Leaving aside Isis, Putin and other budding calamities: Are you ready for some football?

To talk about the NFL season kicking off tonight in Seattle along with the rise of ISIS and the ongoing Putin show must seem inappropriate, or at least jarring, but doesn’t it reflect our lives in general?  Most of us live in small worlds of family and friends and jobs and personal ambitions and romantic fantasies and pass times against the backdrop of a large world that most of us give only side long glances to.   We might look longer if we felt we could really understand, but understanding our world seems harder and harder to do.  Actually impossible, so why work hard at it?

The new NFL logo went into use at the 2008 draft.

The new NFL logo went into use at the 2008 draft. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ironic isn’t it?  All of this information we humans have compiled over time and it winds up confusing, not enlightening.   We have a vast catalog of facts at our disposal through the internet, but our ability to integrate it is not much advanced from monkeys pounding typewriters and accidentally forming a word.  We might think we would have  a chance to grab the gist of things if those who proffered the information did not so twist it through some ideology or another.  As is, we have to delve into too much information, while tossing out most of it as tainted.

Still, trying to make sense of things is a human habit as deeply ingrained as breathing and other bodily functions,  so here are a few off hand stabs at making a little sense of a couple of things.    While Putin is skilful at making himself the center of attention with his bad boy antics – most recently pressing for a separate state being carved out of eastern Ukraine, he has no end game as far as I can see.

While it has moved liked molasses in January, the European Union now seems to be willing to back sanctions that should hurt Russia’s economy badly.   In the meantime, Putin will remain the center of attention but gradually Russians  should feel a sharp economic pinch and realize what a loser he is.   It boils down to this:   The Russian economy is roughly two trillion a year – about the size of Italy’s – while the combined American and European economies are over 27 trillion a year, give or take a trillion or two.   Because of the size of the difference, it would only take some agreement on key sanctions among the EU and ourselves to strangle the Russian economy.

Economically, crushing Putin’s bravado is simply a matter of time.

The ongoing  antics of Putin the cunning, ruthless kid are slowly prompting the EU to apply serious sanctions, despite the fact those sanctions will hurt their economies as well.  But at some point enough is enough, to most people if not Putin.

To me, ISIS is the much greater danger because of their combination of religious zealotry with surprisingly effective organization and sophistication when it comes to using technology.  All this supported by billions either grabbed or donated.   Who knows when you might find them at an airport near you?

I continue to find the rapidity of their success startling, but as good as they are tactically, their vicious zealotry, which to them seems a good recruiting tool, as with the two recent be-headings of Americans, is just what it will take to SHAKE UP US AND OTHERS  enough to ban together to stamp them out.

I often hear TV pundits talk about Americans being “war weary”.    Really, what do most of us have to be weary about?   What have most of us sacrificed during the many years of our troops fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq?    We are tired of hearing bad news about the little our investment of life and treasure has wrought, but that is not really being war weary.   That is just the reflection of a people who expect to have our own way with the world.

Having done some volunteer work assisting our troops and their families, I would say those who have really sacrificed, these troops, these families and their friends, have high morale.   They are believers in their sacrifices.

I would say the rest of us aren’t war weary.   We are world weary, weary of a world that is no longer our oyster as it has been throughout most of  my 69 years.  And weary of a national government too polarized to aid in turning the tide.

So, now, are you ready for some football?

The U. S., Russia and Ukraine: Recall the Tortoise and the Hare?

What is happening in Ukraine makes for very tricky, fast moving business and President Obama is right to move carefully even if his public statements seem weak and indecisive.  And yes, even with the Russians publicly stating they will send troops to the Crimean region right after Obama statements about severe consequences if they do so.   Russia already has gained control of Crimea through what one commentator has called a “stealth invasion” as can be inferred from daily news reports.   Linked here is a brief timeline indicating how rapidly events have unfolded over the past 11 days.

Former Ukrainian President Yanukovych was brought down 11 days ago because he nixed an already approved deal with the European union because of economic pressure from Russia, which in turn spurred the protests which prompted the president’s removal and his fleeing east.  Eastern Ukraine has much stronger ties to Russia than found in the capital of Kiev and parts west.  The Crimea region particularly so.   The population is about 60% Russian ethnic background (a majority but not really “most” of the people as I sometimes hear from TV commentators).  Also, the region was actually part of Russia until transferred to Ukraine way back in 1954, a which didn’t mean much as long as the Soviet Union remained in tact.   In addition there are some 25,000 Russians inhabiting a Russian naval base there, which is of great importance to Russia. 

This has made it easy for a “stealth invasion” to occur before Russia got around to declaring they would send in troops to protect its Russian relatives.  They are already well protected.  So, Putin has already won the first leg of this race, which of course the likes of Senator McCain and fellow constant critic columnist Charles Krauthammer will continue to lambaste Obama for, perhaps even drawing a false analogy to Hitler and Munich some time soon.

Here are two of my biases:  John McCain’s first answer to any foreign problem is to get tougher while never complimenting Obama for anything, having never gotten over over losing the presidential race, a position he thought was rightfully his.  Krauthamer loves calling the Obama foreign policy clueless implying that he, General Krauthammer would know just how to react to the burgeoning number of international crises though seldom offering suggestions sufficient to reveal his own cluefullness.   Fortunately, in a recent editorial the wise one actually made a concrete suggestion for a change, that a U. S. fleet should immediately be dispatched to the Black Sea to show we really mean business this time around.   I bet U. S. admirals love that idea.

