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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

www.NationalView.org's Note From a Madman

August 25, 2008


Yeah, I know that the Democratic National Convention is going on as you receive tonight's Note From a Madman, but I wrote it already. So here it is. -NG

A Real AP Headline

Bernanke: Financial crisis taking toll on economy

It never ceases to amaze me how these people are charged with running the most important economy in the World. How is it that just now the head of the Federal Reserve Bank realizes that we are having a crisis in our economy? Look at Bernanke's statement below, as reported by the Associated Press:

"Although we have seen some improved functioning in some markets, the financial storm that reached gale force" around this time last year "has not yet subsided, and its effects on the broader economy are becoming apparent in the form of softening economic activity and rising unemployment,"

So much for George W. Bush's and John McCain's belief that the economy is "fundamentally sound."

Each and every one of us in the US middle class knows all too well what Bernanke is speaking of when he speaks of the hard times ahead. However, what the elitists in the Bush administration, and the McCain camp a well, don't realize is that we've (us middle-classers) been living this way for the better part of seven-plus years. There is no way out of it for us because there is no one making the decisions based on our needs, Bernanke, and his predecessor Alan Greenspan, included.

You see, those in charge of our economy don't look at that economy something which needs to be controlled by all members of our economic society. It is their belief that only the very few need to worry themselves with the day-to-day operation of that which affects us all. Our dollar is merely another economic tool for them while, for us, it's the hard currency which we pay our bills; purchase our groceries; and pony up medical insurance with.

I forget the move I was watching when I heard this line:
MAN 1: Why would you want to go into politics? You're already a multi-millionaire.
MAN 2: Politics - Now that's REAL Money.

Our "leaders" don't get it that it's the middle class who truly drive the economy. Putting money into our hands is the only true way to keep the wheels going at a pace which can sustain everybody.

The thinking of the Party of Diminished Responsibility is that by making sure those at the top not only stay there, but flourish we will all benefit. That Trickle Down theory of Economics doesn't work and it was proven so time and time again.

Leaders such as Greenspan and now Bernanke, along with economic advisors like Dr. N. Gregory Minkow who once said, "Outsourcing.... is a good thing," suffer from a condition I call "Market Blindness". They see only what the various markets do; what the Big Stocks accomplish; and the wealth of the very few and estimate our economy on those factors. They don't see those of us near or at the bottom just trying to get through another day.

And it's worse: These guys and gals in the Market Blindness Bubble can't even fathom that we regular people are living this hand-to-mouth life. They talk about savings accounts as if every American has one; they talk about tax breaks as if each and every one of us pays huge sums every April 15; they talk about disposable income as if we have even a small fraction of what they have.

We don't.

So when Ben Bernanke says things like he said above, we all stand there scratching our heads and ask, "What took you so long?"

-Noah Greenberg

by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2008 Journal-Register Newspapers, Inc.

This week, the political battle for the presidency moves into high gear as the Democratic National Convention ends and the Republican National Convention begins.

Meanwhile, another battle is on the horizon–one most Americans over the age of 40 thought was over: a re-vamping of the Cold War with Russia.

Most of the war talk by President Bush and the men who would replace him–Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama–has centered on Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. Bush remains eager for war with Iran, even as, on August 22, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced a time line for troop withdrawal from Iraq. McCain also has made warmongering statements about Iran, while Obama has made his own warmongering comments about Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But events of the past few weeks have brought the specter of America’s former super power adversary back like Marley’s ghost and brought all three men–Bush, McCain and Obama–into agreement: Russia must be stopped.

Russia is no longer the super power it was in the days when Moscow was the pivot of the Soviet Union, which ruled with an iron fist throughout the Communist world.

Today there are few Communist nations left–China, Vietnam and Cuba being the last viable strongholds; democracy felled the Soviet Union with Boris Yeltsin’s bold coup in 1991 which formally broke up the 15 republics that were the Soviet Union, with Russia at its head. The so-called “Glasnost years” of Mikail Gorbachev, from 1985 through 1991, began the move toward democracy in the Soviet Union and also heralded the fall of the Berlin Wall. But it was Yeltsin who formally disbanded the Soviet Union, for good or ill.

