barkley said:  “I can’t believe anything I hear on television anymore. And, that’s why I don’t like talking about race issues with the media anymore, because they (the media) love this stuff, and lead people to jump to conclusions. The media shouldn’t do that. They never do that when black people kill each other. “

And the former NBA star  “also called those who rioted after the decision was announced ‘scumbags,’ and said ‘There is no excuse for people to be out there burning down people’s businesses, burning down police cars.’   And “[W]e have to be really careful with the cops, because if it wasn’t for the cops we would be living in the Wild, Wild West in our neighborhoods,” he said. “We can’t pick out certain incidentals that don’t go our way and act like the cops are all bad…. Do you know how bad some of these neighborhoods would be if it wasn’t for the cops?”

A white person saying what I just quoted from Barkley would be figuratively tarred and feathered for being racist.   In a response I read to Barkley’s opinions, he was called an Uncle Tom by some fool whose skin color remains anonymous.   Clearly this, let me repeat, fool is ignorant of Prince Charles’ often citing incidents of racism in the NBA when he was a player.  He often expressed what other black stars like Michael Jordan thought but did not want to say publicly, what with all of the potential backlash.  Barkley didn’t mind taking the flak.  Back then Charles was accused of being a reverse racist by some, but he always had a point or two worth considering, just as he does now.

My quoting Barkley above  does not mean I agree with his opinions completely,  though  I do think each point he raises has some validity.  Just as I think his defense of NFL star running back Adrian Peterson’s beating of his four year old son added a dimension of understanding about what is normal in poor neighborhoods in the south (Barkley said something like if beating kids was a crime all the parents in his neighborhood growing up would be put in prison).

Of course, those on the right welcome Barkley’s recent statements because they fit into their political narrative.  But those of you who have followed this blog for many a month should know by now that much of what is said by those people disgusts me because they are always eager to seize upon anything that supports their narrative of events with little regard for the truth.

While not disgusting me, liberal self-righteousness often called political correctness, regularly irritates me.  What I love about Charles Barkley is he does not care about political correctness or racial popularity.

He simply says what he believes.   And I’m always a willing listener.