Leaving aside the basic military concern about placing one of our fleets in what is basically a huge lake with only one narrow entrance/exit….  and the likelihood of ratcheting up tensions with unclear consequences…..What would the fleet do once there?   How would we act tough?  What would cause us to bomb someone or shoot someone down? And if we did, is war with Russia an option?   Oh, we could win a war with Russia.  That is one of our big problems these days.  We have a hugely sophisticated and expensive military that could beat any one in a war, but simply winning wars seldom win the peace anymore.  Just what did winning in Iraq get us? For one, an Iran made stronger as Iraq, its ongoing enemy, disappeared as a counter balance (yes, as evil as Sadam was, he had his uses).  Then there is the “new Iraq”, hardly a friend and experiencing ongoing upheaval which makes it one more source of instability in the region .  And not even any special oil deals.

Let’s punish Putin for this latest move, but slowly like a boa constrictor.  The Obama team can be criticized for being too optimistic about “normalcy” with Russia given Putin being Putin (or “naive” as conservative critics like to put it), but to act like we are back on cold war footing is silly.  We are not about to rattle nuclear weapons at each other, and we do have some mutual interests.  The trick is to craft a policy that has some of the good cop bad cop chemistry found in policing.   Frankly, the Obama administration hasn’t done a great job of this, but getting our relationships with Russia just right is no easy thing to achieve and those eager to act more aggressively would likely muck things up more, i. e. Admiral Krauthammer.

Finally,  let’s think about this:  Time is on our side.  While Putin is parading around for now, Russia is heading towards another economic collapse, which is what led to revolution and the break up of the Soviet Union.   Oil and gas (and maybe something else I can’t recall at the moment) are Russia’s only real exports and the price of both are declining.  This is a result  of new sources being discovered in North America and elsewhere and a lessening world energy demand from developing countries like China, whose growth is slowing. Besides that, only big gamblers want to invest in Russia these days, given the Russian government’s corrupt incursions into the economy.  Russia is not a hot spot for world investment except for big risk takers.

The critics have all sorts of advice for the president in terms of sanctions on Russia, many of them I imagine the government is considering, but can take time to develop.  If military involvement was one of them, time would be of the essence, but it is not.  Sure, Putin continues his string of bows and bragging rights, but his taking such decisive steps in Ukraine may work out in our favor.   This latest power grab will likely make it easier for Obama to rally support for harsher economic reprisals of Russia over time.   And, that could be more powerful than one might expect given that nation’s inherent economic problems.

In any case.  Getting off to a fast start doesn’t necessarily win the race.   Remember the tortoise and the hare?

When the World Gets You Down, Perhaps a Visit from the Dalai Lama Will Perk You Up.

Over two weeks have passed since my previous post.    Seldom am I this slow to return.  It’s not that I haven’t tried.   For example, I spent a few hours working on a piece on immigration reform before I reached the conclusion:  Who cares?  It’s not going to happen anytime soon. In fact, nothing much is going to happen anytime soon in Congress, not until after the mid-term elections in the fall.  And after that who knows?

How to See Yourself As You Really Are

How to See Yourself As You Really Are (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I suffer from  cognitive dissonance between what I sense as reality and what is happening politically.   The reality is we have ever growing problems as a nation while the politics is mostly theatrical posturing, with both parties spinning everything to suit the narrative they want to firmly implant in us by the mid-term elections in the fall.

And, since it seems a given according to the pundits that the House will safely remain in Republican hands, it is all about which side will win the Senate this time around.

But what does this have to do with anything in the real world?   If the Democrats hold the Senate, how will that change anything for the good.  And if the Republicans take the Senate what can that produce beyond more gridlock and even more investigations of the White House through Senate committees with the same inquisitorial zeal of Darrell Issa, Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Issa begins his fact finding missions by declaring something to be scandalous and then tirelessly going about trying to prove his accusations, not interested in information to the contrary.  I haven’t seen him “prove” much of anything, but with all his posturing, he captures a lot of theatrical time propping up the Republican narrative that the Obama administration is both incompetent and untrustworthy.

With so little real going on in national politics, pundits like to concentrate on the 2016 presidential elections, otherwise known as the coronation of Hillary.  I have much respect for Ms. Clinton, but what can any president achieve in today’s deeply divided political atmosphere while facing  a world made mind-boggling complex through economic  globalization tied to instant connectivity to almost everywhere?   It seemed so much more simple in the good old days when our foreign policy was  shaped by the struggle between the evil empire and our white hat wearing selves.

Given a burgeoning chaos in the Greater Middle East and tensions between China and other nations in the Far East who can say what this world will look like in 2016?   International crises seem to be simmering to a boil all over the place.  The Ukraine, Syria, Iran, North Korea come first to mind, and those threats should prompt us to come together, but instead act as  more grist for political theater.    In terms of unity, the best our government  can do is keep the doors open for business by passing a budget for a change and not precipitate untold economic harm  by a refusal to raise the debt ceiling, which would have left  the world’s “full faith” in our stability further diminished.

You might be asking at this point:  Where does the Dalai Lama fit into this?   Well, given what I have written, you can see why I would love to get a fresh perspective on the world’s problems.  To my surprise, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a generally respected conservative think tank (in contrast to Heritage Foundation) apparently has felt a need to get a fresh approach, too, as they recently “hosted His Holiness the Dalai Lama for two remarkable conversations about human happiness, economics, and the moral core of free enterprise.”

I could use a boost from a remarkable conversation.   Care to join me at this link?