The overheated political debate on reducing the United States' astronomical debt has transfixed the world. From an international perspective, the United States - due to the size of its economy and its exclusive ownership of the green printing press - can help the entire global economy right now or plunge it off the cliff.
Two factors are overlooked in the political debate on reducing the national debt, which is fast approaching the mind-boggling figure of $15 trillion, or close to 100 percent of the country's GDP.
First, you do not have to be an elite economist to figure out that even if the Republicans in Congress force President Barack Obama to accept a $4 trillion "deficit reduction" over the next decade, it does not mean that the current national debt will diminish by $4 trillion. It only means that the growth in the national debt will be $4 trillion less than otherwise, but 10 years from now the debt will still be much higher than the current $15 trillion. However, all these calculations may become totally meaningless as reckless policies lead to a global economic and financial collapse.
Norwegian Terrorist Anders Breivik Trained in Belarus Militant Camps
While U.S. news feature information that Breivik purchased ammo from a U.S. supplier, Eastern European feeds are full of details of Breivik's multiple trips to Belarus, changes in his behavior and wealth, and the training he underwent in Belarusian militant camps. In fact, Belarus' tight government regime and active intelligence have served a great purpose this time around. Even though Breivik didn't do anything suspicious at the time, Belarusian KGB kept precise records on Breivik, who was called "Viking" in the intelligence reports.
First time, Anders Breivik visited Minsk on March 4, 2005. He flew Vienna-Minsk-Vienna roundtrip, departing from Belarus on March 11, 2005. At the border, Breivik told customs officials that he came to visit the Vikings' graves. Centuries ago, Vikings went through the region multiple times, and there are indeed multiple ancient graves visited by the Vikings' ancestors. Thus, the first visit didn't trigger any suspicion. It is still unknown whether Breivik visited the graves, but he did investigate Belarus' governance, political structure, and the results of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The tour guides, who chaperoned Breivik in 2005, remember that he was afraid of poisoning with radioactive food products - a normal, they say, tourist behavior for a Western tourist. Now, that the stuff hit the fan, Belarusian KGB looked closer into what Breivik was really doing in their country.
Russian Military Ready to Deploy New Generation Vehicles
The last delivery of conceptually new, "modern" vehicles in the Russian army took place in back-then Soviet Union in 1961!
The information about new Russian "Humvees" became available after the vehicles were shown to the government press, and bloggers hunted down some of the engineers who designed the machines. To kick things off, these are the world's first ground vehicles that can move at 60 miles an hour on cross-country terrain while loaded with people, survive 16 pounds of explosives blowing up directly underneath the carriage, withstand armor-piercing shells and bullets fired from a close-up range, bust through thick walls, and fire ground-air missiles--all at the same time!
The vehicles are protected with ceramic shells and equipped with sophisticated computers and touch-screen monitors that simultaneously control the independent hydro-suspensions, clearance, speed, and weapons. Troops should be able to survive nearly any possible attack on the vehicle.
Just today, Patrick McDonald, First Sergeant in the U.S. Army Reserves, showed me around the Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, WA. While showing off the American striker vehicles and humvees, he mentioned the fact that American weapons and vehicles have significantly evolved since the beginning of the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said, "soldiers' feedback and officers' observations were taken into account to improve the safety and the attack capabilities of the equipment. In contrast, when Soviets were in Afghanistan, they failed to learn from the lessons and upgrade their equipment at all." According to First Sergeant McDonald, the Russians may have hurried up with the new weapons after the 2008 Georgia war, that allowed them to capture several American-made Humvees and realize that today's warfare can barely rely on outdated Soviet tanks.
Discussions on the effectiveness of the Putin-Medvedev tandem started right after the 2008 presidential election and will definitely continue at least until the next one in 2012. Whether such a tandem is good or bad for the country appears to me to be a moot point. Frolov believes it is good for Russia's domestic development while counterproductive with regard to its foreign policy. In my humble opinion, though, even in foreign policy the picture is not necessarily all black: there are some clear white areas as well.