The break up of the Soviet Union has been complicated, without question. Democracy has not been won easily or readily by former member states. Vestiges of the old regime certainly obtain, and former Russian president Vladimir Putin, who many consider the puppet master behind current president Dmitry Medvedev, ruled Russia with less than an openly democratic hand.

While inside Russia citizens had mixed views of Putin–many for, some against--in the West, Putin was perceived as having begun to turn back the clock on post-Soviet democracy and the former KGB operative did little to dispel that notion.

On August 8, Russia invaded Georgia, bringing international condemnation, particularly from the U.S.

Georgia was long an independent region and was briefly democratic prior to being subsumed by the U.S.S.R. in 1921. But since 1991 and the breakup of the Soviet Union, Georgia has become one of the most independent of the former Soviet bloc republics. Georgia’s strategic placement, however, has made Russia determined to hold onto the republic whatever way it can: Georgia sits on the southern border of Russia, but is bordered also by Turkey and Armenia. It is also the republic through which oil travels and thus is vital to Russian exportation.

Georgia belongs to the United Nations and the World Trade Organization and recently moved to join NATO. Georgia also eventually hopes to join the European Union.

The skirmishes of recent years under Putin–in 2007, the former president virtually shut down supplies of oil and natural gas to Georgia–reached an escalation point on August 7, after fighting broke out in a region/state within Georgia, South Ossetia, which Russia would like to control and which has tried to secede from Georgia and become independent–with Russia’s support. South Ossetia has been the site of numerous conflicts since Georgia declared independence in 1991. The current conflict began August 7, when Georgia sent troops into South Ossetia to attack pro-Moscow separatists. Russia responded by invading Georgia on August 8. This led to heavy fighting with Georgian forces that spread to another breakaway territory, Abkhazia.

The fighting was so intense that Georgian troops withdrew and Russian forces took control of several areas beyond South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Thus far, despite a brokered peace agreement, Russia has refused to withdraw entirely from Georgia. Human Rights Watch says more than 150,000 people have been displaced and thousands have been killed.

As esoterically internecine as this conflict may sound, it is far from it. Anyone who remembers the first round of battle with Afghanistan in the 1980s–which led to the Taliban takeover--knows that the simmering conflicts between Russia and the U.S. did not end with the break up of the Soviet Union. Detente is not a word in either Putin’s or Bush’s lexicons.

The battle lines have been drawn with allies: the U.S. is Georgia’s ally and American tanks have helped Georgia in the fight with Russia. Meanwhile, Medvedev has declared–as has Putin, who is anything but a silent partner in the current Russian presidency–that the U.S. has imperialist designs on Georgia.

Bush, McCain and Obama have all asserted that the U.S. will take any measures necessary to secure Georgia from Russia, which certainly implies military action if not actually outlining a strategy. Conversely, Russia is determined to help the secession in South Ossetia with a mind to securing not just that region, but the whole of Georgia as well.

Reports vary widely, but many people have been killed on both sides and thousands have been displaced in the fighting. Each side accuses the other of ethnic cleansing and of premeditation. (It does seem difficult to imagine Russia was able to invade Georgia with over 1,500 tanks and 20,000 troops overnight.)

Russia launched air attacks on Georgia from South Ossetia and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili called for help from the U.S.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy brokered a peace plan with Medvedev on August 12, which demanded immediate withdrawal of Russian military from Georgia and South Ossetia and that Georgian military withdraw from South Ossetia while the United Nations worked on a plan vis a vis South Ossetia’s secession.

On August 14, Secretary Rice met with Saakashvili, but did not meet with Medvedev, further antagonizing the Russians. On the same day, President Bush insisted on Russia withdrawing and also alerted both the Air Force and the Navy to prepare for humanitarian relief to Georgia.

Close to midnight on August 22, the Russian Defense Minister asserted that Russian military had withdrawn to pre-fighting boundaries, but CNN reporters assert that there is still a Russian presence within Georgia, particularly near the capital of Tblisi. What’s more, Russia has decided to leave 2,500 “peacekeeping” troops in Georgia, a move decried by both Bush and Sarkozy and which is in contravention of the peace agreement the Russians signed.

There seem to be no winners in this battle seemingly left over from the Cold War. But here are the facts: the U.S. has both U.S. troops and military accouterments in Georgia. (Those *are* U.S. tanks being captured by the Russians on CNN video footage.) But what are we doing there?