First, when Medvedev became president in 2008 he had practically no experience in international affairs. U.S. - Russian relations were at the lowest ebb since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the new edition of the Cold War was almost there. Worse still, just a few months after the new president was settled in the Kremlin the war with Georgia broke out. At a certain point the situation was pretty close to World War III breaking out. Had Vice President Dick Cheney's proposal to bomb Russian troops in the Roki tunnel linking South Ossetia to North Ossetia succeeded, the consequences would have been horrific indeed.
Frankly, I like Medvedev and wish him every success in the upcoming election. But! Please let us be honest, dear ladies and gentlemen. Do we really believe that a young and inexperienced professor of law was ready to calmly handle this quagmire without strong backing from his mentor Putin?
Excerpts from the July 15, 2011 Moscow Times article by by Andrew Squire "Hot Dogs, Baseball Meet Borscht, Hockey." (Read the full article here).
On the first day of his American history class at the Russian State University for the Humanities, Ivan Ivanov and his classmates had a pop quiz: What comes to mind when you think of America? For Ivanov, a 19-year-old Kazan native with an American stepfather, it was Elvis, Washington, democracy. For his friend, it was baseball and hot dogs.
[Yevgeny Savostyanov, senior vice president of Sistema Mass-Media and deputy chairman of the Society for Russian-American Rapprochement], pointed to history and culture to explain the sustained animosity between the United States and Russia. "There is a profound difference in the histories, cultures and mentalities of our two peoples. At the heart of the American tradition are individualism, initiative and personal responsibility. The basis of ours is paternalism and conformity. This is the reason for the irregular and sometimes aggressive treatment of internal events, when you look at them from the other side," he said.
Troy McGrath, director of the Russian-American Center for American Studies at the Russian State University for the Humanities, or RSUH, characterized Russians' feelings as aspiring to "rivalry" rather than expressing animosity, and chalked it up to a relic of the Cold War. "Russians are still adjusting" to a different world order, he said. Most of the truly anti-American sentiment is generated by the Russian media, McGrath added.
Lozansky, a Soviet dissident who moved to the United States in 1976 before returning over a decade later, offered another explanation: ignorance. He noted that Russians and Americans "don't know what's really going on" in each other's countries. A professor and several students of American studies at Russian State University for the Humanities (RSUH) supported that theory. "I have friends who think America is still full of cowboys and Marines," Ivanov said.
Micromanagement Instead of Leadership: "Manual Control" Goes On as Putin Visits the Site of Cruise Ship Tragedy
Today, Vladimir Putin paid a surprise visit to Kazan - a Russian Volga river town that witnessed the sinking of the river cruise boat that killed nearly 200 and left. Since the tragedy, a few more details on the sinking emerged: the ship was built in 1955, the operator didn't have neither a tourism permit nor a permit to operate the vessel, and the vessel itself was not licensed to even be on the water. All in all, in a normally functioning country (or, as they call it these days, "system") nothing would've happened as the business would've not been operating, tickets would've not been sold, the ship would've not sailed, and no one would've died.
Here is what prime-minister Putin said in Kazan: "Where was the Transportation Agency? Where was the Waterways agency? How could a company without tourist and [ship operating] licenses sell vacation packages and sail? I'm ordering to find the guilty parties and harshly punish them!" For the purposes of clarification - Vladimir Putin is Russia's prime minister and is responsible for the executive branch (which includes Russian Transportation Ministry, Waterways Agency, etc.), so technically, the ultimately responsible party is him. Additionally, according to the Russian constitution, the court is separate from the executive branch (Putin), and technically a judge, not Putin can demand the punishment. Putin also ordered to pay 1 million rubles ($37,000) to the families of each victim, which is a great gesture, but shows that since the insurance system doesn't work, Vladimir is ready for the "manual control" here as well. President Medvedev already offered his two cents on the day of the tragedy, demanding the senior transportation officials to be fired (Ivan the Terrible preferred the beheading...).
How much longer can the country be micromanaged (not lead or governed) by two people? What if both Putin and Medvedev fell asleep at the same time? Would all the ships sink, all the planes fall, and the Russian nation go hungry? True leadership starts with trust and delegation. In fighting the corruption, it was important to consolidate the powers in the early 2000s, however the long-term consolidation (Cuba, North Korea) is not an option for a modern country. Also, the power consolidation in Russia seems to have offered very little in fighting the corruption. If a decade ago Putin's tough talk appealed to Russians and showed promise in the brighter future, today it shows weakness and inability to act, rather than talk. Russia's upcoming elections may be more exciting than many think.
Russia: the Land of Falling Planes, Sinking Ships, and Crumbling Infrastructure
The title of this article is not an over-exaggeration. The YouTube clip--filmed by bystanders yesterday--shows plane AN-24 literally falling out of the sky. Out of 36 people on board, seven people died, others suffered various injuries. The top comment left for the video reads (translated from Russian): "The remains of the Soviet Union are crumbling away, and nothing new is being built. Modernization, innovation, Go Russia! "
When comparing their multi-national country to the United States, Russians tend to pride themselves in a lesser amount of freak accidents and unnecessary deaths, such as shootings in colleges, hostage takings in shopping malls, and armed robberies. However, the sentiment is very different these days. Just in the past month, the world has witnessed two major accidents in Russia - a plane landing half a mile short of the landing strip and killing nearly everyone on board, and a ship sinking--not in the open ocean--but in a river, killing more than half of its passengers. The incidents, overlooked by the Western media, in the last two weeks include more helicopters and planes falling out of the skies, and the debates around Russia's new ballistic missile Bulava, that flies correctly only half of the times--a disturbing success rate if armed with a nuclear warhead. What is happening to Russia?
What if They Gave a Cold War and No One Came? Heritage Foundation Calls for a Stop in U.S.-Russia "Reset" in Light of Russia's Agression
Heritage Foundation's announcement for today's event at the Rayburn House Office Building called for a stop in U.S. - Russia relations reset and read like a "hello" from 1981, a joke, or a political play. It made us wonder - who was the real enemy: Obama or Medvedev? Did the hearing target the White House's new policies towards Russia or actual events in Russia unknown to the common folk? America and Russia have their differences, but come to think of it, United States is currently in three wars (four or five, depending on how you count), and none of those are with Russia! Furthermore, the solid fact generally unknown to the American population might have complicated today's hearings: American military supplies get shipped to Afghanistan via Russian railroads and Russian airspace, and often on Soviet-built Antonov jumbo jets. Drugs harvested in Northern Afghanistan (that is not controlled by the Americans) create catastrophic issues back in Russia and specifically Moscow, where--unlike to Washington D.C.--you can hike to with a backpack from Kabul, Teheran, or Baghdad.
Here at Russia Blog, we will be fascinated to learn the facts and commentary pronounced at the hearings regarding Russia's acts of aggression towards the U.S., and the number of the attendees who came to this fascinating and surreal event.
Time to Pause the Reset? Defending U.S. Interests in the Face of Russian Aggression
You are respectfully requested to attend the following open hearing of the Full Committee to be held in Room 2172 of the Rayburn House Office Building.
DATE: Thursday, July 07, 2011
TIME: 10:00 AM
LOCATION: Room 2172 of the Rayburn House Office Building
WITNESSES: Mrs. Katrina Lantos Swett, Ph.D., President, Lantos Foundation for Human Rights
Mr. Ariel Cohen, Senior Research Fellow, Russian Eurasian Studies and International Energy Policy, The Heritage Foundation
Ukrainian Women Drive Naked Outside Saudi Embassy to Protest the Saudi Driving Ban
Since 2008, Ukrainian organization "Femen" has held epatage protests against corrupt government officials, unfair bills, and even Saudi law banning women from driving. Today's protest against Ukrainian members of parliament is too--how can we put it--straightforward and we choose to not show it on Russia Blog (though you can see it here), and below is the photo from the June 16 protest held outside of the Embassy of Saudi Arabia to Ukraine. The protests tend to be extremely successful, as they attract general public's and media attention, and frazzle predominantly male law enforcement officials.
Russia Blog presents up-to-date news, facts and commentary on the state of events in Russia and the former Soviet Union. The blog is managed by Yuri Mamchur, Director of Real Russia Project. The blog is edited by Charles Ganske.