Bush called Georgia a “beacon of liberty” in the Caucasus. But what does that mean if the U.S. has refused or at the very least, dragged its politically forceful feet in helping Georgia gain acceptance into NATO? Why does Russia want so badly to keep Georgia out of NATO? And why are the current presidential nominees engaging in this unpredictable battle as if they know what they are talking about when both clearly do not and neither is suggesting anything but force?

Like most Americans of my generation, I grew up with the uneasy detente between the Soviet Union and the U.S. This was back in the days before China had opened to the West or India was anything but the world’s most populous democracy.

But the super power sweepstakes have changed dramatically since the Cuban Missile crisis, and Russia flexing its now-depleted muscle shouldn’t mean very much.

Except it does. Russia is still a very high-stakes player on the international stage and the West badly miscalculates if it perceives Russia to be too small in the game. Russia has the majority of undeclared nuclear weaponry on the planet and Russian black market sales of plutonium and other nuclear weapons has been discussed soto voce–but worriedly–for years now as Russia fails to account for many of its nuclear weapons.

In addition, Russia still commands not merely respect from a large portion of the non-Western and Islamic world, but also has diplomatic muscle to flex with regard to countries like Iran and China.

Enter Poland.

As if the war of words over Georgia were not concerning enough, on August 15, at the height of the Russian/Georgian conflict, the U.S. decided to unveil its plans to have Poland “host” a bevy of interceptor missiles.

Poland agreed to host elements of a U.S. global anti-missile system after Washington agreed to boost Poland's own air defenses. The Bush Administration insists the interceptors and a radar system in the Czech Republic will form part of a global shield protecting the U. S. and its allies from long-range missiles that could in the future be fired by Iran or groups such as al-Qaeda.

Washington has agreed to move a battery of Patriot missiles from Germany to Poland as part of the deal, which would also require about 100 military personnel to operate the system. The Patriot missiles would provide protection against short-range ballistic missiles such as the SS-21 system used by Russia in Georgia, according to the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, a U.S. group that lobbies in favor of missile defense.

Medvedev, already angered by the U.S. involvement with Georgia, was outraged by the move–long-planned, but temporarily on hold–and argued that the missile-shield accord that had been brokered between Poland and the U.S. posed an obvious and imminent threat to Russia, despite U.S. assurances to the contrary.

Moscow threatened retaliatory action against the two former Eastern-bloc nations, both of which have been strongly supportive of Georgia.

Meanwhile, Moscow was not to be outdone and in a quid pro quo, has made a similar agreement with Syria, which announced August 21 it will host missiles for Russia. This announcement followed exactly two days after Moscow claimed Israel was arming fighters in Georgia.

Complicating matters further, Moscow has moved Russian naval fleets into the Black Sea off Georgia.

What’s next?

Diplomacy, diplomacy, diplomacy should be the only words coming forth from Washington. The cowboy tactics of the Bush Administration have met their match in Putin/Medvedev.

What’s necessary now is for McCain and Obama to resist the temptation to run like pack animals with the Bush Administration rhetoric and step away from that dying presidency and assert themselves in a way Bush never has: diplomatically.

The choice of Sen. Joe Biden for Democratic vice-presidential nominee should have signaled a move by the Obama campaign to calm rhetoric, not inflame it. And if McCain wants to distinguish himself from the Bush record, there is no more obvious way than to act diplomatically rather than pledge more military intervention.

Both Obama and McCain have already stepped badly into the minefield of this apparent revisiting of the Cold War. Both would do well to not only re-read the history of that era in which detente was what prevented a nuclear holocaust. They would also do well to revisit the 2004 election which became a referendum on Vietnam, rather than current politics.

Washington has failed American citizens for eight long years under Bush. Whether Russians believe Moscow under Putin and now Medvedev has failed them or not depends on who you ask. But what is certain is that neither the U.S. nor Russia, both in the midst of alarming economic crises, can afford to become embroiled in a dangerous war of words that could escalate readily to real war with Georgia as proxy, given the bellicose nature of both countries’ leaders.

McCain and Obama once again have the opportunity to prove their leadership abilities by attempting to broker detente. Bush won’t do it. The question is, are McCain and Obama any different, or just the same tired, reactionary rhetoric dressed in different suits and the rest of us their unwilling victims?

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-Noah Greenberg